A few radroaches in an otherwise delicious squirrel stew
I should start out this review by stating that I was and probably still am an absolute TES4: Oblivion addict. Getting Fallout 3 which is very similar in structure to TES4 and had the additional benefit of the Fallout setting was an absolute no-brainer. Luckily, with the exception of a few hickups I thoroughly enjoyed the 61 hours I've spent with the game and am sure to spend with the game's DLC going forward.
The contents of this review focus solely on the main game's content as I haven't installed and played any of the DLC as of yet. Even without the DLC the game has a massive amount of content and although it doesn't approach the likes of Morrowind or Oblivion it sure is up there in quality. Fallout 3 has fewer quests than most RPGs but the ones that are there are genuinely well designed and executed. The quests are all lenghty and in the greater majority of cases offer multiple optional objectives and solution possibilities. The quests also have a very real effect on the world and how the remainder of the game plays out.
The actual gameplay involved in these quests, however, does not always go as smoothly as hoped for. In my experience the game had quite a number of issues, technical and otherwise, that detracted from the experience and pulled me out of the game.
At the forefront of these issues is the buggy nature of the VATS system. As a gameplay concept the VATS system is wonderful as it allows tactical turn based strategizing in what would otherwise be an open-world shooter as far as combat goes. Using action points, specific body parts can be targeted with tactical effects like disarming or slowing down an enemy. The first problem I had with the VATS system however was getting it activated. Every now and again it would slow the game down to a crawl. This a machine specific issue as other players I know on slower rigs had none of these problems at all, it should still be mentioned however as you might be as unlucky as I was in this department.
The second problem I had with the VATS system usually reared its head once I confirmed my (slowly) selected actions. If a target is partially obscured, your character would happily empty multiple clips into a wall even or another obstacle even though the target can easily be hit by normal aiming. The system generallly works well but if the environment is complicated by obstacles it entirely goes to pieces and any player would be better served killing foes the old fashioned way.
Other gameplay mechanics such as the hacking and lock picking mechanics work well enough. The dialogue system is also worthy of a S.P.E.C.I.A.L (sorry lame) mention as it incorporates multiple ability and skill modifiers into the mix which diversifies the way conversations play out. Unfortunately the majority of moral decisions strictly adhere to the good/neutral/evil paradigm which is odd considering the game's morally ambigious post-apocalyptic setting.
Fallout 3's presentation is excellent for the most part and the selection of songs (although small) and dull colour palette fit the setting very well. The game's setting is one in which such a stark presentation is fitting and often funny. It is a pity though that Fallout 3's drab colour palette is more the rule than the exception in gaming these days, however, which somewhat lessens the visual impact. As a word of warning, the 40's era tunes that play on the in-game radio stations will stick in your head like some form of subliminal brainwashing. The merest impulse triggers my own tone-deaf version of "I don't want to set the world on fire." to the dismay of all around me.
In all, Fallout 3 is the best realization of an RPG world to date. Everything from the landscape, to the AI, to Three-Dog proclaiming your deeds over the radio combine to form an unforgettable world. It is just a pity that technical issues and some VATS oversights pull you back to the real world every now and again.