How I Loved to Hate Fallout 3
Right from the start, I had a love/hate relationship with Fallout 3. It all started with my BB gun and that first altercation with a guard within Vault 101. When he saw me and started bashing me repeatedly, I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. Do I try to actually KILL this guy with a BB gun, just for doing his job? Do I just try to run away? In the parlance of Rodney King, “Can’t we all just get along?” I loved that I HAD a choice, but hated that I was so unsure of what the “right” thing to do was.
A minor quibble, but that’s not the real love/hate – merely the hint of what was to come with the game. Let’s start with the good stuff.
As in the Interplay-developed PC predecessors, Fallout 3 did a GREAT job with character progression. It starts right from the beginning, where character creation is an organic part of the game, not a mere set of menus. And heck, where else do you get to roleplay a BABY? Try as I might, I couldn’t find my way out of the vault as a toddler, unfortunately.
The initial character creation is excellent, but the main course of character progression is the perk system.
The total freedom when selecting perks is only matched by the breadth of perks available to you. You can choose to use perks to boost particular stats or skills in any number of ways. Want to focus on Big Guns with a little lockpick ability? You can do that. Want to focus on your speech skill and intelligence, to try to talk your way out of trouble? You can do that, too. Heck, you could focus on Big Guns, speech, and lockpick if you so choose. Talk your way into a ghoul’s good graces, steal all his stuff, THEN blow him away with a mini nuke. All avenues are open to you.
While the overall narrative is weak and even outright bad in parts (see: ending), the storytelling and characters that make up the story are often good and sometimes amazing. From the ghoul with the fine head of hair to the vaguely Minnesota-sounding Moira, the characters and their interactions with the player are interesting and often pretty damn funny. I suppose you’d need a good sense of humor in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, eh?
So where’s the hate? Well, it starts with the Wasteland. Yes, yes, I recognize that there are some incredible vistas, some really nifty busted up landmarks, and some cool “found” areas throughout the world. But if there’s one thing I can’t stand in an “open world” game, it’s impassable walls and structures. This is alleviated once you actually DISCOVER a location and can fast travel to it, but can be a real pain when trying to find a location for the first time. Hoofing it through samey metro tunnels all the time didn’t help the cause, either. There is too much time spent in pointless, frustrating travel in FO3.
Why do developers insist on creating silly, irritating hacking minigames? It marred the otherwise perfect Bioshock, and it’s not doing any favors to FO3 either. I’m a smart guy, pretty dang good at logic puzzles, but I had no desire to try to “figure out” any terminal hacks. I just kept picking random words until I found one that worked. If I need to grab a piece of paper to try to figure something out, you’ve lost me.
Finally, though fun at first, the combat quickly lost its luster. It was odd in that it made you THINK you were playing an FPS, but in actuality “to hit” rolls were determining your outcomes. I had quite a few early deaths when I was SURE I was hitting that blasted raider, but was actually missing repeatedly due to my low weapon skills.
The VATS system, while cool as hell at the outset, suffered from monotony by the mid-game. My combat went something like this: enter VATS, target head, repeat. While I COULD mix it up, and target legs, weapons, and arms, why would I? Especially later on, when I got the more powerful weapons? I don’t honestly know. It was much more efficient to explode heads left and right. There was a tactical aspect inherent to combat in FO1 and FO2 that is all but gone in FO3.
This last bit of hate is exclusive to my GOTY version on PS3. I had heard about the crashes and bugs, and made the silly assumption that they would have been cleared up by now. I guess I was wrong to hope the days of buggy games were behind us, with the internet and updates and all. Oh well. The crashes only managed to crush my soul 3 or 4 times.
60 Hours Later
Fallout 3 is proof that a game doesn’t have to be perfect to be gripping to the end. Even though I found certain elements as frustrating as hell, the mixture of epic set pieces and great characters kept me coming back. Just when I thought I was at about the end of my rope with a long, boring journey, I came across just enough awesome to make me continue. At times I loved being able to do whatever I wanted, but other times I felt aimless and lost. Still, when I measure a game’s worth, I have to look at how many hours of pure enjoyment I got out of it. With all its faults, Fallout 3 still comes out WAY ahead in that regard. My love/hate relationship really comes down to one issue: I really loved my time in the wasteland, yet I can see plainly where a couple of tweaks here and there would have elevated it to a nearly flawless experience. Maybe I ask too much.