Fallout 3 Review
When a game is released with the Fallout name in the title it brings with it a certain level of expectation, now finally after 10 years we have the chance to see if Bethesda has cooked up something worth the wait.
For those that cannot remember, or simply weren't gaming when Interplay began the series in the late 90's you can rest easy that Fallout 3 doesn't require any prior knowledge, but as a bonus, let me fill you in a little back-story to save you checking the World Wide Wikipedia. Fallout 3 is set in the Post apocalyptic wasteland of the United States, specifically around the Washington DC area. The events that lead to the fall of mankind began after the world nations started squabbling over the remaining resources left on the planet, finally an unnamed country went nuclear in 2077 causing many people to retreat into underground vaults while others perished or mutated on the surface. Fallout 3 begins in 2258 with your birth not far away from downtown Washington DC.
Previous Fallout games have been all viewed from the isometric perspective, naturally Bethesda has taken the series into 3D with the same Gamebryo engine seen in Oblivion. This caused many people to scream "It's just going to be Oblivion with guns!" which on the surface seems quite accurate as it's quickly apparent that Fallout 3 and Oblivion share many commonalities along with the shared graphics engine. Oblivion with guns may not be a bad thing though, depending on where you stand, and if there's one things that video games teach us, is that guns are cool. You'll have your first brief taste of combat before you leave the vault, this will give you change to try the new combat system that separates Fallout 3 from Oblivion and indeed any first person game that's come before it (at least in my memory), V.A.T.S. (Vault-Tech Assisted Targeting System).
A quick tap of the V key on your keyboard and the game will pause and take you into a targeting mode so you can plan your attack so long as you have the necessary action points. This doesn't replace your ability to just point your gun at your target and pull the trigger but since combat is all variables and calculations, real-time combat doesn't feel particularly great. Once you select your targets in V.A.T.S. you'll not able to move until your sequence is complete, this seems a little off putting at first should you realize your tactics are woefully inadequate, but when combat slows down to show your perfect head-shot connect with the back of a mercenary's head, the troubles of the wasteland quickly fade away. The V.A.T.S combat doesn't get old as quickly as you'd expect, however it can be frustrating to unload 3 shotgun blasts to the back of someone's head just for them to turn around and fire back, as this can make the weapons feel underpowered one moment and devastating the next, but since we're talking about an RPG here and not a first person shooter these 'problems' are to be expected. There's no shortage of variety; plasma weapons, mini guns, sledge hammers, buzz blades and sniper rifles are just some of the joyous weapons you'll scavenge and having a lot of variety helps when you're struggling to keep your weapons filled with ammo.
Your weapon accuracy is governed by six of the thirteen available skills, the others are the usual affair of healing, sneaking, bartering etc. and as with previous Fallout games these skills are just part of the statistics that control your character. The S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system (Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, and Luck) returns and should feel pretty familiar to anyone who's got any past RPG experience, the perks system however is a little unique. These perks include the traits of previous Fallouts so naturally you'll have access to the "bloody mess" perk, which causes "characters and creatures you kill [to] often explode into a red, gut-ridden, eyeball-strewn paste". Some perks, including bloody mess give you a skill bonus, others may change the gamely slight by allowing you to feast on your victims or befriend some of the wasteland creatures. The character advancement system feels very true to the Fallout universe and the Bethesda designers thankfully resisted the temptation to include their Elder Scrolls system of advancing only the skills you use. Fallout 3 also has a great many reasons to play through a second or third time, one of those reasons is that your different skills will open up new paths through the game, perhaps you can talk yourself out of a situation rather than fighting, plus having higher skills in certain areas will unlock different traits for you to choose from.
It's not just your skills that create new paths through Fallout, your actions can also drastically effect the wasteland which will in turn effect the reaction of other characters towards you. It seems as if no RPG is complete without the player going through a slew of ethical choices, but Fallout 3 gives you some rather large choices early on that can change things so much that you'll feel that you've missed out on a large portion of the game no matter how you choose to go. Dialog trees fortunately feel a little more fleshed out than Oblivion and although combat is often the showpiece of Fallout 3, you're going to spend a fair amount of time talking to the rather wacky gals and fellahs in the wasteland. Conversations and missions often go beyond the usual fetch and assassinate quests and sometimes you can adjust the lives of others by talking to a few people without any quest being attached and no rewards given, besides perhaps a little karma. Most of the people you'll meet feel very three dimensional, with very separate personalities as if they'd each have their own back story to tell. The believability of these characters is only helped by the rather disturbing feeling of accuracy you'll get from the wasteland you're crossing.
It's a rather unique feeling when you find an untouched house out in the wasteland, you enter the house and see a suitcase by the door next to some human remains, more remains are in the kitchen next to the food in the oven, traveling upstairs you see a bedroom with toy cars on the floor and a doll in the toy box, there are more human remains on the bed. These simple touches created more emotion for me than any other recent game in memory, so it feels rather creepy when you're rummaging around the belongings of this deceased family so you can find some items to sell to a trader. Sadly though, Fallout 3 suffers from the item packing as the Elder Scrolls series, although not as severe, often you'll find that the world seems to be overly flooded with filler objects, but the areas are arranged and objects placed with such meticulous detail that it's easy to forgive a little time saving. So you may find objects at least in locations that you'd expect, but you have to wonder how many people eat squirrel pie and only drink one brand of soda. Fallout 3 has some big shoes to fill and it has tried hard to grant good fan service, with a couple of returning characters (even 100 years after Fallout 1) and the amazing way that Fallout 3 manages to nail the feeling of the first Fallout games, while also feeling completely new. You're not going to see the crazy pop culture references you found in the second game however, as the humor here feels more mature and tries not to break the atmosphere of the experience, even the hacking mini-games aren't some Pipemania puzzle that breaks the atmosphere every time you activate a computer. The atmosphere is deepened even more so by tuning your Pip-Boy 3000 radio to a station and checking out the news, where you'll likely hear about your adventures from Three Dog, who's one of the larger than life personalitys in the game who you'll get the chance to visit.
There's no shortage of places to go in Fallout 3 to meet these unique individuals; underground tunnels, museums, supermarkets or cities are all great places to meet, greet or kill depending on your disposition. However there's a fundamental problem with exploring the landscape of Fallout 3, it's a wasteland. Fortunately Bethesda have done a great job of giving the feeling of a wasteland without actually having you go too far before you encounter something of interest. Quick travel also takes the potential repetitive travel away, however the repetitive nature of the locations isn't something that can be solved so easily. Oblivion, Morrowind, Daggerfall, all allowed Bethesda to get creative and build wondrous beautiful structures, however when you're designing a post apocalyptic wasteland, your hands are rather tied. Most buildings are the same shade of gray, held together with battered stone or with whatever scrap has been found. Clearly though a lot has been done to stretch the limits of variety without going too far and it should be applauded.
Although Fallout 3 has a whole lot going for it, re-playability, moody atmosphere, detailed environments and great voice acting for every line of dialog, the engine does set it back a little. While the visuals have been improved drastically over Oblivion, such as the detail on faces, many people you meet all look rather the same facially, but fortunately Fallout 3 does include one of the most robust mustache selection systems to date. Other issues also revolve around the engine, such as terribly jerky and unnatural animations, the occasional failure for scripted events to activate, or an NPC becoming stuck behind an object while their cut-scene plays, forcing you to wait while they navigate their way around like a drunken Roomba. Of course getting stuck doesn't just effect the NPCs, a couple of wrong jumps and you can find yourself stuck someplace without hope of freedom so you'll once again be reaching for the quick load. Quick save and quick load will your new best friends before long and the over anxious amongst you might find themselves hitting quick save before every corner. Most of these problems fortunately are just nit-picks, like the fact that you can loot a corpse just by finding a fragment of remains and the fact that the inventory system is still as clunky as Oblivion, perhaps more so since you can no longer sort items.
The problems with Fallout 3 are rather minor, however it is frustrating that some of the issues that effected the 2006 game of the year haven't been rectified. If you can look past these foibles then you'll find a truthful sequel to a great classic series that has many great qualities and can provide more than its money worth in game play hours. Hey, at least we didn't just get a multi player only cross-platform shooter *ahem*. It's easy to recommend Fallout 3 as long as you're not expecting a fast paced FPS, anyone else with some PRG experience should bunker down with Fallout 3 and prepare for the apocalypse.