Fallout 3 is flawed fun
Fallout 3 is a big, big game. And when a game has such a quantity of content, glitches, both tiny and big, are pretty much unavoidable. Therefore, this new Fallout, that really doesn't have a whole lot in common with the previous ones aside from the theme, is riddled with glitches. However, if you are willing to look past those mistakes, you'll find a deep and expansive game, that has plenty of great moments and lots of things to see and find.
Fallout 3 contains the same basic structure the Elder Scrolls games had. You go around finding now locations, which will then become available to fast-travel to. At these locations, various NPCs will walk around that can be interacted with. NPCs now all have a voice of their own, unlike in Oblivion where they all sounded alike. Some will talk about random stuff, others will want to trade and occasionally, one will give you an errand, quest or piece of information. Quests all have a similar blueprint; you will need to travel to a location, kill someone there or pick up an item, and then return to the questgiver to receive new instructions. It works, but the way your interaction with NPCs works is not all that satisfying. When you talk to someone, the camera will zoom in on their face and the people will stand around statically with the only movement on screen being the flapping of their lips. Your character doesn't have a voice, and you can only respond with a general feeling conveyed through text at the bottom of your screen. This system just feels dated. The conversation system simply doesn't feel as dynamic as say, Mass Effect's did. That's just the problem with Fallout 3. The gameplay is good at the core, but it feels like some of it sorely needs an overhaul.
There is plenty of dark humour present, and the dialogue is well-written. The delivery of said dialogue isn't exceptional, but it gets the job done. Liam Neeson actually reprises the role of your father, a pleasant surprise. The story is good, though not mindblowing. It ends with a bang though, or so you think until you actually experience the final moment. The game ends abruptly and I've rarely seen an action sequence fizzle out like that. Not only is the story's conclusion a complete anticlimax, but the game actually ends right there. In a role-playing game, a storyline should never, ever mean that you can't continue playing afterwards. After you witness the lame final cutscene, the credits roll and you get taken back to the main menu, forcing you to reload an earlier save. This wouldn't be all that big a deal, if having a good save to continue from didn't mean that you had to go back around an hour or two, because the last couple of missions pretty much link into each other seamlessly. DLC is supposed to fix this though, sometime in the future. If that DLC isn't free however, I will be disappointed. I actually consider the horrible ending to be the single biggest flaw in Fallout 3's design.
Fallout 3 is intended to be played from a first-person perspective. There is a third-person mode present, but it's quite horrible. Instead of swords and bows, you fight with decaying firearms and sledgehammers. You might think it would be fun to have a FPS-RPG crossover, but Fallout 3 doesn't really feature stellar gunplay. It's viable to fight in real-time with assault rifles, but using bolt-action rifles just doesn't feel right. I had a real hard time hitting anything with those hunting rifles. The melee combat is pretty much an exact copy of its Oblivion counterpart.
However, you can eliminate some of the pains of the combat by using V.A.T.S. (Vault-Tec Assisted Targetting System). Using this system, you can zoom in onto an opponent to shoot individual limbs while time pretty much grinds to a halt. You'll need action points to do so however, and if you've run out for the moment you'll have no choice but to shoot the enemies the old-fashioned way. V.A.T.S. works quite well, and there are some cool effects like following a bullet as it's entering a Super-Mutant's brain. The combat in Fallout 3 is definitely capable, though if you are looking for a game that has combat as its one of its absolute highlights, this Fallout does not fit the bill.
The game also features a sense of right and wrong in the Karma system, that grades you from very good to very bad. You get a title that corresponds with your moral disposition, and you'll be talked about on the radio in different fashions that way, while people may also like you more or less depending on your current Karma rating.
The thing that makes this Fallout 3 great is its plethora of little things to find and experience. There's the touted blowing up of a town using a nuke, which will completely erase it off the map, but there are other, much smaller things as well. You'll find cool easter eggs, miniquests and NPCs. Dungeon crawls are also present, although there are fewer of them than in Oblivion, and they obviously don't take place in an actual dungeon, but rather in steel and bland corridors that make sense, but become stale rather fast. Even so, I feel like Bethesda has done its best to get some variety into that environment design, more so than in Oblivion's endless dungeons at least.
This game has some pretty good graphics, though they don't seem all that impressive when you look at the bland environments. Bethesda has really captured the filthy, dirty look of a city torn apart by nukes. However, the sense of freedom is limited a bit by the huge amount of unscalable piles of rubble that prevent you from moving around freely a bit. There are alot of load times as well, although installing the game makes them pretty quick and painless.
In the end, this post-apocalyptic piece of work is fun and memorable, but bogged down by its glitches and gameplay that seems dated at times. However, if you can accept that, Fallout 3 may have a great experience in story for you that should give you plenty of hours of fun, even if the end is absolutely terrible. It's weird, but despite its flaws, I don't have any trouble recommending this game.