A Review with Spoilers
It has been nearly a year since Fallout 3 first released and since then it has has re-written its own ending. So, naturally, the question arises: which version of Fallout 3 do you review at this point if you're late to the party?
Mine is for the original.
Dying at the end of Fallout 3 is monumental for the story's sake. It really speaks volumes about your character, good, neutral or evil. I played as a good character (like most) so my perception on the main arc is this:
You grew up idolizing your father and chased after him across the hostile wasteland tracking down any clue that would lead you closer to him. You believed in what he was doing and search him out. You rescue him from the confines of a digital world and his imprisonment within the life of a dog and reclaim his purifier.
Upon reaching the purifier you are sent out to activate a valve. As you are working the valve, carrier planes from the Enclave swoop in and attempt to forcefully take the purifier from you and your allies. After arriving back at the rotunda where the purifier is located, your father is being held up by members of the Enclave that tell him to either activate the purifier / help them finalize it or die. Your father, sealed behind an air-tight door with the Enclave, allows radiation to seep through the sealed off area and kills himself, as well as the 3 Enclave inside, so they can not use the purifier for their nefarious deeds. You stand there, unable to do anything but look on and watch your father die. You knew before how dangerous things were, now you understand completely how serious this is. But your belief in your father's cause and his research is so strong that you take up his torch when he dies and continue the progress of his research to help humanity recover from the holocaust that has befell the world by providing an essential resource for all beings: pure, fresh water.
Your faith and love in your father and his work are so strong that you sacrifice yourself in a moment of crisis that threatens to undo your father's life work. Not willing to let his death be for naught, and unwilling to live on knowing that when you had a choice between saving yourself, or humanity, you enter the radiation-thick rotunda, door sealing behind you, and sacrifice yourself to save the world.
I mean this is a really huge ordeal (that is the emotion of the storyline), really, and now that I have beat the game for myself, I am completely uncertain of why so many critics didn't like the ending. I think their whole beef was that you could no longer play if you beat the game. Your only option was to load an earlier save and do whatever you missed. I think that the impact of the original story is now stinted due to the "happy ending" that they decided to add with Broken Steel. Don't get me wrong, I too like that we can all enjoy our characters beyond the end and of course I am all for more Fallout, but I personally didn't think the change was necessary.
Anyway, the story continues rather well with you having to figure out how to distribute the water... I'll leave that one for you to enjoy.
Now that the story is out of the way, let's talk about the rest of what makes Fallout 3 a game that you and everyone else should experience.
The graphics: Fallout 3 looks great (even better on P.C. granted you have a good setup). Although the wasteland doesn't offer a lot in terms of color, the atmosphere is done amazingly well and really sucks you in at every angle. From the clothes people wear, the way weapons are designed, all the rubble, the barren land, the dilapidated buildings, it is all there and fully realizes a world that has been struck by a force so chaotic that it leaves you wondering how anything could have survived it. The visual representation of a post-apocalyptic D.C. is present at every turn.
The sound: The sounds of Fallout 3 are exceptional compared to most games but still feel somewhat lackluster. Of course, in a story-heavy, voice-acted game such as itself, the big emphasis is mainly on how well the voices are implemented and I have to say that they are definitely video game quality. This isn't good, this isn't bad. A lot of it comes from underwhelming delivery of lines. Often characters voices will come off as though they are reading, not fluid like natural speech patterns. There are some good voices, however.
For instance, Moira Brown. Her tongue-in-cheek, passive-aggressive, and snarky attitude and delivery are great. Think about it: She has a body guard and makes weapons (and other gadgets) for the wasteland and tries to sound sweet and innocent. She delivers her lines perfectly (and annoyingly!).
Dad also has some good lines, however, sometimes his lines come off as over-acted IMO. And something that almost all of the NPCs suffer from is the lack of any emotion being shown as they deliver their lines. From this I mean their actors in-game, the NPCs models. All too often they just stare at you, blank faced, saying emotional things, but showing none in the process, as if they are injected with too much botox to express themselves properly. Sometimes they will show a shimmer of emotion across their faces, but all too often they come off as more robotic than even the game's robots (most of which have great delivery of their lines, btw).
Gameplay and Replayability: Giving you moral choices and many different skills to get through the game, you will have many reasons to go back through the wasteland. The problem is, you will have so much to do on just the first character that you make, that you may never find time to go back for seconds...
Summary: Fallout 3 is a game that anyone who enjoys RPGs can get into. If you are curious about RPGs this is a great place to start. It is an excellent American RPG that will really wow most people who follow the strange and alluring fiction, both through the dialogue and through the design of the world as a whole. You'll be up to your eyes with things to do, and that doesn't even include your own pursuits. If you are the type of gamer that is strapped for cash and wants a game that will last, Fallout 3 fills that gap. Affording you upwards of 20+ hours for a single playthrough, most will find plenty with the game just by following the main arc (and going at a leisurly pace). But that 20+ hours can easily turn into 30, 40 or more should you so choose to do more. This is a game that should be on your shelf!