Giant Bomb Review

255 Comments

Fallout 3 Review

4
  • PC
  • X360
  • PS3

Fallout 3 has a few snags, but the quality of the overall adventure makes looking past its flaws worthwhile.

Perks let you further customize your character whenever you gain a level.
You know, let's just break it down up top. Fallout 3 takes the base level action of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, changes the setting from knights-and-wizards fantasy to mutants-and-raiders post-apocalyptic Washington DC, sprinkles on a handful of systems and references that are designed to remind you of the previous Fallout games, and sends you on your way. It's successful at giving you meaningful moral choices that, in a lot of cases, reshape the game pretty dramatically. But at the same time, by trying to be a wide-open game that accounts for multiple play styles, you really notice it when you bump up against the technical and storytelling limitations of the game and its narrative structure.

The world of Fallout is the United States after a nuclear attack devastates the country and turns most of it into a flat, radioactive wasteland. To stay safe from the attack, many humans locked themselves in huge, underground vaults and lived there in relative safety. Others survive on the surface, and attempt to make lives for themselves in the rubble of what used to be the United States. Additionally, the game has a retro-futuristic tone to it that is one of its primary sources of humor.

The game opens with your character being born, and there's a prologue in place that both serves as the character creation tools and a brief introduction to the game's world and controls. It's here that you set your stats, tag a few character skills as primary, and design the look of your character. You also get to know your father over the course of this sequence, which ends with him mysteriously escaping the vault, a move that has the Overseer of the vault hunting you down. So you escape the vault to avoid the Overseer's wrath, as well as to start tracking down your father. Along the way, you'll see how life on the surface works, follow your father's trail, and get wrapped up in a pile of side quests.

Most of the quests in Fallout 3 can be completed in multiple ways, and the way you finish a quest can have substantial ramifications. Take, for example, the side quest called The Power of the Atom. This is one of the first side quests you might encounter in the town of Megaton. Megaton is so-named because there's a live nuclear bomb in the center of town. It leaks a bit of radiation and some local nutjobs worship it as some sort of great deity. The local law enforcement would be appreciative if you could quietly disarm the bomb. But a shadowy businessman in the local tavern offers you a hefty sum if you can rig the bomb to explode, instead. Since Megaton has other side quests and is also the place where you find your first lead on your father's whereabouts, blowing up the town can be a pretty dramatic act if you do it early on. It's a very cool moment.

Unfortunately, most of the other quests don't quite have that level of impact. But that doesn't mean they aren't clever or interesting. You'll get sent on a lot of different missions, either purely as side endeavors or in order to satisfy a person and convince them to give you the next piece of the main quest line. And there are still others that you might be able to circumvent if your statistics are properly aligned. The speech skill seems especially useful for this, as talking your way out of violent situations is usually much faster and easier than blasting your way through the entire game. But some quests won't require you to have specific skills. It's more a function of whether you're going to play like a jerk, and choose the most negative thing on the dialogue tree, or try to be a bit more even-handed. The game does a good job of making you feel like your dialogue choices are meaningful, even if they're just different tones of voice that ultimately lead to the same conclusion.

Lockpicking is a very useful skill to have.
Avoiding combat was my method throughout my first playthrough of Fallout 3, and that's largely because I didn't find the combat to be very satisfying. Though the game takes place from a first-person perspective and you are often armed with a gun of some kind, this is not an action game, and it's certainly not a first-person shooter. If that's what you're after, you're going to find the combat flips between dull and frustrating. Since this still has the trappings of an RPG around the edges, things like your accuracy, damage, and chance to do critical hits are governed by statistics. Aiming for the head, however, is still your best bet.

If the real time combat is getting you down, you can drop into a time-freeze combat mode called VATS. This lets you take aim at specific body parts on enemies by clicking on them, then you confirm the command and watch the combat play out. You're limited by action points, which regenerate over time, so you can't just rely on this for all of the game's fighting. But it regenerates quickly enough to be used pretty regularly, and when you're in close, you'll often just get a 95 percent chance to hit an enemy's head with all of your shots, which can decimate most regular foes quickly. Once I got the hang of this, my combat tactics turned from FPS-style strafing to just running up into the faces of my enemies, triggering VATS, and blowing their heads off with a combat shotgun or a Chinese assault rifle (which is way better than the regular assault rifle). This turned combat into more of a chore than any sort of exciting gameplay element, but the alternative of facing your enemies head-on, in real time, wasn't any better. Though you'll gain levels and become stronger as you play, the combat seems to stay roughly the same throughout the game, almost as if the enemies are leveling up along with you. The only difference-makers I got were perks that made me more effective at taking headshots in VATS mode, and things like that.

Most of your enemy encounters take place in buildings, usually while you're trying to complete some mission objective. But there's also the wasteland of the game's overworld. You'll occasionally encounter mutant monsters, angry raiders, or wild dogs when you're running around topside, but it's called a wasteland for a reason. There's, like, nothing out there but scorched earth and rubble. So when you have to run from one torn-up settlement to a new one, you sort of just point yourself in the direction of the new place and hold forward until you get there. Maybe you'll want to stop and fight any random creatures that get in your way, but you usually run faster than they do, so unless it's a group of super mutants trying to gun you down, you can usually just keep running. Once you've been to a location, you can use your world map to warp around to the different locations you've visited, just like Oblivion.

It's probably this sort of cowardice and constant running that resulted in me finishing the game at level 15, even though the level cap is 20. Getting from the game's intro to the end credits took me just over 25 hours, and I feel like I spent just as much, if not more time taking on side quests than I did following the main quest line. Along the way you'll meet a solid cast of characters that breathe life into the wasteland via some quality dialogue and interactions that feel meaningful. Even if you're going to turn around and gun them down, or just act like a horrible bastard the entire time, your dealings with these guys is what makes the game worthwhile. One could probably spend 50 hours or more exploring every nook and cranny of the Fallout 3 world, but I came away satisfied after finishing the game as a "good" character and putting significant time into a pair of more opportunistic or "evil" avatars. Depending on how much of a completionist you are, your own playtime can vary dramatically.

Also--and I'll surely talk around the specifics of what actually happens at the end of the game--it must be said that the presentation on the game's ending is a bit unfortunate. You may have heard the talk from the developers about how the game has "hundreds" of endings. But the ending is comprised of brief static images and some bits of voiceover that detail what you did over the course of the adventure, and it sort of poorly stitches these moments together to form a stilted, jerky look at a few of the key things you did over the course of the game. Also, I feel like I outsmarted the game's final moments only to have it force me down a specific, undesirable path via one of the most angering lines of dialogue in recent memory. I'd really like to say more about this, because it still has me pretty riled up, but as it's effectively the end of the game, it would be uncouth to talk in specifics.

This guy's the law in these parts, so watch yourself.
The game also has a lot of little issues, many of which are straight out of Oblivion, though there are some new ones, as well. NPC characters behave oddly, sometimes randomly switching between a too-slow walk and a hyper-speed run, usually because they need to be standing somewhere else to perform some kind of custom animation for you. It's as if the director shouted "places everyone! The player character is coming!" You'll still need to deal with encumbrance, and if you're holding more than the weight limit allows you'll move very slowly and be unable to fast travel. Maybe I just like to carry more than is necessary to always be prepared, but I felt like I was spending a ton of time managing my inventory over the course of the game. The game also has a third-person perspective that you can optionally use to play the game, but it's no good.

Also, the game autosaves every time you walk through a door or enter a new location. I ran into a spot where I had picked a lock, angering a nearby robot, who gave chase and alerted the entire town that I was a bad guy. I ran through a door, which saved the game in a state where I had very little health and had like eight people chasing after me, guns blazing. It led to a situation where the game would load up, I would attempt to run away, get killed, reload in the exact same state, die again, and so on for around 30 minutes. I finally managed to find a spot where I could duck and the game's questionable AI couldn't find me, and everything eventually got back to normal. But I didn't have a recent hard save at that point. If I had been caught with less health and placed in a spot where there was no way to escape, I probably would have been caught in a death loop with no escape and nothing to do but start over again. That... seems kind of bad. Take that as a warning and try to remember to manually save from time to time.

Across the three platforms, the PC version of Fallout 3 is the best, provided you have hardware that can handle it. The PC version has better lighting, a bit more graphical detail, and just looks better, overall. It's a Games For Windows Live game, too, so if you're dead set on playing the game with an Xbox 360 controller, you can do that on the PC, as well. Additionally, it has achievements, just like the 360 version, though they're kept separately--this means you could technically double up, play the game to completion on both the 360 and the PC, and have double the points as a result.

The 360 version is no slouch, though. It might not be quite as pretty as the PC version, but it still looks fine. The load times remain pretty reasonable. The PlayStation 3 version is below the 360 version, by comparison. The level of detail when you're in the wasteland or other areas where you can see for great distances isn't quite as good, the game seems to be a bit more aliased, and the frame rate isn't as smooth. Plus, the PS3 version of the game doesn't have any trophy support (yet), and the game actually freezes every time a status message, such as "so and so is online" or "DUDE HOW DID U GET FALLOUT 3 EARLY!!!!???" is on-screen. That's bad enough to make you want to log out of the PlayStation Network before booting up the PS3 version of the game.

It's unfortunate that Fallout 3 is saddled with so many little- and medium-sized issues, because they get in the way of what's an otherwise fantastic experience. The world is well-realized and full of options. It'll be a struggle in spots, but I'm willing to guess that most people will be able to overlook a lot of the game's problems and still have a very good time exploring the irradiated wasteland formerly known as Washington DC.
Jeff Gerstmann on Google+
255 Comments
Posted by McPlated

Lockpicking is indeed useful

Posted by Milkman

Oh, god. The internet is about to fucking explode.

Posted by McBonJon

Good review Jeff. I can't wait to play this game on PC.

Edited by Arkthemaniac
". . . the combat seems to stay roughly the same throughout the game, almost as if the enemies are leveling up along with you."

ASS!
Posted by RedSox8933

umm...just when you think you know a guy

jk jeff.

Posted by ReTarDedFisHy

Awesome review Jeff! ReTarDedFisHy is anxiously waiting to pick up this game tomorrow! :D
He can't believe he's excited to ruin his social life. :O What's that? It's for the sake of games? Alright! :D

Posted by TheGTAvaccine

Great review, but from the tone and issues in the review, wouldnt 3/5 been more fitting?

Posted by LordAndrew

DUDE HOW DID U GET FALLOUT 3 EARLY!!!!???

Posted by jakob187

Jeff, tell us how you really feel.  lol

I'm definitely taking this review into consideration...because a lot of the stuff you bitched about...is the same shit I hated about Oblivion.  =  /

Between this and the shacknews feature, though...I've gotta say that I think I might just throw down the $60 and buy the fucking thing.  If worse comes to worse, the boss is getting a few copies for here at work, and if I don't like it, I can get some achievements off of it and then sell him the copy...or the other way around.  =  /
Posted by DavidSnakes

I'm glad Jeff didn't go hog wild and throw out 5 stars like everyone else and their mom.

Posted by Psynapse

Hmm 4 stars... By reading the review i would of said you would of given it a 3... but then again... nah 4 is good, don't listen to me...

Posted by Darknaut

4 stars is A-OK with me. Great review, Jeff!

Posted by deaux

This is written well enough that I'm pretty sure I'll like it better than Jeff did.  Still, there wasn't any part of the text where he sounded excited, which is a little odd.

Posted by TomA

The phrase "Oblivion with guns" is enough to warrant 5 stars for me!

Posted by NintenDoorMan
Posted by shadowjak

I normally agree with almost all your reviews, but this I disagree with dude. You gave GTAIV a 5/5 yet it had more technical issues than any 'next-gen' game I've played. I mean really their were times where after a jump the world around you wouldn't load and it'd be nothing for a few minutes before you figured out where you landed. May have been because their were alot of places cramed onto the disc, but same here no? I was impressed by this game's inginutiy and creativity from the second I saw it. I mean 4/5 is a great score, but I think it may deserve that extra mile and that is coming from a guy who hated Oblivion with a bloody passion.

Posted by erinfizz

So, what is bad about third person? I have an awful time with first person perspective and getting motion sickness, and really want to play this, dammit.

Posted by Pleasureizmine

NO U

Posted by MattBodega
TheGTAvaccine is online
on Oct. 27, 2008
Great review, but from the tone and issues in the review, wouldnt 3/5 been more fitting?

I hope that speaks to the quality of the game's NPC interaction and quest design/structure. Another terrific review, Jeff, and more proof that
A) Giant Bomb has the best team of reviewers in the business
B) The 5 Star system is as effective a means of  parsing the good games and the great games as that ol' 10 point malarkey.
Posted by Rowr

there seem to be alot of issues with the game? at least several paragraphs worth. What does the game do right?

Posted by pause422

Its a fine review...he noted a lot of the little problems that were experienced, which is what needed to be done, in an otherwise great sounding game, which is why it got a 4/5...anyone that is gonna bitch about it not getting a perfect score needs to just get over it.

Posted by sdauz

hmm not as good as i thought i would be, ahhhhhhhh haaaaaaaaa......too bad the gun play wasnt fun, i know fallout isnt about gunplay, but i wish a developer would take the gunplay or Halo or GoW and mix it with the RPG elements and story of obilivion - that is what i thought fallout was going to be like - what a disappointment 

Edited by Nomin

The review's content of harping on the negatives (60% of the entire review more or less) and the final verdict do not correspond.
Reading about Megaton being the only deeply involved or crafted quest in the game begs the question of whether it being another one of those Fargoth's Ring quest in Morrowind that was nothing more than bait and switch. Fallout 3 will be quickly forgotten, as soon as a new Elder Scrolls game is announced to start another hypefest. By then, every reviewer would conveniently forget the underserved, cheap credit they heaped on this game and render it as an imperfect creation with a lot of shortcomings. Jeff's owning up to the fact that Bethesda in the end only cares about the four stars of five, the kind of metric that its core audience would only deem worthwhile, where people with more discretion and insight would actually read the review to realise how mediocre the game is, even without reading between the lines or deciphering some secret message. It is a very calculating piece of critique from a veteran reviewer who knows how the industry works and has been burned by being too frank at one time.

Posted by Bucketdeth

Nice review Jeff! I was really thinking of pre ordering the game and I know you gave it 4/5 but I only have a ps3 and this seems to be the worst of the bunch for Fallout and the game seems to have a few issues.
I'll just stick to my oblivion.

Posted by Crono

This review's emphasis seems to be on a lot of negative things.  Are you sure you meant to give this a 4/5?  Or was that just fan service?  It just seems like a lot of things irked you about it...

Edited by zitosilva

If I had only read the review I'd have guessed you gave the game 3 stars. Maybe its problems just sound worse than what they actualy are.

Posted by Scratch

Great Review and timing. Honestly wasn't expecting it to be up this soon. But after checking out IGN and others just recently thought I'd go ahead and see if it's up here as well.

Posted by Lepuke

That was a pretty in depth review man.
I'm still really looking forward to picking this one up later today.
As far as bugs in the game go, I guess it seems only fitting considering the old ones had their share of em.

Posted by carzy

Fair and balanced
great review

Edited by Gump

This game looks OK, I'll be waiting for a GIANT VIDEO REVIEW.
Thanks a lot for the review, Jeff!

Posted by DavidSnakes

This sounds almost like a step back from Oblivion.   I'd be curious to know which game Jeff prefers, disregarding graphics.

Posted by studnoth1n

GERSTMAAAAAAN!!!

j/k :P

Posted by TwoOneFive

gotta love this site. you almost gave this 3 dude thats fantastic. stay honest man, stay strong 

Posted by Subway

Nice honest review, you didn't praise the game for what it wasn't

Posted by neoepoch

Great review Jeff. I can see how the specific problems of the game can really drag down the experience when they make the game tedious.
On a side note, I predict this to be the one of most commented Giant Bomb reviews in the morning.

Posted by BawlZINmotion
"You know, let's just break it down up top. Fallout 3 takes the base level action of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, changes the setting from knights-and-wizards fantasy to mutants-and-raiders post-apocalyptic Washington DC, sprinkles on a handful of systems and references that are designed to remind you of the previous Fallout games, and sends you on your way."

That's what I was afraid of. So if a person, me, isn't a fan of Oblivion (or any other Elder Scrolls game), would it then be reasonable to assume I'd have similar feelings about Fallout 3? Rental it is! Excellent review by the way.
Posted by toadstule

Interesting read. Oblivion never interested me but the post-apocalyptic setting looks intriguing. Might have to check this game out.

Posted by Isaac

Finally, a review not biased/going with the crowd. Ever review I've read until this one has the same things in it. Somebody finally man'd up and let loose. This is why I'm at GB Jeff.

Posted by Demilich

4/5 and 2/3rds of the review is focused on the negatives? The other third on system differences.

Posted by 007

Great Review...Oblivion is my favorite game of all time, so playing "it" with guns sounds like a blast....looking forward to getting my hands on my copy in a few hours....I'll try and remember to save often

Posted by HatKing

Dang kinda worries me about the game...I'm sure it'll be fine...Jeff doesn't strike like the kind of person who enjoys long drawn out games like Oblivion and I loved that so maybe it'll just be a difference of opinion.  Either way 4/5 is no bad score.

Posted by MrMiyagi

Cant wait to pick this up tomorrow.

Edited by SpikeDelight
I admire your courage, Jeff. You dare to do what noone else does- you put out a 4/5 star review of one of the most hyped and well-respected franchises out there and at no point try to directly defend your review. This kind of journalistic (?) integrity is what lets me know that Giant Bomb is on the level, and that your original Kane and Lynch review that started all this was as well (not that I ever doubted it). I seriously respect you and everything this site stands for because nobody here is afraid to speak his mind. When you have a problem with a monumental game like this you don't hesitate to give it serious knocks. I congratulate you on crafting one of the greatest and most trustworthy websites on the internet.
Posted by unangbangkay

Great review, Jeff. It's a bit refreshing to see a more critical take on the game as opposed to the 11/10 reviews I've been seeing so far. Not that I prefer contrary reviews (lol 8.8), but rather ones that don't gloss over sticking points, even if minor.

Posted by kitsune_conundrum

eagerly awaiting for the video review!

Posted by Gump
Posted by player66

"Across the three platforms, the PC version of Fallout 3 is the best, provided you have hardware that can handle it."

Damm it Jeff! I just ordered the 360 version from Amazon...well, I don't really HAVE the hardware to run this game well, but still!!! Great review. Why can't they schedule these releases around national holidays? It causes me great grief to know I will have to eek our 1-2 hours on this game a night, max.

Posted by player66

"Across the three platforms, the PC version of Fallout 3 is the best, provided you have hardware that can handle it."

Damm it Jeff! I just ordered the 360 version from Amazon...well, I don't really HAVE the hardware to run this game well, but still!!! Great review. Why can't they schedule these releases around national holidays? It causes me great grief to know I will have to eek our 1-2 hours on this game a night, max.

Edited by momentarylogic

4/5 stars for a game it seems you didn't like so much?

Maybe it was just the odds that you felt needed to be mentioned.

Posted by DrLove

worse then Bad Company or Dead Space hmmmmmm?