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 insanegamer

can't wait for the game.

Posted by Fletchinator

I love your reviews, but for giving the game 4/5 stars you didn't quite say anything good about it... the review seems to be on par with a score closer to 2-3/5.
Is there anything you can say to justify 4 stars?

Edited by Fade2Gray

Like others have said, good review but I don't see from reading it what made it a four star game. You seemed rather ambivalent and distracted by a lot of the game's flaws throughout the majority of the article; though, perhaps that's what's needed to counter peoples' inflated expectations. I'm genuinely on the fence about this game, and this review has left me even more uncertain.

Posted by ocdog45

this game has a lot of bugs and still got 4 stars. jeff was never into oblivion so i expected this for this game to be honest.

Edited by DrLove

many others have mentioned it too, but the text of the review does not match up with the score at all.  Vinny's Fable review matched very well with  both pros and cons.

Posted by Jeff

"jeff was never into oblivion"

For the record, totally enjoyed Oblivion, though closing all those gates got pretty repetitive. Got the full thousand in the 360 version.
Staff
Posted by dozerking

Getting this on PC(STEAM)...can't wait for tomorrow!!!

Posted by SLE4ZY

Good review Jeff, I got Fable 2 instead because it looks more fun and it truly is. I might get Fallout 3 alittle later...on the 360!!!

Posted by makari

Sounds like a WRPG to me.

Posted by MaddProdigy

I've been deciding between this and fable and this tipped me towards fable, good review, i'll probably pick up fallout up once i've got some extra cash again

Posted by daniel_beck_90

Nice review Jeff , fair enough 
so you have access to early copies just like me  lol

Posted by Knives

Yeah, Giantbomb reviews were far too predictable, until now. Oblivion was grossly overrated and I'm glad Fallout 3 isn't going to suffer the same fate (at least for now).

Posted by vannacut

man i think jeff didn't like the game....

Posted by TracedVelocity

Out of all the reviews I've read online so far, of which are a handful, yours is the best I've read. You don't attempt to put aside the issues, instead just tackle them straight on. You've convinced me I don't need to pick this up day one. Of course, I'm still very excited to play it when I do get it.

Keep it up Jeff, always love reading your reviews.

Posted by Hexogen

I'm surprised this even got 4 stars. The review seemed pretty negative for the most part. I'll be picking it up tomorrow, so hopefully I'll enjoy it despite all the issues.

Posted by DedBeet

Great review Jeff.  I'm a little surprised (as others seem to be) that your final score wasn't 3 out of 5 stars.  All I can guess is that your complaints weren't enough to dim your enjoyment.  I really looking forward to this game but a little less so now since I'm playing the PS3 version and Bethesda seems to have given it a little less love (possibly a lot less in the long run).  I wonder why it came out worse than the 360 version?

Posted by maziso

i absolutely agree with this review. I was surprised seeing many sites giving it rave reviews with some very clear problems with the game. The main one bieng the combat, which isnt satisfying at all. When you shoot enemies in real time, they dont flinch or slow down unil they die, which is very frustrating, an makes every weapon feel like an air gun. Also having to pause everytime to use the VATS is also a hindrance. The game isnt bad by any means, but it was very overhyped.

Posted by Ping5000

Nice. I am pleased by what was written. I am pleased by what I read.

Posted by Maclintok

I had to sign up in order to commend Jeff on his review. He's written a very useful buyers' guide, which is what a game review should be. As such, he has a responsibility to not get drunk on hype, no matter how feverish and intoxicating it is.  From reading his relatively sobering views of Fallout 3, I can breath a little easier, knowing that I do not need to feel compelled to rush out to the store tomorrow to buy this.

Even with all the fuss over the sad state of the global economy, it's not so much a matter of affording all these awesome, high profile games as it is my desire to maintain a somewhat balanced life.  Sure, it's very tempting to shut out life, become a game hermit and binge on Fallout 3 for the next month or more, but the stated flaws remind me all too well of the many issues I had with Oblivion.  And Oblivion is a game I very much admire, but can never bring myself to fully complete due to its myriad aggravations.  I'm rather stunned that after all this time, Bethesda still hasn't polished up little details like 3rd-person animation and the visceral feeling of shooting a weapon.  VATS does sound fun, but it's not enough of a hook to build an RPG combat system around.

Again, great review and keep fighting the good fight.

Posted by Dragonseer

Great review Jeff!  I was keen on getting this for PS3 but not so much now.. I mean really, there are no excuses for shoddy ports at this point.   I'll just pick it up for PC at some point.

Posted by TheHT

I shall overlook those issues and have a jolly good time! Good review!

Posted by FSK405K

Does Fallout 3 solve Oblivion's "5 actors, 500 characters" problem?  I couldn't enjoy Oblivion after 20-30 hours because of that.

Posted by oobs

well i am abit down i pre ordered this..could have been one i could have held off for awhile...good review..sounds like the ending is abit lame

Edited by killdave

Balls Balls Balls ...

I've got the PS3 version on pre-order. Thinking it would be better than 360 version, like how Oblivion was.

All the more stupid for pre-ordering I guess. :(

Oh and nice review Jeff.

Posted by F1

I'm glad I decided to get the 360 version. The only reason I chose it is because of the DLC. My biggest problem now is what to do with my f***in' $130 survival edition while my 360 is out for repair/replacement from RRoD.

Posted by mrfluke
hmm im rake  your review into consideration but ill wait for van ords review on gamespot and the 1up review before i buy it
Posted by ratzombie

I have to agree with everyone else, the score doesn't match the review.
After reading it, no way do I get the impression that you are smiling with your thumbs up. It should be the "meh" image.

Posted by Kohe321

Good review Jeff. Picking this up today.

Posted by Cribba

Seems like the game has got the problems I expected it to have, being Oblivion with guns and all.. this game isn't for me.

Posted by Red

Sounds like I'll have the exact same problems that I have with Oblivion in this game. I do wanna check this game out though because the combat seems like I'd like it a lot more than Oblivion's combat.

Good review though.

Online
Posted by KingOfIceland

Since I loved Oblivion I can see myself getting past most of those problems. But it's good to finally see what problem it really has, since most of the reviews for it don't actually do that.

Posted by Moridin

Nice review Jeff. Can't wait to hear your extended thoughts on the Bombcast, hopefully.

Posted by SavoyPrime

Good review Jeff. I was on the fence about Fallout 3 ever since it was announced. I didn't really enjoy Oblivion, so I had my doubts about this. Obviously for good reasons. I'll pass.

Posted by demonbear

I'll wait and play the game for myself, but from the looks of it, Jeff didn't really seems to enjoy himself while playing this, if you read between the lines. We'll probably have a good example of what i mean when the street fighter 4 review comes out, the tone in the text will probably change.

And thats alright y'know. The real question is, Wouldn't Brad have been a better choice to review this game since he's more of an rpg guy?

Just askin. The review is great anyways, it's just that if you compare with IGN's you can really tell those guys reviewed the game and enjoyed themselves in the process.

Posted by CPlusPlus

I just want to know one thing right now. Did any of you people that work for GiantBomb.com even go to college and receive your degrees in anything? Every time I read a review on this site I feel as if I'm reading something that was written by some 15 year old pimply faced kid who has not seen the sun in 4 years.

Posted by John

Why is the ps3 version so different? You would think that it would be at least on-par with the other versions. Good review.

Edited by Death_Burnout

If its got all the same annoying quirks and problems oblivion had than i dont know...i think i might stick to morrowind as the bethesda game that i like

Posted by Scooper

A good, honest review, that's helped me alot in my deciion to get this.

Posted by SlimDogg

If you beat the game . Can you start again with the stuff you have found and your perks ?

Posted by phrosnite

Great review. I'm still not sure whether I will buy the game.

Edited by Y2Ken

WTF?!? ONLY 4 STARS?!? JEFF, YOU SUCK!!!

...

Nah, just kidding man!

 Great review, and probably a fair score. Also, let's not forget that you've actually played it, and we haven't... yet. And four stars is still an indication of a pretty darn good game. Definitely getting it, I've been having great fun playing more Oblivion of late.

We getting a video review?

Posted by Gunslinger

  Those little issues might annoy me about the game... But nevertheless, I like some good ol' RPG-ing now and again, so the inventory-sorting, and stats should hold my interest for a while...

  Hmm... There might be some patches coming out to fix some of those issues... At least with the game-crashing one, at least....
  And it really wouldn't hurt them to fix the game-breaking one, where if you don't save before going into the room with the last mission in, you have to start all over, because once you complete the game, you get booted onto the title screen...

Posted by Hilts

I loved this game as much as I loved Oblivion - I was hopelessly hooked from beginning to end.  Im totally switched on to the retro design  feel,  especially the radio stations and weaponary.

On of the major sticking blocks for me came while navigating through the citys. Finding you cant simply clamber over a pile of rubble blocking the street, the game wants you instead to go into the subway tunnels and come up at the other side...which wasnt always obvious.

The combat system didnt grate with me so much because I prefer the RPG syle 'level up to get tougher' system rather than 'running and gunning'. It has to be said using VATS in close quaters to blow some ghouls head clean off its shoulders in SLowwwwmo never gets tedius.

Great review of a great game all the same

Posted by mr_registered

Despite getting 4 stars, I really feel this review focuses a little too heavily on what's wrong with Fallout 3 and gives off the impression that the game ain't too great.

Posted by Brackynews

Thanks Jeff, that pretty well mirrors the impressions I've gleaned from watching months of trailers, but again it seems more fun than amazing.  I definitely think it's worth a try.
So sorry to hear they botched the ending.  Seems to be the default position these days.  Tycho said it well discussing Dead Space recently.

Posted by mordecaix7

Good review.  I loved Oblivion and it's issues I was able to forget about so I know i'm going to love Fallout 3.  Can't wait to get my Vault-tec lunchbox and bobble head!

Posted by ArbitraryWater

The review is worded in such a way that it almost looks like 3 stars instead of 4 when you read it.

Posted by Kaido

Why does everyone go on about Megaton? For god's sake, I must have heard about that fucking quest 20 times now.

It just seems nobody's mentioning much else on the good vs bad side, even the previews that weren't under embargo didn't mention much else.

Posted by DrLove

im glad Jeff wrote his true feelings about the game.. 

I just dont think his words match the score he gave.  Seems like after reading this that the game would get a 3 or something.  as far as shooting in real-time not being that great.. im sure COD world at war or Gears 2 will fill that need.  I didnt hate on Oblivion cuz the sword play wasnt Devil May Cry...
Posted by dancingphil

I see that a lot of the comments here question the 4 out of 5 rating. However, on re-reading the review, I think it is mostly positive. The extra space given to negative points is purely a function of having to explain the significance of each point, such as the frequent autosaves.

I was interested that Jeff decided, sometimes, to run straight from one point to another. Another review I have read says the exact opposite to Jeff about the game's content--ie. that there is a huge amount of content within the game world. This part of Jeff's review seemed to reflect his playing style (he admits to his own cowardice and constant running!) so I wonder whether a different attitude to gameplay--perhaps one that isn't under deadline--might lead one to enjoy this more than Jeff did.

Here's a summary of the salient points that I am taking from the review::

--meaningful moral choices that...reshape the game pretty dramatically
--most...quests [are] clever [and] interesting [even if not to the same extent as blowing up Megaton]
--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.

--[VATS etc] turned combat into more of a chore...the alternative of facing your enemies...in real time, wasn't any better
--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...you can usually just keep running
--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
--the game's ending is a bit unfortunate
--The game also has a lot of little issues...NPC characters behave oddly...if you're holding more than the weight limit allows you'll move very slowly...[third person perspective is no good]...the game autosaves [too often]
--[But] most people will be able to overlook a lot of the game's problems and still have a very good time