Giant Bomb Review

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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 FuzzYLemoN

Video review! NAO!

Posted by DarthStone

So, you're saying that AS A GAME, Fallout 3 is exactly as good as Saint's Row 2 ?

Mmmm....  

I think maybe you guys need more stars in your rating system?....
Posted by Dryker

I can see why most reviewers still give games scores. If Jeff hadn't given Fallout 3 four stars, the review alone would lead me to believe that this game is mediocre at best, but four stars is an enthusiastic thumbs up. I must say, for my own part, that I played Fallout 3 for four hours last night and had just barely gotten out of the bunker to be butchered over and over and over again in the highschool before I decoded the map indicators and barely got my dying, irradiated butt to town. My V.A.T. wouldn't work until I got to Megaton for some reason with no prompt saying something like, "You now have V.A.T.s!" To be quick, I have not found anything too impressive yet after FOUR hours! I expect that to change, but the wasteland is nowhere near as enjoyable to run through as Oblivion was. The reveal coming out of the bunker was, "Ooh, thats alot of nothing." I guess I need to find one of those G.E.C.K. things the game refers to so I can return the planet to a lush paradise (although I suspect that bit was just irony and has no place in the game). Anyways, Jeff's conclusion and write-up seem conflicting.

Posted by Upryse

"DarthStone on Oct. 29, 2008

So, you're saying that AS A GAME, Fallout 3 is exactly as good as Saint's Row 2 ?
Mmmm....  

I think maybe you guys need more stars in your rating system?...."

I think maybe you need more cells in your brain system?....
Edited by DukeTogo

This may have been covered by now but you can disable the auto-save feature for a few settings.  So if that was the biggest issue you had then it's actually your own damn fault for not going over the options.  It's completely feasible to believe a player could be caught in the same situation, but chalking up a bad experience due to user ignorance shouldn't be held against the game.

The whole issue of FPS vs RPG is going on in the interwebs, very reminiscent of Mass Effect and people again thinking (due in some part to questionable marketing) it's a FPS game and plays like one.  There are even videos of dudes going into the game and shooting an NPC in the face 20 times before he finally drops, and calling it proof "we've been lied to".

I never had a problem with Mass Effect's handling of guns, and so far I've had a few issues of completely missing dudes in Fallout 3 right in front of me, but it is all dice rolls and stats under the hood and not knowing that before buying the game can lead to some (uninformed and missplaced as it may be) anger in some folks.

This brings up some issues in marketing and game coverage that need to be addressed by publishers.  You can't expect everybody to know the bullet points of your product, but you'd at least expect somebody dropping $60 on a game to have at least an idea what the game is before going to the store.


Having said all that, remember people that these reviews reflect that person's take on the game, taking into account their preferred genres and what they think of it compared to the mountain of stuff they've played before.  They aren't objective or unbiased, or trying to take into account what a person who only plays a few games a year would like.  That's what they left behind at that other place. 

Listen to the Bombcast that went up right after this review, I think Jeff (and the others) clearly illustrates the reasons why he gave it the review he did.  Seeing a game that was built off the template of Oblivion, but still has most of the annoying bugs nearly three years (and thousands of forum posts) later deserves to be called out for not fixing shit that was regarded as one of the biggest problems in that game by everybody.

Posted by kagai

I disagree.  I love the combat, especially VATS.  It's cool to target a supermutant's arm and watch him drop the gun and come running after me.  I enjoyed Oblivion and I have to say, so far, I'm loving this game more.  This may be the first game that I buy "additional content" for when it comes out.  LOVE IT!

Posted by HatKing
Posted by jamBOT

Thank you  -- "erinfizz" -- thank you,  some one else admitting that the "first person" perspectives make them sick too.  I HAVE to have that avatar in front of me or it will take me months to get through that game.  BIOSHOCK -- one hour in, I thought I was going to puke.  Which totally sucks, because i would like to finish the game, BEFORE the second one comes out.

I'm gonna nauseous my way through FALLOUT 3, some how.  Because this look fabulous, and I don't want to miss it.
Posted by FeverSteed

did anyone else beat the shit out of Butch at the start of the game?


god that was satisfying

Posted by Johnor

Good review.

Posted by Milkman

Once again, I direct everyone to the first page. Second comment. You people are fucking predictable. I really don't see what people are saying about the negativity in the review. It seems like a 4 star review to me. Jeff just points out a ton little issues that hamper the game. Jeff seemed to enjoy the overall game mechanics. I think you guys need to stop trying to justify your purchases with stars and just enjoy the fucking game.

Online
Posted by Meltbrain

@Milkman - You tell 'em, son!

Sounds like a good game to me, the weird shit in Oblivion never got to me and I loved that game, I think I'm gonna love Fallout 3. Good review, Jeff.

Posted by Webby

Wow. Where did all the n00b's come from.
Complaining over 1 star. Hahah.

Posted by reflekshun

Looooved the video review and written review, both very informative and interesting!

Posted by guttershark

i need to pick this up for my 360

Posted by Android22

Where can I get a giant bomb shirt?!

Posted by RHCPfan24

Don't hit me

Posted by PitifullPete

Great Video once again. I have to keep repeating me, you sirs make awesome videos!! It also reflected the score much better then the written one.

Posted by Beechbone

Nice review. So, not surprisingly Fallout 3 actually turns out to be Oblivion with guns and that sucks for me. Bethesda should make TESV already and leave Fallout alone. I hope for another game as magically delicious as Morrowind was. I don't need another "twenty thousand page book" like Molyneux said about Oblivion. In Fallout 3 there is wasteland, in Oblivion there were forests. Bethesda should make their next game smaller but more interesting. With Fallout 3 they made game that is cool because it's huge... "don't hit me" ;)

Posted by NintenDoorMan
Posted by Vgsounds

I will save my self 20000000 hours of gameplay. His dad has to leave cause he had aids and wanted a cure. You leave cause they don't like sons of aids people and you find your father and his cure. The end. Lol I can just imagine some awsome story and be happy. I don't think it works well enough like Mass Effect. Story is more for World War/nuclear holocaust fans. It just doesn't mix well to me. Thanks for the review Jeff. It is alot of work doing this stuff. Unless it is Final Fantasy or related to the creator of final fantasy (Lost Odyssey) than I wont touch the rpg related game. Saving myself 60 bucks here.

Posted by The_Icon

Great Review guys, but I am just sad that the bugs hampered such a masterful experience.

Posted by Fyrant

I'm not playing anymore of this game until there's a run speed mod that makes you faster and a 'bag of holding' mod to get rid of the encumberance factor.  I'm not going to spend hours sifting through my inventory like I did in Oblivion even WITH those mods.

Posted by CPlusPlus

@dcpd10
Obviously you missed the point that the review was just a garbage piece of writing. I can see that you obviously have a huge man crush on Jeff and you would like to sleep with him and that's something that you are going to need to deal with. Have you come out to your mom yet? What did she say about it? Why don't you go apply for a job at GameStop, that way you can think you are in the game industry even though you will be nothing but a low life tool that is doing nothing but bringing the industry down.

I also did not know there was a "deserving factor" to be on this site, that's weird because my internet provider still allows me to access it. Maybe I should call them and make sure my deserving factor is at the correct level to access certain sites on the internet.  By the way, congrats on using shitty writing yourself with your acronyms. I got one for you, see if you can guess what this one means...GSADYJLF!!!!

Posted by Irishjohn

@CPlusPlus

Dude.  Get the fuck over yourself.
Posted by CPlusPlus

@IrishJohn
Go lick your mom in her naughty spot!

Posted by uk_john

Why oh why will NO reviewer tell gamers that once again Bethesda has used the SAME voice artists! They used the same voice artists in Oblivion as they did in Morrowind, but at least both of those were Elder Scrolls games  -  Fallout 3 is a very different world, and to hear Morrowind/Oblivion voices totally breaks the immersion for me! Why do Bethesda do this? Don't they know many 250 hour plus Oblivion players are going to get this game and recognise the voices?! More importantly, why has NO reviewer,  that I am aware of, mentioned this? Someone once said 'the devil is in the details'. How right they were! Are we going to get Elder Scrolls 5 based on another continent and STILL have the same voices?! This problem has really spoiled the game for me, and will ultimately spoil Oblivion or Morrowind, if I go back to them at some point!

They say that gaming wants to be like the movies, but using the same voice artists over and over in different games is not going to do it!  

Posted by natetodamax

I need this game.

Posted by supalink

Spot on review, video review was entertaining as well. Game could of been so much more but it was entertaining while it lasted, too much micro managing inventory.. whats up with not being able to have weapon/stimpack hotkeys?!

Edited by drik

@erinfizz  The problem with 3rd person is that many people, including myself, would like to play it that way but they really can`t. I find the visual field better and I dont really like 1st P. But the main problem for me is the weird animation of the character and sketchy targeting. The char`s movements are almost slides instead of steps and it buggs the living whatever out of me... Which is too bad because I like third person, the view is over-the-shoulder-like similar to RE4 but it`s just not good...

Posted by schizogony

Why was Jeff allowed to review this? Why is Jeff allowed to review anything?

Posted by HykCraft

Hey guys -- fix the video review -- keeps stopping at 1:38.. doesn't even fully stream the video if you pause it.

Edited by Fade2Gray

Just finished the game and have to say that (aside from a lack of positive points) the review really is spot on with my experience. Loved the game but the negatives Jeff mentions are disappointing and merit the docking of a star.

And that ending!? What in the world was up with that!? It doesn't even make since if you take the game's gameplay mechanics seriously. I could go on but I should stop now before I give too much away...

Posted by Some_One_Plays

This is when I start to lose credibility for sites when they state one version is clearly better than another and some PlayStation 3 gamer proves them wrong. Anyways it would be interesting to see how long this happens in reviews after seeing so much gamers doing comparisions.

HTML: http://www.n4g.com/News-227794.aspx

Posted by PocketfullaButtholes

It's been quoted before but..."almost as if the enemies are leveling up along with you."

Posted by fallout3ismygame

i actually think its better then fallout and fallout 2 this one was the best

Posted by Old_Snake864

great review for a great game

Posted by deadgopher

Although I have a much higher opinion of Fallout 3 (finished it last night, about 45 hours spent and still have a couple major side quests to complete), I think we can all agree that Gob is awesome.

Don't hit me!

Posted by bcfish

Don't hit me!!!  Great review, though I love this game so much I'd give it another star Jeff.  All said, I agree with your review, but a 5 star for sure!  Don't hit me!

Posted by bloodvulture

fallout 3 is a fricken awesome game. a lot like oblivion(which is good). but the only bad thing about it is you cant play you character after you beat it. i had my character at lvl 17 and i beat it and couldnt play so that pissed me off. but overall a great game

Posted by Azeroth

Insightful review Jeff, I might change my opinion of this game now and consider getting myself a copy, thanks!
By the way, does anyone know the major issues concerning the PS3 port of the game?

Posted by spectromorph

I'm thinking this review highlights the issue with the five star ranking system. 4 Stars could mean anything between 71% and 89% and thats a big difference.

Posted by NoOddjob

i gotta say i'd call this one a five.  i can't let myself play it that often because when i do, i don't stop.  

Posted by Chewii101

Did they release any patches to fix any of these problems?

Wanna get this game but don't wanna deal with freezing and annoying glitches.
Posted by RedSox8933

jeff, first of all, i hate to be like this. but i saw you're achievements for this game and you haven't completed a LOT of shit that actually makes this game good. i'm not saying that you should change your score if you ever go back and complete it, but you really should see it for yourself.

Posted by Tiberium

"Don't Hit Me"

Posted by cimaraHD33

Great review, can't wait to pick this gem up!

Posted by Doomguy

For me this was the best game of last year, 5/5 for sure. Still play it a lot, great game. Can't wait for Point Lookout and the Alien DLC.

Posted by L

Hilarious video review! I use blue for the HUD too.

Posted by HAMMERCLAW

A marvelous, wonderfully huge, wide open, entertaining, extremely flawed, often boring, repetitive, clunky game, that sucks you into its wide-open maw, masticates you slowly, and ultimately robs you of your nutrients, and a significant portion of your life. The deja vu of stepping out onto Hyrule field is evoked, yet again by Bethesda, with typically stunning effect, and, once again, you are launch into another opiate fantasy, this one of a, decidedly, more nightmarish side. No, the game ain't perfect, by a long shot, but kudos to Bethesda for giving us so much that is, almost, that we can, once again, forgive them for the rest. **Four Stars, a Knife and a Fork**