Leading up to the release of Fallout 3, I was playing Rock Band 2 and Fable II, thoroughly enjoying both. My most highly anticipated game of the fall Left 4 Dead was only a few short weeks away and Guitar Hero: World Tour was about to drop. Even in the face of these highly publicized, really strong games, something in my gut told me that I needed to get Fallout 3. And itâ€™s been a long time since I last made such a good choice when it comes to video games.
It’s important to get outside. Breathe that fresh air.
Iâ€™ll say up front, Iâ€™ve never played Fallout 3â€™s two predecessors on the PC. I cannot draw any comparisons to those, but I have logged some hours into developer Bethesdaâ€™s 2006 effort The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and there are definite parallels between the Capital Wasteland and Oblivion.
Iâ€™ll keep it short and spoiler-free (with the exception of generalities of certain early events). You begin the game at the beginning of life. Your life, not the big-bang or whatever creation theory you subscribe to. You experience key moments in your life at ages important to that of a Vault 101 inhabitant. As this introduction/tutorial progresses, you eventually make your way out of the Vault and find yourself staring at the expanse of the Capital Wasteland, Fallout 3â€™s open game world.
A quick break for me to gush over this moment. Youâ€™ve more than likely read/heard every reviewer do this, I know I did. But that makes it all the more impressive. I was hyping this moment so much (something which should be avoided at all costs) and it still delivered and surpassed my expectations. A true clichÃ©d â€œwowâ€ moment gaming.
The proud U.S. capital. Perhaps seen some better days.
Iâ€™ll drop all specifics from here. You spend the rest of the game exploring the vast map, with a core storyline to follow divided into about 10 quests, with an achievement for each. This can be blitzed through in probably 8 hours or so, but thereâ€™s no need to rush a work of art. Realistically, you will probably spend 15-plus hours on these missions alone with another 10 or so â€œofficialâ€ side quests to complete (â€œofficialâ€ meaning they show up on your quest screen along with an achievement for each). The course of getting from point A to end point Z in each quest will take you to between a third and half of the mapâ€™s locations. This game is huge. Iâ€™m currently at 63 hours and Iâ€™ve been to probably 2/3 or 3/4 of these â€œpoints of interest.â€
If you want to invest in Fallout 3, know that you will be experiencing this with no other warm bodies, present or otherwise. This is a truly single-player quest, something I personally have no problem with, but keep it in mind.
The gameâ€™s intro works as both a tutorial and character customization tool. When youâ€™re born, you generate your future adult likeness on a piece delivery room technology. With each event in your childhood and adolescence, youâ€™ll shape the foundations of your characterâ€™s stats, skills, perks, and morality, which make your character unique far more than his/her appearance. While you can view the action from a third person perspective, I highly advise against it. This game was meant to be experienced from a first person vantage point, to truly be part of the Capital Wasteland. Plus, the movements of your character from third person look highly disjointed and awkward.
Stats are general personality traits (intelligence, charisma, strength, etc.) that effect base level of your skills and can alter how your character operates (for example, higher endurance allows you to carry more weight). Skills are traditional enough, each of the roughly two dozen stats control a combat, healing/repair, or interaction mechanic. These can be raised through leveling, certain items, and perks. Perks are effectively add-ons for statistics, specific situational boosts, or more than a simple number-modification of your character. One is gained with each level (there is a level cap of 20, so be prepared to make some hard decisions, especially as certain perks need level and skill prerequisites. Morality is important for how people interact with you, and while it does depend on your own actions, their individual moral fiber affects the interaction as well (an evil character will hate your do-gooding hero of the wastes). All of these contribute to which of Fallout 3â€™s slew of endings you can receive.
Pip-Boy: Your new best friend.
Everything pertaining to character information, equipment, items, navigation, and objectives is controlled by your Pip-Boy located on your forearm. Hit the B button and youâ€™ll be able to access nearly any menu option in a very simple but accessible system.
With the map as large but also dense as it is, youâ€™ll have no problem breaking the 50 hour mark with any shred completionist mentality. The achievements lend to this as well, with story and quest, level/morality, amount, and specific action based points waiting to be awarded.
Through your questing youâ€™ll encounter humans, robots, animals and creatures mutated and evolved by the radiation, and super mutants. And youâ€™ll be fighting all of them. Mostly with guns. But make no mistake; this is not a First-Person Shooter, it is a First-Person Role-Playing Game…with guns, lots of guns. Each firearm or melee weapon is divided into a category (Unarmed, Melee, Small Guns, Big Guns, and Energy Weapons) and each handles pretty uniquely for its class and as an individual weapon.
Disintegrating ghouls: A new addition to the D.C. lifestyle.
Iâ€™ve seen videos of people showing their frustration at shooting enemies in the head a handful of times and them not dying. While this does take some of the illusion away, it warrants repeating; this is not a fast paced FPS. Both your skill level and the weapons condition (which deteriorates with use, but can be repaired) dictate how powerful your weapons will be. You cannot run from the Vault with a pistol and expect to take down entire settlements. You have to wait a couple levels. The game difficulty scales but not drastically. If youâ€™ve discovered a location, it will remain in that state, with the enemies you first find there. So if you come across a town filled with a certain enemy that I hope to never meet in real life, you can come back at a higher level with better equipment and exact any needed revenge (my first experience with a Deathclaw was both terrifying and terrifyingly difficult).
The enemy A.I. is pretty strong on the whole, with a few minor hiccups here and there (getting stuck on small drop-offs, standing next to someone whoâ€™s just been sniped and not reacting at all), but itâ€™s nothing that really takes you out of the experience. The most noticeable A.I. problems come from non-enemy characters, namely any followers you may come across. Certain people (and others) may follow you and aid you in battle under specific circumstances (morality, events, etc.). They are fierce in battle but very skittish when it comes to uneven ground and will run away, trying to find a path around. It is the most frustrating problem I encountered.
The most talked about feature specific to Fallout 3 is the V.A.T.S. (Vault-Tec-Assisted Targeting System). It essentially is a pause-then-target system, adding a turn-based element to the very FPS-themed combat. It shows the percent youâ€™ll be able to hit each part of the body (legs, arms, torso, head) and any weapon that enemy may be carrying. You can queue up multiple shots on one or more enemies using Action Points. These regenerate and are really only used for this purpose, so fire away. Thereâ€™s not a real advantage to using this as you are immobile, watching your attacks from a cinematic angle, thus vulnerable to enemy attacks. In the beginning of the game, with your stats low, you may be frustrated with how often you miss, but would you expect someone straight out of the Vault hardly ever having fired a gun before to be scoring headshots left and right? You could play the entire game and hardly ever use it or it could be your favorite tool, which is a very strong sign of a â€œplay it however youâ€™d likeâ€ open RPG.
Where to shoot? So many options…
At first glance stylistically, this game seems to echo the trend of coupling realism and gray. But how would you set a world beset by nuclear holocaust in anything but shades of gray and muted colors. Not to mention the colors do increase in intensity where they should (intact science labs, civilized strongholds, hidden sanctuaries). This game hits the mark getting you to believe this is what the world would look like torn apart by destruction and anarchy. Good luck coming across any undamaged houses in the wasteland.
The technical side of the graphics is impressive as well, with this game measuring up to the visual leaders on the 360. Itâ€™s probably not at the very top but itâ€™s certainly no slouch.
There are a few flaws to this piece of art. Humans appear rather emotionless, with facial expressions not matching the verbal emotions they attempt to convey. It wouldnâ€™t be as much of an issue if you werenâ€™t spending so much time focused on a zoomed in screen of another characterâ€™s mug.
What’s the matter buddy? Is the bar too drab for you?
The other standout is one that started as a really cool visual. Should the last hit you land on an enemy be a critical (often in V.A.T.S.), the body part you hit may become dismembered. I had loved this animation for so many hours. But as your character levels up and you find better weapons, this becomes more of a regular occurrence. It still wasnâ€™t a problem until other limbs started to explode away from the body as well. Shooting a foe in the head and seeing all his arms and legs fly away from his decapitated torso ruins the immersion this game succeeds at achieving so often.
Both of these flaws are incredibly nitpicky, but because the rest of the game is so good, they tend to be more noticeable.
This is where the game becomes a real universe. Itâ€™s not the star of the presentation. But everything fits so well into place that Iâ€™ve lost myself in the experience of just walking across the wastes listening to the radio on my Pip-Boy. The music youâ€™ll hear in Fallout 3 can be divided into two categories: score and radio. The score is traditional orchestrated music. It plays different pieces based on location and situation, but the one youâ€™ll hear most often is the battle theme, which may actually work to your advantage as often I was unaware that I was detected by enemies until the music started to play.
The formative years of vault dwelling.
The radio, as I said, is on your Pip-Boy and there are a dozen or so individual frequencies youâ€™ll come across. These range from a looping dictator broadcast and a rebel underground music and news station, to distress signals and Morse Code beacons. The music theme is of the 1940s and 50s standards and big band genres and while that often wonâ€™t be a gamerâ€™s preferred genre, it helps enhance the atmosphere of the game and really offers some nice contrasting audio and visual stimuli. Killing radscorpions to the tune of Cole Porter is always a good time.
The voice acting is perhaps the weakest area, but by no means is it bad. The characters just tend to say too much and most of it is information based. They often seem more like tools for gathering intel than actually humans inhabiting the world.
The sound effects are all on par with the rest of the gameâ€™s presentation. Human enemies will call out at you, your followers will have catch phrases, creatures growl and screech with the best of them. The guns all sound like they would, with the dart gun having twang and the Chinese Assault Rifle sounding like its got some serious kick behind it.
Another day closes with sweet serenity on the Wasteland.
Itâ€™s very difficult to truly convey how well this game engrosses you in its world. A number of times Iâ€™ve been playing late at night and Iâ€™ll say to myself, â€œjust one more objective/location/encounterâ€ and Iâ€™ll look at the clock sometime later and it will be 5 in the morning. I have not been so enthralled with a game since 2005, with both Shadow of the Colossus and Resident Evil 4 giving same experience. And there were some truly great games last year. But this game has reawakened the addictive gamer in me in a way no other game has in years (of the 63 hours, 34 were over the first 7 days of play).
Yes, it is a similar game to Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion both having similar themes and story arcs (despite being set in completely different worlds) and using the gameâ€™s large expanse in a similar fashion. However, everything I didnâ€™t like about Oblivion is gone or fixed or fits better with Fallout 3â€™s design. This is a whole new world, really independent from Oblivion and it should be treated as such.
If youâ€™re looking for a single player game to truly capture you, stop reading this and go buy it. Iâ€™d love to recommend it to everyone but the lack of multiplayer may be a big factor for some and thatâ€™s understandable. But if you have even a hint of interest in this, then at least investigate a little more. And with the announcement of DLC coming each of the first three months of 2009, this gameâ€™s incredibly long life just got extended. After 11 months and playing most of the big name games, and the ones I was looking forward to more than this, Fallout 3 is my number one contender for Game of the Year. By a large margin.