Review by Osafune2
"One of the best games of this generation"
Fallout 3 is the latest game in a series brought back from the dead by Bethesda Softworks, developers of the acclaimed Elder Scrolls series. It takes place in a post-nuclear apocalyptic world, and more specifically on the desecrated west coast of America in and around Washington D.C. As it is developed by Bethesda, you can expect a huge open sandbox, go anywhere you want and do what you want type adventure to throw yourself into. Fallout 3 doesn't disappoint.
The game begins about as early as any game can, with you being extracted from your mother's womb by your father and some doctors. You choose a name and then play through various phases of your childhood, choosing your stats and areas of expertise along the way. You grow up in an underground complex called a Vault, it is a grey and depressing place so naturally you will be pleased when everything goes wrong after you turn nineteen. Your father leaves for unexplained reasons and all hell breaks lose and you decide to escape and follow him. You step outside the vault and from there the game stops holding your hand pretty much, you finalise your character and erase any childhood decisions that you didn't like and then you are free to do whatever you wish, search for your father or explore the wasteland and undertake sidequests from the nearby settlement of Megaton.
The fact that Fallout 3 is developed by Bethesda is undoubtedly going to be a bone of contention among hardcore fans of the original two Fallout games. They have a strong cult following and the fact that Bethesda have stamped their mark firmly on the series is going to anger many Fallout purists. I never played the originals so I could play Fallout 3 without prejudice, but it is so clearly a Bethesda game and possesses so many traits of the Elder Scrolls games that I can easily see that the formula will have changed, and some are not going to like it.
It has moved from an isometric 2D view to a 3D first person view, very similar to Elder Scrolls. It isn't, despite what you may have initially thought looking at screenshots, an FPS game. It is an RPG, not another Halo clone. Essentially you travel around a huge open world searching underground caves and tunnels and finding various locations and doing battle with various Super Mutants and other creatures affected by the radiation. The world is hugely engrossing, and you can easily burn through several hours just exploring and adventuring across the Capital Wasteland, as the area around Washington D.C is called. It looks utterly fantastic as well, they have upgraded the Oblivion engine a great deal, everything is rendered with exceptional finesse and detail from derelict husks of buildings to the shrubbery and dead trees struggling on the desolate hillsides.
The only problem with the graphics is the relentless, post-apocalyptic greyness. The whole game is one endless mix of greys and browns and it does start to look a little drab at times, but overall, the graphics are fantastic and one of the highest points of the game. However some of the faults from using the Oblivion engine have transferred to Fallout 3. Just like in ESIV, there is a pointless third person mode to appease those who dislike the idea of playing an RPG in first person presumably. But it is so clunky and poorly animated that there is no reason to bother playing in this mode unless you want to admire your character. He drifts bizarrely across the ground and his movement looks really unnatural, it doesn't look as though he is walking on the ground at all and when he jumps his legs are the only thing that moves, your characters body stays perfectly motionless. I don't see why they included this mode at all since it is so poorly done, also, combat is difficult as well and firing from the hip is near impossible in third person.
Another flaw carried over from Oblivion are the character animations, particularly during conversations. They have a very deadpan, emotionless quality to them and they never break eye-contact and never move anything other than their lips. This is very bizarre and unrealistic and makes them feel fake and wooden. Also, add in some really, really bad voice acting and dialogue and you will start to think that Bethesda should really should take notes from Lionhead about injecting personality and character, as well as good dialogue. I spoke to one woman in Rivet City and I made her cry in response to one of my questions, I asked a slightly unrelated question and she instantly resumed her deadpan, monotonous voice without showing a trace of the aforementioned emotion.
You will also hear repeated dialogue among NPCs as they try to have conversations among themselves in an attempt to make the game seem more natural. In the saloon in Megaton, a man named Jericho has the SAME flirtatious conversation with a prostitute every single day! It as if their whole lives are on a loop, this is just laziness from Bethesda. This is a small complaint compared to the overall polish of the game, but it does begin to grate a little bit.
You might be wondering how a game in which you wield guns in first person mode isn't an FPS. Well, the combat is essentially completely driven by numbers. In an ordinary FPS there is tactical combat strategy such as ducking and diving, strafing repeatedly round an opponent and filling them with lead and they react realistically to the bullets. A headshot is an instant kill in an ordinary FPS. However, the damage you dish out in Fallout 3 is dependant on stats, for example your accuracy and chance of hitting an opponent may be dictated by your Small Guns stat and your Perception rather than your actual direct aiming. Obviously, not aiming at all at an enemy is going to miss every time, but you will sometimes miss the head of an opponent despite the crosshair being centered on it. Also, while shots to the head generally do more damage, a headshot isn't always an instant kill, you may require multiple shots to bring a foe down.
This seems very strange and unnatural when you first begin playing Fallout 3, and you will crave normal FPS combat, but you will soon become accustomed to it. In attempt to shoehorn in some strategy to battles, Bethesda have implemented the V.A.T.S (an acronym for something lengthy and pointless) targeting system. This slows down time and allows you to aim at specific parts of your enemy's anatomy, such as the head, weapon, limbs etc. At the expense of action points. You can dish out far more damage in V.A.T.S mode and you can strategically cripple enemies. For example if you encounter a Super Mutant wielding a mini-gun that is carving you up, you can target the gun and put it out of action. There are downsides to V.A.T.S however, as it leaves you vulnerable to attack and there seems to be a delay before you can move again once you come out of V.A.T.S mode. The coolest thing about V.A.T.S is the close up action shots of your opponent as they are killed. You get to see their heads and limbs explode and fly off in all directions in a shower of blood and gore. It really is exceptionally cool! Especially when you can see the flight of the bullet as it thuds into their skull. An ability to skip these sequences would be useful later in the game however, as they begin to get a little tiresome after the ten thousandth head goes spinning through the air in a shower of blood.
The combat in Fallout 3, while serviceable and fun, could have been better. In all honesty, the strategical elements are not particularly well implemented and V.A.T.S makes it a walkover later in the game as you can just pulverise an enemies skull. I rarely found myself targeting anything other than the head and I suspect that the strategy of V.A.T.S only really comes into play in the harder difficulty settings. This isn't to say the combat isn't enjoyable though, which is fortunate since you will be spending an awful lot of time in various degrees of peril throughout your adventure.
You will find a plethora of weapons and armour to find lying around, via purchase or from looting dead bodies. All of it comes in various conditions, some are in very poor condition and this hinders their effectiveness. In order to maximise the potential of your armour, you must repair them, this can be done either by visiting a merchant who repairs weapons and armour or by doing it yourself. This isn't as simple as in Elder Scrolls, where you use hammers. In Fallout 3 you use spare parts gleaned from other weapons or armour of the same kind. It is kind of like combining two pistols of poor condition into one pistol of slightly better condition. This is a good system overall, but the main problem is having the resources to repair your own equipment early in the game, it also costs a fortune to get it repaired by a specialist. Here is a tip for free, pour a lot of stat points into Repair, you'll thank me for it.
In addition to the condition and underlying quality of your clothing and weapons, your statistics dictate your effectiveness in combat and survival in general out in the wastelands. There are base stats, such as Strength, Perception and Intelligence that you can assign booster points to at the start. These in turn govern your skills, of which there are many such as Melee weapons, explosives, energy weapons, lockpicking, science, speech, small guns, big guns, the list goes on. It is these that help to make your character unique and enable you to survive in the wasteland and defeat your enemies. You will have the option to "tag" three of these skills to choose your specialty, for example, with my character I specialised in Medicine, Small Guns and Repair. I wanted a character who was a skilled shooter, could fix his own gear and could heal himself more efficiently.
The sheer number of different characters you can create is staggering, you could go through the game completely unarmed if you wish, or you could charge your way through using only the biggest and most explosive weapons available, like Rambo. Whatever you choose, levelling up and then spending more skill points provides a great sense of satisfaction as your character progresses, you feel as though you are learning the ways of the waste land where you struggled at first. Kind of like a futuristic Aragorn. The levelling up takes a more traditional role in earning experience, rather than practicing skills and then sleeping as in Oblivion, I prefer the Fallout 3 method, it is less broken and exploitable in my opinion.
In addition to merely improving skills, you can assign Perks to your character. Like "Gun Nut" where you gain a boost to your Small Guns and Repair skills, or "Gunslinger" where you become more accurate with pistols and there are some that are unrelated to stats, such as "Mysterious Stranger" where occasionally a sharpshooter will arrive to assist you in combat, and "Here and Now" which grants you an immediate extra level to learn another perk and increase stats further. There are many perks in the game and they have a big effect on your character and his passage through the game. The character development system is very in-depth, allows for numerous different classes or builds, and is exceptionally satisfying and well done.
But the real delicious, main course of Fallout 3 is the exploration of the atmospheric game world. The wasteland is BIG, there are a ton of locations to find and many of them lead to underground, dark and dangerous caves full of mutants and other nasty creatures with a penchant for ripping your face off. Many of these underground sections are a combination of Metroid Prime, Resident Evil and Bioshock. The atmosphere and tension is palpable, and you will be kept on the edge of your seat for much of these subterranean excursions. I was exploring a place called Vault 87, it had been overrun by Super Mutants and was dark and derelict, I crept around with my torch on carefully looking around each dark corner for the next enemy. I then read some information about a sinister experiment that had been carried out the residents of the vault and my heart was in my mouth! Particularly when I encountered the result of said experiment.
The game also employs a retro feel, with many references to 1940s and 50s American culture, such as old songs that play on Galaxy News Radio station. This adds a unique atmosphere to the game and there is some genuine poignancy when you come across some intact remnants of the pre-war world, it makes you wonder who lived there and what they did. Bethesda should be commdended for their effort and attention to detail, there are so many pieces of information written about, or by the pre-war residents of each area, it helps build up a vivid picture about what the world was like and what exactly happened. The sheer amount to do is fantastic. If you rigidly follow the main story, you will miss so many areas, some of them don't even appear to have quests. I found a huge foundry that was just full of Raiders for me to kill with no other apparent purpose other than some tasty loot. Exploration is essential if you want to get the most from the game, it is full of optional areas and quests for you to undertake and there is A LOT to be missed out on.
The world design isn't completely flawless, there are numerous invisible walls and often large piles of rubble are dumped in places the game doesn't want you to go through. Also, many of the underground metro stations have a similar design, as if there was a basic template for each one that they changed slightly, like mass production. However, they are metro stations so they are obviously bound to be similar and it doesn't detract from the variety of the games locations.
Some of the sidequests are incredibly well fleshed out and turn into veritable novels of their own with multiple solutions. A settlement is beleagured by a mysterious gang known as the Family, do you find them and kill them, or negotiate peace between them or even join them? Another sidequest has you either track down a renegade Android and return him to his employer or protect his identity and stop him returning to what he regards as slavery on behalf of an organisation known as the Rail Road. There is a huge number of choices to undertake and they all have a big effect on the world.
There is a lot to think about and often these choices have an effect on your Karma. Obviously there is good and bad karma and whichever you acquire will alter the available quests and rewards and the general opinion of you. You can choose to disarm a bomb or blow it up and an entire town with it, straight off the map. While the Karma and morality system isn't quite as in-depth and integral to the game as in the Fable series, for example, it is still in-depth enough to warrant playthroughs as both a Good and Evil character as well as Neutral. There are exclusive achievements for the two alignments or for being neutral, and if you suffer from gaming OCD like I do, then you are going to go through Fallout 3 at least twice, like it or not.
Similarly to the sidequests, there are multiple ways to tackle some of the main storyline quests. Early on you can follow your father to Galaxy News Radio headquarters, carry out a quest there and gain more information as to his whereabouts. I, however, undertook a sidequest that inadvertently led me to Rivet City, where I encountered a scientist whom my father worked with and gave me information of his whereabouts that way. The variety in this game ensures that no game is entirely the same. You can also play for hours and hours and still find something new or a new place that you've never been to before. This is about the most open ended RPG that you will find.
One disappointing thing about Fallout 3 is that there is an "end." Once you finish the last storyline quest, you must revert to an earlier save because you cannot continue onwards after the ending credits. I do not really understand the reasoning for this, they should have changed it. Also, the ending itself and the final quest feels incredibly rushed and is if they didn't really think it through or couldn't be bothered in wrapping up the story in a satisfactory way. There is no big boss battle and no real challenge. But nevertheless, it is a harsh complaint to make when there is so much to see and do in the world and so many places to go and quests to undertake, the main storyline is a remarkably small part of the game indeed.
Fallout 3 has a relatively steep learning curve, and in the beginning of the game you can find yourself struggling. This is due to the daunting nature of the game, it is so open-ended that it is difficult to know exactly where to start and establishing a firm grip on the game can take some time and perserverance. I found myself frequently having my arse handed to me on a plate by Super Mutants on multiple occasions during the start of my adventure and my Fallout experience was one of frustration. However, once you persevere and begin levelling and improving stats the game really becomes notably easily to the extent where I would deem it necessary to play on the "Hard" difficulty setting towards the end of the game, just because there is no challenge at all and you're essentially a one man army. Ammo becomes far less scarce in general, and even less so with one or two perks gained through levelling, and this is a shame as it eliminates some of the survival horror feel of the game. Being on edge and feeling tense is difficult when you're carrying a fully charged Plasma Rifle and fifteen Frag Grenades.
The above mentioned ability to change the difficulty setting at any point in game is a strange decision from Bethesda. Whenever the game gets difficult it is very tempting to switch the difficulty down to Very Easy and then blast the enemies to pieces before returning to the default difficulty setting. I think it would be better if you chose the difficulty setting you wished to play on before beginning your game and then not let you switch between settings as it suits you. There is a penalty however, as playing on an easier setting nets you less experience, but when the enemies are so simple to defeat it isn't much of a loss really as improving your character is of far less importance.
Fallout 3 is simply a game that you must own. It really is exceptional value for money. A huge open world that encourages and rewards exploration, numerous sidequests that net you achievements and then many smaller quests will keep you engrossed on a single playthrough for weeks and possibly even months. Add to this many different decisions and solutions to playing through the game and you are definitely going to return to this game time and time again. This is without a doubt one of the very best Xbox 360 games, this is a unique blend of FPS, RPG, survival horror and adventure game and one of the finest video game experiences I have had for years. Many Fallout fans will be slightly disappointed with the direction the series of taken, but I for one am glad I was introduced to this series and it will undoubtedly attract more fans to the original games. Fallout 3 is an excellent, innovative game with a high amount of polish and effort, its flaws are extremely minimal. Purchase it now and you will not be disappointed.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 11/25/08
Game Release: Fallout 3 (EU, 10/31/08)
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