Review by DarthMordechai

"War. War changes sometimes"

I'd like to start this review by apologising, since this review is going to be full of comparisons to other games, namely the original two Fallouts and Oblivion. As a younger more optimistic child I played the hell out of Fallout 1 and 2 and loved every second of it. The games have aged quite badly graphically but they still hold up surprisingly well in this day and age. Oblivion bored me to tears and I still finished the damn thing twice so I'm no stranger to mediocrity - just ask my ex girlfriends

Love it or hate it, Oblivion did a lot of things right. It gave you a short introductory level, gave you a few skills and a grasp of the game and then shooed you out into the massive world for you to do whatever you damn well please. It's just a shame that Dark Brotherhood missions aside everything for you to do is incredibly boring

But this game isn't Oblivion - it's Fallout 3. The game that, when I first heard about it's production, I knew would not be able to live up to the hype. It's not like I had written the game off before I had even played it, but my expectations were low enough for me play it without bursting into tears and cursing Bethesda for their crimes against video games

Sadly enough, the game didn't live up to the hype of being a successor for Fallout 1 and 2, but it doesn't even live up to the hype of being a good video game

The start is quite ham fisted, so to speak. The game starts with you being born, and the cool calm tones of Liam Neeson welcoming you to the world. You then pick your characters name and what you look like due to future technology in this post apocalyptic world. Just note that choosing what you look like is an exercise in futility since it has no effect on the game at all since the only time you really ever see your face is when you die

Time jumps forward, and you're a baby walking around, informing you that you now live inside a "vault" deep underground. You then choose your stats, which again is pretty worthless for reasons I'll get into later, and then time jumps forward again. It's your birthday, and you finally get to talk to people. You get given items, meet people and then you get a cruddy BB gun. Time jumps forward again, you take a test to determine what your "occupation" is, but it's just a fake out for you to choose your skills (skills are actually relevant, or at least they are most of the time) Time jumps forward again, things have went pear shaped as your Father has escaped and everyone is trying to kill you. You avoid them and escape the Vault, coming into the real world for the first time. The game really begins here

The comparison to Oblivion begins here, since Oblivion did pretty much exactly the same thing. Short introduction where you pick your skills, an "oh no everything is going wrong" moment and then you're all alone in the big wide world to do what you like. And don't get me wrong - the world is huge. Not quite as big as Oblivion's, which is a good thing since Oblivions world had so much empty space that it seemed big for the sake of being big. Everything seems more compact here, where things aren't exactly bunched up but neither are they miles apart

Again like Oblivion you have the choice of a first person view of a weird over the shoulder view that just looks awkward. Unlike Oblivion you actually have a reason to keep in the first person view as most of the time you'll be using guns to fight. Sure you could use bows in Oblivion, but they really sucked so you never used them. The controls are tight, in that everything is right where you want it. Y makes you jump, and since you rarely even need to jump it's put out of reach. A controls everything, from picking up items to working doors to talking to people. RT shoots, X reloads and B accesses your Pip-Boy, which basically works as your inventory. You change weapons and armour through it, as well as heal yourself and checking your map and quests. It's your little go-to guide for the game, with everything you need to continue your game at the push of a button

The big difference in controls from Oblivion to Fallout is the introduction of VATS, or Vault-tec Assisted Targetting System. When you push the RB button time stops, and you can safely pick out targets without repurcution. Right stick chooses a target, left stick changes which body part you fire at and it's best to pay attention to your chance of hitting your target is, but the game gives you a percentage so you always know. Shooting a protected torso in VATS won't do much damage, but an unprotected headshot is very damaging. Also, if you shoot a body part enough times you'll cripple that body part with a range of effects - crippling a head lowers accuracy, crippling a leg makes the enemy unable to run, crippling a torso makes them flinch a lot more when hit and crippling an arm makes them drop a weapon. You can even shoot the weapons in their hands to break them, and much fun can be had shooting grenades that enemies are wielding. Note that the enemies can do the same to you, although you'll only ever really see this when they use explosion weapons

VATS is the battle system of Fallout 1 and 2 given a modern interpretation. So long as you have the AP you can keep getting targetted shots on your enemies, and when you're out of AP you'll have to wait until it refills naturally to use VATS again (or you could use some recovery items that do the same) Until then you can play the game like a normal First Person Shooter, and if you're a fan of FPS then you'll see no real need to use VATS - if you can make the shot yourself then why have the game do the aiming for you? This is what I thought until I found out you're invincible while using VATS - after picking your shots and accept the actions, time slows and you see yourself making the shots, and the enemies reactions to that. Even if you're surrounded by five knife wielding raiders who are stabbing the life out of you, because you're going in bullet time they'll do no damage to you at all. Time it just right and you can dodge rockets and grenades, simply because they'll do no damage to you. This is game breakingly stupid

Making the game even easier is the games insistence of giving you stimpacks, which restore health. If you explore most of the buildings you find you'll be picking up a load of stimpacks, and most areas also have beds for you to sleep in to restore your health no matter how long you sleep in them. Even the longest journeys into the wasteland are a piece of cake because of the amount of healthpacks lying around. Couple this with the fact stimpacks weigh nothing, it means you can carry around 300 of them at once without breaking a sweat and you rarely even need them. You find yourself charging raiders wielding rocket launchers because there's really nothing to fear - take a hit, use two stimpacks and you're fine. It's no big deal, there's hundreds of them in your pocket which must be made out of the same material as The Luggage

Ammunition is also weightless apparantly, so even if you're not going to use the weapon the ammo is for it's worth picking it up anyways. You can trade most ammo for quite a bit of money and they quickly add up so money needs aren't really that important either after a few hours. When you're a level five schlub and you're the richest person in the world the game quickly devolves into a feeling if pointlessness. I can understand why Bethesda made ammo and healthpacks weightless, as it'll really suck only being able to carry so much, but it just breaks the game completely att he same time

The stats you choose at the start of the game are also incredibly worthless unless you're Role Playing the game. You'll end up min/maxing your stats since the best stat by far is intelligence as it gives you more bonuses when you level up. Charisma is worthless since you get no real bonuses for talking your way through the game - it might give you a shortcut or two but why take the quick way when the slightly longer way gives you more loot and money? The other stats fit nicely in the "useful but not really neccesary" category, and one of the first perks you can get gives you an instant +1 to any of your stats so if you are feeling a little low taking a level or two to correct things is very easy, not to mention you can choose the perk 10 times in the game making your stats godlike incredibly quickly

The perks you can choose at level up range from the incredibly useful to the incredibly worthless. For every Educated perk (gives you more skill points at a level up) or Comprehension (gives you more skill points when you use a skill book) there's a Bloody Mess perk (enemies limbs explode when they die, and a pitiful 5% damage boost) or Lead Belly perk (you get less radiation when you drink from an irradiated water source, which you'll never be doing anyways) Just by reading the game manual it tells you what every perk does so it doesn't even take much to see which ones are good and which ones are bad

Skills are a different matter, mostly. Depending on your intelligence you get a certain amount of skill points you can put into all of your skill stats, but with the amount of skill books in the game which raise a skill permamently there's enough skill points to make you good at pretty much everything. Barter is worthless since money is so easily obtained store prices are not a pain, speech is also worthless since it gives you very little apart from a slightly better reward than what you'll get. Lockpicking or Science helps you break into locks and computers respectively, but since they go up in ratios of 25 (you need a skill level of 25 to break into easy locks, 50 to get into medium locks etc) it's better to just dump all of your skill points in them at once to reach the next plateau

The rest of the skills are weapon based (if you're not using a weapon take unarmed, take melee weapons if you're using sledgehammers et al, small guns for pistols/shotguns/rifles, big guns for missile launchers and miniguns, energy weapons for laser and plasma weapons and explosives for mines and grenades) and the other two are sneak (hide in shadows basically - if you hit an enemy while hidden you get a critical hit, and sometimes if you position yourself well they'll never see you and you can take potshots until they die) medicine (the higher the skill the more health you'll recieve from a stimpack - handy) and repair (repairs weapons and armour to make them more useful - traders will also repeair them for you, so it's up to you if you want to take this skill)

If you're using VATS then picking a weapon skill isn't really worthwhile no matter what you use. At really high levels, Small Guns means you can take just about anything out easily from miles away in VATS, but early on the tactic is get as close as you can to the enemy so you can't miss in VATS, you're invincible while shooting in VATS and the enemy is usually so weakened if not dead from this that it's incredibly easy to finish them off. Not to mention that Big Guns feel clumsly and underwhelming when it comes to power - missiles are sort of rare, so you won't use them on most enemies because you're saving them for the big bad guys but they never seem to appear - the only real enemies worth using missiles on are Deathclaws, and the missile launcher reloads too slowly for it to be a viable weapon

The game scales the enemies as you level up, giving weak raiders stronger weapons and throwing stronger enemies like bears (called Yao Guai for some reason, but I always call them yaoi bears) and Deathclaws instead of weak mole rats or radscorpions. You'll also fight different enemies in different areas, with Super Mutants predominately in the western part of the map Deathclaws up north Yao Guai to the West and Raiders tend to stay around the middle of the map. Even at low levels you can generally take most enemies that you face, unless you stumble upon a Deathclaw at level 2 for some reason. the game isn't exactly difficult, as I have pointed out before

But who cares about that, so long as it looks good, right? Well, yeah the game does look good. You wouldn't really expect anything less. When the whole "whoa" feeling of the enviroment wears off you'll get sick of walking through the same brown wasteland all the time, breaking the monotany with the same black caves or the same slightly different brown dungeon that is out there. The places that have effort put into them look really nice with lots of little touches given to them, but they're so few and far between that wandering through yet another boring cave is even more dissapointing when you know that they can do so much more

The voice acting is a massive step up from Oblivion, although I've saw youtube videos that have better voice acting than Oblivion. Bethesda, realising that hiring two people to voice just about every non-story related NPC in the game was a bad idea, brought in a lot more people to do voice work and it really helps the game. This means that when two people bump into each other and do their few back and forth lines although everyone will be saying the same things at least it won't be the same voice doing them. Shame on Bethesda for not putting the conversation "I saw a radscorpion the other day" "Dreadful creatures" "Well....bye" in though, they really missed a trick there! Although they are once again guilty of hiring a well known actor to portray a character in the game before making said character drop off the face of the Earth for most of the game thus making the purchase pretty pointless, the voice acting talent is pretty decent

The actual story of the game is pretty boring. It's not down to Oblivion's standard, although Oblivion's never ending monstrosity of a plot makes a coma seem exciting, but it's a lot shorter and again, compact. This helps it more than anything else - if you're following the main plot it always keeps you moving, and there's only one real dungeon crawler of a level. Although it does tend to put you in places of no return until you finish that plotline it's really not that bad. It doesn't even come close to interesting though, probably due to a combination of I-don't-give-a-damn-itis and the inherent easiness of the game, but that's helped by the quests

The quests in the game are done much better than the main plotline. They are interesting, with lots of people to talk to and more importantly they make you explore the world map. If you don't go around talking to people or exploring you'll never find most of them. If they made the main plot more of a way to explore the map so it makes you think "I'll finish this bit and then come back to explore here" as you go past it'll be so much better, but the game rarely does. The quests take you all over though and the game starts to resemble something fun when doing the quests

They even tack on a karma system to keep track of whether you're good, bad or neutral depending on your actions, although this again is largely worthless. It doesn't really make much difference at all and if anything is a main problem of the game. Take for example if you're a good person. You'll do a few quests for the people, and you'll be focusing on finding your dad as well. But, if you're a bad person, why would you ever want to find him? But there's no other real option but to find him regardless of what kind of person you are, and being good or bad doesn't even reflect on anything in general. If you're good you have mercenaries trying to kill you sometimes, but if you're bad you have lawbringers trying to kill you sometimes. They're nothing more than another random mob though, and it's just pointless outside of roleplaying

I could go on and on about how this game fails to live up to the hype. Fallout 3 falls into the same group most free roaming games enter - with so much freedom why should you even care about what the game wants you to do? Shooting the heads off raiders and super mutants is fun at first, but after the twentieth time it starts to grate and you realise that you're going to be blowing the heads off many more before the game is over. And the ending! I won't even comment about the ending, but here's a test - go check the Fallout 3 message board, and if there isn't a topic complaining about the ending in the first few pages I'd be amazed

Best game ever? It's not even the best game in the series. Bethesda have taken a classic and pitched it out for the casual gamer to eat up in droves while the fans of the series are left wondering how this happened. The hype machine has burst into overdrive once more, and the game is so far away from a fun experience that it's quite unbelievable. I don't want to sound all elitist here with a rant about casual gaming destroying any chance of an indepth and interesting game but this game is the proof of this happening

Whats the most dissapointing thing about this game isn't the fact it's an Oblivion-clone, but the fact that with a bit more effort the game could be so much more than the boring mediocrity that it is. Bethesda show that they are able to do it with the odd glimpse of fun in the game, but other than these few and far between moments the game runs out of steam quite quickly with replay value almost non-existant unless you love doing the same things over and over again expecting something different to happen, which is a definition of insane


Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 12/02/08, Updated 07/06/09

Game Release: Fallout 3 (EU, 10/31/08)


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