Review by BlackWizardMagus
"No, it's not the game of the year."
As of the time of this writing, this is the lowest score of any Gamefaqs review. I feel it's an absolutely warranted score, and I'll tell you why. I'm not going to describe the game in general, as I am sure the reader is aware of it, but I'm going to describe where the fun is--or is not. An overall description would be that this game will probably manage to keep you playing, but you will constantly be thinking "The REAL fun will start soon! I can feel it!" right up until you put a bullet in the head of the end boss. You will realize that the game was as fun at about hour 2 as it was at hour 50. It hardly ever changed at all, just one big blur.
The Capital Wasteland is, sadly, too true to it's name. DC only takes up the lower quarter of the map (although I will admit that some of the DC areas are interesting battlefields); most of the map is actually the area outside of DC, and it is completely trashed. Which is thematic, but does not make for interesting play. Fallout 2 takes place almost entirely in the wide and varied settlements of the New California Republic; this game is long series of tunnels, caves, basements, empty factories, etc. Let me repeat that; almost every dungeon, like Oblivion, is a claustrophobic hell of tunnels, caves, and hallways. Big, open rooms do occur, but generally, every dungeon ends up looking EXACTLY the same. Anyway, your first town is a decent size, but they basically shrink from there. Most of your settlements are tiny, just a few people hanging out in an area that just so happens to be free of the endlessly spawning monsters that will be mobbing and ambushing you constantly (they will honestly pop up outside of your field of vision, see you immediately, and being chowing on your leg before you even know what's happening). And, frustratingly, you almost feel like, what's the point? Many of these are so small they will obviously die out no matter what, but on top of it, mutants, monsters, and raiders/slavers run the show. 4 traveling salesmen wander the wastes (and it IS possible for them to get killed off), supplying everyone. You may end up feeling like you are in a zombie movie, hopelessly outnumbered by mindless murderers, while everyone around you gets taken. There are some interesting characters, and decent voice acting as well, but all the humor and pop-culture references are gone from the prequels. Harold, however, lives on, giving us some respite.
There is almost no story, being that this game is similar to Oblivion, but that is not a big problem. After all, Fallout 1 and 2 had fairly limited stories as well. It's the atmosphere and the quests that make a Fallout game. Fallout 3 did have quite a few quests, and unlike Oblivion where 90% of the quests were in some category or another (mostly handed out by some organization or group), the quests do tend to pop up from all sorts of various characters, and asking someone how business is going may lead to a quest to help write a book. And some of the quests are somewhat interesting, either by being unique or by leading to some pitched battles. But most of them are not so. Many quests are never-ending; for example, you can sell scrap metal to a fellow in the first town throughout the entire game. Many of the more difficult quests simply involve crawling through a dungeon in order to kill something, talk to someone, or find something. Various checks in this game (for example, you can try to intimidate someone, and you will succeed if your strength is high enough) also relate to quests, but they are rather flat; the stat checks will only show up if you can meet them (100% success) and the speech checks so you a percentage for success. So. basically, dungeon crawling and collecting items, and possibly tricking/fooling/impressing someone through dialogue make up this game. The interesting quests are simply too few. I should add here that Bethesda paradoxically insisted on having this game in DC but using people unique to California. Thus, the Brotherhood of Steel, the Enclave, and Super-Mutants are all accounted for, with flimsy reasoning, solely to be more like the prequels. Those rare areas that are fairly safe from Raiders and monsters will be under seige from mutants, the Enclave, and a BoS splinter group called The Outcasts.
Combat isn't bad, it's just hardly noticeable. It's like playing a game such as Silent Hill if it had no bosses; although enemies CAN kill you quickly if you are careless, you usually just wander around murdering them almost instantly. Except now you can carry dozens of stimpacks to heal yourself, against enemies that level up with you but are usually inferior in terms of skill and armament, so you can hardly ever lose. Except for the somewhat rough beginning, where your accuracy is going to be horrible, you could play this whole game in first-person shooter mode and do fine. But that's the hard way; the easy way is to utilize the VATS system. Basically, this will freeze time for you to set up your attacks (you can target body parts, and you will always target the head anyway), and then make you, somehow, shoot 12 bullets at 3 different targets in the time it takes your enemies to take a single step. The head of your enemies is almost never armored, and you get a critical bonus, so just a few shots from a decent weapon will kill almost everyone (save one extremely rare and difficult type of mutant). So combat is okay, it works, but you will basically just run through, shooting anyone in your way. Only large groups of enemies or the occasional ones sporting rocket launchers will give you pause.
Yes, this needs it's own section. Equipment is, depending on your definition, sparse in this game. There are generic and unique articles, so I'll start with the former. Most weapons "types" only have a half dozen or so available weapons, and armor is even less so. If you look at a list, you might think I'm nuts, but you will quickly realize that the 4 types of Raider armor are all identical in everything but name and possibly looks. Weaponry is more strict; if it's not one of the rare unique weapons, it's just another sub-machine gun. Of which there is only one type. Now, this isn't too bad itself. I actually would prefer tactically choosing between various weapons, such as in Halo, than having a mountain of junk. The problem tends to come from two facts; the first one is that right near the start of the game can obtain most of the best weapons (really) and at least moderate armor. The other part is that equipment in this game wears down, and must be repaired, either by paying someone to do it (and they all have seperate, built-in limitations), or by doing it yourself by scavenging parts from other identical items (or very nearly identical), which is limited by your repair stat and by the fact that you lose whichever item you cannibalized for parts. In other words, since your accuracy starts out poor (and doesn't get quite excellent for a while), you will find yourself carrying an entire armory, with maybe 3-4 different weapons you are actually using and another 10 weapons you keep exclusively for parts. Ditto for armor. This simply is sad. It's a constant drain on your finances, your time, and your enjoyment. On to unique items; there are unique versions of most weapons and armor. Most of these are simply trumped-versions of the regular, and can be repaired with parts from them, which is nice but really not exciting. Then there are some more interesting pieces, but they suffer from different flaws; either limited usefulness, impossible to repair yourself (you have to pay someone, and they can only get it so high, so it's not actually better than what you have anyway), or you CAN repair them, but the related weapon is rare. And in one case, there is only a small amount of available ammo, ever, period. Basically, you find out what kind of weapons you like early on, find the unique version of it, and you're done. Armor is similar, except, I should mention this, it's a while into the game before you can wear power armor, and power armor has been nerfed, so the "best" stuff is hardly so.
So creating and developing your character is still a major theme, as it should be. Except, well, it's a joke. Let's start from the beginning; you still have your SPECIAL stats. Except most of them are far less useful. Unless you are going melee, Strength is just for how much you carry. Intelligence still affects how many skill points you get per level, but only half as much as before. Agility affects your AP, but remember that AP only matters in VATS; chances are, you will simply kill all or most opponents right off the bat, maybe shoot the last one dead manually, and then your AP will fill up before you need it again anyway. All the stats are simply less crucial. Traits were done away with. Your skills are also of limited usefulness; expect to raise maybe 5 for 6. For both stats and skills, there are items called bobbleheads that will raise them. There is one for each skill (adds 10 points) and stat (adds 1), which is a BIG increase from previous installments, not to mention there are a handful of other power-ups in the wasteland. Oh, and then we have books; there are 25 books for every skill (24 for barter), each worth a skill point. Wow. But we aren't done; with the comprehension perk, each book now gives you 2 skill points. That means you can raise each skill plus 60 without using a single one of your earned points. You can literally max every one of them and also get your stats pretty close. Now, for perks; you start getting perks early, and then get them every other level. Yes, alot more perks. And most of them are questionable; the vast majority offer some irrelevant bonus, raise some skills, or raise a stat (you can pick a perk that will raise any stat one point, and you can pick it 10 times). Even the good ones have been toned down to a mild level, except for the last few. So, to review; stats are alot less relevant and can be raised signifigantly in the game, skills can be raised to easily it's not even funny and most of them don't even matter, there are no traits, and perks tend to be just mild bonuses instead of being a major aspect of development for your character build.
In short, this game is disappointing. If you start out understanding that the developers took the phrase "It's not the destination that matters, but the journey" way too seriously, you will manage to get an okay game out of it. Utilize FAQs so you can find everything without endless hours of wandering and to avoid messing up the quests, and just have fun messing around. Honestly, whatever you do is fine. Leveling up is difficult to make a mistake on, the limited selection of equipment will usually guarantee you have enough spare parts to use whatever (with a few weapons being the polar opposite and thus not worth using), and the enemies level up with you, so there is really no guide as to where to go or not go (with a few exceptions; do NOT go to the Deathclaw Sanctuary at level 3). Don't play this game for story, don't play it for the atmosphere that defined the series, don't play it for a deep combat system or complex character development. In other words, everything Fallout used to give us, and everything Bethesda promised to add in, is lacking; instead, some ancilliary points come out, interesting to play once, and not oftener. Just pretend it's not a Fallout, it's Oblivion with guns, and you will get something out of it. To anyone looking to buy this game that hasn't yet, consider this review a warning; it's not all bad, it's just rather flat and uninspired, and expect only mediocrity out of it. Also, if you have the cash, you may wish to invest in the DLC; it supposedly adds alot, but I haven't tried it.
Reviewer's Score: 4/10 | Originally Posted: 09/08/09
Game Release: Fallout 3 (US, 10/28/08)
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