Review by Rand_Of_Andor

"Fallout 3 doesn't want to set the world on fire, it just wants to start a flame in your heart."

The newest title in the legendary Fallout series, Fallout 3 is Bethesda's attempt at re-energizing Interplay's classic world with a new sheen and gameplay. After years and years of fans waiting, the time finally arrived to enjoy another entry in the wastelands of apocalypse. With new first and third-person combat, the tactical VATS, and a revamped series of skills and perks, it seems a radical change from its preceding titles. But is this necessarily a bad thing?

Story

It was long ago that the world ended. No one is sure who threw the first ICBM, but within a few hours the entire world was destroyed. Civilization was left without the ability to survive sufficiently on the surface, and only those that escaped into large vaults survived the devastation, as the story goes. Vault 101 is one of the many last homes of mankind. A community formed underground in an attempt to escape the outside devastation, and hundreds of years later, they are the only ones left after the destruction; or are they?

Soon the player finds that the surface is not in actuality completely uninhabitable. The world is barren, the ground lies cracked and dry, crumbling structures and ancient buildings sag under centuries of stress, and the water is to this day dangerously irradiated; however, pockets of civilization yet survive, if barely. They struggle to rebuild from the destruction of their ancestors, but more importantly, they struggle to survive. Whether it is bandits, Super Mutants, or the unforgiving wastelands that make up the majority of inhabitable land, they certainly have their work cut out for them.

The story of Fallout 3, without delving in too far to reveal the mystery of the world, is undoubtedly one of the best of the gaming world. Its constant references to fifties culture with its retro-modern atmosphere leaves the player very immersed in the storyline. Everything is brought together in a believable and entertaining manner. Despite the fact that it uses many science fiction concepts (energy weapons, radioactive mutants, etc.), it pulls it off in a gritty manner that leaves the player wanting more, and more they will get.

The player is given freedom in how to act based on a traditional karmic system; the character is rated as good or evil based on their actions in relation to the world around them. It is standard modern RPG fare, with the player receiving bad karma for performing more heinous actions (killing innocent people, stealing, etc.), while they receive good karma for performing more benevolent actions (giving purified water to the sick, sparing opponents when possible, etc.). By the end of the game, the character usually ends up as Last, Best Hope of Humanity or the Scourge of Humanity; it is possible to remain neutral, but it is a rare occurrence.

The karmic system is interesting in that it allows the player to approach the world in their own tailored manner. This is ultimately disconcerting, however, in that the choices that the player makes do not generally widely affect the storyline; whether they are disgustingly evil or a saintly benefactor, they will find themselves approaching the end in the same way, and generally tackling the same exact obstacles as one another. Moreover, what is and is not evil is rarely, if ever, morally grey. It is quite obvious which action will end up giving the player good karma, and which will end up giving the player bad karma.

This is not necessarily a horrible fault, in that small changes to the storyline can be made (this or that character disappearing…and perhaps even a city). It is not a wide change so much as a system that doesn't provide a wide range of movement. It's a curious addition, but not incredibly made for someone that is looking for a completely malleable storyline.

At the end of the day, the story itself feels immersive to a degree, even if it's not, and the quality of the writing and the overall plot is very well put together.

Final Score: 9/10

Graphics

The visuals of Fallout 3 are terrific, for the most part; the world lies in ruin, and when one walks through the destroyed remnants of a city, they definitely feel like husks of civilization long past. The area explored by the player throughout the game is colloquially referred to as the Capital Wasteland, and make no mistake, the name is apt. When the player is not wandering about blackened remains of towns and the like, they will often be found traversing the dry, dusty lands of what remains of D.C. The ground is cracked, plant life is non-existent, and everywhere all in all looks right next to unlivable. Everything is, of course, shown in a darker and drabber palette. Because of this, those that define games' visuals through brighter and colorful mediums is going to end up sorely disappointed.

However, Fallout is not without its problems. Graphical hiccups are not common, but they are not very rare; it's not out of the ordinary to be blasting away at a Deathclaw in a desperate bid for survival, only to see the beast suddenly launch up in the hazy air like a rocket, going higher and higher until it finally disappears from sight. To add to this, it seems to be relatively easy for many objects to get stuck to other obstructions; for example, when firing over a boulder, it is not rare for the player's aim to be precise, but for them all to get stuck in the boulder, despite the firing position being a fair bit away from the surface.

Regardless of the issues, the visuals in general are all high quality. They present the world of Fallout in a terrific fashion, and are exemplary for the most part.

Final Score: 9/10

Gameplay

The player is first introduced to the game by seeing the birth of their very ever-after silent protagonist. It's a good first step, but it can easily instantly turn off some players as a weak reach towards over-the-top immersion. Whatever the case, the player is left customizing what their personal avatar will look like. It's paper-thin compared to such other highly-praised titles as Mass Effect, in that whatever changes you make, they overall seem rather skin-deep and ineffectual. At the end of the process your character never really ends up looking akin to your imagination. Nevertheless, it's more interesting than a static model, so the average Joe can certainly appreciate the level of immersion it brings.

One would think that after this process, the player is thrown directly into battle; they are not. Even from the beginning, the game stresses that it is not about action-packed combat left and right, despite its alterations from its predecessors to a first-person perspective giving it the illustration of involving frenetic pitched shootouts. Instead of being dropped straight into combat, the player is shown the early childhood of their player, from learning their first steps to their tenth birthday and first introduction to their handy Pip-Boy, which will serve as their menu for the remainder of the game. The process will seem endearing to more patient gamers, but will leave casual players antsy.

Eventually, however, the game picks up, and the player leaves the Vault to explore the irradiated Capital Wasteland. The first walk down into Springvale from the Vault's cave is a truly original experience that any Xbox owner should have. The sound of the Waste's dry wind whipping the cliff faces while the soundtrack plays subtle exploratory notes in the background, all of this while the protagonist's eyes struggle to adjust to the Sun's light above…it's something to behold. At this point, the player is left with a hint of where to continue the game's story, but given the ability to explore the D.C. area in its entirety (barring a very few of them), in a similar fashion to the earlier titles.

The choice to allow such freedom sounds like it can be stifling, but it ends up being a fun way to explore the title's content. It is sadly not as open-ended as Betheda's Morrowind or Oblivion (yes, the comparison is inevitable. Avoiding it is pointless), but this is not necessarily a bad thing; the game emphasizes a more linear path, as there is a quieter world with a lesser amount of quests, but this is because of a stronger storyline, which turns out to be much less tacked on than the aforementioned titles, leaving a good balance of exploration, questing, and plot. All in all, unlike the others it's compared to, the player is much less often questioning why they are playing the game, usually leaving one with a more satisfied experience.

As the player progresses through the game they will obtain a diverse amount of weapons, whether they are samurai swords, pistols, shotguns, rifles, or what have you. The fact is, there are many, many weapons in the game. One hundred and eighty-five at the time of this writing, in fact (including downloadable content, but not removed weapons still in the title), with a large accompanying number of clothing and armor choices. As such, tailoring your character for different combat situations and collecting items is a valid and entertaining experience. The player is always looking forward to the next badass gun or armor to deck their character out in.

This all becomes even more entertaining as the player makes frequent use of the VATS, the Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System. With the press of a button, the player can target the enemy at various portions of their bodies, using AP to let the game automatically fire shots in that area; it's all done in slow motion, with accompanying sounds to that effect, and it makes you feel badass as your player snipes an enemy in a crouching position, their head exploding into several tiny giblets. Even at the end of the game, seeing enemies explode in a Matrix-esque fashion is utterly gratifying.

Unfortunately, the game is not without its faults. One would think that the shooting mechanics of an RPG whose primary means of entering combat are through firearms would be polished at the least; unfortunately, the system itself feels altogether clunky and takes getting used to. The fact of the matter is that even while the player fires weapons, they never really carry the gritty realism of other such titles as Call of Duty; which would be fine, based on the diversity of weaponry in Fallout 3, except for the fact that they don't only feel unreal, they are also inaccurate (perhaps, ironically, realistically so). Firing outside of the VATS system feels clunky and inaccurate, meaning you're going to be eating bullets very often regardless of what you take cover behind.

Sadly, even VATS can end up ruining the combat of the title; as stated above, it's very easy for a player to make shots that seem like they will hit on the surface, only to find them somehow get stuck to whatever object the player is near. This ends up draining the player of their AP, which will then end in their death as the opponent kills them in retaliation. This sounds like it's a rare event, but it's not. It happens ordinarily, which can be increasingly frustrating.

At the end of the day, the problems with the gameplay are definitely not enough to sufficiently ruin any overall experience; they occur at varying paces, but the positive points of given excursions into the Capital Wasteland far outnumber the negative ones.

Final Score: 8/10

Sound

I know what you're thinking; “It's a Bethesda game, so all told there must be five actors doing all the characters in the game.” You'd be right, but this time it seems like they have more than the bare minimum as they did in Oblivion, or at least more than whatever the bare minimum was there; now there's more variance, and with some high-grade actors like Liam Neeson, the lines come out more authentic and all around more entertainingly. The voice acting isn't amazing, but with the larger diversity and dialogue that has some color and work, it's all around pretty good, and sometimes actually rather entertaining.

The musical score does its job relatively well; tracks play relevant to the area, whether it's a deep rumbling piece to go with hectic battle or a gently calming tune to accompany quiet exploration in the Wastes. And one cannot possibly forget the various thirties and forties bands that permeate Fallout 3's airwaves, such as the Ink Spots, all of who really help to complete the retro feel the game pushes for.

Final Score: 9/10

Play Time and Replayability

Fallout 3 has several different means of customization for the player, and thus there is a large amount of variance that a player can have from one playthrough to another; however, what the game really boils down to is whether the player focuses on being good, neutral, or evil. And since the game doesn't make it easy at all to play the part of a neutral observer, it really boils down to either playing the part of a good or bad guy (with various quests that will stress differences between them). All in all, it has a good workable amount of replayability, and will probably leave most satisfied when playing a second, third, or maybe even fourth run through the game.

Final Score: 8/10

Final Word

Fallout 3 is considered one of the best games to come out in years, and for good reason; it has the makings of a great game, and can easily appeal to many different groups. While it has its issues, some of which can serve to bog the game down, they at the end don't serve to make the game itself ultimately unplayable. They're minor compared to the fun that can be had, and I would certainly recommend any PC, Xbox 360, or PS3 gamers who are even mildly interested in RPGs to have this title in their library; it's a hit that should not be passed up.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 10/12/09

Game Release: Fallout 3 (US, 10/28/08)


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