Review by Archmonk Iga

"God bless the USA... And nowhere else!"

I had heard a lot about the Fallout series prior to playing its third installment… I never really thought I would give myself the opportunity to actually be one of its many players. But I was always attracted to the visual style of it based on what I had seen on websites and in stores—complete wastelands represented by a cheerful young cartoon boy. So I was very open-minded during that Gamestop visit, where I would be making my first 360 purchase in months. My friend emphasized his love for Fallout and made it pretty obvious that Fallout 3 was the game he thought I should buy. I did a quick check to see if they had Shadow of the Colossus, saw they didn't, debated a little bit between Fable II and The Orange Box, and finally made my ultimate purchase in Fallout 3 for a mere $18. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, and when I actually turned the game on and was thrust into the corridors of Vault 101, I knew that Fallout 3 was a much different game than other choice-based series, such as Mass Effect or Fable.

STORY:
One of the many interesting concepts brought into Fallout 3's story is the fact that the game starts when your character is born. You first gain control of yourself when your character is first learning to walk. Yes, I believe that Fallout 3 is the very first videogame I've played in which you start off as a baby. It may be something some players gloss over, but I think that this is a phenomenal way to commence such a huge game.

Later in your character's life in Vault 101, you must face typical teenage drama. The jerk-off authorities always on your ass, your father constantly giving you parental guidance (your mother died giving birth to you), and of course the many encounters with your classmates. Life is difficult as a post-apocalyptic Vault-dwelling teenager… Or so you think at the time.

One day, you find out your father has escaped the vault. No goodbye, no note, not a folded load of clean laundry. He's just gone. As expected, the vault-dwellers panic, and you have just made it to the top of their to-do list. If you stay in Vault 101, you will be taken in by the authorities and overseer, maybe even get killed, and likely never see your father again. If you follow in his footsteps and escape yourself, you will be directionless yet far away from the terrors that have arisen in the place you once called home. Enter The Wastelands.

The ceiling is too high to be seen, there is a bright light above you, there are strange plants and animals roaming about, the water is gross, and the architecture and environments look nothing like they did in your school textbooks. Welcome to a destroyed Washington DC, AKA The “Wastelands.” From the moment you escape Vault 101, the old capital is yours for the taking. From this point on, the main storyline progresses based on your actions.

And thus here comes the good vs. evil part of the story. Will your quest to find your father be one of love or hatred? Worry or anger? The man was with you forever one minute, gone without a trace the next. How will you live in the Wasteland based on what your father did to you?

When I say that, I do not only ask what you will do in your search for Dad. The Wastelands are enormous, filled with all different sorts of people and opportunities. One of the first (and possibly Fallout 3's most popular) missions will involve an undetonated bomb in the middle of a town called Megaton. You can choose to defuse it or you can choose to blow it up—Megaton residents and all. It is decisions like these that make Fallout 3's story stand out.

What makes it stand out even more is in The Wastelands themselves. Have you ever wondered what DC would look like if it was blown apart in every possible way? Even more specific, if the bomb hit during the 1950's (or a similar period), leaving nothing but its capitalistic trends behind? Fallout 3 answers that question. In this wordy reviewer's opinion, The Wastelands are the best part of Fallout 3. They are HUGE, filled to the core with infected and mutated plants, animals and people, completely demolished buildings and towns, and massive amounts of radiation seeping through every crack in the pavement. It is far from safe here, as the unfortunate circumstances have taken their toll on many of DC's residents—there is no form of government anymore, and stealing, vandalizing, even killing, are a common sight throughout the land.
From the gamer's standpoint, the Wastelands are truly an intriguing place to explore. It is more fun discovering new buildings than actually interacting with the people because sadly, many of them are one-dimensional and stereotypical.

Even worse, I felt no attachment to MY character—this is not a good thing at all. MY character is supposed to be ME, representing who I would be and what I would do if I, myself, were forced into this situation. But somehow you will have no attachment to your character, and thus have very little attachment to the residents of The Wastelands. It's very disappointing when I say my favorite characters in Fallout 3 are Moira (who reminds me of the mom from “Bobby's World”) and my robotic butler, both of whom take those titles because of their comic relief. Another disappointment in the story is with the ending. Think about all the time and effort you put into this game, only for it to result in a minute-long slideshow.

Nonetheless, The Wastelands are what makes Fallout 3's story so appealing. The actions you can take throughout them range from being good-hearted to being completely vile. The capital is yours.
STORY: 7/10

GRAPHICS:
As I mention in the story section, The Wastelands are how you would picture DC after a nuclear bomb hit. Graphically speaking, The Wastelands are unmatched. Roads and bridges are so destroyed you can't walk across them, buildings that are still standing have lost all windows and doors, water flows realistically (though drinking it is not advised) and the natural surroundings look deader than the Sahara. While looking at the Wastelands for hours on end starts to wear on the eyes (constant beiges and browns, all brightly lit during the day), you can't deny the success of making it believable.

Coming inside, things are less stellar. Houses and buildings are detailed enough but are a big step down in comparison to being outside. Even worse, the underground train stations that you will frequent (and I really mean frequent) are bland and recycled.

But nothing compares to the character models. Facial expressions are numb and bodily motions are robotic. I honestly can't see anyone enjoying the game playing it in third-person perspective—your character looks absolutely silly in everything he or she does. It's actually laughably bad, and almost even ruins the point in creating your character in the beginning of the game.
But for all the mistakes in the small scale, Fallout 3 delivers in the grand scheme of its graphics. The Wastelands are the star of the show, and they definitely stand out the most.
GRAPHICS: 9/10

SOUNDS:
One thing I loved while playing Fallout 3 was the option to turn on your Pip-Boy's radio. Classic boogy-woogy, big band and cabaret fill this game's soundtrack aside from the appropriate themes for the actual game. It's pretty cool, though after playing for awhile it gets repetitious. Another cool thing about the radio is in its news—you'll hear about all kinds of goings-on throughout the Wastelands, and maybe even YOU will be a featured story now and then. It's pretty cool hearing about your quests through the ears of the average radio listener.

Voice acting is always appropriate, though within hours you will recognize the same voice actors for different characters. What's worse, more often than not you will, for example, talk to a white man who sounds like a black man, and vice-versa. In addition, the ghouls all seem to have the same voice actors—one for the males and one for the females. It may seem petty, but hearing the same voices over and over again can build up to making the game much less believable.

The sound effects are excellent, however. They are all based on where you are and what's going on around you. Inside, footsteps are much more audible, but outside they can also be dangerous because of crunchy gravel or shallow puddles. Gunshots and explosions sound about as real as they can get, and I especially enjoyed them during VATS mode.
SOUNDS: 8.5/10
GAMEPLAY:
As I said before, The Wastelands are yours for the taking the moment you set foot in them. Combat, conversation, exploration, trade, and much more will take control of your character's life—how you approach all of that is up to you.

First and foremost in the gameplay department is your actual character. In the beginning of the game, you can choose many of his or her stats, because you are just that SPECIAL. In addition, you can choose what skills you're good at and what you want to specialize in as you level up. These skills aren't limited to combat—they can include how you interact with people, lockpicking, sneaking around, and even how good you are at repairing stuff. Some of them are completely useless (don't build up Barter—trust me!), some aren't necessary til you're closer to the end, and some are extremely important. As you'd guess, the important ones can change on different playthroughs, but certain ones are constant—small guns and medicine will likely be built up every time you play.

In addition to the skills you gain, you are allowed to add “perks” to your character. These are little bonuses that make the game that much easier for you. Some examples are bypassing enemy traps, extra points added to skills, increased accuracy in VATS, or even leveling up your character twice in a row.

Levelling up is always fun, but combat is important in any RPG as well. Fallout 3 is in many ways an FPS, but it doesn't exactly follow all the rules of one. You have your standard gun, melee and grenade fare, but you can exit real-time and go into VATS mode (don't know what it stands for, don't really care). Here, you pause the game and select enemy limbs to concentrate your fire on to cripple and kill—so long as your auto-replenishing Action Points are high enough. Is a raider wielding a dangerous minigun? Shoot his/her arms so they can't hold it up anymore. Is a mutant trying to run away from you? Cripple its legs to slow it down. VATS is a great addition for those who aren't very good at FPS's, but it's also fun for, well, basically everyone. Wouldn't you rather have a 95% success headshot over an unknown success rate in real-time? Not to mention watching it all play out is very fun because the actions are shot from all different angles.

Just as important as the combat is the conversation. Dialogue options galore in many of DC's residents, ranging from generous offers, to rushed exclamations, to bored yawns, to the classic f-bomb. This is probably where players will have the most excitement in the game, because your karma is often altered based on what you say. Also, depending on how you play the game, different dialogue options may arise with characters you have already spoken to before. While the bland people of the Wastelands is a downfall to the game in my opinion, the various conversations you have can still be quite entertaining.

Another important part of Fallout 3 is in the exploration. There are loads of buildings, both occupied and unoccupied, that you will be snooping around in. Tons of stuff can be found all over the place, from coffee mugs, to ammo, to scrap metal, to soft drinks. Some are useful, some can be sold for caps (the game's currency), and some are meant to be ignored. The fact that this stuff is all over the place is what's really impressive, whether or not any of it is even useful. Also, a lot of it can only be reached by picking locks or hacking computers, making the exploration that much more appealing
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I mentioned karma above, and it is what makes you who you are in Fallout 3. It is basically the same as “Paragon” and “Renegade” from Mass Effect. Actions you take and things you choose to say all affect your karma. Your karma will then affect how the story plays out, and even how other people treat you. This gameplay mechanic had been done to death by the Fallout 3 came out, but since the Fallout series was one of the first to actually use it, calling it “unoriginal” would be pretty unfair. Choosing to be good means you get a warm feeling in your heart and now and then an appreciative reward, while choosing to be evil gets you a lot more violence and a lot more materials to make you stronger. As with any game that follows the good vs. evil choices, both directions can be pretty fun. Admittedly, being evil still has that special appeal because well, you get to be evil.

With all this gameplay praise, it pains me to have to bring up everything that brings Fallout 3 down. First of all, Fallout 3 is buggy and glitchy in many areas, meaning a lot of crashing and restarting. This is buffered a lot because you get to save the game whenever you want, but it still shouldn't even be a problem. I also am often confused by civilians—a woman walks up to me and thanks me for all I have done for the community, gives me an item out of the kindness of her heart, and walks away. I walk up to her and press the A button to speak, and she rudely tells me to go away. This can be seen as an insignificant imperfection, but it still doesn't make sense.

Speaking of being able to save anywhere, doing so kind of allows us to cheat—saving before hacking a computer or starting a conversation basically guarantees our success. I also never once have found myself actually using the schematics I found throughout the wastes to build myself equipment—a completely pointless addition to the game, as far as I'm concerned, when you can buy or find any weapons and armor around any nook or cranny. I also had a problem with some of the locations and their maps—specifically Rivet City, which is a map-user's nightmare. The Pip-Boy's maps should have been much more detailed since some of the locations we visit are huge and very confusing to get around.

But by far, the biggest problem in Fallout 3 has to do with everything that makes it great. Combat is fun and VATS is very original, but it soon gets repetitive and mundane. The Wastelands are an awesome force to be reckoned with, but you care so little about the people that you eventually won't even bother taking up all the humdrum quests they throw at you and will just play through the game's main story. Hell, you may even be worn out by the end of Moira's Wasteland Survival Guide quest, which is meant to be an (and is actually an EXCELLENT) introduction to Fallout 3's vast world. What's worse, the maximum level you can reach (in the original game) is level 20. This alone can take away any incentive to explore the wastes further, take on other quests, or basically do anything that this huge game offers you. Level 20 is the maximum? Come on. It doesn't help that by around level 14 or 15 your character is unfairly powerful anyway, making the game extremely easy towards the latter third of it. It really just sucks because there's SO much to do in this game, but there's often so little need, desire or reason to actually do it.

But perhaps I digress. Fallout 3's blend of choice-based RPG and FPS make its core gameplay solid (though repetitive after awhile), and there really IS too much to see and do to put into words. It's just a shame that with all that effort put into it, at the same time it seems like Bethesda half-assed it in a way.
GAMEPLAY: 7/10

LASTING APPEAL:
You could easily put in 40 hours to this game without even touching the main quest. There is so much to do, so many people to talk to, so many raiders to kill, so many… yeah, you get the picture. Sure, it can get boring after awhile, but in a way the game only lasts as long as you want it to—be it 20 hours or 120 hours. Multiple playthroughs are also guaranteed because of the karma levels and the simple fact that you want to see the other side of your character's coin. Plus, there is a bunch of DLC for you to buy and enjoy, if you still can't get enough. Too much to do and all the time in the world.
LASTING APPEAL: 10/10

OVERALL:
After playing Fallout 3 for so long, I've decided that it may be best played at a slow and steady pace. Play a couple hours, wait a day or two, play a couple more hours. Playing it at every chance you get may turn it stale much more quickly than it should. There are plenty of issues bringing it down—plenty of very obvious issues. But at the same time, the game is so darn immense that on many levels you just can't go wrong. Having never played the first two Fallouts, I can't base my recommendation on past experience with the series. But I can say that RPG fans will find Fallout 3 a fascinating and engaging first-person (first-person, NOT third-person) experience that can take up to hundreds of hours to fully satisfy them. And that's a long time! Who knows? Maybe people will be playing Fallout 3 til the year 2277.
OVERALL: 8.3/10

Thanks for reading =)


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 09/22/10

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


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