Review by FeralBerserker
Objective review from an old-school RPG/FPS player
From Wolfenstein 3D to Zero Tolerance to Doom to Half-life and so on and so forth all the way to CoD World at War, I feel I've played a great majority of FPS (save the countless sub-par releases by small companies that come out these days) that have come out over the 20 years I've been gaming. From Final Fantasy, Ultima Exodus, Zelda: A Link to the Past, Seiken Densetsu, Pokemon, Bahamut Lagoon, Suikoden and all the way forward to the Xenosaga Series, Eternal Sonata and so many others, I feel I've also played a good majority of RPGs. Despite my previous experience (listed simply to give an idea of all the different games I compare children of either genre to in my head), I now feel compelled to write a review for this particular game after reading the existing reviews and debating their objectivity. It should, however, be noted that I only played Fallout Tactics, and am not what should be considered a hardcore Fallout fan.
First of all, I would like to say that all the reviews I read either implicitly loved or hated this game. There seemed to be no substantial gray area, and where there isn't a gray area I consider there to be no objectivity. Even the games I've loved most had aspects of them that I hated considerable amounts. My incessant complaining over the flaws in games I've played to completion dozens of times never ends, and you will always hear me saying (if you could hear me) 'Man, I wish they would have done this different, or done that different, or eliminated this aspect of the game.'
Secondly, as any old school gamer knows... these days you have to take new installations to old series with a grain of salt. The perfect example is Final Fantasy. Having played every FF game ever made until FF8 (which I thought was so horrible and disgraceful to both the franchise and Squaresoft), then continuing at 10 after watching my buddy play it and saying 'Hey, Square finally got their head back on straight, huh?' and skipping the ones that followed that, we can only surmise that once videogames entered the mainstream even old and renowned companies like Squaresoft turned into whores. If it'll get them more money it seems like they'll slap the Final Fantasy name on it and scrape whatever they can off the backs of their loyal fans. It's logical to assume any other franchise will be the same (it saves you the disappointment).
The difficulty of this game might be something you're curious about (they're making games way easier these days, or maybe I've just played too many). The game is not challenging on the PC, and even when I played it on the hardest setting, Very Hard, it was not actually very hard (I died maybe a total of ten times, counting the time I ran halfway across the world at level 2 to get to a city I wanted something from). It was harder at least, and provided more incentive than other difficulties. Even so, once you hit the level cap you'll question whether you should continue to play that file anymore, since everything you see gets murdered with little effort or worry.
I apologize for babbling, but I felt it was necessary to clear that up. I don't rate graphics/sound since I'm a poor judge of both, and it should be noted that since I consider Gameplay to be the most important aspect of a game it accounts for half of the total rating. Now, on with the review.
Gameplay - 9/10
The gameplay was pretty good in Fallout 3. The FPS mechanics weren't the absolute greatest, but such is the nature of hybrid genre games. While weapon choice was extremely limited in my opinion, it wasn't imperative that there be piles of different guns with the only noticable difference being their model/skin. Basically the combat mechanics boil down to the following:
You can observe the area from the shadows/afar, carefully planning your assault, then engage the enemy with whatever weapon you deem necessary (small arms, futuristic laser weapons, large weaponry like flamethrowers or miniguns, or melee weapons ranging from lead pipes to a flaming sword, or even the old mitts curled into tight fists), popping chems that act as a buff, or healing yourself with stimpaks. Using a variety of weapons depending on the circumstances is a plus, and the lack of large amounts of ammunition can sometimes force you into either using guns that aren't as good (because ammo is more readily available), or melee weapons that never run out of ammo. On the hardest setting, taking cover* becomes necessary a lot of the time, and crouching helps your aim over mid to long ranges. You can attack a specific part of any enemies body to cripple it, causing sometimes adverse effects, and sometimes almost unnoticable effects. For example you can shoot a human's arm to disarm them, or a robot's combat inhibitor to make them frenzy (which causes them to attack anything in sight). This adds a small tactical element to the combat.
*It should be noted that you will not 'hug' anything that provides cover. You simply hide behind it like you would have before 'hugging' became incorporated in FPS.
Melee weapons can either be swung quickly, or can utilize a few different power attacks which includes a lunging attack. You can block with melee weapons (which obviously doesn't block bullets or missiles) to take less damage, or choose to try and dodge any incoming projectiles or blows from other melee combatants. While it seems like the value of melee weapons would depreciate by the end of the game, they remain useful to the very end. Targetting certain body parts also works with melee weapons (thought not in VATS mode, which will be explained later). Their melee combat system is obviously not as good as Dark Messiah, but that's a serious game to compare any melee combat system to.
The use of explosives is an option, though I found their grenade system to be sub-par. Instead of having a quick button to toss out grenades in combat you'll have to switch to them (about 1 second), pull the pin (+1), toss them (+1), and wait for them to explode (+1). This is pretty terrible, and makes grenades only good if you use them in the beginning of combat, or during VATS mode. Otherwise you can use a variety of mines, choosing either to toss them out during combat or before you engage. On the hardest mode this can be useful (though boring) if you're setting up an area of defense that you plan to pull enemies into.
VATS mode is somewhat like bullet-time. You activate VATS and the game pauses, then you select which part of which enemy you want to shoot (either arm, head, either leg, chest or their weapon for bipeds) and spend however much AP you deem necessary to shoot those spots. You exit VATS mode and then it all plays out. When it ends you go back to real-time and your AP fills back up as time passes. This system is functional enough (though somewhat glitchy with criticals), but you can do it so often it destroys the pacing of battle in my opinion. Of course you can always opt to not use it if you don't like it.
Sneak gets it's own little section. I've tried sneaking in countless RPGs, and utilized stealth maneuvers in many first and third person shooters/stealth espionage games, and I must say that sneaking is totally worthwhile in Fallout 3. Any time you hit the enemy while undetected (even with bullets) you are guaranteed a sneak attack critical. If your critical kills the target (obviously head shots can do this pretty easily on weaker enemies) then you remain undetected. If you miss your target the enemy either goes to alert status or locates your position.
The RPG character building elements are decent, at best, and are just as generic as any RPG that's come out over the last 10 years. You basically have stats, skills, and perks, with a level cap of 20. In many ways the character building is similar to the system in Neverwinter Nights. However, you'd only get a 'perk' (can't remember what they were called) in NWN every few levels, you get one every level in Fallout 3.
The stats are all pretty useful, save charisma which has absolutely no purpose. Which means there are 7 stats and only 1 is completely useless. No matter what RPG you compare that to it's pretty good (while older RPGs only had 4 to 6 stats, half of which were worthless depending on the character build; newer RPGs seem to have more stats, sadly with an equal proportion of them being worthless under the same circumstances).
Most the skills are pretty useful in Fallout 3, but the flaw in this aspect is that you get enough skill points to max out the majority of them (and if you're anal about getting everything in the game, you can actually max out all of them). This makes your playing experience pretty similar on multiple play-throughs, and severs you from getting attached to a certain 'class' of character.
Perks can do many things, and probably define your character the most. You can choose from perks that increase skills, add critical chance or damage, enhance interactions with NPCs, boost your VATS capabilities, and do many other things. While the perk options are versatile, they don't have the greatest balance. For example, one perk can give you special dialogue options when dealing with children (of which you might do a total of 5-10 times, if even), while another can give you +10% to radiation, poison and damage resistance as well as +10 to your energy weapons skill. While that's a severe example, it is in my opinion a good example.
Equipment is pretty straightforward in this game, and definitely lackluster by comparison to almost any other game that features equipment. You get body armor and headgear (either a hat or helmet, and a pair of glasses). They can boost your stats or skills, and provide damage resistance. Rarely they will also provide radiation resistance. Weapons don't really have anything special about them, save the unique weapons that are hidden throughout the game.
The map in Fallout 3 looks really large (but isn't, in terms of surface area) and is done in the style of Morrowind. Anyone who is groaning right now (yeah, all that running through empty areas for five minutes in Morrowind just to get to the next cave), don't. There's a lot less boring run time, and maybe 70-90 different areas on the map that you can visit. While some may be long underground subway tunnels or multiple story buildings, others can simply be a one room building. The world (including 'dungeons') is no doubt a large one, but unlike Morrowind you won't have to waste a lot of time travelling. Especially since there is a fast travel feature that allows you to pretty much warp to any location you've discovered on the map, assuming there are no enemies near you.
To compare the map to Morrowind again, the map of Fallout 3 is much more detailed. Not detailed in a sense of 'Wow, that's cool looking,' but detailed in it's actual design. This is especially noticable when in downtown DC, where you'll be travelling through broken building and across skywalks to get past large piles of rubble that obstruct your path. There's plenty of messed up terrain and objects to use to your tactical advantage, and firefights in the streets can be pretty fun.
You can bring a follower with you (assuming you meet certain conditions ranging from your good/bad karma, to fees you have to pay). The followers aren't very smart and are extremely reckless. Nonetheless they can take a big beating and dish out some good damage. Your options for giving them orders might as well not exist, and trading equipment with them is very lackluster.
Even though followers are pretty worthless, they are by no means necessary, and any glitches in the game are minimal. While some FPS players might claim this game is repetitive, I say to them: What FPS isn't? You point and click, move, and repeat. Any RPG players who might say this game is repetitive: Yes, RPGs generally are. Due to most existing mana systems most of the time is spent clicking A/X repeatedly to physically attack your enemies. While Fallout fans might say this game strays from the path of it's predecessors: What new franchise releases don't?
Oh yeah, I almost forgot this part, which I consider very important. The pacing of this game is great as long as you put the main quest aside and forget it even exists. There's minimal menu-time, and based on how you build your character you won't have to waste time worrying about either traps or being thorough with your looting (which can be very tedious if you're anal about getting everything). Even if it is just a hybrid of an RPG, that gets it some huge bonuses in my book, since the pacing in modern RPGs is terrible. It's not that the story is so huge in them, it's just that it usually takes them so long to explain simple concepts... as if I was ten years old. It's pretty insulting.
Story - 1/5
I found the story in this game to be both very short, and very mundane. I won't spoil it for you since it can be summed up in two sentences, but even when compared to a FPS (as opposed to RPGs) the story is not good. I lump the main quest in with the story, since it's pretty much one in the same. Short and mundane pretty much describes them both.
Character development (such as personalities) and depth is limited, if it could even be considered to exist. On top of that, consequences for your actions do not exist. In addition, the voice acting wasn't the greatest, though it wasn't extremely annoying. Based on it's quality though, I would have to say they'd have been better off not wasting the time/money on voice acting for many reasons. One good reason is that they could have spent more time and thought on the story.
Graphics/Sound - Nil
I'm not a good judge of graphics or sound, since I don't care about either of them. I can still enjoy looking at the primitive sprites of the late '80s, and I always turn the music off in videogames (it's always terrible when compared to real music). So this section will be very brief. All I can say about the graphics is that they didn't annoy me, so they get a plus.
The sound effects were good enough. The guns didn't sound too good or too bad, and melee sound effects were pretty lackluster. There was one radio station that I listened to, though. By completing a side-quest you can unlock Agatha's Station, which cycles through a set of four or five violin sonatas. Since the violin is my favorite instrument, I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this music while dismembering my enemies in a ruthless fashion.
Play Time/Replayability - 4/5
Overall, a seasoned gamer could probably beat the main quest in maybe three to six hours on the normal difficulty, but the bulk of this game comes in optional exploring and side-questing. Assuming you do a decent amount of exploring and such you can probably get a good 30-40 hours out of this game, maybe 40-50 if you're unfamiliar with some of the elements or spend a lot of time scouring every area for every piece of booty.
Replayability is a hard thing to judge. But assuming you enjoyed playing the game you could probably give it a good two or three play-throughs (each one taking drastically less time to complete). Though it should be noted that not a whole lot will change between your playthroughs except the order in which you do things, and possibly the way you invest your perks.
The reason for the high rating in this section is that I expect FPS/RPG hybrids to be shorter than pure RPGs. And even further I expect modern RPGs to be much shorter than old RPGs due to their misplaced focus on graphics and cinematics.
Final Recommendation - 7/10
I consider a 7 to be average. While this game was not spectacular either in an RPG sense or a FPS sense, it was nonetheless an enjoyable game to play. Naturally I should give it a bonus for it's mature rating, but this review is supposed to be generalized for all crowds, so I will abstain from that. My personal rating would be an 8/10 though, due to the entertainment I got from the violence and the vulgar nature of most everyone (which I found fitting for people who live in the dark and dysmal post-apocalyptic time period).
And finally, I must say that old school gamers have to take new games with a grain of salt, and that's exactly what I did with this one. From that I have derived my rating. Not only are games these days easier, but they are shorter, and focus too much on eye-candy as opposed to game mechanics (especially innovative ones). My advice to you is to either get used to it, quit playing games, or try to get into the industry and change it for the better. If you choose the third option, I wish you good luck, because God knows the industry needs it's creativity to be kick-started.
Rating: 3.5 - Good
Product Release: Fallout 3 (US, 10/28/08)
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