Review by atomicpunkca

"Welcome back, I love what you've done with the hair but did you really need the lobotomy?"

This is really odd. I want to love Fallout 3 but it is like greeting an old friend who just isn't the same person you grew to like in the first place. Unfortunately this rift causes me to like this game a lot less than I should. Coming from its roots as a turn-based rpg known for deep interactions with interesting NPCs to the (d)evolution? of its new identity of pretty real-time RPG-lite that Bethesda is known for; has me scratching my head as to whether this is a good or bad step. Maybe I am looking too hard at the situation. Any step for the shelved Fallout franchise is a good step. Since changing hands, the IP cannot be expected to remain the same and it is only up to the user to either accept it or move on. For those who are unfamiliar with the Fallout series but who are familiar with the Elderscrolls series will embrace this new title with open arms for it really is just Oblivion with a new setting. Harsh but true. Fans of the original series, Fallout 1 and 2 not the lukewarm Tactics nor the reviled Brotherhood of Steel, will most likely be like I was and view this change with mixed reactions.

It is not to say that Fallout 3 is a bad game tho. On the surface it is a good looking game that obviously had a high amount of polish to it. Only the nagging feeling of disappointment that comes from the realization that this is not the Fallout of old plays down on the enjoyment of this title. Anyone who has played the first two games can relate. Many a gleeful moments were spent in navigating the complex dialog trees of the two previous offerings along with memorable NPCs who came not only as mobile turrets but with a story and personality. Replacing them are linear dialog trees that generally consist of good/neutral/bad options that invariably lead to the same place and NPCs who offer platitudes instead of dimension. For example in the original games you can talk to your NPC followers who have interesting side stories you can follow up on. Fallout 3 followers not only do not talk, other than at first blush, but spout annoying comments at times like one who grumbles constantly or another who keeps heaping the same staid praise upon you. I would like to have seen the new game to offer something along the lines of Planescape: Torment where you could complete the NPC sidequests and have them gain abilities/insight. Then again, considering this is "future Oblivion", the dialogs and NPCs can be considered deep against those standards already set.

With that off my chest it is time to really begin the review ;)

Visually Fallout 3 pushes the Oblivion engine to new heights. The graphics are lush with a sharp attention to detail. In general I would have to say that the textures must be a higher resolution as well making this a beautiful world to wander through. Jutting shelled skeletal building dotting the bleak rocky wasteland landscape brings the world of Fallout all that much more into sharper focus for the player. Clouds of radioactive dust swirling amidst the ruins of civilization only reinforce the perspective of the holocaust that swept through the land. Only the lack of environmental damage other than that of exploding cars (I hate exploding cars >.>) holds it back.

The character models are well done but the animations are still a bit stiff and they still glide or slide across terrain. Attack animations are limited at best but serviceable with generally one to two variations of motion per attack per character. Like Oblivion, equipment is visible on the models with the same upgraded treatment as your surroundings.

Combat graphics and the physics engine are well done with just minor quibbles. The body part damage models have only two visible effects regardless of the weapon you use. Shooting or punching a mob's head off looks exactly the same with the models being “overkill” and “reduced to a pulp”. Even with the lack of proper effects it is fun to see the animations although they do get old after a while. General combat physics are good as well with the Havoc engine giving up massive ragdoll effects as to be expected. It is over the top as body parts fly as if propelled super-humanly through the air. The problem with what I call “dancing” items is minimal here and I found only a few instances where objects would spin about on surfaces.

Overall the graphics will be the main draw of the game and so score high. Kudos to the Bethesda art department.

Sound effects are quite good as well. The guns fire with a satisfying report and melee connects palpably. Situational awareness is also built into the game's sound engine where raiders will taunt you to come out if they cannot see you or let forth battle cries as they engage. The music is a nice touch where you only have key points where dramatic music plays. Other times you need to tune into the radio for your music fix. There are also times where the radio plays a part in the game as well giving it a unique spin although the idea was never capitalized on.

Gameplay is not so good. One major problem I had with the combat system is that items degrade at an alarming rate. This is not a new feature as all the Elderscrolls games had approximately the same amount of item decay. The problem is that there is no easy solution like that in the previous incarnations. Gone are the repair hammers and tongs and a void is left in its place. You can only repair items with like items. If you have a 10mm pistol you need to carry/scavenge multiple pistols in order to keep your equipment in reasonable condition. There are some exceptions (some plainly weird and others logical) but the lack of a repair kit makes item management a chore. I liked the old method of ammunition scarcity in the original games better. Here you are doubly punished with having to find weapons and ammo on a constant basis. The only saving graces are that the basic weapons are easy to find and that ammunition stacks infinitely without taking up weight. This is only a problem early on where you are always running out of ammo and perhaps just using up your favorite gun as well. Decay rates are also based on amount fired so your (semi)automatic weapons will seemingly wear to ineffectual junk in record time.

To add insult to injury your companions are equipped with alien technology that allows them to have non-decaying items and infinite ammunition. Although I will say that if I had to manage my companion's weapons and ammo I would probably rather not have them in the first place.

V.A.T.S. now replaces the old aimed shot aspect of combat. The only issue I have with it is that V.A.T.S is essential to combat. Without it you can waste endless rounds firing shots into the distance. The dual nature of the FPS type combat makes the aimed shots the only way to go. While you can fire as much as you like in normal real-time mode, aim is an issue where your bullets do not always fly straight so at anything beyond 10 yards using V.A.T.S. is highly recommended. The only drawback is that it uses action points forcing you back into real-time after you have exhausted them. So the backpedaling combat dance (patched) of Oblivion is now replaced with the run and V.A.T.S. system where you, invariably, run around hiding behind objects to wait as your action points recharge. The new system of aimed shots has been quite well preserved and only the options to aim for the eyes and groin are missing. As I recall, eye damage reduced the “to-hit” roll and groin hits increased the chance for knockdown. Instead critical head shots replace both mechanics. I am uncertain if head crits reduce enemy hit chance (the damage skin indirectly implies this) but in the place of knockdown is the reeling effect of a critical head shot where you can get in another shot before the enemy recovers.

Melee is a complete disappointment for the V.A.T.S system though and you can only “aim” for the body. Understandably it is probably due to the fact that the combat system only takes in consideration range for the chance to hit making melee V.A.T.S. hits pretty much a sure thing. However I would consider it a bonus since you need to get close to your opponent to use melee weapons. As it stands there is no point to a melee weapon unless you are completely out of ammunition or just want to use one.

The new UI is slick with everything you need on the cool new Pipboy containing all you need. Information is organized well and the tabbed inventory is a welcome addition. Overall the UI is excellent adopting a minimalist approach rather then endless hotkeys or clicking.

Quests are generic fetch quests for the most part but there are some interesting ones which spice up your gameplay. I am not going into detail as it would ruin some of the surprise. Overall it is quite good running from uninspired to intriguing. And like the original games borrowed elements and references are abound adding flavor to the mix. Some special wasteland encounters are quite good for a chuckle; I highly recommend just wandering around to see what you can find. The main story arc is predictable and very obviously transplanted from elements of both previous titles but then again it never was about the main quest line. The journey was always more satisfying.

Which leads to the end. Of this review and of the game. Spoiler-ish but I cannot resist, you cannot continue your game after beating it ala Fallout 1. And like Fallout 1, I plead for Bethesda to issue a patch to remedy this.

So “war... war never changes” but Fallout sure has. A bit for the better and a bit for the worse.

Graphics: 9.5/10
Sound: 9/10
Gameplay: 6/10

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 11/03/08

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

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