Review by timmeh_1250
You too can be the ideal vault dweller!
The Fallout series is a long lived one, going back to 1997 with the release of the original game, developed by Black Isle Studios. A few years ago, Black Isle Studio sold the intellectual property rights for the game to Bethesda Softworks. This sparked quite a bit of tension with the fans of the original, for fear the Bethesda would ruin the game, or make it to far different from what it used to be. One of the most common fears, was that Fallout 3 would be, "Oblivion with guns". Now personally, I would absolutely love Oblivion with guns, but that is far from what Fallout 3 ended up being. Between a completely different stats and level system, and the V.A.T.S. combat system, the only similarities lie in some parts of the interface and the controls. Having played the game for nearly 40 hours now, I feel I can write a decent review, although a plot synopsis would be impossible, as I'm only about one-half through the story, and only in one of the possible branches.
First off, the graphics. As with most Xbox 360 games (and I will be reviewing the 360 version, because my computer can't run the PC version, and I have no will to own a PS3, long story) the graphics are impressive. However, these really shine from the view distance. You don't really notice it during your time in the vault, but when you step outside for the first time, and stagger to the edge of what used to be a scenic overlook, the beauty of the game really shines. The graphics really fit the setting, and every little detail, even from that first amazing view, tell an amazing story. The shelled out houses, the cars with the paint burned off, mail boxes hanging open, with the flag broken off, lying on the ground nearby. Every detail is perfect, except one. The animations. Sad is really the only good word for it, as the incredible player character model nearly ruins the experience when playing from a third person view, as it seemingly floats or skates across the rubble and rough terrain. Fortunately, the rest of the animations are far better, and the first person view is honestly a lot easier an, in my opinion, more fun to play from.
The sound effects are good, although great would be an overstatement. The guns sound a little under-powered, and the explosions look better than they sound. This is not to say that they are bad, they just aren't as impressive as the graphics. What is impressive is the voice acting. Fallout 3 probably has the best voice acting of any nonlinear game I've ever played. Almost every character has a different voice, and each voice perfectly fits the character's personality (which I will expand on later). The radio stations are also impressive, and really add to the immersion, although I wouldn't play through the entire game with them on, as you're likely to end up with the same song or recording repeating after a while. The environmental sounds are also immersive, although subtle.
The real difference between Obivion and Fallout 3 is the V.A.T.S. combat system. If you don't know, V.A.T.S. allows you to pause the game, target specific parts of a character or creatures body, then watch the action unfold like a scene from the matrix, in slow motion with plenty gore and some epic camera angles. The slow motion is executed really well, with some effects chosen seemingly at random, and the more dramatic effects (such as the matrix style, slow-time-and-follow-the-bullet-while-rotating-the-camera thing) saved for killing blows/shots. It really adds some strategical depth to otherwise mediocre gun-play. Which, to be honest, the combat in Fallout 3 really is. The gun fights play like a standard shooter game without V.A.T.S., but are still fun. However, to keep the character from being a time controlling demi-god, V.A.T.S. uses action points, which regenerate quickly, but force you to rely on twitch reflexes as often as careful thought.
Of course, what would combat be without awe inspiring weapons and armor with enough spikes to gore a small army? Fallout 3 fills that requirement, with everything from standard "Pre-war" clothing, to power armor that looks surprisingly similar to the armor used by a Storm Trooper... and don't worry, you can get armor with spikes. The weapons are incredible as well, allowing you to used everything from a pool cue to a high-tec Power Fist pneumatic glove as melee weapons, and still providing standard pistols and machine guns. However, there are more than those two types of weapons, energy weapons and big guns. The idea behind energy weapons is critical hits are fatal (usually making the target melt, crumble to dust or dies in some other, equally dramatic fashion), but ammo and repairs are more expensive, and harder to find. Big guns are lots of fun as well, with everything from a Missile Launcher and Mini-gun, to the ever-popular, Rock-It-Launcher, which allows you to load just about anything you can find into a giant tube then fire it at someone. In one of the pre-release videos one of the developers used it to kill a raider with teddy bears, TEDDY BEARS!!!
However, ammo for most weapons is hard to find, the obvious exception being the Rock-It-Launcher (TEDDY BEARS, he killed her with freaking TEDDY BEARS!!! Okay, I'm done.). Because of this, melee weapons are useful, even to a gun slinger, and as more than a backup weapon. There is no reason to waste ammo on a mole rat when you can just bean the thing in the head with a baseball bat and watch it fly. The other thing you have to worry about, with both weapons and armor, is the state of disrepair they are in. A weapon slowly deteriorates as it is used (read: fired/swung), and will eventually break if you don't get it repaired. Same goes for armor, except it only takes damage when you get hit. To get your weapons or armor repaired you can either, find someone who can repair it for you, usually at a rather steep price, or repair it yourself. However, in Fallout 3 your character does not have access to a magical hammer with which he can fix even the most complex weapons, but rather will require another similar or identical weapon to used for parts.
This brings me to the massive amount of choice you are given. I could delve into the choice given to you on a regular basis, such as what weapons to use while watching your ammo usage, which path to take, above ground through the super mutants, or the longer route through the metro tunnels, or something similar, but I'm going to stick with the bigger choices. The first I'm going to cover is also one of the most obvious, shoot, or talk. Most of the quests you take, or things you do, can be solved through conversation. This applies to the evil side of things as well, are you the kind of evil person who would kill everyone for the sake of simplicity, or are you the kind of evil character who would rather leave them alive so long as they are useful. Of course, you can also play a good character, or walk the line or anything else, but where's the fun in that? In fact, the choices you make, no matter how trivial they may seem at the time, usually has some effect on the main quest, even if it is just through your Karma (good or evil) level. Another major aspect of choice in Fallout 3 is that of your specialization. Your character can only reach level 20, which will only give you enough points to perfect four or five skills out of the twenty or thirty. You could try to put some points in everything, but then by the end of the game you wouldn't be very good at anything. Picking your core skills, and then later what you want to be better at, will strongly affect the way you play the game. To end this topic, I'm going to quote the notes I took to write this review, "It's nonlinear, now much more choice/freedom do you need!".
The characters in Fallout 3 really make the choices harder to make as well. I found myself passing up chances to be evil, simply because I actually felt bad about doing it. I've noticed that the first time people play through the game, and are given the chance to try to blow up the city "Megaton", they become more and more hesitant the longer they wait to do it. I think this is because every single character in the game seems to have a unique personality, with the exception of the few fill-ins in a couple of the cities (1-4 max, depending on the size of the city, some don't have any at all), and a couple of beggars that sound scarily similar. The personalities all seem well thought out, and seem to fit the characters both in looks, and in their back story. The various characters also interact better, and while conversations aren't as common as they were in Oblivion, I'm not sure that's a bad thing ("I saw a mud crab the other day.", "Nasty little things.", "Goodbye.", "Goodbye.", walks over to the next person and repeats).
As I've mentioned before, your actions affect not only the here and now, but the world and story as a whole. The game has multiple endings, and which one you get is completely dependent on your actions during the rest of the game. The background, or history, for the game is time-tested, and just as good this time around as it was in the first two games, excellent. The main story is solid and enjoyable, but I won't spoil any of it.
While the game world is smaller than Oblivion's, you can't walk for half and hour and find nothing like you could in Oblivion. Every five minutes you will find something interesting, be it a group of raiders, a trade caravan, a group of supermarkets, or any number of non-combat related features such as an abandoned house or a ghost town. Every detail works in the games favor, reinforcing the feeling of being in a post-apocalyptic Washington D.C., from the interactions of people and creatures, to the radio stations and scenery. Also, the world map is deceptively small, given that the entire city of D.C. has a massive network of subway tunnels you can use to get from place to place, if you can figure them out.
Having sung Fallout 3's praise, I now feel obliged to move on to the bad part of the games, and my usual nit-picking. First off, the games biggest, and possibly only, downfall is in the bugs. Most of them are problems with scripted sequences, such as one quest where a character is supposed to walk up to another, say a few lines then shoot and kill them, but instead walks up, says their lines then misses their shot and neither character will talk to you, or the other character fall dead anyways. Most of these either don't mess up your game, or can be solved by loading the auto-save that was made when you entered the room, but they are still annoying. My other major complaint is that, once you finish the game, you're done. The only way you can keep playing is to load a save made before you started that last sequence. My last complaint is with the rubble heaps in D.C. If they had made them impossible to climb I wouldn't have minded or noticed, but no, they had to use the gamer-hated invisible walls... WHY BETHESDA, WHY?!?!
Over all, I am very happy about my purchase, it was worth every penny. Hopefully, Bethesda will be able to get some patches out soon to iron out some of the bugs, but until then, save often. I would definitely advise the game to anyone considering it, assuming they want either a deep RPG with some action, or an action game with strong RPG elements. Anyone looking for a slower RPG or a pure action shooter is going to need to look elsewhere.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: Fallout 3 (US, 10/28/08)
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