Review by AK_the_Twilight

"The Beautiful Wasteland"

Let me get this out of the way first: I'm not a fan of Western RPG's. I've always been a fan of Eastern RPG's from companies like Square-Enix and Nippon Ichi. I've been hooked on Kingdom Hearts and Disgaea before, but never took a liking to the collection of Dungeons-and-Dragons style RPG's outside of the Land of the Rising Sun. However, Fallout 3 has officially severed my disbelief in the Western RPG market. With a tremendous world to explore and plenty of things to do, Fallout 3 is one Western RPG that even the most loyal of JRPG fans should definitely check out. It's remarkable in a multitude of ways and could well be the most unique twist on the RPG formula in a long, long time.

Fallout 3 takes place in an alternate reality where nuclear warfare has left the surface of Washington D.C. a barren wasteland. A select few have been safely hidden away in the enigmatic world of Vault 101, a secluded safe haven where society has continued beneath the scarred earth and the outside world has become off limits. Your story picks up at birth, where you select your gender, and as time slowly passes, you get to choose your abilities along with taking an odd test to determine personal fortes. The game quickly fast-forwards to a point when your father escapes Vault 101, causing chaos beneath the surface. The game truly begins when you follow the clues and enter the outside world. It's up to you to discover why your father left Vault 101 and the secrets of the Wasteland. With the storylines of most RPG's being saturated with classic fantasy elements (like Bethesda's legendary series, Elder Scrolls) seeing the new world of Fallout 3 is absolutely stunning. Not only is it different, but it's so haunting and the cryptic story only serves to make the world more realized.

Exploring Fallout 3 is best performed in first-person, as the third-person gameplay is clunky and just doesn't work. The camera appears around the character's backside, similar to Resident Evil 4, but exploring that way is slow and inconsistent. Stick to first-person, because the controls shine here. Pressing B brings up the Pip-boy, your typical set of menus and screens showing stats, equipment, and the like. Your character can jump, reload firearms and interact with the environment with the face buttons, with the triggers being used for attacking and defending. The first-person abilities are similar to other RPG's, but the introduction of firearms adds some interesting twists. Pressing the right bumper brings up the unique V.A.T.S. system, a way to pinpoint targets and attack specific limbs for damage at the expense of AP, the points spent during V.A.T.S. attacks. On the whole, Fallout 3 is a unique spin on past RPG works but retains many of the accessible aspects of the controls, making a game that's easy to jump into, but deep enough to experiment frequently.

Many games have attempted the good-evil distinction in the storyline, and while a select few have nailed it, it still hasn't been perfected. Fortunately, Fallout 3 comes pretty damn close; the good-evil parallels actually make a serious impact in your adventure through Fallout 3's world. The game introduces the Karma system, where expectedly, your actions determine how people approach you. You can be the good guy by helping out people, killing the bad guys, or running errands for folks. Conversely, you can be the bad guy by stealing items, picking locks, and being a typical badass. What is so impressive about this concept in Fallout 3 is that practically everything makes a difference. The game literally will show moment after moment where you must make a serious choice. Sometimes you're forced to make a decision on the fly, which can be a bit annoying. Being out of the control seat can be distracting, but the game offers plenty of reasons to visit Fallout 3 again. What would happen if you didn't kill that civilian or you decided to lockpick that secret hideout? These “what if” situations make incredible difference throughout the course of the game and seeing how the interactions change from your decisions is remarkable to say the least. There are so many opportunities to see this concept in action and the end result is a thought-provoking and versatile world to explore with plenty of things to do.

Which brings us to what is quite possibly the best part about Fallout 3: the depth. The depth of Fallout 3 is absolutely astounding. Within the first couple of hours, the player is introduced to combat, stats, lockpicking, conversations, hacking terminals, repairing items, and much more. The depth runs further than simple things to do, as the world is easy to manipulate. Pick up an item and use it to power-up a weapon. Sneak up behind an enemy to stealthily get a quick shot on them. The fact that Bethesda has made the world of Fallout 3 so jam-packed with things to do is kind of overwhelming. However, once you get a majority of the gameplay concepts under your belt, the game can be incredibly fun to play. Fallout 3 doesn't accomplish every single mechanic flawlessly, though; the combat (though visceral and great to watch) relies a bit too much on the stats, which can make the gameplay a bit inconsistent at times. But if you can see pass the slight problems, the epic storyline and massive collection of side-quests will keep the world of Fallout 3 feeling fresh and expansive. There really is no RPG world as defining and tremendous as Fallout 3.

Technically, Fallout 3 was supposed to push the 360 to its absolute limits, but it just doesn't get that far. It's impressive to see such an expansive overworld to explore. Though the world is known as The Wasteland, it quite honestly isn't. The structural differences are amazing; a destroyed bridge still stands, some buildings become mini-dungeons. Despite its name, the game's overworld produces a surprising amount of diversity. There are a few glitches, however; the game expends a lot of its graphical energy into the world itself, but the technical issues still manage to press through. The conversational moments do feel a bit mechanical as well, but considering the overall scope of the presentation, it's a minor complaint. The sound design is also very well done. The voice acting, though a bit cheesy at times, brings the story together in emotional and inventive ways. It's not the most stunning of 360 titles; the technical glitches and slightly askew voice acting can be distracting, but once you dive into Fallout 3's tremendous world, it's very tough to get out.

+ Captivating story offers plenty of thought-provoking themes
+ Interesting mix of action and stat-tracking
+ Expansive world is huge and full of things to do
+ Plenty of unique gameplay mechanics that work well together
+ Actions actually affect gameplay and dialogue

- Technical issues distract from incredible environments
- Shooting relies more on stats than skill
- Conversation sequences feel mechanical and slow
- Third-person mode is awful

Fallout 3 stands tall amongst the rubble, being much more than the sum of its many, many parts. Its remarkably inventive approach to both action and RPG gameplay makes for some visceral intensity and plenty of exciting encounters. But even when you're not shooting the limbs off of mutated monsters, Fallout 3 has an incredible amount of things to do. The conversational pieces feel mechanical and the combat isn't flawless, but it'll be difficult to see another RPG this year that really stuns the player the way Fallout 3 does. Even if you haven't played the former Fallout games or even other Bethesda RPG's like Oblivion, Fallout 3 is still worth exploring. There's enough diversity in the game to satisfy even the most easily-distracted of gamers, and considering how inventive the story and gameplay are, it's safe to say that Fallout 3 is one of the hugest and most creative of RPG's released this year. It's not perfect, but Fallout 3 is one hell of a package, filled with unique gameplay elements and plenty of things to do. It's definitely worth a purchase, even to jaded gamers who are sick and tired of hacking at orcs or casting Curaga on their teammates. Pick up Fallout 3 today.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 12/23/08

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

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