Review by Bacardi152
A great RPG? No, A great FPS? No, but a great game? Yes.
Fallout 3 has easily become one of the most talked about games of recent memory. It's not suprising after the Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion phenomenon that came out as well. Bethesda has resurrected a franchise of mythic proportions (even people who had never played the two previous fallouts knew of the franchise) and have done so with mostly great results.
My initial disclaimer is as follows: I did not play the first two fallouts so I am not judging the game on it's past incarnations. This is a clean slate review so you will not find any comments related to FO 1 and FO 2. Also, my review does contain spoilers so if you don't like that then don't read it. I am aware of DLC for the game but my review is stricly of the original Fallout 3, I will reference DLC in passing if it has satisfied a prior fault with the original game.
The graphics in the game are extremely well done if not a little repetitive. Exploring the multitude of buildings and structures including caves and subway stations does seem to look redundant but in case anybody hasn't ridden the metro in a while most subway stations and office buildings DO look redundant. People always seem to be looking for a video game to provide variety to environments but those of us who have been to D.C. would agree that a lot of it looks the same. Towns in the game are also very diverse, from a patchwork trash heap (megaton) to a more refined town with an actual market (rivet city) to simply a stretch of buildings with caravans coming to the turn-a-bout (canterbury commons). Overall the graphics do a great job of setting the mood. Perhaps the most glaring example of lack of details graphics wise is the lack of weather patterns. I'm pretty sure we don't know exactly how the world will change after a nuclear war but I'm pretty sure Hiroshima and Nagasaki get rain on occasion along with regular weather patterns (besides, whatever happened to nuclear winter?)
Fallout 3 falls into the trap of sound effects and music being a little too repetitive. On my first playthrough I didn't even turn on the radio so on the second time around I gave three Dog a chance. The songs are a good choice of classics but at the same time the rotation gets old quickly. Three dog's news stories get old after a while including his dreadful public service announcements (Don't feed the yao guai!). Voice effects of raiders, super mutants, and most villains are extremely repetitive to the point where you want to just turn them off. Of course, there is no button to do so short of turning sound off. Guns sound o.k. for the most part and explosions sound great with a type of radiation tinge to almost all of them (especially Fatman shots). Perhaps the saving grace of the sound score was the adventures of Herbert "Daring" Dashwood (who you can meet later) and his faithful manservant Argyle. More of those stories would have been welcome.
Fallout 3 is a great example of a game that is a jack of all trades and a master of none. Like most RPG's the game suffers from the time honored problem of enemies feeling insurmountable at early levels and then becoming trivial by the time you have ample stimpacks, great weapons, and T-51b battle armor.
As far as a FPS goes the game falters due to an incredibly small targeting reticle regardless of weapons (I'm pretty sure a combat shotgun has a spread effect, don't you?) as well as herky-jerky movements of some enemies. That being said, having enemies react to getting headshotted and even shot in the torso, arms, and legs is actually a relatively novel concept. While aiming for these areas has been done before being able to cripple limbs effectively is a nice tactical decision at times (crippling a Super Mutant Behemoth is a great way to get distance for a Fatman Shot and crippling the head of gun-toting enemies lowers accuracy, which is useful on higher difficulties).
As far as an RPG Fallout 3 is obviously derived from oblivion in it's skills and attributes sections. I actually think Bethesda could learn something from Fallout 3's level system. Most players would just like to use skill points to level their skills as they wish instead of that annoying intuitive system used in Oblivion. I don't want to have to use skills I don't normally like just to enhance attributes. However, the perk system was actually a novel concept that I enjoyed since I was a non-V.A.T.S. fighter on very hard I enjoyed using Intense Training to max some statistics. The money system also had a noble concept in that most shops only had a finite number of caps that needed to refill over time. This meant often your market transactions were actually trades where you offload stuff you don't want, pick what you do want, and settle up the difference in caps. Money is not a problem by mid-game and the non-encumberance of some items (stimpacks, ALL ammunition) seemed to be a little too helpful. Even oblivion had encumberance for arrows and potions, this would have been a smart way to keep combat from becoming trivial late in the game. While most people seem to have a problem with the weapon and armor degeneration in the game I don't find it to be too much of a problem since there is often multiples of the same common weapons in many locations not to mention all it takes is a small investment to one of the caravaners of canterbury commons and your weapons are able to be consistently repaired to over 80%.
The main story is so cliche' that you'll have guessed how it's gonna end probably about midway through. However, while the main story is somewhat weak with a tried and true formula it merely serves as a vehicle to drive the game forward and allow you to experience the best part of any RPG which is the sidequests. On that level Fallout 3 does not disappoint. Side-quests can be somewhat tedious but the rewards offered in Fallout 3 actually make you want to do them. Also, often the best way to benefit from a side quest is not the most obvious way which is a welcome change. Two instances make this come to mind. In "The Replicated Man" finding the actual android nets you the enhanced plasma rifle, easily the best energy weapon in the game outside of the alien blaster, and in "you gotta shoot em in the head" keeping the keys and going to fort constantine nets you the best armor in the game. (before Operation: Anchorage that is)
I thought the bobblehead's were a great idea and make exploring the non-quest dungeons and subsequently discovering the non-quest storylines such as the dunwich building (for the melee weapons bobblehead) where audio tapes reveal the story of a man slowly becoming a ghoul or the various bobbleheads in vaults that reveal vault-tec's horrible experiments on people such as cloning (vault 108) murderous suggestions hidden in white noise (vault 92) and psychotropic drugs introduced into the population (vault 106) and of course Radiation and FEV virus admittance to humans making them super mutants (vault 87) these were all parts of the story that seemed to be missing from most reviews. The great stories of Fallout 3 are in the non-quest dungeons which is another aspect of Fallout 3 Bethesda could use for the next oblivion.
Not allowing the character to continue in the world after the final story quest is a terrible idea for an RPG, thankfully, Bethesda is fixing this with the DLC Broken Steel.
While Fallout 3 may not be the best FPS or RPG it accomplishes both of those lofty genre's goals very well. Fallout 3 has provided a strong standard to base future games of this mixed genre concept and should allow for even more polished games of this nature in the future. Overall, an outstanding game that has minor flaws holding it back ever so slightly.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: Fallout 3 (US, 10/28/08)
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