Review by darkcoz941

"Bethesda has another winner in their hands"

When The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion was released on the Xbox 360 and PC in 2006, it raised the bar in terms of role-playing. Developer Bethesda Softworks took extreme care into making a living world of Tamriel and made the best western-developed RPG since Diablo II. After checking out Fallout 3, it breaks the same ground with a few twists. Though I never played the Fallout series that was originally by Interplay (Bethesda acquired the Fallout franchise in 2004 before Oblivion was revealed), much like I never played Elder Scrolls until Oblivion, it felt like I knew a few extra details in the series. However, I only rented this title, but got plenty of details in for a full review. Because of this and the date after the Game of the Year Edition, I can't cover the expansion packs or the GotY Edition, yet.

Set into a post-apocalyptic future in the U.S.A. where Washington D.C. was turned into a wasteland by nuclear weapons, the Fallout series ditches the medieval stuff like swords and bows, and ditches the magic system. Instead, the game focuses heavily on a variety of guns and modern-day tools such as baseball bats and chainsaws, while keeping role-playing elements such as perks and experience points. When you level up, you can spend skill points and acquire a perk. One example of a perk that is worthy and hilarious is "Bloody Mess", where enemies explode in a violent fashion when you kill them. Or for more social-related skills, the "Child at Heart" perk may be useful when speaking to children, mainly for doing new quests or finding the deeper secrets. The level cap as of the retail version is 20, shaving off the need for endless level-grinding and shows that level alone isn't the best option when you've got the right perks and skills (and a decent weapon).

The start of the game is possibly a bit unusual for a role-player. The main character starts off as a newborn child

where you create your character, and then years will pass as you get through the sessions of spending stat points and taking the G.O.A.T. (Where you get bonus skill points on three categories). All of your base stats are at 5, and you can spend 5 points in total, or reduce one stat until you reach 1 for a little boost in one attribute while weakening the other. After the main character becomes 19, all hell breaks loose in Vault 101, where the main character's dad has left the vault and the Overseer puts a hit on you for knowing your dad left the Vault. While I can't fill in the details, it's safe to say that this game has a lot of shooting for an RPG in the main quest once you're out of the Vault, with the Brotherhood of Steel involved there and having issues with the Super Mutants as a prime example. Freeform quests are also included, such as clearing a wasted city of fire ants (who breathe fire!).

The combat does have a similar feel to Oblivion, mainly in the melee combat. The only difference is there isn't a fatigue limit, though the enemies with melee roles are about as brutal as those in Oblivion. While melee combat is an option in a few situations, most of the game involves gunplay with deadly enemies. To counter this, the player has the VATS button, mapped to the right bumper. Similar to the targeting in Square's Vagrant Story (PS1), the player can target specific body parts if he/she's using a gun, or if in range use melee weapons, both of which consume AP and recharges over time. In gunfights on VATS mode, you can see a percentage on the body part and the limb health of the enemy. The percentage as you may expect, is the chance of hitting that part if chosen. For example, target the head enough times and you'll impair the enemy's perception and have concussions, making them harder to see you. Chest damage will increase chances of staggering the enemy when hit. Arm damage will reduce aiming ability and will be disarmed at the moment their arm is crippled. Leg damage reduces moving speed and will prevent enemies from using rushing attacks on you. You can even target the weapon the enemy is carrying if you're feeling lucky, and will disarm the enemy and forcing him/her to retrieve it, leading to a somewhat totally hosed situation. If the enemy is carrying grenades, you can even target there and watch it set off on the enemy's hand. Rag-doll physics is used here to full effect (thank you, Havok engine) on everyone and anything you pick up. VATS also provides multiple camera angles and even shows slow-motion effects if you kill an enemy using VATS. Seeing a camera follow behind a sniper shot for a headshot kill is as satisfying as ever.

Since magic is out of question for healing, there is water to drink and certain enemy drops provide HP recovery. At the expense of this, the developers included a Radiation system. This goes up when walking on radiated places such as bad water, or drinking radiated water or eating stale food. You have a limit of going to 1,000, and each 200 milestone will produce crippling effects such as reduced endurance. Go beyond 1,000 and well, the results aren't pretty in the end.

The styles in Oblivion is intact in Fallout 3, mainly in sneak attacks for critical damage, lockpicking (which is handled differently), pickpocketing, and a few more surprises. Unlike Oblivion, the developers decided the player has experience points to level up instead of building up the major skills. Much like Mass Effect and Fable II, the player has a good/neutral/evil system called karma. The Achievements here consist of reaching the target level under certain karma. Based on your decisions and actions, karma can be good or bad types. Protecting people and acting natural on the hideous look of the bartender gives you good karma, and bullying the weak and attacking civilians leads to bad karma. Trying the three paths and focusing on them is fun to do as you reach Level 20 under these karma conditions. Karma also affects the groups known as Regulators who are law-abiding, or Talon Company Mercenaries who are heartless. Depending on the karma, one of the groups will put a hit on you until you go back to neutral karma. Neutral karma prevents both groups from attacking you on sight (though if you do certain conditions such as disarm the bomb, the Talon Company Mercs are hired to hit you automatically), though you won't be able to go to certain restricted places on neutral.

Finally, weapons have a deep layer of customization. As you progress, you'll receive blueprints and you can make a unique weapon using raw materials. Launching a teddy bear using the Rock-It Launcher can lead to some hilarious things. When not creating weapons, the stock weapons like pistols, shotguns, magnums, laser guns, and even a mini-nuke weapon called the Fat Man, are effective. Most of the ammo is weightless like bottlecaps (the currency in Fallout 3), so you can carry plenty of ammo with no worries of being over-encumbered by that.

Oblivion probably didn't suit well with politicians, especially since it changed from a T-rating to an M-rating due to Dark Brotherhood quests and more so with the Shivering Isles expansion. Fallout 3 is M-rated all the way, and for good reason - heads fly on headshot kills, bodies disintegrate into ashes on laser guns, certain NPCs throw f-bombs in conversations, your character can get addicted to drugs if you overuse them, bringing the new definition of "Use of Drugs" content, and don't get me started about the "Bloody Mess" perk - this is the game politicians love to hate.

Though Fallout 3 uses the same game engine as Oblivion, it was optimized using newer technology. The world is incredibly gorgeous and even more so than Oblivion's world. Despite this, I was even more surprised that the game doesn't stutter as much when exploring large landscapes (Oblivion stuttered a lot even when played on the HDD). The framerate is smoother too. Saving and loading is even more painless than Oblivion - if you die, the game automatically goes to the most recent save with little to no load times. Similar to Infinity Ward's Call of Duty games, there's also an indicator to show a grenade is nearby if enemies have some, though you won't be able to throw them back at them like Modern Warfare did.

The only snags comes to a lack of aim assist, though that is countered with VATS. Also, while the enemy AI is fantastic at times, the only weakness comes to zoning to another room when they are pursuing you - they don't zone at all. This left my head scratching since Oblivion never had that weird issue as enemies zone there during combat or other situations. And don't forget some occasional bugs that may not be resolved even in the Game of the Year edition.

Overall, this is another fresh experience that makes even a boring post-apocalyptic futuristic setting fun in our book. RPG of the year? Possibly. Best game ever? I wouldn't be surprised if that happens.

Pros: Incredible graphics and sound design, VATS system makes for deep combat

Cons: Incredible depth can be too much for casual players, occasional glitches

Graphics: 10 One of the most gorgeous games to date, Fallout 3 pushes the consoles to the limits, and doesn't stutter as much as Oblivion. Nuclear & car explosions are also some of the best too.

Sound: 10 Since the presentation is basically a 1940's movie (due to old-fashioned radios, TVs, and cars), using the soundtrack that has 30's and 40's music is remarkable, as well as the voice acting. Kudos for the best use of Ink Spots' "I Don't Want To Set The World On Fire" ever.

Design: 10 No grindfests here that makes RPGs stale. Levelling up gains you a perk that has limitless customization, and has minor impact to the base stats, as well as the 20-level cap.

Gameplay: 9 Though using guns, bats and hedgetrimmers lead to intimidating gameplay, they work pretty well as well as including the VATS system.

Replayability: 10 Oblivion's content was off-the-charts before. Though Fallout 3's is a bit smaller, it's still more than the population of U.S. citizens.

Final Word: While Interplay's bankruptcy was disappointing 5 years ago, Bethesda's take on the Fallout franchise leads to the best results ever. Definitely a masterpiece by Bethesda Softworks.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 12/03/09

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

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