|Platform(s)||Xbox 360, PC, PS3|
|Kelly Score ™||95 / 100|
Fallout 3 is the third chapter to the Fallout series of games, brought to life by Bethesda rather than the original developers Black Isle/Interplay which went bankrupt before they could release their version of this episode. Bethesda started over from scratch, using the same underlying engine as was used in Oblivion, the most recent episode of the Elder Scroll series.
It is important to note that I have never played any of the previous games in the Fallout series. Set in a post-apocalyptic world with a rather unique blend of idealized American 1950’s “better dead then red” culture and high-technology/cyberpunk, Fallout’s strengths have always been providing players with a massive “sandbox” game world combined with a somewhat twisted sense of dark humour.
The fans of the original episodes have been rather critical of Fallout 3- it is, after all, a quite different game. I have played the game without any preconceptions, and can personally say that it is an exceptionally enjoyable and deep experience. It may not be the same game as the older entries in the series, but it stands on its own as a worthy adventure in its own right.
You start the game at birth… quite literally. The first stage of the game allows you to choose your appearance and initial skills, and introduces you to the basic movement, combat, and inventory interfaces as you grow up in Vault 101. Once the door opens and you step outside into the Capital Wasteland, you are on your own.
Character development is via a set of traditional characteristics (Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, Luck: S.P.E.C.I.A.L), Skills (E.G.: medicine, small guns), and Perks (E.G.: Lady killer, bloody mess). Each time you level you get a number of points to distribute to skills, plus one perk update to apply as you see fit. Further customization can be achieved through clothing/armour, weapons, and appearance choices. I enjoyed the character customization aspect of the game: the depth was sufficient to make me feel like I was building a “unique” character, without feeling like I was rigidly restricted to one or two roles.
Exploration is by walking initially- you have no vehicles or mounts, and traveling from one end of the wasteland to the other can take a substantial amount of time. Once you have discovered a location, you can “fast travel” there any time you are outdoors and there are no enemies nearby. I found this to be a good way to extend the size of the world without making me too frustrated by lengthy travel delays.
There is a main plot (finding your father), and dozens of side quests, but no requirement to directly work on anything. It is perfectly acceptable to simply wander. The quests are enjoyable and often very unique. I started to genuinely care about some of the virtual people and their stories as I wandered the wasteland. Retrieving a young man from a “cult” of vampires, recovering the Declaration of Independence, helping a water engineer fix some leaky pipes, disarming an atom bomb being worshipped by a church of radiation: all of these things and hundreds more are part of your experience as you explore the remains of the Washington D.C. area.
Combat is a curious combination of real time weapon-play and “turn based” targeting via V.A.T.S (Vault-tec Assisted Targeting System). V.A.T.S is usable any time you have sufficient action points, which is most of the time: essentially, it “freezes” time and allows you to select targeted enemies and body parts precisely. I actually rarely fight without V.A.T.S active- when I’m low on action points, I’ll dodge/run away until I have sufficient action points to enter V.A.T.S mode again. It definitely works for me, but your mileage may vary. You can also effectively “freeze time” to use a healing device or switch weapons: combat is only real time when you want it to be.
The game visuals and audio are very good. I played it on the XBox 360, but I understand that the PC version is essentially identical. The debris strewn landscape of the capital wasteland rendered from the first person perspective convincingly draws me in to the unpleasant world the characters inhabit. Monsters are reasonably well animated, but motion is somewhat “simplified”: this is not a brilliantly motion captured environment. Although smaller objects have basic physics, there is no real destructible terrain: firing grenades or even a mini-nuke at a tin shack doesn’t obliterate it, although the mini-nuke will make a mess of any monsters you fight.
The humour in the game is dark, but is not widespread or particularly enticing. Apparently this is one aspect of fans of the original Fallout games miss the most. I found the game to be rather “dark” at times, not funny, and the few bits of humour didn’t significantly lighten the mood.
I can strongly recommend Fallout 3 to anyone who enjoys rather open-ended role playing games with a bit of action. There is a lot to see here: I’ve spent nearly 40 hours playing the game so far, and estimate I am perhaps 60% of the way through the main quest. If I focused purely on the main quest, I would be done by now- but I’d suggest that anyone intent on finishing the game as fast as possible is totally missing the point of this type of experience. For fans of the original Fallout series… well, try setting aside your expectations. From what I’ve seen and read, Fallout 3 is respectful of the original source materials, and Bethesda has built a very good game. It isn’t exactly a direct sibling of Fallout 1 and 2, but it seems to me that it is a worthy successor.