If you had to sum up Fallout 3 in one word, terms like “massive,” “staggering” and “expansive” immediately come to mind. Only the epic development studio at Bethesda, makers of Oblivion, could come up with such a wildly open and sandbox driven game. Fallout 3 is such incredibly detailed game, logging over 100 hours into the wasteland is only the tip of the iceberg.
In the not too distant future, America has been subject to nuclear war, transforming everything we know into a barren and desolate wasteland. After customizing your own character, you play as a child who was born in Vault 101, and underground civilization built beneath the earth as a way to escape the now harsh environment. During your teenage years, your father mysteriously breaks out of the vault and it is your job to chase after him. While this is a very quick summary of the main plot of the game, the storyline is told through detailed conversations (well voice acted too, some even by big named movie actors) and the player gets more backstory when more sidemissions are completed.
Similar to the best selling Oblivion, Fallout 3 is an open world sandbox game, meaning it is up to the player how the game will be played. You want to be a good citizen and help out everyone, or do you want to kill everyone you encounter? Do you want to complete the game’s main quests right away, or do you only want to participate in side missions? If you want to be a major jerk and tell everyone to $%&# off within each dialog tree, you can do that. With no set formula on how or when you need to do things, this is definitely a gamer’s game.
Fallout 3 is an RPG with a ton of adventuring mixed in. How you play the game is determined by your statistics in a number of different categories. Lockpicking, stealth, computer hacking, and even small arms handling, are just some of the perks that must be carefully thought about when choosing which upgrade to go with. Then of course you have your typical strength, luck, and intelligent stats that determine your overall general character model. Supporting dozens of statistical categories gives the game a much deeper sense of realism. For example, you will wish you put a few extra points into your mine disarming ability when you are walking through a mine field as opposed to beefing up your stealth abilities to avoid being spotted by super mutants. Every single point of upgrade needs to be carefully planned for. Making hasting decisions when you advance a level is one of the worst things the player can do.
Because of all these categories, there is a definite challenge to Fallout 3. When you first leave the vault, expect to get your ass kicked a few times before you learn how the game is really played. You will never be able to hold all the items you want and money is always harder to come by…just as if you were living in the wasteland. But because the game is so expansive, to ease the difficultly factor the player has the ability to instantly move to one location to another just as long as it has been visited before via the PIPBOY device (a watch like gadget that attaches to the player’s arm). This is especially helpful when you need to go back and forth between where you are and Megaton, one of the bigger cities in the game, to trade and heal yourself.
When roaming the wasteland, there are dangers around every corner. Wild mutated animals can attack at any time, slavers and raiders make it their point to harm you every instance they get, and super mutants and feral ghouls are constantly on a quest to tear your face off. But besides the average bad guy, the player must also be aware of radiation poisoning. Spend too much time swimming in cesspools, drinking radiated toilet water, or eating the carcasses of your dead will increase the level of radiation in your body. Suffer too much and sickness will start to set in. Just like the dozens of stat categories, everything you do on the wasteland has some type of consequence.
Fallout 3 is one of the biggest, if not the biggest game, I have ever played. In fact, the game is so large you can literally spend dozens of hours doing absolutely nothing. Because every single environment is highly detailed, there is so much to see and do. Whether you are inside a building or just walking through rocky terrain, the player will always see some type of dynamic content in the environment. For example, no matter where you go, there is always random crap just lying around. Empty bottles, tin cans, lawn mowers, bottle caps, pencils, cups, clip boards, darts, weapons, ammo, nukacola, and all sorts of other random everyday crap is littered throughout the entire game. The fact that every single one of these items can be interacted with, placed in your inventory, sold, and can be combined to make bigger and more useful items is nothing short of amazing. I have never been so impressed to pick up random crap before. Of course most of this stuff will be bypassed simply because the player can only hold so much weight, but the fact that the developers specifically placed all these random items throughout the game is one hell of an impressive feat.
The game can either be played through a first or third person perspective and can be switched at any time. But no matter which camera angle is chosen, combat can be performed in real time or through the help of the VATS which is the game’s assisting targeting system. This targeting system is determined by your AP, points that regenerate over a short period of time. With the tap of a single button, the game will scan the immediate area for bad guys. If one is in sight, this targeting system will highlight the different parts of the baddies’ body. For example, if you want to go for a quick kill, aim for the head. If you want to disarm your opponent, then aim for the firearm. If you want to slow down the super mutant that is on your tail, try to cripple his legs. Things like distance, stats, and the type of weapon that is used are all factors on how well this VATS targeting system performs. The balance of this system lies within the Ability Points (AP). Although these points regenerate on their own, the player can only get a couple uses out of using this targeting system before the stock of points has been depleted, causing the player to either wait for the system to rejuice itself or go into manual aiming mode. Each use of this targeting system also results in some sweet slow motion bullet time effects. But because this event takes place in real time, you will never see the same slow motion animation twice. On occasion, this slow-mo bullet time effect will get caught up against a wall, but the targeting system is still one of the gameplay mechanics in Fallout 3.
Mostly composed of greens and tans, the wasteland is just how you would image it. Buildings have collapsed, the earth is hilly and inconsistent, and there is debris everywhere. Once inside a building, it is not uncommon to travel through a mess of all the furniture and all the other crap that was once neatly decorated the interior structure. The player really gets the sense of decay, danger, and difficult times just by walking through a building, traveling any part of the waste land, or seeing a settlement of survivors. The mood, atmosphere, and overall feeling of this game are truly unmatched.
Every single line of dialog in the game is performed by a voice actor. This aspect alone displays the high level of commitment that Bethesda puts into their games. The music, and especially the sound effects are most enjoyed through a surround sound system. If you do not have access to surround sound, then it is highly encouraged to play this game through a decent set of headphones. A lot of effort has gone into the sound design and really adds to the game’s overall presentation values and atmosphere.
Because the game is so big, the player is bound to run into a bug or two along the way. On more than one occasion, I got stuck in the environment and had to reload my last save data. I also came across a very odd bug when revisiting the Washington Monument (walking through walls, the elevator went down even though I was on the bottom floor, etc). I am sure some of these bugs will be patched in time, but it is not a bad idea to make few different save files for yourself. To help out with this, the game autosaves every time the player enters a new location and the player has the option to save at anytime during the game. Either way, coming across a bug or two is excusable simply considering how big the game is and ultimately does not cripple the game into the unplayable category, although annoying.
As great as this game is, there are a couple minor nuances that start to pop up the more you play the game. After you sink a couple dozen hours into this game, character models will start to repeat. One citizen in Mega Ton looked very similar to a gal in Rivet City. All super mutants and ghouls look exactly the same while raiders, both male and female, will start to repeat themselves even early on in the game. Although it does not break the game by any means, it can grow repetitive after you kill the exact same super mutant for the 100th time. At the beginning of the game, the player must create a character through several preset cosmetic options. Creating your own character serves it purpose, but it is a little on the drier side. Having more face and hair options would have only helped this player generated process. When you embark on the journey that is Fallout 3, players are going to be spending a lot of time with their character. That is why it is important to make the character as detailed as possible. But on the other hand, armor and helmets will be worn for most of the game, so seeing the player created face will be covered more often than not.
The truth is, there are so many good things to write about regarding Fallout 3 this review could easily be several pages long. Besides hitting a rare programming error, it is hard to find negative things to say about this game. If you own a next gen system, you really owe it to yourself to play this game for at least 10 hours of your life. Doing this will not only prove how entertaining games can be, but rather act as a statement as to how far video games have come. With downloadable content already in the works, Fallout 3 is such a massive game it actually blows my mind thinking about how much development and testing hours went into the creation of this title. Every next gen owner needs to experience this game. But I think there should have been some type of a warning label on the game’s package. Somethimg along the lines of “Warning: This game will suck away over 100 hours of your life… but you will love every second of it,” would have been sufficient. This is one game you cannot miss.