Spawned from a classic series by the same name, Fallout 3 emerges from the studios of Bethesda Softworks and onto next generation consoles. Fans of the series have been half-hearted about its release. They have been suspect about if the game keeps the heart and soul of the series intact. They have been anxiously awaiting its release (which was on October 28th) to see what has become of the series in its third installment. The verdict? We can't tell you yet. Read on...
Vault 101 from a different perspective
I can't say that the game didn't look intriguing when I sat down at the private demonstration at E3 2007. Without a doubt it turned my head and made my writing hand so cramped that I couldn't shake Pete Hines' hand to thank him for the visual candy he had just given me. I was, by all intents and purposes, still a Fallout virgin. What I saw, and what I have seen these past few days, is nothing short of splendor. The landscapes are accurate, the visuals are gorgeous and it's everything I had hoped it would be... visually. Now, the problem of the game lies deep within the gameplay itself. Clearly following the success of Oblivion, which was just a hell of a game, rubbed off quite a bit on the gameplay mechanics of Fallout 3. That's a good and bad thing. It's great because the players who loved how things were done in Oblivion are going to love how things are done in Fallout 3. You can search people who have been killed, take their stuff. You can pickpocket folks if you want and take their stuff. You can become over-cumbered by collecting too much material. You can change the camera angle from third-person to first-person in a heartbeat. You can can level up particular skills and become masters of others. Most of all, you can choose whether to be a good or bad person (you can pretty much murder anyone, as I took out the entire town of Megaton in the game), which dictates how everyone else in other towns are going to react to you. All of these elements make up a good chunk of Fallout 3. Are there other aspects of the game? You also have the ability to perform mini-quests on the side of your major quests, and yes you guessed it... just like in Oblivion.
So where is the bad? Well... it's Oblivion with the name Fallout attached to it. That isn't the worst thing in the world, but if you're going to stay true to your fanbase, you have to satisfy your fanbase. According to a lot of forums which are filled with hardcore Fallout fans, this game is just a glimpse of the original series. There are wonderful things included in this title such as the VATS (Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System), which allows you to pretty much stop time, assign bullets (or whatever weapon you're armed with) to certain body parts of the enemy or their weapon they're toting. Depending on the proximity of you compared to them, the percentage of success will be displayed on each part. If their arm is clearly out of sight, for example, the percentage of hitting that arm is lower than an exposed torso. This doesn't prevent them from hurting you, but it gives you a better chance of really hurting them. It's a great option if you're not the best sharp-shooter.
Now, like Oblivion, you have the freedom to set your own path on the side of the main quest. My character decided to be a huge trouble-maker and take out everyone in Megaton (a town that relies on an atom bomb that never exploded). Now, the actual taking-out part was not too difficult. With enough weapons and appropriate VATS, you can pretty much do anything. After removing the town from its misery, I promptly stole all the weapons, food and medical supplies that I could handle. Later in the game, after taking out a few more innocents in order to survive (which I will get to in a second), I came out of a subway tunnel in the D.C. area to a group of people who were bounty hunting me. Needless to say, since I was loaded with ammo and guns, I took them out with authority. When you have a bad rap in the game it shows. When you have a good rap in the game, it helps, but its certainly more difficult. This is where the gameplay gets a bit tricky and frustrating. Unless you kill a good amount of people, take out a town or steal, you are going to have a large amount of frustration. You won't be able to find a large amount of ammo, you'll have to scrounge for caps (the currency in the future) and the adventure will seem a helluva lot more frustrating than fun. There is a possibility to kill and be nice, but that path is even more difficult. For example, if you go into Megaton and decide to take out Moriarty, the owner of the bar there, the entire town will try to take you out. You will have no choice but to fight your way out. That's unfair, considering that the sheriff in the town doesn't like Moriarty. This is where it splits with Oblivion, where you could just go to jail. There is no jail, it's simply a live or die situation, which goes with the theme of Fallout. Survival is essential and if you intend on doing that in the game, it's going to be a good/bad decision for living your life.
While surviving, you have certain opportunities to make yourself better. You have something called S.P.E.C.I.A.L. that allows you to improve on certain aspects of your character (such as Strength, Intelligence, etc.). Aside from this you can also specialize your character in a certain career, if you will. Much like Oblivion where you can become a thief or something like that, you'll be able to add points that increase your abilities in that particular category. So this allows you to sneak around better, pick pocket, etc. On top of this you can also improve in a third category that helps you to specialize in things like gun repair or creation. This certainly adds some depth to the game, and makes it entertaining, but it has been done before. That doesn't make a bad thing, but like some of the other options we've already seen in Oblivion it doesn't make it special (no pun intended). Thankfully, S.P.E.C.I.A.L. is something that was included in the original game, but certainly not as complicated (which doesn't make it bad or good, just stating a point).
Now, criticism I must make against the game is the endless amount of ammo the enemies seem to get. When you're up against the wall and you have a limited amount of ammo and you have to make a decision on how it's going to be used, it's unfair for the enemy to virtually have no limitations. How is that fair? If you're going to make this seem like survival, make it seem like survival for both the A.I. and user. When a super mutant brings a mini-gun to the fight, there has to be a point where the gun runs out of ammo. Or better yet, when you knock the gun from their hands, the gun should be destroyed. In the VATS screen, there is a level of survival for limbs and weapons. To knock a weapon out of enemy's hand you have to pretty much destroy it. Yet, when you knock it out of their hand they have the option to pick it back up and try to use it again. I never met an enemy that picked their gun back up and it didn't work. Again, how is this fair? There are also little unfair elements where the power of the gun you're using on the head of the enemy varies when it comes to the amount of power that weapon produces. When I have two super mutants that have a 95% chance of getting it and the second one takes nearly twice the amount of ammo with the same gun, how is that fair? There are a few unbalanced moments in the game that just make you want to rip your hair out, which pose problems now and then. Another complaint that I have about the enemies are that there just isn't a large variety of them. You get a lot of repetitive mutants, ants, dogs, etc. There should be a bit more variety, although I do understand there were limitations in the original. If you're going to make separations between Fallout 2 and Fallout 3, just go all out! Give us a large variety of baddies and some really kick-ass bosses. Just clearly not enough of them.
Now, good stuff that I like is the pip-boy, which is not unfamiliar to the Fallout fanboys. It works incredibly well, as the all-in-one information source. You can access your weapons, armor, aid, maps, and status through this baby (amongst other things). It makes up for some sub-menu that isn't part of the game. Kudos to it as well, as it does bring some added reality to your situation. When you're switching weapons in the midst of a battle, it takes a second or two for the weapon to be switched. Frustrating, maybe, but accurate nonetheless. Now, with that said, much like Oblivion you shouldn't be able to stop the battle and switch weapons without some sort of repercussions. Literally, everything freezes, you can sit there for a few minutes, if you wish, and switch weapons, add health or simply look at the map. In the middle of a battle... non-kudos for that.
Overall, I feel like the gameplay in Fallout 3 is too similar to Oblivion. For a game that has been in production for sometime, I figured it would be a new breed of Bethesda Softworks creativity. Looking at it from a far, it's about 50% of Oblivion and the rest is new. With that said, that doesn't mean the game is bad, Oblivion was fantastic! Bethesda Softworks found a formula that worked and rightfully so stuck to it. The problem is that if this was a brand new series, something the world hadn't seen, this wouldn't be a problem. Because Fallout is a huge deal to so many people and those people were looking forward to a proper sequel that will satisfy their Fallout needs, this may not be the one. Fallout 3 doesn't carry a personality of its own, but it carries a look and feel of its own. I recommend that Fallout fans shake-off the love they had for the series and give this a go before you make a judgement from a far. I was fortunate enough not to know enough about the original series, I was a mac guy in those days, that it didn't affect my opinion of this game. After reading the Fallout forums though, I can see what they were saying.
Visuals, Value and a Nuka Cola
What drew me to Oblivion drew me to Fallout 3, the visuals and overall presentation. The environments are huge! They span on forever, except when you reach the border and you find yourself at the beginning again. There is a place where D.C. ends and you start where you started from. That's no biggie, considering it's much better than having to return all the way back from an invisible border. You do have the luxury of doing a fast-travel from city to city, which is convenient, except when you're in battle. Anyway, this section isn't gameplay, the land spans on forever and doesn't have that annoying creating the land in the background issue that the 360 version sports. You can see as far as your eyes can focus. This is extremely useful when you're trying to spec out enemies coming up. The details of rocks, broken bridges, rotted out streets and huge buildings make this a visual candy store. Halloween would be so much fun if they gave these type of goodies away. Now, cousin to these are the night and day conversions. You see dusk perfectly, the night is perfect and the sun's movement is perfect. The conversion from night to day and back can be seen in windows and buildings, and the lighting change reacts perfectly.
As for the characters, they're all detailed. They move a lot smoother than those in Oblivion, which appears to be a framerate improvement. They also react a bit better when they're being disposed of. I think the removal of limbs and appendages is a bit much, but they're very detailed as well. When you blow someone's head off you get to see pieces of their jaw, their eyeball, all sorts of nasty stuff. The best part of this sick feature? It's random. So no two head removals are the same. That's just great design and programming. The characters details are so damn good too, as you can see someone's teeth, the proper mouth movement and just little things that remind you that Bethesda worked so darn hard on getting the visuals right. They did a near perfect job.
Also, what would a Bethesda Softworks game be without an amazing cast of characters. Liam Neeson, Ron Perlman, and Malcolm McDowell (why does he always play an a-hole character??) are just a few that helped bring the game to life. I love that Bethesda put such great dialogue and effort into their characters. Every character, outside of some of the monsters, has a voice and personality. I feel like they've perfected that part of the game and should be commended.
Now, there are some really weird moments in the game where strange things happen and they can't be explained. For example, I had a super mutant that couldn't figure his way out from behind a generator in the D.C. subway. Instead of working it out, he kept running and running towards me. I sat there and politely reloaded. Well, instead of the A.I. figuring out that it needs to go around, it simply popped out from behind the generator and right in front of me. It was like a transporting scene out of Star Trek. How odd and, oh yeah, VERY unfair! I'm not sure if this belongs in the visuals area, but it's here because it's very odd stuff and it was the visuals that were affected. It wasn't good though and it happened more than once in the game, which caused some issues. There were a couple of more weird moments, one was in the middle of battle where the game itself completely froze on me. I had just dispatched a renegade in the wastelands and the game just froze. Our PS3 guru, Steven McGehee, witnessed it and we both just sort of shrugged. The second time was during the G.O.A.T. test where I sat in the back of the classroom. For nearly 20 minutes I couldn't move. I thought maybe something was going to trigger the game into moving forward, but nothing did. Not sure if I needed to wait longer, but my patience wore thin. Very odd little things that might have been better caught in beta testing.
As for the value of the game, I think it's appropriately priced. I think the 25-30 hours it takes to complete the main quest is worth the value, but the mini-quests are very uninspired. Again, compared to Oblivion, which had some great quests, the quests in Fallout 3 are satisfying, but for the most part short. I think there's room for improvement, possibly an add-on from the studio, but they're not ask exciting or intriguing as the main quest. Why should they be, right? Well, add a bit more adventure to them and a lot more reward and it's more than worth the time.