The original Fallout 3 was held in the firm hands of Interplay Entertainment under the working title of Van Buren. Developed by Black Isle Studios, that title never saw the light of the day when Interplay Entertainment went bankrupt and laid off the entire PC development team in late 2003. In 2007, Interplay sold the rights to the Fallout franchise to Bethesda who had developed the popular Elder Scrolls series. Bethesda scrapped the original code and worked on the project from scratch. It paid homage to many Fallout concepts and Fallout 3 saw gold in 2008. It was a long five years between the layoff of the original creators and the company who ultimately got the right to release the game. Was it worth the wait?
The first thing that might strike you in the graphics department when you play Fallout 3 is that one never realized there are so many different shades of bleak. Shades of grey, black, brown & white are very prevalent here. But the good news is that the graphics are extremely detailed. People are easily seen and the darkness can sometimes be your best friend. The animation on a clean head shot and having the head roll down the hallway is one of the most satisfying pieces of graphic footage I’ve seen in a long time. My only real complaint is that once you get into the vast wasteland, the graphics while great tend to blend together into one continuous rock quarry.
Audio is provided in the Xbox 360 usual Dolby Digital 5.1. The audio is perhaps the game’s greatest offering in providing full sound in all of the channels. Dialog comes across the strongest as it comes exactly from the speaker you would expect it to. Somebody tapping on the glass to your left and it will come completely out of the left speaker. As you move away, it becomes fainter and fainter. It immerses you into the game and leaves you as part of the bleak & dreary existence. Sound effects such as bullets or whacks with a baseball bat are also satisfying as long as you don’t mind the crack of a radroach’s back.
A blinding white light hits your eye and you start to cry. There there, you are just a tiny baby coming out of the womb of your mother. You are asked to choose your sex and then asked for your name. A wonderful name it is. Then a screen comes up and you select features for your face for this is what you will look like in twenty years. Then you are taken out of your mother’s arms and ushered out. The last thing you remember is that that your dad is shouting “she’s in cardiac arrest!” and then everything fades to white.
You wake up as a toddler. This is the part of the game where you learn how to move and interact with objects. The most important object is the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. book where you assign your attributes such as Strength, Luck & Perception. This is where you start to also learn the story of Vault 101 and how your life will come to be. Your father comes in and talks to you and speaks to you of your mother’s favorite biblical verse. He gets up and leaves. Your inclination is to follow him and again the screen fades to white.
Nine years later. You are ten and you are having a birthday party. Your father and friends congratulate you. The Overseer gives you your own Pip-Boy 3000 which is essentially a very large wristwatch. This serves as your info screen where you can look at stats, your inventory and many other game related items. The Overseer’s daughter is a girl named Amata who has taken a liking to you. She gives you a comic book as a present and you collect other presents from some of the participants. The real treat is when you go downstairs and your father gives you a BB Gun where you learn how to shoot. After a picture with your father is taken, again the screen goes to white.
Now you are sixteen. Today is the day where you take the G.O.A.T. or Generalized Occupational Aptitude Test. This is the test that determines your future employment as long as you don’t mind being part of the Waste Disposal unit. There are ten questions, multiple choice and there are no wrong answers. The tenth question is particularly inspired and makes me feel like I’m part of the Borg. After the test, you can customize the output if desired and select three individual skills that you wish to add 15 points to. Leaving the room of the test and guess what, white screen.
Three years later, and you are awoke by Amata. You are informed that 1)Jonas, your dad’s assistant is dead; 2)Your father has escaped from the Vault and 3)You are as good as dead unless you figure out how to leave yourself. After grabbing a few things and making your way through the corridors, you come upon a pivotal scene with the Overseer & Amata. Based on your actions (which change part of the story for good), you say goodbye to Amata and finally make your way out of Vault 101. Once out of the vault, you are catapulted into a vast wasteland where you must find answers and survive at all costs.
As you can tell, the story is immense. The gameplay is vast, sometimes too vast. The most popular and interesting thing about the gameplay is the use of the V.A.T.S. system. V.A.T.S. stands for Vault-tec Assisted Targeting System. This is where you can basically pause the game and enter a mode where you can specifically target a body part and based on the indicated percentage make or break your intended target. This becomes vital to use against almost any enemy unless you are god’s gift to first person shooters. The system also allows for RPG players to be able to react correctly to a situation rather flaying away on a trigger button. For those who want to avoid combat most of the time, options are given such as sneaking and a speech skill which those would want to improve immediately.
The game also has a lot of options of how to play your character. A ton, from dozens of different mustaches & facial hair (I’m really not kidding) to a very intricate style of choosing stats. Personally I started out thinking I was going to sneak around and be some sort of master thief. By the time I was ready to leave Vault 101 and was given one last time to re-adjust my stats, I had Small Guns as my primary and selected secondary talents such as Speech and Medicine to supplement my tree.
The one thing that I loved once I got into the open wilderness is how many different situations you could create based on a dialog tree. One can talk their way out of plenty of scenarios or one can simply shoot first and ask questions later. The enemies start out as some radroaches and a few security guards and quickly escalate into giant Super Mutant behemoths with missile launchers. Maybe my small gun talent isn’t such a good idea after all. The number of items in this game is also amazing. There are many types from the typical health regens to weapons and casual items galore. Ever wanted a set of coffee mugs? You can get that here and much more.
The problem with all of this was that I needed a strategy guide to make heads and tails out of what each skill represented and to give me an idea of what to expect. To give you an idea of how vast the game is, the strategy guides for this game are at least 450 pages long with the limited coming in at roughly 500 pages. It is an epitaph and not exactly something you read at a bathroom break (unless you ate some burritos). The comparisons with Oblivion (the company’s other epic game) are very valid. Bethesda certainly has a habit of making very detailed and hard games. The gameplay is great, but this is not for the casual RPG fan. Diehards will love it, others will indeed hate and become quite confused without the immense guides available.
Fallout 3’s main quest is pretty lengthy but also very linear. Once you finish the final quest, the game is truly over. It ends and you can’t even take on the side quests that you might have missed in the process. If one takes time to go off the beaten path and concentrate more on side quests, this game can easily take a hundred hours or more. However, after one finishes there is not much reason to go back and play it again. The only reasons would be 1) To play a different style of character or 2) Get a different set of achievements since many of them focus on karma and side quests.
This brings us to achievements which unfortunately are rarely inspired. There are fifty achievements for 1,000 gamerpoints. Most of the achievements are received for completing parts of the main quest or for the more important side quests during the game. There are also nine separate achievements for karma at a certain level. The last ten achievements are the only ones slightly out of the box and deal with killing lots of things to speaking your mind to collecting bobbleheads. The only particularly inspired achievement has to do with putting a grenade or mine in somebody’s pocket when they aren’t looking.
Deep, dark and depressing are just three of the adjectives that can be used to identify Fallout 3. The game’s immense story and intricate ways to define your character stand at the long list of compliments and fun things about the game. The V.A.T.S. system also makes the combat a little more turn based and help those without FPS knowledge to be able to score critical head shots at a moment’s notice. The graphics are adequate and the sound is awesome bringing together a great experience. The problem is that you need a strategy guide to make this happen. The tomes of knowledge are practically required reading if you expect to make heads or tales into the journey of the wasteland. If you are able to stick with the game and the engine, you will however be rewarded with a very cool experience. This is just as long as you don’t drink too much vodka and take too much radiation poisoning in the process. Recommended to hardcore rpg’ers all around.
Other Coverage & Reviews
- 1up.com: “If you seek to break the world, you’ll occasionally find a way — which is understandable, given the limits of time and tech — but it does pull you out of the otherwise broad and engrossing experience.”
- GameInformer.com: “Trekking through the wasteland is one of my top experiences of the year, and it just happens this game also produces some of my top moments, like the communism-hating robot, the pint-sized slasher, Gary, and the enabling of the Cannibalism perk.”
- CrispyGamer.com: “Fallout 3 throws plenty of things between you and the game, whether it’s a lens, an interface, an awkward dialogue tree or some world-cracking lapse of logic. But if you can cut it the slack any good role-playing game deserves, you’ll get a bleak, bloody and epically open RPG the likes of which you haven’t seen since, well, Oblivion.”