Review by Icephisherman
Fun but flawed
War. War never ends.
Welcome to the world of Fallout 3. After Bethesda took over the project from Black Isle Studios there was quite a bit of expectations that this game lived up to and some where it fell short or even flat on its face.
The beginning is actually quite fulfilling and tells an excellent story. However, the main quest becomes "follow your dad" within the first thirty minutes of playtime. It quickly devolves into a series of honey-do lists and being pushed from one place to another to talk to people who merely push you forward with little else to go on. In any other game this could be overlooked, but ladies and gentlemen this is Fallout 3, precursors to two of the bests games you ever read. Bethesda's main Fallout 3 quest is extremely hit and miss. With enough foreknowledge half of the main quest can be skipped. Let me repeat. With enough foreknowledge, half of the main quest can be avoided entirely.
However, many of the side quests have wonderful storylines. I won't go into detail but just like in other Fallout games there is an idea that you're really in a world that doesn't revolve around you. There are many places in the game that have history and you can see something very awesome going on but you're there more like an observer than anything else. You're seeing snapshots of the past. If I were just talking about the side quest storylines I'd be giving this a 9/10, so that says something about the main quest.
This is not Oblivion with guns as many people groaned, but a well developed game. The developers put a lot of their heart and soul into making this game not only challenging but also fun. Are you perhaps one of the old school Fallout fans who are terrible at shooters? No worries, that's why we have VATS, the Vault Assisted Targeting System, which pauses the game and helps you isolate body parts depending on range and cover, giving a mathematical formula which ends up as a readable percentage to hit a body part or weapon, and it even lets you blow grenades out of the sky if you're fast enough. This hearkens back to the old Fallout days. But if you're into shooters this can be challenging, especially on hard mode. My only very minor problem here is that shooting in first person mode is still affected by math and if your shooting skills aren't great you may miss a straight shot or get a head shot when you know you shouldn't have when your bullet magically curves the trajectory at extremely high skill levels, even if it is ever so slightly. Vault technology must have been pretty sweet to curve bullets.
But I digress. In the game play department there is something for everyone. Small guns, big guns, 1950's faux laser guns, knives, batons and even makeshift weapons made out of random crap you find out in the wastes which are by and large the weapons which are the most fun to use, even if they're aren't always the most effective. The game play is not only solid, but fun, at least on the player's end.
The sound is quite superb; there is something for everyone. There are two radio stations along with a hidden third one later on in the game. However, as far as the radio stations are concerned there is something left to be desired.
On one hand, you have Enclave Radio which plays patriotic songs that anyone from the United States will be able to recognize along with your occasionally talk with John Henry Eden. Bethesda in my opinion nailed this one as John Henry Eden mimics a radio version of the old FDR fireside chats which feels folksy and that the Enclave is doing their best to rebuild and aspire to an America long past which can be revived once again.
On the other hand you have Galaxy News Radio done by Threedog, your charismatic host from the wastes. This not only plays music via the 1950's which helps make Fallout 3 a great period piece but it also chronicles what the player does throughout their career and the general goings on in the world, which helps direct the player to pick up side quests and it also gives a bit of flavor to the world. Galaxy News Radio is great. However, it is marred by one thing, there are incredibly few songs to be listened to. With the age that most of these songs have one would think that Bethesda could have picked up hundreds of songs without batting an eye for cheap or for free. However, the player only has about a dozens songs to listen to and modding can be a bit difficult. Hopefully with later patches or even an expansion this will be remedied.
A nice touch is a third radio station that can be done through a side quest with a little old lady in the middle of nowhere. Somewhere out there is a side quest that will net you this gem. It is worth it to find it.
Finally, the general noise when the radio off is creepy and adds to the desolation and the idea that everything is wrong and that you are quite alone.
As far as non-music, the sounds are great. From the over the top steam powered railway rifle to the hum of the Rock-It-Launcher to a mini nuke going off the sounds are well made and wonderful and adds to the general greatness of the game marred only back the lack of variety in music.
The graphics are great as well. They aren't superb but they can be run on most computers with a decent graphics card with ease. The difference between this and Oblivion I believe is that Oblivion for one had to render the ambient nature, which could be a tax the graphics card. In this environment everything is very set in place while looking good. This can run decently on a budget computer or look fantastic on a monster, and that's all that most people need in a good title.
Voice Work: 9.5/10
A far cry from Oblivion, which seemed to have a pool of maybe ten voice actors and many character would switch between one distinct voice and another much to the player's chagrin, the voice work here shows much more polish. You will notice that some people do have the same voice but it isn't too often. More importantly the voices do add depth and value to almost every single character you meet. Quality work for a quality game. However, it does seem that every once and a while there is a bit of dialog missing from the game if you start changing the environment around you. For example, if you were to kill the man who employs a certain prostitute and treats her badly (and get away with it) she'll thank you but that'll be it. It feels distinctly like there is a bit of depth lacking there. However, again, another small nitpick.
Your party AI and enemy AI is a bit dumb but they do still make the game challenging. To start, your party AI varies in intelligence. Your normal followers keep quiet while you're quiet and will charge in when you charge in, but their path finding isn't the best. Alternatively your loyal companion, Dogmeat, will growl when enemies get near and then stupidly charge off after them which makes you break cover to save his furry hide. He has no idea about the concept of stealth whatsoever. In one building he will even growl at the enemies on the level above you where you can't see rendering him effectively useless. However, it is nice to order him to get you a beer or a snack in your own house and he will bring it back to you from your own fridge with a wag of the tail. Good dog.
On the other hand there are your enemies. The creatures of the waste will hunt you down ferociously and kill you, and they are much faster than you. Their path finding AI can be confused if you leap up to an area they can't get to but for the most part they're solid and challenging enemies. Raiders wielding ranged weapons tend not to have this problem and will even break for cover or heal themselves in rare instances if they're getting banged up. AI tends not to matter because most of the time it works, meaning you rarely notice problems. And even when something bad happens you can normally be forgiving because the game is engrossing.
The ambiance is perfect. Bethesda nailed it spot on. If you really take a look at this game it is frighteningly detailed. You may walk into a room in a house or a ruined vault where there is a child's skeleton clutching a teddy bear or two skeletons on a bed in a last embrace. There is even one on the pot clutching a rifle. The general desolation of the land is put into full effect in the game as there is rarely anything but blasted earth, craggy hills, polluted water, burnt out cars and the occasional blasted house between here and there. And the locations are fantastic; each settlement is different and has its own atmosphere. Best not to spoil it for you, but you will be pleased.
The End: 2/10
Two words: Severe Disappointment.
I will not go into any detail beyond this: The ending sucked. It was terrible. Bethesda really skimped on this. The large number of endings that were promised are not there nor is the ending in any way fulfilling. The game feels as if it were a book with quite a few chapters that were skipped. With respect to the other Fallout games where every single choice that you made affected the ending it feels as if Bethesda skimped on the ending to make its due date. It left a bad taste in my mouth and will hopefully be fixed by an expansion at some point.
In closing, I believe that Fallout 3 was a great game right up until the end where it fell flat on its face. However, the large amount of side quests and little things from playing different ways will keep you coming back again and again. I thoroughly enjoyed this game and do recommend it besides its shortcomings. I give this game a 9/10.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Fallout 3 (US, 10/28/08)
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