Review by ShiroCrest
Grab your bobbleheads and Pip-Boy and dive right in
Fallout 3 can be summed up in one world hype. In the video game world hype is usually an acronym for disappointment (see Fable). Fallout 3, after a decade break in the series and a change of developer, has a lot of hype to live up to. Many questioned whether Fallout 3 could live up to the immense expectations set by the series fanbase. Did Bethesda succeeded in achieving the impossible by creating a game which not only delivered what was promised to legions of avid fans but also successfully creating a visual work of art and a game which is not simply played, but is lived?
From the initial screenshots and promotional images of Fallout 3 the label oblivion with guns has being applied to the product. Most gamers anticipated the release of the game with the expectation and in some cases trepidation that Fallout 3 would simply be an upgrade of Oblivion and relinquish any ties to the Fallout franchise. From the beginning of the game and playing the tutorial/opening sequence of the game the influences of Oblivion are apparent but are only superficially aesthetic. Many reviews argue that if you have played Oblivion then you have played Fallout 3. Rather than taking the notion of if it aint broke dont fix it Bethesda has in essence decided upon the concept that if it aint broke then improve upon it. Bethesda took the mechanics of the open-end rpg genre and improved upon it. Fans of the series gazed in horror as their beloved cult isometric post-apocalyptic RPG reconstructed into something that purists believed belonged in the FPS genre. Fallout 3 may have changed in body but in mind and soul the game retains the elements which underscore the game as being distinctively Fallout in nature.
The premise of Fallout 3 is simple. The player is an inhabitant of Vault 101, a safehouse, locked for 200 years, where the occupants are protected from the hostile elements of the nuclear war and the resulting wasteland. The story begins literally at the player characters birth, throughout the course of the character will become known as The Lone Wanderer. This segment acts the character creations segment of the game and significant events in the PCs childhood/teenage years e.g. first steps, 10th birthday and the G.O.A.T exams act as tutorials for the games core systems such as movement, combat and the perks system. The story truly begins when the player is woken up by his/her best friend Amata informs you that your father has left the vault, something which is forbidden by rule of the vault overseer. The Overseer believes that the PC had a role in aiding his/her father in his escape and as such has ordered your death. This starts the player in his/her quest to escape from the vault and in pursuit of your father. After playing this mandatory tutorial the game begins but the main story can either begin or, in a manner of speaking, end. In adherence to the conventions of the open-end RPG genre the player is given little or no mandate on whether to follow the main storyline or to head off into the barren wasteland and explore the world.
Emotional investment and choice plays a vital role in Fallout 3. Whether you decide to play the game as a lone hero, a thief in the night or as a slayer of innocent people is one of the choices to be made and most quests have a method of completion which suits most playing styles. These choices effect karma, which can be seen as the alignment of the character between good and evil and the methods of earning karma of a specific type is obvious enough and also offer up new dialogue choices and means of completing a quest. Choice also stems to choosing a means of survival as eating most food and drinking most water will cause radiation poisoning and obtaining weaponry and supplies sometimes means engaging in a combat with a camp full of raiders or slavers. These choices are what drive Fallout 3 and separate it from Oblivion as Oblivion lacked the sense of danger and forces the understanding of survival.
The most noticeable change from Oblivion is the change in the combat system. Diehard fans of the Fallout series let out a roar of outrage when it was revealed that Bethesda have done away with the turn base affair found in the previous games in the series and have decided upon giving the gamer the option of switching between FPS battles or to Fallout 3s highly publicised VATS (Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System). VATS changes the dimension of battle by giving the player a chance to target a body parts ranging from the obvious targets of the human anatomy to other external points of interests. Each body part shot will hinder the enemy in the appropriate way i.e slowing the opponent down with a shot to the leg or decreasing the enemies accuracy with a gun by shooting them in the arm. VATS adds a strain of strategy to combat and offers some tactical choices when faced with a large group of foes. In a situation such as this it is sometimes necessary to decide whether the correct course of action is to aim for the head and hope for a quick defeat, which will usually illustrates itself in the dismemberment of heads or a number of limb, or whether the correct course of action is to disable the opponents arms or legs which will slow their assault. Melee weapons such as knifes, swords and sledgehammers are available however the game seems to favour firearms as weapon of choice. Enemy corpses can be scavenged for valuable weapons, armour, ammo or medical supplies. The combat in Fallout 3 is less forgiving than in Oblivion and as such its advisable to avoid combat at time in order to find a safe location to regain composure before re-entering the fray as weapons do not guarantee victory and safety in the harsh environment in the wasteland.
On the other hand the gameplay outside of combat shares a multitude of components with Oblivion. You talk to NCPs to gain information/quests which usually result in either the mandatory fetch/kill/talk to/go to missions in which you are rewarded experience points, bottle caps (the games currency) or items. Unlike Oblivion and its vibrant cities and lush forests the world of Fallout 3 is a desolate wasteland and as such weapons and supplies can be scarce and difficult to find and must either be scavenged from ruins or obtain by unlawful means. In contrast to Oblivion the player does not have access to any form of magic meaning no recovery or attack spells so keeping track of the condition of weapons, protective gear and ammunition stock is essential. Weapons do and will break from overuse so picking the right weapon for the right situation is a necessity as you wont want to waste shotgun ammo killing cockroaches when you can punch or hack them into submission. Exploration plays a massive part of Fallout 3. The compass on screen directs the player to the quest location with is represented by an inverted triangle or they can go off and explore for undiscovered locations. Luckily Fallout 3s world map contains the same quick warp function as Oblivion so gamers, if feeling lost or need to return to a town for supplies, can easily return to any previously discovered location. Considering the scope of the world map this option is a time saver. Towns and more specifically dungeons do not feel as arbitrarily placed as in Oblivion and there is a sense of rationale to the placement due to most dungeons taking on the guise of dilapidated buildings, factories or sewer works. A locations history can be constructed through computer terminals which create a cultural history for a location thus adding meaning and realism and a sense of past to a location.
Many of the optional quests on Fallout 3 are to be discovered through exploration of the wasteland. While entirely optional the majority of side quests make up of fetch quests sexed up in the disguised as kill this person, find this person, go to this location and then return for a reward. The main quest however offers a more dynamic experience which often results in climatic battles which huge mutants and heading to fabled locations in search of the heros father. As lacklustre as the optional quests are they act as a side order to the main course which is the main quest. Hopefully Bethesdas plan to offer downloadable content will hopefully offer a hearty dessert which will satisfy those who are left wanting more after the conclusion of the main story.
S.P.E.C.I.A.L makes a return to Fallout 3. S.P.E.C.I.A.L refers to the characters attributes (Those being Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility And Luck). All stats play a role in the creation of the character and you do notice the difference in game. Its important to decide how you plan on playing the game when adding these stats to your character. Perks also make a return to the series. Perks are bonuses which are gained at every level up which act as bonuses to which can compliment or improve current stats or give special skills to the player character. Some perks are offered as reward for quests. Levelling is the basic rpg matter as xp is rewarded for kills, successfully picking locks, hacking into terminals and successfully completing quest
Graphics are exceptionally in Fallout 3, considering the engine used is the same as Oblivion this is no small feat. From the desolate wasteland itself, to the rundown shanty settlements to the metallic compounds of the vaults, each of these environments look amazing. However a main drawback is that exploring the ruins of DC become a choir because each building begins to look the same as the last. However the graphics succeed in conveying the artistic notion that this is a world which was ONCE lived in with personal items lying untouched in abandoned buildings and cars and bikes lying broken in the street. However in a sense the setting of a post apocalypse world is a pleasant change from the usual dungeons and dragons locale of rpgs. One downside is the animation however as the movements of the characters at times can be flaccid, acting as a reminder that not everything is as close to real life as the game would have you believe. As stunningly desolate as the wasteland is it succeeds in conveying the sense of loneliness and isolation that makes the welcomed addition of the heros companion more wanted than normally the case in rpgs.
Controls are the similar to those of oblivion and those who have played Bethesda Softworks classic rpg. Using the FPS standard WASD to move your avatar and the arrow keys to move the camera makes movement a breeze for anyone accustom to the FPS genre. Battle take place in either the traditional FPS fair (although the enemies HP are displayed on screen) or via VATS.
Music in this game is very much in the 1940s and 1950s music which succeed in capturing the ideas of loneliness and desperation. A radio show (which does play a role in the narrative of the game) creates the illusion that you are actually having a effect on the world you are in thus creating a sense of immersion which is someone lacking in other games. Sound is spot on which voice acting improving vastly over Oblivion with the noticeable contribution of Liam Nesson as the player characters father.
Fallout 3 is more than a rehashed and made over futuristic version of Oblivion, Fallout 3 succeeds where its spiritual predecessor failed. Fallout 3 delivers a deep and engrossing storyline with the freedom craved by gamers today. Although substantially different from the predecessors in the series it is an updated Fallout for the 21st century which combines the best of two of the finest games of the last few years (The aesthetics of Bioshock with the mechanics of Oblivion) in results in one of the finest games of the year.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Fallout 3 (EU, 10/31/08)
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