Review by SeraphimEpsilon
Bethesda... Bethesda never changes...
It's no small secret that Fallout 3 was, before its release, one of the most severely anticipated games of all time. A well-loved series in the hands of a new, but well-respected team of developers leads to hundreds of questions, concerns, hopes, predictions, and, in this case, satisfied gamers. Fallout 3 is a solid hit, a worthy part of any series, and, hopefully, a portent of things to come. Unfortunately, however, the game suffers from a few deficiencies that forbear perfection.
Fallout is, underneath it all, exceedingly similar to Bethesda's last major work, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Firearms make up the majority of the player's arsenal, keeping flashbacks of swords and shields out of mind (so long as you don't build a character suited for Melee combat), but unlike many of the first person shooters the game bears aesthetic similarity to, numbered stats in areas like Big & Small Guns, Energy or Melee Weapons largely determine how effective a character will be in combat. On top of that, the game's V.A.T.S. [Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System] feature, by which the player is able to pause combat, select not only which enemy is a fight they'd like to target, but even which part of the target's body to aim for, and make a decision based on the game's calculation of the player's chance to hit, turns what seems at first to be a real-time Action-RPG into a turn-based affair often enough that it is impossible to forget that what you're really playing is an RPG.. If an action game with a customizable player character is your taste, you'd best be served looking elsewhere.
Combat is both enhanced and frustrated by Bethesda's difficulty calibrations. Human opponents, armed similarly to the player often detect and engage you well before you're within visual range, and mutant or animal opponents are often chomping at your heels before you have any clue you're under assault. This essentially means that you can be moving through the Wasteland overworld, with bullets whizzing over your head, with no idea where's they're coming from, or any ability to return fire. While this does serve to make the Wasteland an appreciably dangerous place, adding to the atmosphere of the game, from a gameplay standpoint it can be annoying at times, and makes the player very depended on the VATS system, forcing the RPG elements to the forefront.
Quests, and the dialog accompanying them are nuanced and deep, with hundreds of different possibilities made available to the player, and most often it's only through going through a conversations five, six, or more times that one can find all the possibilities. Very often, though, the game's morality system, Karma, is only ever pushed to the corrupted side by killing NPCs, a method made, intentionally, useful at many points in the game. Very often the valorous player is sent on long sidequests to advance in the main quest that can be circumvented either through clever dialog choices, or murder. While this nuance is a huge factor in Fallout's engrossing world, completionists are heavily advised to find a walkthrough for the game, as choices in the path you take are very rarely obvious.
On the whole, though, anyone familiar with Oblivion will feel right at home here, and the tutorial at the game's beginning will see you through the necessary parts of the game, but exploration of the game, both in terms of the world and the system, are key to seeing what makes Fallout 3 a great game.
Here's where Fallout 3 really sinks its teeth in. Dark, snarky humor, woven in with serious, themes, and tropes borrowed from every genre under the sun, expertly woven together make Fallout 3 a role-player's paradise. Do you want to explore the quasi-Wild West themes of "Post-Apocalyptia"? Do you prefer the Golden Age sci-fi of power armor-clad soldiers locked in battle with irradiated mutants? Do you expect to see Mad Max around every corner, exchanging shots with raiders and slavers in a fight to keep morals and humanity alive? Do you want to dig into the human fight for survival in the harshest circumstances? Or is your goal to revel in the anarchy and the chaos, carving a swath of destruction and mayhem across the wastes?
All these and more make up the themes and possibilities available to the player, and no two characters stories in Fallout will ever be quite the same. Bethesda claimed that FO3 had over 200 endings (More like 4, but...) but I'd claim that by the end of the game, each player who's picked up the controller or laid hands on a keyboard to play this game took away a different impression of the Capital Wasteland.
If the game's story suffers anywhere, it's in that the character of the player is left so widely open, that many of the characters are somewhat flat and two dimensional as they have to respond and stay "in character" when dealing with the myriad of actions open to the player.
Engrossing is the word here, though. The game world, by my estimation, is somewhat smaller than that of Oblivion, but where that game had many wide open spaces with little to fill them besides trees and grass, the Capital Wasteland is full and varied. While treks from place to place can be long, they're never boring, and the purposeful scarcity of ammunition and constant wear on weapons creates an almost survival-horror genre atmosphere at all times.
And, here's where its connections to Oblivion really hurt this game. The graphics, while detailed, fitting, and satisfactory, look dated, especially compared to games like Mass Effect, or even the older Bioshock in some areas. Character models and animation are... adequate at the best of times, ludicrous at others. The many and varied clothing options create a wonderful uniqueness and atmosphere, however. As I've said, the graphics are adequate, but not spectacular.
The licensed 50s music that comes in over the radio in this game really add to this game's magic. There's nothing else that I can really compare it to, which speaks to how special it is, though it makes it hard to convey in this review.
Voice acting is great across the board, though major players Liam Neeson and Malcom McDowell don't get big enough roles for their talent, though they really do help to make this game in the roles they do play where lesser talents might have broken it. Again, though, the game's connections to Oblivion bleed through as several familiar voices show up, throwing off the immersion.
Weapon effects are adequate, and varied. After a time, you may come to identify weapons with the very distinct sounds they make while being fired in the VATS system, which alters and slows down time and perception, affecting sound, but in a great, dramatic fashion.
This is a game I can imagine never getting bored of. The main quest is short, not more than 10 hours on a straight play-through, though side-quests can knock it up closer to the 30-40 hour mark we expect from RPGs, and completionists could see upwards of 50 hours before they're properly done with one character. Add to that the many choices of character development and story progression, and the possibilities become truly endless.
I will say that the game is not addicting, in the way MMOs and some other games can be, where there's always, always, more to do. The game can be somewhat repetitive and tedious, but with upcoming DLC expansions to both sidequests and the main story, Fallout 3 looks to keep gamers locked in for years to come.
-FINAL NOTES- 9.5/10
A must own for western RPG fans. A must own for fans of the post-apocalyptic genre. A should own for anyone with an Xbox 360, Playstation 3 or a PC to run it. Worth a try for everyone else. This is the sort of game that moves systems off shelves.
The only people who may be disappointing with this are hardcore Fallout fans who are displeased with the departure from earlier games in the series, or people expecting it to be a run and gun shooter ala Gears of War. A strong contender for anyone's Game of the Year.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Fallout 3 (US, 10/28/08)
Got Your Own Opinion?
Submit a review and let your voice be heard.