Review by Exodist
Fallout 3: The First Choice in Post Nuclear Simulation.
I'll admit the main reason I got Fallout 3 was because the creators of the popular Elder Scrolls series, Bethesda, made the game (with Morrowind ranking as one of my favourite games). I've only ever briefly dabbled with the two previous Fallout games, unfortunately when I was much younger (since my dad bought them both) so I couldn't really grasp the two games at the time. This review then, shall pretty much evaluate Fallout 3 as it is, without comparing it to Fallout 1 or 2 (since I'm not a fan I don't really have the need to complain that its not the same), but perhaps with a few comparisons to Oblivion, after all, FO3 is regularly dubbed as an "Oblivion Mod on a larger scale".
As with my other reviews I'll start with the story. Fallout 3 is set some 200 years after a nuclear war pretty much destroyed the war. Fortunately Vault-Tec designed and built a few hundred vaults across America for people to seek safety in for when the bombs dropped, and this is where your adventure begins. The game quite literally starts with your birth (including little blood splatters on the screen) and the following is essentially your fairly awful (well, it was for me) child hood, disguised as the character creation process. So far so good, the game introduction was fairly entertaining (especially the GOAT test) and whilst the game did play exactly like Oblivion (complete with frozen NPCs during conversation) I had high hopes. One fateful day, when you're 19 years of age in case you wondered, your father leaves the vault, something unheard of. Since the game would be pretty crap if it took place in the vault for its entirety, you leave rather violently in search of your father. Its almost a special moment when you leave the vault, you exit the door and the sun light hits your character hard, and then you see it all; a wasteland strewn upon you, and its your task to fight for your survival in the grim wastes.
Whilst the entire lore of the Fallout universe is top-notch, the main storyline for Fallout 3 was pretty poor. I won't spoil it, but in the following 8 quests (yes, there are only 8 story quests not including the half hour character creation) the story felt like it could do with more. There were a few interesting ideas, especially the quest Tranquillity Lane, but the story could have done with a bit more excitement, something to make it more interesting and rewarding. The ending is also seen as being pretty rubbish, and to be honest, it was. Apart from that though, the history of the Fallout universe, and its setting in general is fairly interesting. Some of the side-quests hold interesting stories, but some of them are pretty dull too. The game also tries to implement a Karma system, but it doesn't really do anything. Do something good and your Karma is increased, do something bad it decreases. The idea is that people like you less if you have bad karma, but it honestly makes no difference. You get so much good karma from doing quests and the like you don't really have to worry about the effects of stealing items or breaking into houses since the good karma out weighs the bad. For the most part, whenever you're hated by a particular settlement, simply returning a few days later can solve the problem. The only benefit I really received for being good was that every time I entered Megaton some person gave me a free gift; usually something like Dirty Water. Whilst some aspects of the story are good, some aren't, the wastes are an interesting land to explore, and its just a shame that the main story and some of the quests are so dull.
If you've played Oblivion, you should pretty much expect the same thing. It plays almost the same, but FO3 has, in my eyes, some improvements. Firstly, since FO3 is set in the future (technically since its set in, but the setting of the game is based upon 50s American Culture, a bit like Bioshock) it has guns. FO3 is playable in, once again, either a first or third person view, and as such many people see it as an FPS, however it really isn't. Sure, it plays like an FPS, but when shooting at enemies many behind-the-scenes "dice rolls" (RPG hijinks basically) factor whether you actually hit the enemy or not, and how much damage you do. You can't simply run around and head shot all the enemies and breeze through the game, skill at an FPS doesn't matter here; its all about the RPG stats. So yeah, combat works a little differently, and since its all mostly guns it feels a lot different to Oblivion. Bethesda have also added the VATS system, which I guess is to compensate for the lack of true Fallout game play. Since the last two games were turn-based RPGs, a lot of fans of the series have complained about it not being a true Fallout game, heck, they still complain even with VATS. Granted though, VATS isn't really anything like the old Fallout games. With the press of V, you enter VATS (provided you're in combat), and time freezes. Here you can select an enemy you want to attack, and then select different limbs that you want to shoot, all in order, with the use of Action Points (so usually you only get a few shots in). VATS is essentially 'temporary invincibility mode', since when you do enter it and issue your attacks, the game slows down into an admittedly cool scene where your shots are shown hitting the enemy in fair detail with a variety of camera angles (watching some punks head explode in a shower of blood from behind never gets old), in which your character is unharmed from any enemy attacks. Fortunately the previously mentioned Action Points limit your attacks, meaning you can't abuse the system. When I went through FO3 I used a mix of VATS and real-time combat. In some cases it was just easier to run in with a shotgun and simply shoot everyone, but I found VATS really useful for more careful fighting, and it was much more easier to get enemies with grenades in VATS than real time. Thats pretty much it for the combat in Fallout 3, it mostly works the same as in Oblivion, but I found it much better with the VATS system. Its nothing like the old Fallout games but a welcome addition nonetheless (and don't forget I'm not a fan of the series, so I have no reason to complain about the lack of a turn based fighting system).
Other main changes in FO3 are the character levelling and skill systems. In Oblivion, you chose your major and minor skills, and then levelled up by increasing your different major skills by a combination of 10. Whilst the system worked better in Morrowind (since it included Minor skills as well, whereas the rest of the skills were simply untrained, it was also easier to increase skills), Oblivion's levelling system was flawed in the sense that everything around you also levelled up when you did. In FO3, enemies in different areas are based upon your level when you first enter them, and gone is the old levelling system. Instead, FO3 uses good ol' experience, which is gained through killing enemies, completing quests, and a variety of smaller tasks such as winning speech challenges or picking locks. Once enough EXP is gained, you level up. Here you can assign roughly 15 or so skill points to any of the different skills (which range from things like your effectiveness with Big Guns, to your stealth). After the skill points have been allocated, you can choose a perk. Perks were in the original Fallout games, however I believe I read something saying you could only choose perks every few levels. Perks enhance your characters in a variety of ways, such as simply increasing your skills, or giving you the ability to instant kill your sleeping victims for extra experience. However some perks can only be obtained when your skills are high enough, or when you're a certain level. I felt that at the start of the game your choice was really limited, I felt forced to choose perks I didn't really want, and it seemed to stay that way for the whole game. Don't get me wrong the perks are a welcome feature to the game; I just felt the choice was limited.
Apart from these differences, if you've played Oblivion, the rest is the same. The game world is massive (and fortunately, much more varied, although thats not to say the environments aren't bland, they're just not as bland as they were in Oblivion) and there are plenty of places to explore. Just with Oblivion though, a lot of the places can be rather dull to explore. Most factories all look the same, the buildings look the same (i.e., just general schools or offices for example), and all the caves look the same. Whilst there are some unique environments and areas in the game, a lot of it is repetitive. Exploring these different areas can be dull and seem like a chore with this routine: rummage through the building, kill the enemies and then looting everything you possibly can, picking locks or hacking computers along the way. Fortunately the side-quests offer a little more variety, they're more fun than the main story quests at least. Some involve killing a couple of targets with head shots only, to storming a hospital building to save a trapped mercenary force, and even capturing a few slaves. The game itself is fairly repetitive in nature and you can't help that, but the side-quests do offer a fair amount of variety and fun, especially the Wasteland Survival Guide quest. The rest of the game is simply you killing things, travelling the wastes, repairing your equipment, talking to people, resting to heal yourself, its all the same really.
Now for the PC stuff. Whilst I admit I am primarily an Xbox 360 gamer now, the inclusion of Games for Windows LIVE into FO3 secured a PC purchase for me. Essentially, if you have an Xbox 360 gamertag on Xbox Live, when you play FO3, in the main menu you can log into your gamertag. Once signed in you can view your friends list, send and receive messages, and also gain the achievements from the Xbox 360 version (hence why I got in on PC, the ability to play FO3 on PC AND get achievements for my gamertag was an obvious draw, but something I later regretted). Oblivion was a popular game to make mods for, especially considering it came with the Construction Kit (the tool used to make the game), and FO3 is no different. Although not available on launch, the GECK for FO3 has been released, allowing players to make their own game modifications. Already there are hundreds available on the net, and whilst the majority of them are simple game modifications (a popular choice is the difficulty increasing mod), they're pretty good and helpful, you'll appreciate them considering they're all free.
Unfortunately, since once again, we're using the LIVE system, the FO3 DLC costs, just like on the 360. Im not exactly a cheapskate or anything, I don't mind paying for DLC provided its decent. At time of writing, only Operation Anchorage is available, and I have to say it wasn't very good. For 800MP, or around £6, I got roughly two hours of game play and some extra equipment, new power and stealth armours, a new (kick-ass) weapon, a pretty cool sword, and probably something else I didn't care for. Either way, Operation Anchorage is a virtual training mission; taking place in the, well, battle for Anchorage in Alaska (I guess it was referred to in previous Fallout games since apparently it plays a big role in the lore, but I'm not really sure), and the battle wasn't particularly impressive. Once I got into the simulation the game then put me through roughly two hours of non-stop combat, with barely any variety. You're simply given some weapons, an incredibly linear path to follow, handy Health and Ammo stations to use whenever you want (as many times as you want, free of charge), and you're off. I know its meant to be a big battle, but I felt more could have been done. Not only did I feel short-changed due to the short length and massive price (400MP would have been more appropriate), but I also got put through two hours of dull combat which was easily won by simply collecting ammo for the new weapon, the Gauss Rifle, which pretty much destroyed everything in my path. I expected more from the DLC, but future DLC will probably still cost 800MP, and whilst I'll still get future DLC, Im not holding my breath on it being cheap and fun. Only time will tell.
So then, I also mentioned I regretted getting the PC version? In ways I don't, I love the controls and the graphics are great, but there one problem that has plagued me for a while now with PC gaming, something that has put me off and made me go to the consoles instead: Crashes. FO3 crashed on me so many times I lost count, sometimes in 10 minutes, sometimes after a few hours of play, it just randomly happened and I have no idea why. My PC specs are above the recommended (I have a Quad Core processor, 3GB RAM and a DX10 graphics card, Im on Vista Home Premium too), yet the game still crashed on me. I don't know, maybe its my PC, other recent games crash on me a lot too (Far Cry 2, Crysis does on occasion, Bioshock is a pain to get running), but it seems all I can use my PC for is World of Warcraft (thankfully that works perfectly at least). I know everyone won't experience these problems, but it did crash a lot on me and it got rather annoying, so this detracted from my personal experience.
The graphics in FO3 are a mixed bag. On a technical level, despite being based upon the Oblivion engine, they're still impressive. The draw distance looks good and the character models are fairly detailed (they've still got the little "cuts" to connect their body parts, looking at their neck the line makes it look like their head has been stuck on top of a torso, its the same for their hands etc). Whilst yes, the graphics aren't the best around, they've held up well against other games. Unfortunately, due to the game setting, the colour palette of the game consists mostly of brown and grey, something every FPS of recent times seems to stick to (don't forget though, STALKER is set in a nuclear fallout and that still had fairly colourful graphics). When exploring different areas you can't help but notice how bland and similar each area looks, which is a shame since this was one of the main criticisms for Oblivion. I know the game world is massive and its hard to create a unique appearance for each area, but a little more variety could have gone a long way.
Whilst FO3 does have music, its rather hard for me to judge. The music is old and cheesy, but it suits the game well. Music is entirely optional however, activated by the radio on your pip-boy, and I have to admit, for pretty much the entirety of the game I kept it turned off, so I can't really judge the music. I guess its up to you if you want it or not, so at least the option is there. Voice acting is an improvement over Oblivion, this time there are more varied between the characters, but each and every ghoul sounds the same, and you will recognise the different voices across characters, it just simply isn't as noticeable as it was in Oblivion.
At times FO3 is a very impressive game, whilst it does feel like Oblivion, it also feels incredibly different. The world Bethesda created is an interesting and dark one, and at times, with the help of VATS, combat can be pretty fun. Unfortunately the game is very repetitive in nature, and whilst it does offer more variety than Oblivion, its still rather bland. The main story is pretty crap, but the side-quests are pretty fun and varied. If you've never played Oblivion, I would suggest FO3 since I think its much better (yes yes, I know I gave Oblivion a higher score), and I would even suggest you try it out even if you have played Oblivion and didn't like, a lot of people who didn't like Oblivion enjoyed FO3. I just think FO3 is a game to experience by itself, and not one to compare to previous Fallout games. Its made by different developers, and it was pretty obvious they were going to base it off their own game engine and development techniques (in fact, you could call it a spiritual successor to Oblivion since it addresses so many problems), and I feel that if you play FO3 and criticise it for not being like the other Fallout games, you're missing the point. Fallout 3 can be a joy to play, but at times it can also be dull. However at the end of the day, I certainly enjoyed my time in the wastes.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: Fallout 3 (EU, 10/31/08)
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