Review by FlarpJuice
Bland, with spikes of true greatness.
First, as a disclaimer, I should state I am entirely new the Fallout series. I understand the story, but I have never played the pure RPG games or any other Fallout game. I have also never played any other Bethesda game, such as Oblivion or Morrowind.
Fallout 3 is an interesting game in that it mixes what most people consider to be opposite ends of the gaming spectrum: First Person Shooting and Roleplaying Games. Thus, FPSRPG.
While there have been several FPSRPGs over the years, they are a rare genre, and it would be hard to find a more interesting combination. The only one I can think of, Puzzle and FPS, created Portal, so it's plain enough that one would have high hopes for Fallout 3. I wouldn't say they've been met, but I would also be reluctant to say they've been completely dashed.
Assuming that the game worked properly, I would have given Fallout 3 an easy 10 for atmosphere. Having personal experience with Washington DC, I can say that it truly does seem like you are in the post-apocalyptic capital of the United States. Pre-war cars litter the roads, Sino-American War propaganda posters litter the walls, and the rubble is very realistic. The wilderness areas are also quite immersive.
The problems, however, lie within the bugs. As a game, Fallout 3 is extremely buggy by current day standards. On a 64-bit box (which I admit may have had something to do with it), I remember very clearly the game freezing at crucial moments at least six times, not counting falling through the world geometry.
Beyond actual fatal errors, NPC pathing is rather bad. Friendly characters you're following get stuck easily on tiny bumps in the floor, and monsters can be easily bugged into a vulnerable state by getting them stuck inside a building.
The NPCs themselves are of varying quality. Lack of actual movement leaves expression of extreme emotion (of which there is quite a lot in Fallout 3) up to the mouth position and voice acting, and the game strikes out on both counts.
Voice acting in Fallout 3 is unpredictable. Some NPCs will react to the death of their entire family with a monotone "Oh no. I can't believe they're dead." while others will express their character wonderfully, using tone and pace to convey the circumstances.
As a final note, the total lack of blinking is odd, but you get used to it.
Fallout has always had an interesting story. It adds on its own twists to the standard post-nuclear war scenario, and Fallout 3 is no exception.
One thing I would like to specifically applaud Bethesda for is maintaining a great deal of continuity with Fallout 1 and 2. Characters from the West Coast, the site of those two games, are frequently mentioned, and there's a very fluid transition.
The reason I took off a point is that Fallout 3 doesn't just connect with the two previous games, it's a near carbon copy of them. Almost all major plot points from Fallout 3 can be traced back to either Fallout 1 or 2. It's a good story, but for veteran players who are looking for new material, it seems you won't find much here.
The addition of DLCs adds a (somewhat costly) solution to this, but that's not what I'm reviewing right now.
Ah, the meaty center of any review.
As the title states, Fallout 3 has some incredibly amazing portions, but they're surrounded by a slimy coating of grinding and side quests. While I normally approve of sidequests, the more skilled voice actors have been assigned to the main story, so for reasons I've stated above, it's hard to empathize with the people you're helping.
The leveling system is also a little flawed. There's little or no choice in choosing perks; most are either very useful or totally pointless.
Hand in hand with the leveling system is the karma system. Now, I dislike the karma system because I, and I'm sure many other gamers, don't feel they're playing the game right unless they're actually doing the right thing and saving the world.
But, beyond that, the negative karma system is really confusing. If I just want to be a jerk with negative karma, why do I get the same karma for stealing 500 bent tin cans as for blowing up a town with a nuclear bomb? And if I want to be a total psychopath, why do I get POSITIVE karma for brutally murdering every mercenary in the game? You can be evil and hate everyone, not just the good guys. Really, one of the "evil" titles is Scourge of Humanity. You'd think someone called that would be able to get away with killing anyone, not just the annoying good guys.
Now, moving on, to V.A.T.S. Vats, for those unaware, is the non-manual method of fighting in Fallout 3. As opposed to pressing the attack button while pointed at an enemy like in an FPS, you can elect to pause the game, and select ~4 body parts from your current and other targets to hit in slow motion, in the game's control.
Now, though a formula that takes in both stats and line of sight and probably a bunch more things, Vats determines your chance to hit a given body part. Thus, this part is much like an RPG and I approve.
Back on the subject of grinding, if you just want to get the game done, it's difficult to do so without doing at least a few sidequests, and those require a certain level to do properly as well. In other words, you will need to grind a bit.
However, underneath all this criticism, Fallout 3 does have some truly amazing moments. The one that springs to mind (without any major spoilers) is where you and a team of elite soldiers, armored to the teeth in suits that make them look like imperial stormtroopers, storm the Jefferson Memorial with the company of a giant pre-war, anti-communist robot that shoots nuclear bombs in the form of a laser, all while fighting off other enemy soldiers and using missiles and miniature nukes to shoot down their helicopters. Also, you are armed with a Minigun that shoots lasers.
Sound and Music 9/10
There's really nothing wrong here. Everything sounds like you think it would, and the futuristic energy weapons have some interesting, but not annoying, effects.
The music, also, is very well done. The aforementioned giant nuke robot has his own theme, which is epic on its own.
Voice acting, though...
As I said, the main story characters do their job well. From the sinister southern drawl of your enemies to the sharp voice of the Vault 101 Overseer, it's all believable.
Non-story characters are a bit off though. None of them have original voice actors, so there's some overlap. And by some, I mean a lot. You'll frequently encounter the same voice actor multiple times on one quest, and more than once I thought I was talking to a totally different character than I really was.
All in all, Fallout 3 is worth buying. If you can wade through the boring segments, the fun bits are more than enough to pass through.
However, as one final note, this is NOT the what anyone expects. It's not an FPS, it's not Fallout, it's not an RPG. It's something entirely different.
Rating: 3.5 - Good
Product Release: Fallout 3 (US, 10/28/08)
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