Fallout 3

"There is no God and we are his prophets." – Cormac McCarthy, “The Road”

Fallout 3 is a profoundly sad game. Forget the bullet point features. This is its truth: the irradiated, unrelenting, brutal, cold and blasted world. The vast empty landscape and desiccated buildings tell us more than an endless monologue ever could.

The body lies cold behind a makeshift barricade, a gruesome tableau of desperation. What did this man lay down his life to protect? I push further into his dank corner of the subway tunnel: a thin bed, a couple of books, a lamp powered by an old battery and a few boxes of irradiated food.

Fallout 3 has left me feeling desperate and grasping for some comfort and light, exploring a bright, almost-glowing wasteland. It grinds me down to a level where I feel empathy for the hollow eyed NPCs. It’s not pitch-perfect, but Bethesda has managed to step beyond its previous efforts. Fallout 3 is something special.

*note* This review is mostly spoiler free.

How S.P.E.C.I.A.L is it?

When Bethesda threw down the number “3” like a gauntlet after the word “Fallout” they had to know that the comparisons to the first two games were inevitable. Building off the technology established in Oblivion--a very different sort of RPG--creates an interesting design challenge. What do you keep, and what do you cast aside to bring the best of Oblivion and the best of the Fallout series together? The good news is that they struck a very careful balance between the old and the new. Simply put, they got it right.

Oblivion staples like the conversation system, the “learn by doing” leveling technique and the ability to re-arrange silverware by floating it in front of you are all gone. In their place we have many of the better parts of the original Fallout games. The S.P.E.C.I.A.L system--an RPG stat system lifted from the previous games--drives character development. Strength is for melee and carrying stuff. Agility gives you more action points--it lets you do stuff. Intelligence gets you more skill points. These are classic RPG tropes, done well. Below the sledgehammer of basic stats, there are skills, which run the gamut from getting better prices in shops to more effectively chewing through your enemies with large guns. Players choose three skills at the start to be especially “good” at and then spend points each time they level up on whatever they like. This means I can get good at small guns now and then pour points into energy weapons later when I start finding them in the wild.

While Fallout 3 has done away with the minmaxish traits system of the original game, the perks system is still a big part of character progression. Perks represent everything from getting skill boosts and better stats to gaining sustenance by feeding on the bodies of the fallen. Old standby perks are back, Bloody Mess being one of the more memorable, along with the always useful Pack Mule and Intense Training. What’s most interesting is that I’ve found myself making the same stat choices as I level right in line with what I did in the original Fallout games--completely by accident. Sure, now it’s first person and a lot of Oblivion staples have elbowed their way in, but the spirit of the series, as conveyed by the stats, artwork and hilarious perks, is still here.

But Is It a “Kick Ass Shooter?”

The giant unknown going into the release was combat. While Fallout was turn-based, Fallout 3 runs in real time and lets you pause the action with its Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System. In VATS mode, you select a specific body area and then spend action points to pull the trigger. It’s all done in first person mode--a large departure from the isometric views of old. There is a third person over-the-shoulder perspective, but the player animations are not fleshed out enough to make that something I’d enjoy for long stretches. Gears of War this is not.

Because VATS is so satisfying, I’ve rarely played Fallout 3 like a typical shooter. In VATS mode, it’s easy to spend your action points on tapping a couple shots to the enemy's head, then to his arm to make him drop his weapon, and then to his legs to slow him down. I’ve even shot a primed grenade in a super mutant’s hand, which blew him up in a volcanic explosion of limbs and blood. There’s plenty of time to appreciate the carnage as the camera swings around and cuts to different angles as your choice shots play out in slow motion. I’ve killed hundreds of enemies this way. It never gets old.

But is it a kick ass shooter when you don’t use VATS? No. This is not Halo. It’s not even Bioshock. The problem with inserting stats into gunplay is that you really can’t throw them out the window and let the player completely drive how accurate his character is going to be. I can put the reticule right on the bad guy, but if my character’s skill with that weapon type is only 10 points, I’m going to miss my perfectly targeted headshot more often than not. There’s no aim-assist to speak of and twitch gamers on the console are likely going to find they can’t get the control sensitivity tight enough for quick turns and fast shots.

That said, you’re not going to find many enemies that demand excessive twitch reflexes anyway. Most of the bad guys have guns of their own, so it becomes more a question of positioning, cover and skill rather than clearing a room in five seconds. A typical battle consists of spotting the enemy, pulling up VATS, spending my action points and then either taking cover while they build up again or cracking a few quick “normal” shots to finish him off.

You don’t need VATS to get all the cool, contextual combat touches. You can still shoot weapons out of hands, cripple limbs and explode heads without ever leaving the run-and-gun mode. The beauty of VATS is that you can linger on your firing decisions a bit more, like an artist choosing a destructive brush of death.

Tell Me a Story, Show Me The World

Emil Pagliarulo, the lead designer on Fallout 3, was the creator of Oblivion's Dark Brotherhood quest line, one of the best written and most interesting threads of story in recent RPG history. Fallout 3 continues in that tradition of both excellence and interest. This is a story worth not-spoiling, but taken as a whole, Fallout 3 has a very strong line of quests and interesting choices to make when compared to Oblivion or the original Fallout games. I’ve run quests twice to see how different approaches have different results, and I’ve been delighted to see how often my expectations are thwarted by a clever twist.

The main storyline has the player chasing down his (or her) father after he’s left them behind at the vault, a fairly straightforward Hollywood plot. But I don’t play a game like this for a single narrative; I play for the combined weight of small quests stringing me along in a more personal, over-arching story dictated by my own actions. Fallout 3 succeeds because the quality and uniqueness of the quests mean I’m rarely wasting my time on something trivial. There are no rat tails to be collected here.

And so exploration is the main attraction. Despite the fact that the game is largely populated by burnt out buildings, endless subway systems and enough beiges, browns, rusts and grays to color every uniform in the US Army, the world is interesting. Fallout 3 is carefully consistent in its delivery of the brutal, post-apocalyptic landscape, but that doesn’t mean boring. This is not a world that died. It’s a world where people have cobbled together old, broken dreams in a way that is both depressing and inspiring at the same time. It leaves me wondering what I’d do when survival is a luxury few can manage.

End of Days

It’s perhaps axiomatic to point out that Fallout 3 is not for everyone. Those who didn’t like Oblivion for its lack of strong narrative structure and the endless wandering won’t find that Fallout 3 has tightened things up enough to suit them. While the world is a bit smaller and fast travel is still available, it remains a game that demands the player get down and dirty to find the more interesting hooks. This is not a game of grinding. It’s a game of finding.

The highest praise I can offer any game is that the world I’m in tells me a story about the people who inhabit it, even after they’re long dead and gone. While we can wax poetic about narrative and writing and structure and acting, the real power that games have over other forms of expression is that they give the player the opportunity to linger on details. Fallout 3 is rich with these details, and through them I have had an opportunity to see what life is like after Dr. Strangelove.

You may not like what it says about humanity, but you’ll come away with memories that stand years after you’re done playing.

- Shawn Andrich

Comments

All I know is the store near work better have it!! I got plans tonight. Sorry Honey tomorrow is your night

Its like Christmas morning and I can't sleep anymore and my parents won't let me open the presents yet!

Annnnnd sold. Well done, Certis.

I was trying to save some money. Maybe even push this one off until after Christmas, and the price may drop a little.

Thanks, jerk.

Damn. Want NOW.

I can't justify a sick day just for Fallout 3, though. ARGH.

I had promised myself I wouldn't buy FO3 until I finished Witcher EE, SR2 and FC2.

Screw it. I guess I'm just going to have to shelve those other games for now. I can't resist.

Got my Amazon exclusive survival edition. Can't wait to get it home.
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Sweet pictures. Wish I had Pre ordered that now.

I'm really happy with my Lunch Box edition. Installed it last night, and was up till 3am playing. Very nearly convinced myself that I was "sick" today.. I really enjoy FPS games and thought that the VATS would get clunky. However I spend alot of time sniping in those FPS games, and the VATS is sort of the "sniper scope" for me

God dammit, Certis. My hopes were so consistently low, holding a perfect balance on the border of suckitude and it just might be decent--itude.. now you've crushed it all. My money, where art thou gone?

I'm a huge fan of Fallout and Fallout 2, but I disliked Oblivion so strongly that I've been hesitant to pick up a copy of Fallout 3. I'm happy to hear that the conversation system and learn-by-doing system have been removed, but I'm curious about a few other aspects of the game:

  • I've heard that the all-monsters-level-with-you system has been replaced or revamped, but what has taken its place? Does leveling-up have a point in Fallout 3, or will you only level-up to find that the rest of the world has leveled-up with you? One of the best parts of Fallout 1 and 2 was that you could easily end up in over your head. I don't like games holding my hand and making sure I don't get killed when I get cocky.
  • What is the stealth system like? I like to play stealthy characters, but I was irritated that in Oblivion enemies would automatically know where I was after I attacked them with a ranged weapon. It makes sense that they might be able to guess where I was, but if I'm out of their line of sight and I move they shouldn't know exactly where I went.
  • If I get shot, stabbed, or otherwise damaged is there something on my HUD that will at least tell me what direction I'm being hit from?
  • You said that the story is worth not-spoiling, but is it a story worth participating in and to what extent is it woven through the world? My problem with the main story in Oblivion wasn't that it wasn't well structured but that it was completely forgettable and cliche. Also, aside from some passing comments, no one in the world seemed to have any idea that anything major was taking place anywhere else. The stories in Fallout 1 and 2 were interesting in their own right and were integrated into the world so that many of the quests felt as though they were part of the whole story even when they were entirely optional.
  • How much variety is there in the world? While Fallout 1 and 2 weren't strong on variety, Shady Sands and the Necropolis were clearly different places with different feelings. Oblivion felt like, as Zero Punctuation put it, the same area of land copy-pasted over and over to make the world larger.

I really want to like Fallout 3 because I love the world of Fallout so much, but if it's more Oblivion then I'm just not interested.

I've heard that the all-monsters-level-with-you system has been replaced or revamped, but what has taken its place? Does leveling-up have a point in Fallout 3, or will you only level-up to find that the rest of the world has leveled-up with you? One of the best parts of Fallout 1 and 2 was that you could easily end up in over your head. I don't like games holding my hand and making sure I don't get killed when I get cocky.

I honestly don't know for sure. I mean, I'm consistently challenged, but if I happen to run into a Raider in the Wastes now at level 12 (compared to say, level 2) it's an easy kill. Same goes for some of the other smaller critters that used to give me nightmares. So if the game is adjusting on the fly, and I have to imagine it is at some level, I haven't really noticed it in any negative light.

What is the stealth system like? I like to play stealthy characters, but I was irritated that in Oblivion enemies would automatically know where I was after I attacked them with a ranged weapon. It makes sense that they might be able to guess where I was, but if I'm out of their line of sight and I move they shouldn't know exactly where I went.

It's roughly comparable to Oblivion in that regard. Given that there's a lot more guns and stuff with nary a silencer in sight, I don't think you'll be shooting people and leaving them scratching their heads. Stealth is mostly a "first strike" sort of skill, which guarantees a critical hit whether it's with a gun or a melee weapon. I have seen some nice stealth-related perks, though.

# If I get shot, stabbed, or otherwise damaged is there something on my HUD that will at least tell me what direction I'm being hit from?

You'll see the red mark for an enemy on your little mini compass indicator at the bottom of the screen. I use that to zero in. Or, if you're cheeky, you can spin in a circle tapping the VATS button and it will lock in on whatever enemy is visible in the area.

You said that the story is worth not-spoiling, but is it a story worth participating in and to what extent is it woven through the world? My problem with the main story in Oblivion wasn't that it wasn't well structured but that it was completely forgettable and cliche. Also, aside from some passing comments, no one in the world seemed to have any idea that anything major was taking place anywhere else. The stories in Fallout 1 and 2 were interesting in their own right and were integrated into the world so that many of the quests felt as though they were part of the whole story even when they were entirely optional.

I've never felt like story was ever a strong suit in open games like this one. One of the radio stations that you can play on your Pip Boy will have contextual things to say based on what's going on in the world and some areas will respond to you differently depending on what you have done for them, but it's not going to be the finely woven tapestry you seem to be hoping for.

How much variety is there in the world? While Fallout 1 and 2 weren't strong on variety, Shady Sands and the Necropolis were clearly different places with different feelings. Oblivion felt like, as Zero Punctuation put it, the same area of land copy-pasted over and over to make the world larger.

Tough question to answer. There's variety but it's all within the limitations set by what a world looks like after nuclear apocalypse. The differences are more subtle in nature. You're not going to find jungle, savanna, rain forest, etc. differences. It's a broken world, but I find it incredibly interesting to walk through.

Certis wrote:

I honestly don't know for sure. I mean, I'm consistently challenged, but if I happen to run into a Raider in the Wastes now at level 12 (compared to say, level 2) it's an easy kill. Same goes for some of the other smaller critters that used to give me nightmares. So if the game is adjusting on the fly, and I have to imagine it is at some level, I haven't really noticed it in any negative light.

That's wonderful. I don't mind an auto-leveling system like that so long as it isn't so obvious as it was in Oblivion.

It's roughly comparable to Oblivion in that regard. Given that there's a lot more guns and stuff with nary a silencer in sight, I don't think you'll be shooting people and leaving them scratching their heads. Stealth is mostly a "first strike" sort of skill, which guarantees a critical hit whether it's with a gun or a melee weapon. I have seen some nice stealth-related perks, though.

It makes sense if you're using an un-silenced firearm. I still don't understand how modern, technologically advanced games can get something like this wrong, but I also understand that Fallout 3 and Oblivion really aren't stealth games.

You'll see the red mark for an enemy on your little mini compass indicator at the bottom of the screen. I use that to zero in. Or, if you're cheeky, you can spin in a circle tapping the VATS button and it will lock in on whatever enemy is visible in the area.

This was one of my main gripes in Oblivion. Maybe it's just that I was really, really bad at the game, but I couldn't always tell when I was being hit and from which direction I was being hit. I'd end up dead before I had any idea what had happened, or I'd spend a long time spinning in circles looking for the skeletal archer that was putting holes in me.

I've never felt like story was ever a strong suit in open games like this one. One of the radio stations that you can play on your Pip Boy will have contextual things to say based on what's going on in the world and some areas will respond to you differently depending on what you have done for them, but it's not going to be the finely woven tapestry you seem to be hoping for.

I listened to the podcast, and I think this was addressed in a different way. When I played Oblivion (and I'll admit that I didn't put a lot of time into it [15 hours or so]), I found that I not only didn't follow-up with the main plot but that I didn't care about it. Someone on the radio (Rob? I'm so bad at picking people out) mentioned that with Oblivion they never played the main quest at all. I'm wondering if I'll feel the same way about the main story in Fallout 3, but I don't think that's a question you can answer.

Thanks for answering so quickly. I'm still on the fence about this one, but I'll probably cave in and buy it having read your review and your response and having heard the podcast. The worst that'll happen is that I'll lose some money when I re-sell it.

Excellent write up, man... Two questions, though:

1). I think you mentioned this in last week's podcast (and I haven't listened to this week's yet...), but was this for 360 or PC? The copy you played, that is... If I remember right, it was 360...

2). I was considering grabbing it, but I'd want it for PC and my laptop only has a 256 MB video card (Geforce 8600). I know that's fine under minimum requirements, but I'm wondering whether it would be better to get it for the PS3, or "risk it" under my PC and get it through Steam... Thoughts? Anyone? Bueller?

Certis, I officially curse you. Now my willpower has been damaged, and when I leave the house later today I will probably pull some money out of savings just to buy Fallout 3. But I suppose that's part of your job, isn't it? Ensure that those with jobs continue to buy games so that we can contribute to this site...

ilduce620 wrote:

Excellent write up, man... Two questions, though:

1). I think you mentioned this in last week's podcast (and I haven't listened to this week's yet...), but was this for 360 or PC? The copy you played, that is... If I remember right, it was 360...

2). I was considering grabbing it, but I'd want it for PC and my laptop only has a 256 MB video card (Geforce 8600). I know that's fine under minimum requirements, but I'm wondering whether it would be better to get it for the PS3, or "risk it" under my PC and get it through Steam... Thoughts? Anyone? Bueller?

I was playing the 360 version. Check out this post I made in the Fallout 3 thread about performance and such.

Nice impressions. I'm downloading this now. Between the Witcher:EE, FC2, F3, and the upcoming L4D, I'm set for a good long time to come. Yay, Gaming Solstice, when wonderful visitors come to entertain us with their offerings!

Just got back from Best Buy (Carmel, IN). They had 3 CE's on the shelf. The strategy guide looks pretty slick (It also looks to be TWICE as thick as the guide for Oblivion).

I loved Fallout and hated Oblivion. I'm worried about this game. Now that its out, is it Oblivion with guns? I'm really just trying to avoid having my hopes and dreams tossed out a window. IF its like Oblivion and I'm warned I can safely just avid it and look forward to the future. Sorta like the Jews are like 'oh Jesus, yeah hes cool but Ill wait thanks.'

Went out at lunch. Stopped at 3 stores near where I work (Best Buy, Circuit City and Gamestop) and none of them had any of any version in stock. All 3 claimed their shipment hadn't arrived yet and they were just waiting on the UPS guy.

I found a couple of copies of the regular edition at Target of all places, but they had them priced at $69.95 for the PC version (which I think is the price for the collectors edition). Not sure what that was about. I skipped it; I'll just look for one on my end of town when I head back home.

Ok, about to go to the store to pick this up (yay gift cards), but I'd like to know, does the games story line stand alone, or should I catch up on Fallout 1 and 2 lore before starting the game up?

Got my 360 CE. The extras are sort of neat, but not I'm kind of wondering if it was worth the extra 10-20 dollars I paid for it.

Snaggle-Toof wrote:

Ok, about to go to the store to pick this up (yay gift cards), but I'd like to know, does the games story line stand alone, or should I catch up on Fallout 1 and 2 lore before starting the game up?

It stands alone.

I had that same intro quote as my Gchat status for a while! Can't wait to play this game. I feel all warm and fuzzy.

Great write up - picked up my lunchbox & bobble head just now! Grrrhh... I still have to work 'til 5pm.

But is it a kick ass shooter when you don’t use VATS? No. This is not Halo. It’s not even Bioshock.

How would you say it compares to Mass Effect?

I thought Mass Effect did an excellent job combining FPS and RPG elements. The action was smooth enough to satisfy my twitch response, while the character building had a noticeable impact on the results. (The action-y goodness was the sole reason I managed to slog through the endless variations of the same crate filled room that mysteriously appeared on every planet in the game).

I liked how Crackdown handled the RPG elements. Increasing gun skill meant it took less time to lock on to an enemy. It also had something like VATS, where you could target parts of targets if your skill was high enough. Or you could just try to use your FPS skills without lock-on. Is Fallout 3 anything like that?

Hans

verzechuan wrote:
But is it a kick ass shooter when you don’t use VATS? No. This is not Halo. It’s not even Bioshock.

How would you say it compares to Mass Effect?

I thought Mass Effect did an excellent job combining FPS and RPG elements. The action was smooth enough to satisfy my twitch response, while the character building had a noticeable impact on the results. (The action-y goodness was the sole reason I managed to slog through the endless variations of the same crate filled room that mysteriously appeared on every planet in the game).

I never got comfortable with the combat in Mass Effect. The targeting and weapon selection took me out of the game as I tried to figure out what I wanted to do. in my opinion, VATS seems to be better integrated into the game. It feels closer to a shooter to me.

kilroy0097 wrote:

Gaining sustenance by feeding on the bodies of the fallen? You mean stealing food from them or actually slicing off flesh and eating bodies? Has our hero turned into a flesh eating Reaver if you so choose?

Cannibal. See the first of these (spoiler free) character sketches

+1 on broken willpower.

My wife and wallet hate you.

I on the other hand hold you in no such regard.

Certis has 2d6 against Taidaan's Willpower. Critical Hit! Taidaan suffers *all* damage to Willpower...

I went out and bought it...