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

It's.. beautiful..

Dunno, I'm still not convinced. I really hated the art direction in Oblvion, it totally put me off the game. The way characters were modeled just looked wrong to me. I've seen some echoes of that in screenshots of Fallout people. The environments look uniformly drab and uninteresting to me. I suppose that's a concious design thing, to convey mood or whatever, but it turns me off. Reminds me of the awful sameness of the environments in Gears.

The world--even a post-apocalyptic one--is not monochrome.

(edit)
Don't get me wrong -- I'm not one of those "Fallout 3 is an abomination that never should have been made" people. In fact I never played any of the other Fallouts (though they looked interesting in the Gametrailers retrospective). There are things about the game that intrigue me, like the VATS system, cool perks and such. I guess it boils down to how Cerits opened up the review. I don't need anything new to make me depressed right now!

BadKen, this is for you:

Yeah, Fallout 3 is downright depressing as far as the looks and environment go. But there are so many amazing things that they have done with it. (Something of a "spoiler", I guess: I am going to tell you about a building I cleared) I happened upon a supermarket, once I was out in the wastes. Well, 3 raiders in the parking lot, my first time outside the vault shooting at other people, so I put 'em down one by one. Its dark now, I go inside. The inside is sparsely lit by some fluorescent lights and I can see shelves knocked over, carts overturned, cans and such lying on the floor, and walking around were more raiders. I creep into an area that might have been the customer service desk and begin rifling through everything. Well, a raider's attention is caught by my carelessness regarding the door (whoops, didn't shut it!). She comes walking in, I'm tucked in a corner, and as soon as she enters I go into VATS. With my pistol, I stand a high chance of a successful headshot, so I go for it. Twice. Just to be sure. Well, first shot goes errant, into the shoulder, second shot takes her head clean off. (The first time I decapitated someone with a 10mm round, I was wiggin' out) All in slow motion. After that, I leave the room and go root through the registers. I find some money, then in one I find some bobby pins. Having used to work in a grocery store and knowing that employees keep lots of personals near the register, that was an awesome touch. Now, VATS. Think of all those neat features you would hear about in the Matrix video games, with the bullet-time and all. Now think of that actually working, and you have the VATS camera. Whenever you plan a shot, it puts it into this glorified camera mode that shows your shot, the bullet, and the glorious death or injury. Its awesome, and better even than all the hype I had heard.

Now, hopefully this isn't too much info for those of you who haven't played the game, but I am trying to convey how awesome this game is. Certis, despite the fact that I may hate you later when I cannot afford to eat, I appreciate your review of this game. It was a contributing factor in my purchase. Keep it up!

Welp, thanks, Certis. Your review combined with GiantBomb's has convinced me that this is not a game I would enjoy. The "endless wandering" and relatively simplified combat (compared to Fallout) are deal breakers for me. The original Fallout's actually featured very little "wandering" - you were always close to something, with a simple map to guide you. Maybe I'll give this one a rental for a free weekend.

There are clips on Youtube of people shooting raiders in the head at point blank range 30 times before they die.

Steam is currently downloading this game to my hard drive, largely for the same reasons that made me buy Godfather III.

I hope there's a hack out real soon that allows to skip slow-mo animations.

Stryker wrote:

+1 on broken willpower.

My wife and wallet hate you.

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

Willpower, your new name is Obedience

It's economic crisis, people, go buy games to support GDP growth. Buying games is patriotic now!

I hope there's a hack out real soon that allows to skip slow-mo animations.

I remember thinking the same thing after the 15th or 20th time I used VATS. I'd just like to see the results at full speed, though.

A truly engaging review which gives as much serious consideration to the atmosphere, settings, themes and emotional resonance of the game as to the actual gameplay mechanics (which I'm sure we're all relatively familiar with at this point - even those of us, like myself, who haven't even played the game yet).

Extra points for the reference to "The Road"; reading McCarthy in between F3 gaming sessions would surely be a dangerously depressing combination.

I enjoyed Oblivion :)

Taidaan wrote:

The inside is sparsely lit by some fluorescent lights and I can see shelves knocked over, carts overturned, cans and such lying on the floor, and walking around were more raiders.

This is the one problem I have with the game setting/continuity (and many RPGs in general): it's supposed to be some 200 years after the initial war kicked off... would there really be cans and other things in a supermarket? One would have assumed all of that would have been scavenged already. Sure, if the building were in a totally preserved/untouched/inaccessible area then maybe.

I went into the gym outside of the vault and there were things in the locker - WHY hadn't the raiders picked out all that loot?

Still - small quibble with an otherwise awesome game.

If Fallout 3 was "Realistic" then there wouldn't be any buildings standing and the land would be a waste of irradiated plants and little else. I think its a fun > reality decision. Suits me fine.

Certis wrote:

If Fallout 3 was "Realistic" then there wouldn't be any buildings standing and the land would be a waste of irradiated plants and little else. I think its a fun > reality decision. Suits me fine.

No - you are dead right, it merely takes me out of the immersion during that initial encounter. It's like finding large treasure chests all over Albion in Fable II. The first few times it's jarring to see that discontinuity (at least for me), but the game play wins over every time (and it should).

Despite the free-roaming aspect, I have found wandering in some places to be quite linear. Like the outskirts of DC.

As for the cans, they were empty. All the food had been stockpiled by the raiders into one area. And there wasn't a whole lot of food.

Certis wrote:

If Fallout 3 was "Realistic" then there wouldn't be any buildings standing and the land would be a waste of irradiated plants and little else. I think its a fun > reality decision. Suits me fine.

I usually fully agree with fun > reality mantra. When it takes considerable effort to combine both, an amount of effort that's simply not worth it, fun should always win.

In this case, however, all they had to do is to move the date back to the time where a lot of stuff would still be standing and somewhat unscavenged.

shihonage wrote:
Certis wrote:

If Fallout 3 was "Realistic" then there wouldn't be any buildings standing and the land would be a waste of irradiated plants and little else. I think its a fun > reality decision. Suits me fine.

I usually fully agree with fun > reality mantra. When it takes considerable effort to combine both, an amount of effort that's simply not worth it, fun should always win.

In this case, however, all they had to do is to move the date back to the time where a lot of stuff would still be standing and somewhat unscavenged.

That seems needlessly nitpicky.

I like what they've done with the game and I liked the whole Super Duper Mart and how it was done. I found it kind of depressing that there wasn't ANYTHING of worth on the shelves but there was some reward to be had after you overcame a challenge.

You know, like a typical RPG or something.

The game doesn't have a lot of the typical trappings of RPG. Even Mass Effect, science fiction setting and all, could not get away with what was essentially magic, elves, and dwarves or what was essentially the sci-fi counterparts. Yet at the same time if they ignore basic Campbellian themes it simply won't be much fun. I don't really care what date the game is set in and I suspect most people aren't going to put that much thought into it because when you start to think about it logically all of the Fallout games fall apart.

Botswana wrote:

I don't really care what date the game is set in and I suspect most people aren't going to put that much thought into it

"Thought" is usually what is required to play an RPG. It is a role-playing game. OF COURSE the date matters. The world matters !

It's pretty depressing to see people's demands from an RPG lowered to this point.

Lowered compared to what, your average JRPG, fantasy or sci-fi setting? That's funny. Clearly if they threw in an undecipherable she-male anti-hero, a talking sword or Schwartz-wielding jedi, it would better meet the RPG thinkers expectations.

As long as the designers have created a consistent world and background that allow for a suspension of disbelief as players enjoy the story, then they have succeeded. To get so caught up on the date, is missing the forest for the trees. (and yes, I've succeeded in using that expression for the second week in a row.) If you want to enjoy the game, then your mind would rationalize it. Maybe radiation has dropped, maybe the devastation was so complete it wasnt as thoroughly scavenged. Whatever, but I think that is a typical response, unless you are looking for things to fixate on.

Irongut wrote:

Lowered compared to what, your average JRPG, fantasy or sci-fi setting?

Not sure about the point you're trying to make there, but, actually I am certain that your "average' JRPGs and Mass Effects have had a big role to play in this mass lowering of expectations.

As long as the designers have created a consistent world and background that allows a suspension of disbelief as players enjoy the story, then they have succeeded. To get so caught up on the date, is missing the forest for the trees. (and yes, I've succeeded in using that expression for the second week in a row.)

Since when is the date at which the game's universe STARTS, is not an important part of the game's universe ? What is everyone smoking ? Why are we arguing about the obvious and trivial ?

If the date doesn't matter to you, why do you go out of your way to defend Bethesda's choice of it ?

In this case, however, all they had to do is to move the date back to the time where a lot of stuff would still be standing and somewhat unscavenged.

There's plot reasons for why they didn't do it that way. The thought had occurred to me as well.

It doesnt matter to me, but I find it surprising that their choice of timeline seems a gamebreaker for you. As I read your post, their choice of date either:

1) removes the breadth of all that game content from a thinking man's game library.
2) is only enjoyable by a de-volved non-thinking rpg player. zugg zugg

Maybe I've over-read into your comment. My point is more that there is going to be inconsistency in any gameworld. If a player chooses not to rationalize it or cannot forgive it, then they are ultimately looking for reasons to not like a game. You and I agree, the date is trivial if the rest of the gameworld gels.

Oh my response... In the spirit of full disclosure, yes, I've been a fan of Bethesda's RPGs over the years. (i.e. I picked up one of 3 import copies of Daggerfall that made their way to Akhibara, Tokyo for release day.) The breadth of content in their gameworlds is usually staggering, so... tripping up on a date when there is so much to explore baffles me.

Australian release is out tommorow (Friday 31st).
I'll be coughing up approx. Au$120 for the collectors edition.
Obviously excited about the game, but no so much about the price...

At one point I realized I was running around the Wasteland with a minigun, flamethrower, and missile launcher and I'm a small guns expert so this is in addition to my real arsenal of handguns, shotguns, and rifles. In the real world when I was in great shape I couldn't run around at full speed carrying just an M60 by itself, much less three additional firearms and half a pharmacy strapped to my back.

So, seriously, I'm going to stand by my needlessly nitpicky comment. None of the Fallout games really stand up to cold hard logic, nor would I expect them to. Just enjoy the game.

I am finding that I'm doing something similar to this game that I did with Portal. The game is so well that the little niggling details start to get to me and I realize that I am just picking nits myself. It's like someone served me the best cherry pie ever but I'm too busy focusing on the fact that the fork I'm eating it with is worn and pitted, but clean nonetheless. I refuse to let my nitpicky nature ruin what is an astoundingly well done game.

Botswana wrote:

At one point I realized I was running around the Wasteland with a minigun, flamethrower, and missile launcher and I'm a small guns expert so this is in addition to my real arsenal of handguns, shotguns, and rifles. In the real world when I was in great shape I couldn't run around at full speed carrying just an M60 by itself, much less three additional firearms and half a pharmacy strapped to my back.

To be fair, you're not exactly running 'at full speed' here. Probably the only thing that bothers me so far is how SLOW your character is. I'm hoping to find some rocket powered jet pants in a old military base somewhere or something.

Enjoying the game so far. The radio stations get incredibly repetitive after a while, tho. Hopefully they release some mod tools so we can start putting other tracks in or create custom radio stations.

10 years later, the hot girl has gotten a lot easier. If you want more of an old school experience, turn up the difficulty. You get more XP that way, so it's actually less grinding, more strategy.

I'd suggest the 360 version, as you don't need FPS precision and the PC graphics don't look significantly better. I'm playing the PC version at max settings and have noticed that it looks very chunky and console-y, even more than Oblivion. It's an interesting contrast to STALKER, which has the familiar scaleable PC look, including some graphics sliders which don't actually do anything. And STALKER is hard as nails, probably worse than the original Fallout if one can compare them.

And Certis, having seen a few of the bodies with my own eyes, you're absolutely right, those are some haunting tableaux. They put a lot of thought into these scenarios. And they got D.C. down perfectly, not geographically of course, but it feels so familiar.

Disclaimer: I loved fallout 1, 2 and even tactics. Fallout 1 was my airplane travel game of choice for years because it had little graphics / cpu requirements and it didnt drain the battery on my old POS work laptop.

With that said, I am not bashing the "new look" I am just so missing the old look.

I will likely get the game and also need some more final word, PC or xbox 360 version. I have a great gaming pc, and a 62" tv so this is a tough choice for me.

The whole argument of the old look and the new look reminded me of that hot girl in high school that kind of liked me and how she looked at the 10 or 20 year reunion. Still hot, but 10 or 20 years older, like the rest of us. There are some things you just cant go back to.

edit: im an idiot, didnt see the screen shots on the top of the page

Take it to PM, you two.

edit: meh

===

In other news, I like the game. It is a solid post-apocalyptic effort. However it is not Fallout. It strikes me as an effort by a team that worked parallel to Fallout1 team, using "Wasteland" as general inspiration.

I would really like a mod that removes obvious Fallout references from the game. The game stands very finely on its own, but seeing Fallout references in it brings flashbacks and comparisons which paint it in an unfavorable light and irk me in a revisionist history sort of sense.

I missed whatever was edited out and it doesn't really matter.

I do think I'm being misunderstood, I'm hoping that you can get past minor details and simply enjoy the game but I think I see more behind your reasoning with your latest post, which is a fine sentiment. Again, I don't agree but it does provide insight. In your mind the game is not a "Fallout" game and I've been in that position where I see a sequel or "spiritual successor" that has been created that I simply do not feel fits with what I remember of previous games but everyone besides myself seems to be just fine with.

In particular I think I have used a similar statement to -

"The game stands very finely on its own, but seeing [insert other game] references in it brings flashbacks and comparisons which paint it in an unfavorable light "

Now I do forget myself sometimes and that I haven't really been posting much until Fallout 3 came out and I've dropped off of Live play sessions due to my hectic schedule as of late so I think my limited interactions has muddied the waters as to how I feel about different members of the community. I generally hold you, shihonage, in high regard and am usually interested in what you have to say (disclaimer: When you post in the threads I'm actually reading). I am merely disagreeing with you. I mean absolutely no disrespect by my earlier statements and am actually a little dismayed that we seem to disagree on this point but at least it's over something trivial. Not something important like "Is a Camaro better than a Mustang?"

I would have taken this to PM but I don't believe that offending in public and apologizing in private is very noble.

That's all fine, but this thread is about Fallout 3, not about how Botswana and shihonage feel about/interpret each other. Which is why I asked you to take it to PM.

Nyles wrote:

And Certis, having seen a few of the bodies with my own eyes, you're absolutely right, those are some haunting tableaux. They put a lot of thought into these scenarios. And they got D.C. down perfectly, not geographically of course, but it feels so familiar.

I've found some areas that don't seem to serve any purpose other than to tell a story through one person bunkered down in the world. He might even open fire on you without any discussion because just some random dude defending his nest. It's kind of sad, but they usually drop something cool

Certis wrote:

I've found some areas that don't seem to serve any purpose other than to tell a story through one person bunkered down in the world. He might even open fire on you without any discussion because just some random dude defending his nest. It's kind of sad, but they usually drop something cool ;)

I do not feel good at all about killing a named NPC for no other reason then they shot first. Kinda sucks but consistent with the overall atmosphere.