Game Review: Fallout 3

Fallout 3, from Bethesda Studios

“War. War never changes.”

So begins Bethesda’s near-future apocalyptic RPG, Fallout 3. The story of your character begins quite literally at the beginning, with your birth deep within a Vault-Tec bomb shelter. After the exchange of nuclear fire between the United States and China in a slightly altered time where technology ran far ahead of society – most notably sticking the United States in the idyllic if somewhat paranoid 50s – many people, including your parents apparently, sought shelter in these underground complexes. As you grow, however, choosing your appearance and skills in an extremely immersive prologue, it becomes apparent that things are not what they seem. Eventually, you need to make your way out of the Vault in pursuit of your scientist father, but how you do that and what you’ll say or do when you finally find him is entirely up to you.

Stuff I Didn’t Like

  • This is a problem that’s probably going to crop up in future games as well as some of the games I play now: DLC. Knowing that ‘Broken Steel,’ ‘The Pitt’ and ‘Operation Anchorage’ among others are available for me to download and promise new content, new equipment and new story elements, I felt like I was missing out because I don’t have enough Microsoft points to get the DLC, nor do I have enough liquid assets to change into Microsoft points. At least I didn’t have NPCs bothering me about it, which is a problem I have with Dragon Age: Origins.
  • And now there’s the ‘Game of the Year’ edition that includes all of the DLC on the disk. Thanks, guys, but I still don’t have the spare $60 US for another copy of the game.
  • There can sometimes be a lag between hitting the button to bring up your inventory and actually seeing the screen come up. More than once I saw I was low on health, hit the button to pop some food, drink down some ice-cold Nuka-Cola or inject medicine as the nearby Super Mutant smashed my face in with a fire hydrant. I realize it’s a little more realistic than auto-regenerating health, but we’re also talking about a game with plasma rifles, giant robots and people who survived being turned into quasi-zombies with side effects including most of one’s skin melting off and sounding like one has a nearly terminal case of strep throat.

Stuff I Liked:

Fallout 3, from Bethesda Studios

  • This might be an odd opinion, but the V.A.T.S. made the game much more enjoyable for me. This is a RPG, after all, and points in skills as well as Perks make it more likely you’re going to hit something you’re shooting at. People used to frantic relentless bullet-fests like Gears of War or Halo may find V.A.T.S. tedious or ignore it entirely, but for me, it helped me feel like my character was truly expert markswoman thanks to plenty of points in the Small Arms skill and a few of the relevant Perks.
  • While there’s a bit of an uncanny valley effect with the NPCs, the voice acting and writing is good enough that it doesn’t interfere too much with immersion most of the time.
  • Speaking of voice acting, there’s some good talent on display, and not just from the likes of Ron Perlman, Malcolm McDowell and Liam Neeson as your dad.
  • The hostile mutants, from the giant scorpions to vicious creatures evolved from crabs, are genuinely terrifying in their rendering, which points to very good use of the graphics engine.
  • The lockpicking and hacking systems maintain the flow of the game and don’t break immersion, even if stocking up on those skills make it terribly easy to steal things right under the noses of people you’re supposed to be helping. Then again, if you’re looking for a quick way to gain bad Karma and make more enemies to blast in half in V.A.T.S. mode, the end result of stealing stuff in plain sight is probably pretty hilarious.

Stuff I Loved:

Fallout 3, from Bethesda Studios

  • The Capital Wasteland. Unlike some other games out there, the world feels huge and very real in its own way. There’s also the fact that you’re rewarded for exploring the world, both in uncovering new areas with items and NPCs and in an actual reward after completing a certain side-quest. You can fast-travel from one spot to another after you’ve logged its exploration, but getting from one place to another can be a hike, and it’s a hike I ended up enjoying, except for the one where my dog ended up dying after a particularly long trek and I just couldn’t bring myself to repeat it.
  • From the radio stations to the publications available to the dialog of certain characters, there’s a great deal of well-realized atmosphere in the game. What we see in this post-apocalyptic wasteland is an America trumped up on its own national pride and sense of entitlement, making this game as much a cautionary tale about imperialism and national arrogance as it is a video game where you can blast super mutants with mini-nukes and set your house up as a love nest complete with cola machine.
  • Speaking of radio stations, I tuned into Galaxy News Radio for most of the game. I liked hearing Three Dog’s perspective on my exploits and there’s some fantastic soundtrack dissonance to be had. I loved hearing cheery 50’s music like “Civilization” or “Jazzy Interlude” playing while I mowed down Raiders or traded blasts with super mutants. It added yet another layer to the already deep atmosphere and made the overall experience that much more enjoyable.
  • The diversity of weapons available to you is pretty staggering. There’s implements of destruction tailored to a variety of tastes. If you like old-fashioned guns, you have plenty of small arms to choose from, up to the classic Henry rifle that’s downright musical when fired in V.A.T.S. mode. Ray gun aficionados need look no further than the Gatling lasers and plasma rifles. If you want to get up close, you can pick up a Super Sledge. You can even make your own weapons from bits of junk littered all over the Wasteland, from a slingshot-like dart gun to a mine using bottle caps for shrapnel – which seemed a little counter-intuitive given that bottle caps are currency in this nuclear future. It’d be like using jars of pennies in a modern explosive device. My favorite crafted weapon, however, was the Shishkabob, a literal flaming sword. Then again, maybe that’s because I was loaded with good Karma and it fit with me being a paladin.

Bottom Line: Buy this game. The Game of the Year edition might save you some time, money and frustration in the long run. I’d like to find out for myself – we’ll see how good Santa is to me this year.

1 Comment

  1. The DLC are well worth it. Outside of the GOTY edition, the DLCs are 10$ apiece, for what amounts to tons of gameplay. Broken Steel adds 1.5x the game’s level cap, and adds something like six new quests. Point Lookout’s area is about a fourth of the size of the Capital Wasteland, full of quests and stories.

    I’ve spent 110$ on that game, and I can honestly say that it’s some of the most play value for the dollar I’ve ever spent.

    VATS is wonderful. I hope the next Elder Scrolls game has something similar.

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