It's finally here and I finally got to spend some good quality time with it. Fallout 3 has arrived and I was able to take it for a spin on the Xbox 360. Before you get into the game, Hellboy gives you a small prologue speech and Qui-Gon Jinn becomes your father. I, of course, am speaking about the two great voice talents that appear in the game: Ron Perlman and Liam Neeson. You'll witness your own birth and this is where the game begins. For starters, the character creation portion encompasses a few moments from birth to your teenage life. There are so many options to alter your appearance that you could literally spend hours fine tuning how you want to look when you are older. I wanted to get straight into the game so I decided to just pick some random appearance and start my life in Vault 101.
As you live through various moments in your life in the Vault before you leave, the game guides you through some small tasks in order to teach you the basics of the game. This tutorial portion helps you get acclimated with the controls and also adds some more of to the story as your father guides you in your early years. At this point of the game is also where you learn about S.P.E.C.I.A.L. which is an acronym for all the stats your character has. Besides this, you'll also have various skills to pump up such as Medicine, Big Guns, Little Guns, Speech, Barter, and so on. Players of the original Fallout games will recognize these pretty easily. Finally, the perk system gives you a little extra bonus and/or penalties. You can opt to gain additional points for V.A.T.S., have the ability to sneak up on someone and eat them but lose karma, and one of the coolest one lets you have a mysterious stranger show up and help you fight enemies while in V.A.T.S. You gain perks at each level increase so you're going to be constantly nabbing new traits which makes it a lot more fun than waiting every few levels. To get you started, you take a test called the G.O.A.T. which is similar to the character creation of Ultima IV whereby your responses to the questions determines the perks that fit you. Of course all these can be changed so you're not going to be stuck with a character you don't like. You have one last chance to customize all aspects of your character before you leave the vault so it was nice of Bethesda to give you these chances to create the character you want. Once you leave the Vault though, the real fun begins.
Combat is handled in two ways. You can play it like first or third person shooter relying on your skills as an action gamer to take down your enemies. But as much as I love FPS games and as much as I played them it just didn't feel right for me. The action is a little slower pace than say Unreal or Team Fortress but that's not a knock against the game. It's how it should be and because of this I didn't fight the enemies as much this way as I did using V.A.T.S. Pushing a button brings up the system and stops all gameplay. You're given a map of the opponents various body parts with the ability to target each one as well as their weapon. Labeled next to each part is a percentage showing you what your chances are to hit that certain area. Queue up your attacks based on how many points you have available and then sit back and watch the outcome. It's a nice system that does take me back to the first two games of turn based combat. You'll see all your actions and the enemies' in slow motion that would make John Woo and Michael Bay proud. Sometimes the enemies go down normally without any mess but just wait until the first time you see someone's head explode in various chunks. The slow motion makes these events almost beautiful to watch. It's certainly gruesome and sadistic but I always picked the Bloody Mess trait in the original games so I'm one of those that enjoy seeing my enemies being torn apart. The damage is random too as sometimes you'll blow a head clean off into tiny pieces or you'll decapitate a person and see his mug rolling on the ground after the animation is done. Still getting out of V.A.T.S. wasn't really that fun and while the game isn't a first person shooter, trying to kill your enemies the traditional way feels kludgy.
When you are out of V.A.T.S. points, you'll have to run around and wait for them to recharge but luckily it doesn't take too long and you can always activate V.A.T.S. again without a full charge and have less actions. So you'll never be fully out of action mode but the combination of the two really makes for a fun experience. V.A.T.S. does have a problem I've experienced a few times where I was behind cover but could clearly see the enemy. When I targeted the person, I had some OK percentages. As soon as I started the sequence, I found my character firing straight into the cover. Now, I know I may not be a good shot but I would think my character could fire over the cover I was in seeing as the enemy was in plain site. It's a little annoying as I'd have to move myself out of the way a lot more than I would expect to try it again having wasted a good amount of points already.
As with any RPG, you'll spend a lot of time trying to heal yourself after duking it out with the mutants, animals, and raiders. You'll have to take note of the condition of your limbs as some can become crippled making it harder for you to fight or walk around. Stimpaks will help out a lot but there are times where you have to ingest various meats. Some of the items have both a healing factor and a radioactive factor. Your Pip-Boy will keep track of your radiation levels and at various levels you'll have reduced stats. Being radiated over a certain point will cause you to cease living. Besides food, there will be some areas that are radioactive as well so you have to be sure not to spend too much time in those places. So not only do you have your health t worry about, you'll have your radiation level as well.Weapons come in various flavors from the simple baseball bat to the fat boy mini-nuke launcher. What's really nice about Fallout 3 is that you get some of the really cool weapons early on. Whereas a lot of RPGs make you progress through some levels before finding some cool weapons, Bethesda has no qualms at giving you something to play with really early in the game. Now, the conditions of the weapons aren't that good and you'll need to fix a few to get them to do better damage but you'll be able to get whet your appetite early on. It seems ammo for these big toys is pretty scarce in the early goings of the game or I just had bad luck in finding them. Anyways, all the weapons have some condition and when they get worn down you'll have to repair them. If you have the skill you can take apart another weapon that's compatible and use those parts to improve the condition of the other one. Or you can take it to someone and pay some bottle caps to help repair it. It's really done well and gives you a choice of relying on yourself or having others give you hand. Another cool feature is that you can create some weapons yourself. If you have the skills and the plans, just put together the necessary parts and you're good to go.
I have to say it was breath taking the first time you step out of Vault 101. The view of a barren wasteland with the remnants of buildings and rocky terrain is a stark contrast to the Vault environment consisting of all machinery and no vegetation or natural landscapes. I literally sat there and turned my head around slowly in order to take it all in. It was beautiful and depressing at the same time. I had a much greater reaction to the first time I set foot outdoors in Fallout 3 then I did with Oblivion. The world is incredibly detailed with rolling rocky terrain and decaying junk scattered about. Walking through the ruins of a school, the level of detail is really something to behold. The buildings are in shambles as various parts of it have fallen down. A mass of beams, concrete, and broken school furniture litter the interior and you can easily imagine yourself being in this place because of how well the artists at Bethesda modeled it. Even with all the terrain variations, objects sticking out, and nooks and crannies I only got stuck once during gameplay. I was surprised at how easily I was able to traverse the rough environment but it's really good of Bethesda to be able to keep your character from getting caught in a place where you can't get out of. Because it's set in a post-apocalyptic future, you're going to get a lot of grays, browns, and muddled colors. Don't expect too much deviation from this in the first few hours and don't expect much as you go along. That's OK for me as I expected this and it just wouldn't feel right if the environments had a lot of contrast.
The outside world is pretty big and there are plenty of places to explore. Your Pip-Boy gives you access to a world and local map. When locations are discovered or told to you, they'll show up in these map screens. Setting a mark on them will give you a direction arrow on your compass showing you where to go. A nice little feature though is the ability to quickly travel between visited locations. While you can't instantly travel to the ones that you haven't visited, you'll have the option of visiting past locations without having to experience all the walking. Selecting the pre-visited location will give you the option of just going there and bypassing any enemies along that path. You can only travel to marked locations so you can't just pick a place on the map and use the quick travel option. Sure, it might not be realistic and some might think this is a little cheating but you don't have to use it. Some of the places are a nice long trek and to have the ability to go to the place to finish a quest and "warp" back to town to collect your reward is a nice little feature in my opinion. There are some areas that won't let you do this until you exit such as underground locations or hideaways.
With having a vast environment, there are plenty of things left out in the world for you to pick up. When I say there are plenty of things to pick up, I mean there are a TON of items you can take with you. From simple small things like empty bottles, packets of cigarettes, and so on there’s such an enormous variety of items you can pick up its unbelievable. If you can see it most likely you'll be able to carry it with you. Everything has some value to it so picking a few things here and there and selling it for some bottle caps will help you out in the long run. I was surprised at the variety of items I could handle and you can get really overwhelmed with the amount of things you carry with you.
As you progress through your adventure you'll meet up with some folks that will be able to join you on your quest. These folks can really help turn a hairy situation a little more manageable but not all the time. The ugly AI can rear its head at these points and at times you definitely don't want to. I guess you can say it hearkens back to the day when in the original games, your friends would stupidly get in the way of your weapon but here they do other things like get caught in the environment or take some route that just isn't optimal to get to the enemy. It's because of this that I wish you had the ability to get some real friends to play alongside you but I guess we'll have to wait for Fallout 4 to see if that happens. AI also affects the enemies as well as I've seen them get stuck in places and not come after me giving me time to just sit back and replenish my V.A.T.S. points. Back to NPCs, sometimes you don't even have to recruit folks to help you indirectly. While wandering the world, I ran into a few hunters that I could buy meat from. After we finished our transaction they headed on their merry little way. A band of raiders came around though and started to attack me. Next thing I know I hear and see the hunters come running and shooting at the raiders. Mind you they all got killed but they did take out one or two of these guys and I was able to reap the benefits by taking all the possessions the dead held. It's nice to be able to run into random folks that aren't just there to take you down outside of town.I praised the environmental environments earlier but the one thing that Bethesda didn't do as well as I thought they could was in the characters themselves. For the most part they look OK and I think a little improved over what you see in Oblivion. The problem though is they move pretty stiffly and the animations just aren't up to the quality of the rest of the game. Seeing raiders run at you with their backs straight up, arms pointed straight, and almost gliding towards you while not horrible just doesn't look really well done.
Because it's an RPG, you'll be spending a lot of time talking to people. Character interaction is vital to the game and you'll be presented with various dialogue options when conversing with NPCs. What's really cool is depending on your skill-set, perks, and even gender you might be offered more options in your dialogue tree than available to other types of characters. It adds to the replay value as you can try different tactics when talking to people and having different outcomes. The voice work in Fallout 3 is really well done so the conversations were nice to listen to. It's this way that you'll get your missions in both your main venture and various side quests.
Speaking of quests, you can sometimes find various ways to complete them. An early example is when you try to escape from the Vault. You can go all gung ho and take out any person that gets in your way. I decided to kill the Overseer of the Vault the first time and that really pissed off my friend who incidentally was the daughter of the Overseer. The second time around I snuck around and avoided conflict as much as I could bypassing the Overseer and going straight for the Vault door. My friend this time was a lot more sympathetic towards me and I also had better karma going this route. There was also a part where I helped a citizen of the Vault save his mom from roaches. The first time I played I charged in but I didn't get to her time. He wasn't pretty happy with me after that. The second time I was able to convince him to go in by giving him my baseball bat and he took care of the roaches himself saving his mom. To show his gratification, he gave me his jacket. As you can see by these two examples, you can really get a different experience each time you play the game. I could easily save his mom, kill the Overseer and changed a few other outcomes before leaving the Vault. One great thing about Fallout 3 is you are presented with many choices each with their own set of outcomes and within all the combinations that are available you'll get a different experience many times over. How do I proceed this time knowing what I know from previous games? How can I maximize my chances? What would happen if I do this instead of this? These choices and variations really give you a ton of replay value.
While the main game might take you from 20 hours or so to finish by doing just the main quest (Two folks at Bethesda beat it in 75 minutes
), there are plenty of side quests to keep you busy so a game can easily last into the 100+ hour range.. Even after finishing the game you'll be nowhere near visiting every single local that's available. The world of Fallout 3 is indeed big with a great deal of places to visit. The end game is finite so you can't go back but you can replay the game and do different things and visit new places. Fallout 3 begs you to play it again because there are some exciting areas to visit that you'll no doubt miss the first time around.
Playing on the Xbox 360, I was very happy with the load times and the draw distance was really far. There were an occassional hiccup here and there but nothing too distracting. The graphics were clean and crisp while offering smooth gameplay. Thankfully, the game doesn't make you save at save points as you are free to save anywhere, something I'd like to see more console games do. I'm a PC person at heart though so when I go through the game again I'll probablly do so on the PC where my rig is a lot more powerful and I can enjoy using a mouse and keyboard.
Fallout 3 is another testament to Bethesda's ability to create engrossing, fun, and epic role playing game. There's so much to do and so much to see. Bethesda has really done well to combine the music, graphics, and style in carrying on the Fallout tradition. There are some small annoyances with the game but it doesn't take away from the whole package. Fallout 3, the long overdue sequel, will satisfy many RPG fans and fans of the first two. I know I'll be revisiting the game a few more times just to experience many of the areas I missed the first time. Bethesda should be very proud of their accomplishment and I hope we don't have to wait another