Fallout 3 isn't really a true Fallout game, but if you can forgive that, it is still an incredible game.
are the best games ever. When I heard that Fallout 3 was being developed, I crapped myself in anticipation. Sadly, even though the Van Buren demo provided some morsels for us fans, Black Isle Studios was bought out and shut down. It was canceled. Years later, Fallout 3 would resurface helmed by Bethesda Studios. When I heard this, I was mixed. I knew from the start the game couldn't touch the first two games, yet I really liked Daggerfall
so I wasn't really outraged.
In the end, I was completely right: Fallout 3 is not a true Fallout game. Sure, it has the Vaults, radioactive scorpions, brahmin, a pipboy, and it is set in a big desolate wasteland, but everything that made Fallout unique is stripped away here. But in the end, if you can forgive this and if you like Bethesda's work, you will still find what is arguably their best game since Daggerfall.
The graphics may not "Wow," but character models are very good and the art direction is superb and lends the game a perfect post apocalyptic look.
Gameplay is much like Oblivion, although it improves upon Oblivion by having a larger number of enemies as well as improving the acting and other areas that made Oblivion somewhat lacking in the immersion category. Obviously guns play a bigger part here instead of swords and spells like in Oblivion. With said guns comes the "V.A.T.S." system, which allows you to freeze time and pick off body parts with greater accuracy and a Michael Bay camera shoot. VATS uses action points, and different weapons modify how many action points you can use and naturally each different enemy has different shapes and body parts, affecting what you can shoot based on your location.
The game is gory as hell, and while I would've liked to see some actual pre-rendered death animations much like in the original games which made deaths seem a little more... erm, "painful" and creative, as the physics system is fairly rudimentary, it is still fun to watch and is ridiculously over the top. Splitting apart a raiders chest and then watching his limbs fly off is a simplistic joy.
The game sounds great too, the acting is VASTLY improved from Oblivion, and characters sound a little more distinct and into their roles than in that game. Weapons sound good and unique, and enemies make good sounds as well, be it in their life or in their death. The game also has a radio which plays fancy old tunes from the 30s/40s/50s as well as funny comments from a snarky D.J. as well as the occasional adventure of Herbert Daring Dashwood, which are funny and fun to listen to, although I wish there were more episodes.
Although the role playing system is dumbed down (See the "What I didn't like" section) and doesn't offer as much variety or replayability as previous Fallout games, the game still has several side quests and a genuine need to survive, which really immerses you in the role.
There are lots of different weapons and armors to discover, which all have different affects and values. You can also gather parts to create weapons, each one unique and cool, although it doesn't get much funnier than the Rock-It-Launcher; a gun that shoots random crap you pick up in the wasteland. Sending a milk bottle through a super mutants head and watching it break apart in 3 pieces or slaughter a group of raiders with toy cars is absolutely fricken' hysterical. Schematics are expensive and often hidden, and there is incentive to find multiple copies, as it improves the usefulness of the weapon you wish to build.
The game encourages exploration, and there are tons of eerie, strange places to explore as you scavenge and become a wasteland denizen. Sometimes the most fun the game has to offer is to try and find as many unique areas as possible, and see what secrets they hide within. It is very satisfying to stumble upon something hidden and uncover a side quest, a unique item, or just a strange random encounter.
Scaled leveling makes an appearance here, but it actually works in this game. Normally I am against the concept, but considering that Bethesda didn't make a large variety of monsters and since raiders rarely have unique characters in their ranks, scaled leveling makes sure that you will always fear what might lie around the corner or behind that ominous door.
The biggest problem is that the role playing system from Fallouts 1 and 2 are extremely dumbed down. SPECIAL hardly affects your character anymore, in the first two games it was extremely important and each trait would be completely different based on the points you put into them, in Fallout 3, the effects of those stats are barely noticeable. The Tag skills system isn't dumbed down quite as much as the other areas, but the various permutations and numbers crunching in the background have been significantly reduced and tag skills have no affect on SPECIAL or traits like they did in the old games. Optional traits have been shuffled into the perks system, and perks are no longer granted every so often, they are granted every level. They are hardly "Perks" if you get them all the time. Several classic perks return, albeit changed greatly and like the rest of the stats, they've been dumbed down. This hurts the replay value, and unlike in the first two games where each character felt unique and different, most of the characters you create in FO3 will feel the same.
The karma system is busted beyond belief. You can be a thieving serial killer who eats his victims and then uses their body as a toilet, yet if you remember to give all your purified water to a bum you can have a high karma level. The game claims that karma and "Choice" play a big part, but they do not. There are a few interesting "choices," but it is annoying that they either make you the second coming or make you the devil, and if you make a "Choice" that karma is permanent, there's no altering it ever again. It constantly flops around, and has no real affect on the game except for the way the DJ talks about you, and if you are REALLY good people in Megaton might give you stuff, but that's it. Karma has no affect in the game whatsoever.
Although most of the graphics are nice, the animations are even worse than they were in Oblivion, and characters always look like they are skating on thin air with rocket powered jet skates.
Since the game has a habit of "Dumbing down" things, another thing that the game dumbs down is radiation poisoning. Radiation poisoning in Fallout 1 & 2 was a real threat, but in FO3 the worst that may happen is you won't be as fast or strong. It can kill you, but rather than killing you slowly like in the first two games, it only kills you if your geiger counter maxes out. I actually found times where I had severe radiation poisoning and had no idea, because my character seemed to act the same way.
The storyline, while it has moments, is relatively lame and the ending is possibly the worst ever. The ending is an anti-climax, and the final boss couldn't even contend with the calculator from Fallout Tactics. Hell, he's actually one of the weakest characters in the game, even if your arms, torso, and head are all crippled and your perception, strength, and agility are all nil you can tear him to shreds with a pistol that is about to break after one use. You also can't continue past the final quest, which is annoying because I did not want to have to create a brand new character just to continue exploring and find more quests. This was remedied in Broken Steel, but it is still a fault with the game. The main quest line is also ridiculously short and easy, it can be completed in a mere hour without much effort put into it, unless you've never played a shooter before and can't find out which button is the trigger.
VATS, while fun to use at times, is not really much more than Bullet Time with a shaky camera. It claims to be unique when it really isn't. On the same line, guns feel somewhat clunky and inaccurate, although they are still fun to shoot.
The monster roster is a little slim and I wish there were more. Although most of the more famous monsters, such as the Death Claws and the radscorpions, make appearances there isn't quite as much variety in them and some monsters are clearly just palette swaps. It is also annoying that Bethesda added radroaches and bloatflies, these monsters are extremely pointless as they barely do any damage and after level 1, you don't even get experience for killing them yet they appear as an arbitrary MacGuffin to make sure you can't sleep or travel and Bethesda makes sure they appear in a swarm so you have to beat tons of them and since there's no experience reward for killing them and the fact that they are no threat at all, it simply isn't fun to have to bash them just so you can be on your merry way.
The Bottom Line
Despite the fact that it is not truly a sequel to Fallout, and is not even in league with those games, Fallout 3 is still a great Bethesda game. It has their mark, and it's easily comparable to Oblivion, but as mentioned before it is truly much better than Oblivion. The game is highly immersive and fun to play, and exploring this game will reveal it is truly greater than the sum of its parts. Many secrets await for you in the Capitol Wasteland, and if you can ignore the relatively lame main quest line, there are many rewards to reap in the desolate wastes.