Traveling the wasteland is certainly not a waste of time.
Introduction sucks you in.
Storylines are well written.
Controls are functional and what you expect from Bethesda.
World-design is very intriguing and makes you want to explore.
Been able to lose limbs is an interesting idea.
Perks and leveling.
This game just LOVES crashing.
Karma-system feels out of place.
The stats on items are vague at best.
Too many different bullet-types.
The Bottom LineStory
In Fallout 3 you take control of a “vault dweller”, one of many people who sealed themselves into an underground bunker in preparation for the nuclear apocalypse. The game starts quite literally where the character does, at your own birth. The introduction takes you through several stages of your character’s life and has you making small choices that change your statistics and future appearance. Most Bethesda games do this kind of thing, but I must say that Fallout 3 is the first time they have done it right. Whereas in Oblivion and Skyrim you just magically arrive in the world with no backstory at all, this intro not only serves to fill you in on the lore, but it also familiarizes you with the characters and makes you emotionally invested. Soon enough though, the shit hits the fan and your father leaves the vault overnight, forcing you to go after them lest the security forces pound your brains in.
Once outside the true Bethesda feel takes over and you are free to pursue your father or delve into hundreds of fascinating side-quests. To my knowledge the team that wrote the Dark Brotherhood quests from Oblivion was in control of all the missions in this game and this leaves us with much better tasks than ever before. One point that still bugs me though and this is true for every Bethesda game I play, is that characters seem way too trusting. In the very first town I was approached by two individuals, one of which wanted me to set off a nuke that was in the town and the other wanted me to get irradiated for the sake of her research. Both of those requests seem like basic RPG-stuff, but consider for a moment that I just randomly walked into a bar after freshly emerging from a cave and suddenly some guy asks me to murder hundreds of innocent people. His justification was “you have no connections here” and while that is true, it still seems risky to assume random people might be insane enough to do something like that.Gameplay
There are two problems that make playing Fallout 3 feel rather rocky: the interface and the fighting. Let’s talk about the interface first. The problem is that they tried to go more for atmosphere than functionality, so you get a rickety old computer that serves as your inventory, quest-log, map and everything else. The lack of size however means they had to cut down on text and minimize the amount of information that you can see, so a lot of terms that you need to remember are also abbreviated. It can also get downright confusing, such as when I scoffed down a handful of items that I thought would reduce my radiation poisoning, but after closer inspection were expensive radiation-resistance booting items. Where the combat falls flat is that it sometimes feels like a modded Oblivion, especially some guns feel more like firing arrows than firing actual bullets. At least in Oblivion every bow didn’t need some kind of fancy different ammo-type though! I am always low on ammo because there are so many types that it gets ridiculous, I can agree that a sniper shouldn’t have the same ammo as a rocket launcher, but then why did they group together pistols with SMG’s? Sneaking and explosives can also be really obnoxious, especially sneaking which you need to level up really high to have any use from. Most enemies spot you regardless of whether you are sneaking or not, some even from a considerable distance.
Everything outside of combat is very good though and I especially like the new mini-games they came up with for lock picking and hacking. These mini-games nicely combine the player’s own skill with the points they cared to invest in the stats-screen. Gaining a new level is also amazingly satisfying because of the brilliant perks you can get every time you do. After putting your points into the skills you want to upgrade, you’ll be send to a different screen where you can select a special upgrade. These make use of incomparables, meaning you can’t weigh off the effect of one against the other and decide which one is the best (as you could with a weapon in a RPG). Instead there are options like “getting gorier kills” or “special dialogue combined with more damage against male enemies” and the likes. It’s a bit rough around the edges and there are too many perks that just instantly boost your regular skills, but this is something that needs to be perfected. There is also not so much managing to do and this really benefits the more explorative nature of Bethesda games. Instead of spending minutes of your time comparing weapons in the interface, Fallout keeps everything rather straight in terms of items and armor. There are only a handful of weapons that give you bonuses and most of the time it comes down to what you happen to like, I decided to take a bit of everything in terms of weapons and I never had to deal with fancy firearms because the game just gives you a pistol, not a “venomous pistol of fiery death”, But a regular pistol. You just need to make sure you keep the ammo coming and invest skills in your shooting if you want to get better with it.
I must also say that they ironed out a lot of flaws that soured Oblivion for me. Times after the nuclear war are tough, so tough that nobody can really claim authority and punish you. In Oblivion (and to a lesser extent Skyrim) you would always run into pesky guards that punish you for the slightest provocation. The laughably bad AI often had them drawing their weapons when you did something as innocent as taking a cherry from a bowl in someone’s living room. Fallout doesn’t have that and instead the law of the gun is in place. If you do something people don’t like they’ll shoot you and you can shoot back, the one who lives was in the right. Loading times are also notably faster and there is a lot less time wasted on asking questions about the lore, time that you can instead spend on having more fun.Presentation
In recent years the market has become flooded with games which have a very brown and gritty style of graphics, but Fallout manages to impress, even with this bland aesthetic. How they did this is simple: they just designed the world to be as atmospheric and imposing as possible. I have walked through roughly a hundred ruined cities in my gaming career and never have abandoned buildings seemed so eerie, never has a wasteland felt so full of adventure and NEVER have I screamed like a little girl while exploring relatively simple areas. The last time the game scared me was even more humiliating than you would think, because I was looking at a distant sculpture thinking it was an enemy, only to be jumped at by a cockroach instead. My point is that with good level design and the right atmosphere, even the overused brown aesthetic can be made into something entertaining.
The in-game presentation is amazing, but there is still something that bothers me: The technical aspect of this game. I bought the Game of the Year edition on Steam, this assuming it would come with all the DLC and with most of the bugs worked out. I was VERY wrong about the latter. The game did start up after the installation, which is at least further than Bioshock got, but after that it became a hell. The game would crash randomly almost every ten minutes for no apparent reason and trying to fix it took me several hours of looking through forums. It turned out that it was a processing problem and I had to edit lines of code in the .ini file… I don’t care what you say, that is fucking inexcusable. Even after I fixed it did crashes remain fairly common, especially when alt-tabbing or locking the computer. I bought this game at 11AM and was busy with it all day. At the end of that same day I had only racked up a total of 2 hours of actual playtime and I had only just left the vault.Replay value
Bethesda games have always suffered from the fact that they aren’t really fun to replay, but save-files can’t be relied upon to stick around either. Sooner or later you are going to delete your file by accident or it will just get corrupted. In a game with so many variables (to the point that it saves the placement of every single item you drop) there will be a point at which it will just burst and die. This is often the point where I stop playing these games: it happened after 500+ hours in Oblivion, it happened after 75+ hours in Skyrim and I fear for the day that it will happen with my Fallout save. I really recommend that you make back-ups of your save, just to make sure you won’t lose them.
To its credits: Fallout 3 is more replayable than any of the Elder Scroll games. This is because the game is not very big on lore and therefore you can play it again without having to sit through endless conversations again. Having to repeat quests is still very obnoxious though, as it will always be. The many choices you make in Fallout’s story do seem to have more of an impact and aren’t as bland as in other games that claim to have choice. Sometimes you are even making choices while you don’t realize it, such as when I murdered my way through a cave where some troublemakers were residing, only to come to the realization that I could have let them live and get a whole different experience. “Choosing” how your character develops is still pretty simple though, even more so than normally. In Oblivion there were milestones that gave you bonuses when investing enough points in your skills, but here your accuracy just increases or you unlock tougher challenges. Especially the weapon-based skills are somewhat odd, since you can get along just fine without them if you’re good at shooting games. Extras
Outside of the main story there is plenty to do in Fallout 3 and I am not talking mini-games here. There are many side-quests that you can pick up, most of which are longer than your average MMO fetch-quest. Finding these quests is also a small task on its own, as you will have to ask NPC’s for rumors or possible leads. The map is also pretty large and some quests are hidden in obscure locations, so if the dungeons alone didn’t provide enough incentive already, there is also the joy of finding a new story to follow by simply stumbling upon a shack. Fallout 3 also has a total of five DLC packs that you can purchase (or get for free with the Game of the Year edition) that add a new main story line to the original game (I’ll review them individually later).
The level cap in this game is twenty, which isn’t that high, but any higher would have rendered the Perks system useless. As stated before there isn’t a lot of grinding to be done for weapons either, but there are still some neat ones that require some extra work and searching. Once you’re done with all of that, I suppose you could try to clear every dungeon, but that would really be pushing the content to the maximum. One problem though is that the final mission of the main quest also marks the end of the journey and if you finish it, then you are send back to the menu. The only way to explore the content after the final mission is to reload a save, but the game locks the doors after the game auto-saves from entering the last room. This is very obnoxious if you have no extra saves to load up, because the only way out is to buy the DLC-pack “Broken Steel”, which will make you pass out and wake up in The Citadel area.Verdict
Fallout 3 is so far my favorite Bethesda game out there and in the land of RPG’s it ranks fairly high. While the gameplay tends to be a bit rocky and unbalanced, the story and atmosphere do more than enough to make up for that. One thing I can’t forgive however is the load of technical problems I had while using the Steam version of this game, including not receiving the DLC and having the game take a million screenshots at random moments throughout the game. I know some people still claim to this day that Fallout 3 is a bad game because of how different it is from the original games, but frankly I prefer it when a franchise has some diversity (such as Donkey Kong Country), as opposed to just making the same kind of game over and over again (the direction Kingdom Hearts is going in).
Fans of the old Fallout games are certain to have some good times revisiting the Wasteland and Vaults with this game, as long as they are willing to deal with a slightly less complex experience and more streamlined controls. Likewise Bethesda fans are certain to have a blast with this if they can deal with the lack of medieval themes that usually characterize Bethesda’s high-profile titles. If you have never played the games I mentioned, then you can also ask yourself if you would be interested in a somewhat challenging open-world RPG. If the answer is “yes”, then sit down and enjoy some Fallout 3.