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SummaryEntertaining without being a true Fallout
The GoodBethesda, hitherto known almost exclusively for their Elder Scrolls franchise, got under a lot of pressure when they bought the rights to develop Fallout 3. A game with the same title was already attempted before; years have passed, tension accumulated, and fans' expectations grew higher and higher.
Does Fallout 3 reach the level of its predecessors? No, at least not as a role-playing game. But that doesn't mean that it fails to absorb or to entertain. In its core, Fallout 3 is a traditional Bethesda-style RPG with a fun first-person shooter aspect added. And I don't think that's a bad thing at all.
In fact, I'm glad it was this company who eventually got to develop this game. My biggest complaint about modern RPGs is their tendency to shrink. With Bethesda, at the very least I knew for certain that this is going to be a generous game. Indeed, when I emerged from the Vault following the interesting tutorial and saw the vast post-apocalyptic world lying at my feet, glittering under the menacing sun in glorious 3D, I was excited and very curious to sink my teeth into it and explore every corner.
Undoubtedly, there is plenty to explore in Fallout 3. There are towns, ruins, abandoned facilities, and other types of locations. Clearly, Bethesda went out of their way to change the common opinion (which is correct to an extent) that they don't know how to personalize locations. With years of experience mostly dedicated to building huge worlds without paying that much attention to detail, you'd think the world of Fallout 3 would probably be even more lifeless thanks to the already hard-to-capture atmosphere of the required setting. Nevertheless, they succeeded in creating memorable locations, ranging from a crude settlement completely controlled by children to a nostalgic, retro-American quiet town charged with psychological horror.
A good chunk of the earlier classics' role-playing wealth was preserved. Character creation and development generally follow the same outlines. Skills, perks, and assorted minor elements are mostly preserved. They even introduced the fully turn-based V.A.T.S. system as an alternative to the game's default action combat. Personally, I found the FPS element thoroughly enjoyable and reverted to the turn-based style only in particularly tough situations. In general, the combination of free-form RPG and shooting works beautifully. You don't want to put the game down because you know that even when the RPG part is not enough to hold your interest, there is always the bone-chilling physical sensation of exploring the world and blasting enemies to pieces.
Bethesda tried hard to give the game that certain edge that was missing from their previous works. The dialogues are peppered with lively expressions, making us forget the mild impersonal babbling of Oblivion. Characters are more interesting as well. Quests are more diverse as well, and more often than not there are different ways of solving them. They tried to keep the amount of Fed-Ex tasks to the minimum and, for the most part, succeeded.
The BadI think all the problems of Fallout 3 can be summed up with one sentence: it's a typical Bethesda game.
Now, that doesn't mean in the least that their games are bad - in fact, Elder Scrolls is certainly one of the greatest RPG series of all times, and its developers have proved many times that they are open to new things and willing to learn from their mistakes. It's just that in case of Fallout, it becomes too clear that the guys at Black Isle had more understanding of what makes the series work, and perhaps more inspiration as well. In retrospect, I almost think that Bethesda treated Fallout with too much reverence: it didn't dare to go all the way with their ideas, and when it adapted older material it often felt forced.
Fallout 3 feels too tame. It lacks the dark and mature content the two previous games were known for. People swear a lot, but they don't behave accordingly. There is little actual violence, little controversy. The themes are too mild, too conventional to be included in a Fallout game - as opposed to a medieval RPG, where conventions play a much bigger role and mature themes lose much of their context anyway.
Bethesda also feels uncomfortable with branching quests. Those were perhaps the soul of the early Fallouts, and they honestly tried to capture it - but in the end, your ethical decisions often come across as artificial, lacking the much-needed subtlety and meaningful context and often deteriorating into choices between being a goody-two-shoes and killing everyone without any reason. The main plot is anyway unaffected by your choices, delivering a serious blow to the series' cherished legacy of flexibility and choice-driven gameplay.
This rigidity of design is manifested in the structure of the game world as well. As much as they tried to avoid repetition, the numerous abandoned subway tunnels do look depressingly similar. Settlements tend to be suspiciously small and cramped, and there is too much debris on the overworld that undermine the game's open-ended nature, restricting the player to long linear paths between destinations.
There are more problems, each of them further detracting from the credibility of the world. Base attributes seem to affect your character much less than before, resulting in builds that feel disappointingly similar. In particular, the speech skill is much less prominent than in previous Fallouts, depriving the game of an essential gameplay tool that greatly contributed to their flexibility. The level cap is way too low, leaving little room to character growth. And is there anyone out there who didn't hate the "Can't sleep in an owned bed" nonsense?..