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SummaryA peculiar experiment.
The GoodLet it be known from the very beginning that Fallout 3 is a RPG, just as original games were, just as Oblivion was. The majority of the outcomes of your actions will depend on your skill points. Shoot, hack, talk, repair, shop or do anything else and you can easily expect a dice roll determining the success of your action. There is another thing I should get out my system right away before getting down to the fine details. Fallout 3 wasn't developed by Black Isle. This means a number of things, but most importantly it entails an idea that Bethesda couldn't physically deliver a game which would have stayed faithful to the classic Fallout games. This should be remembered while evaluating this game.
Alright. So what is great about Fallout 3, you ask? Very many things is the obvious answer! The most outstanding aspect of this game is that it was developed for explorers. Being one very deep in my heart, I just can't possibly resist a game that offers a huge world filled with thousands of hundreds of details to uncover, characters to meet and places to roam. This is where FO3 differs greatly from Oblivion. There are no generic Ayleid ruins #53 or the samey Cave interior over and over again. The locations in Fallout 3 have history to them or at least a peculiar idea behind their existence.
Here's a last message received by a 911 operator at a police HQ. Here's a Vault with a cloning project gone bad. Here's a Nuka-Cola plant, complete with a working conveyor belt and specifically designed robotic security. Here's an Oasis with the real trees growing amidst the wasteland. Here's a US fort with an ability to launch a nuclear missile, or another one introducing to you the latest, unique model of power armor. Here's a museum of technology with a number of expositions still working. Here's an abandoned hotel with the residents gone mad worshipping a deity with a silly name -- an obvious nod to Lovecraft. This list can go on forever.
No matter how much time you invest in exploring the locations of Fallout 3, you will always be rewarded with either a unique weapon, armour, environment or a story. That really brings the exploration aspect of the game to the foreground of Fallout 3 experience. The feeling of discovering a yet another interesting location carries with it the most pleasure to be had with this game.
Not to say that it doesn't excel in other areas. There is a lot of talk, saying that Fallout 3 has been dumbed down when compared to its predecessors. It's not a completely unreasonable claim. However, personally I was amazed by the amount of details which comprised the RPG system of the original games making their way into Fallout 3, with a few welcome additions. Because your stats really matter. There were always doors and locks I couldn't pick, computers I couldn't hack and NPCs I couldn't outsmart. The repair system works fabulously well, making sure that you won't be getting a great weapon from the enemy corpse that easily. The barter system really works too with me being short on cash most of the time. Sure, your experience may differ. But I really felt the challenge this game poses, and I have completed both Fallouts without a drop of sweat! Just kidding, it's an easier game, but certainly not "dumbed down".
At this point we should really to talk about the inevitable. The visual representation. I deliberately avoid employing a word "graphics", because it usually implies a number of distinct technological requirements and Fallout 3, while not exactly belonging to the Luddite camp of modern day Adventures is still two or three years long out of date. This is not by all means a cr(y/i)sis, because the lack of technological prowess is easily made up with stupendous and absorbing world design. I am not sure how Washington DC will look after a nuclear blast, but Fallout 3 gives a very convincing picture indeed. Desolate square miles of concrete debris populating a scorched corpse of a land aren't that easy to forget. The menacing remains Washington monument seen from all over the wasteland are akin to the tower in Cyrodiil in Oblivion, but, of course, the effect here is much more intimidating and depressing.
Sure, doesn't avoid repetition at some parts, but I guess that's price you have to pay for achieving such a strong homogeneous look. And, seriously, we don't really expect one collapsed building to be drastically different from the other?
But worlds mean absolutely nothing without exciting stuff to do in them and while exploration aspect, which I mentioned in the second paragraph, is all nice and cool, the RPG is nothing without quests to perform and NPCs to please. Now, quest system in Fallout 3 is a coin, and a very doublesided one at that. By no means they are dull. God, no. There is always a double bottom to every one of them and it's impossible to predict where a quest might take you or what turn of events might await around the next journal entry. Even more than that, Bethesda clearly made its homework, for not only the quests are interesting they are also filled with numerous choices and checks. Don't want to be bothered going to a remote minefield? How about lying that you did? Suspicious of your quest giver, ask around, maybe there is something completely sinister about his motives. Pretty much every quest is multilayered, filled with choices and really provides an opportunity to flex all of you various perks, skills and attributes in numerous checks.
The BadNow, here comes a tricky coiny part. Surely, the quests in Fallout 3 are amusing. But that's that. They are just hilariously amusing leaving us with nearly an ocean of unused opportunities and an Everest of untouched subjects and themes, post-apocalyptic fiction is usually respected and loved for. A humanity rebuilding itself from the ruins of the nuclear holocaust has nothing better to do than collect Nuka-Cola bottles, build towns around atomic bombs for other people to blow them up, live in towns full of children, listen to the radio DJs and dress up in ridiculous super hero costumes. I mean really? Where is the slavery, violence, bigotry, gambling, prostitution, rape in the amounts encountered in the original Fallout games? Most certainly not here - for Fallout 3 takes only a passing glance at those themes at a curious angle, as if asking the player "Isn't that fun?". So much wasted chances for the stories that would really matter to our hearts and brains.
This is true not only in regard to the quests of Fallout 3. It's really a part of a much bigger problem. Which is this: Fallout 3 quadruples all the superficial aspects of original games, without being able to match their true nature. What do I mean by "superficial aspects"? Well, you've seen them all in the marketing: Vaultboy, Nuka-Cola, 50's aesthetics, mellow jazz and well-known standards, over the top violence and so on. Indeed, all these were bringing a huge amount of style and identity to original games, but they were much subtler there. Retro stylistics were only there to introduce you to the world of Fallout, to make an initial shock of encountering this horrifying world for the first time. This was a sort of an amusing gimmick, that really helped a transition into the much more grittier and darker world, in which nobody really knew or cared about the vault boy, retro songs, American lifestyle, rock-n-roll jackets and robot butlers.
Not so in Fallout 3. It remains rooted in those amusing gimmicks right to the very end of the game undermining any attempts to make this version of a Fallout world believable and vibrant. With the exception of amazing environmental design, it's simply a fake. Its characters are fake, their feelings are fake, their stories are not that real either.
And I firmly believe that many other problems with the game like uneven voice acting and dodgy writing are also the symptoms of the overall superficial quality the game, unfortunately possess. The worst part in all this story is that it was a deliberate decision on the developers part, who wanted this game first of all be amusing and franchise once again recognizable. Oh, well.
To a lesser degree one can easily be annoyed with poor animation, not exactly the best interface, few unimportant bugs and a rather generic, by-the-book soundtrack clearly lacking a masterful touch of Mr. Morgan.
So, without further ado, let's sum it up!™
The Bottom LineTalent: 3/5
Bethesda is no Black Isle or Troika. There was absolutely no need to create or play Fallout 3 to state that. But what they can do, they do nicely. An amazing look of the Capital Wasteland stands as a proof that Bethesda doesn't need any tree rendering middleware for it's locations to look stunningly great.
Merging two RPGs of such different pedigrees is a spectacular feat in itself. Just as with Oblivion, Bethesda really believes that with games like Fallout 3 it's creating a great new brand of RPGs for the future. Many people believe that, while I just applaud the moving forward even though I am wary of the direction the wagon is facing.
Fallout 3 owns every bit of its personality to a couple of well-known games. The strings that hold these two together are interesting enough to examine up close, though.
Bethesda tried, it really tried hard, having created tons of original content, quests, locations to absorb you into its world and never let go. They worked long hours to integrate SPECIAL system into a completely new context and that shows. One point off for not hiring Mark Morgan and a new animator.
Oh, well. Contrary to what people say, Bethesda did get Fallout. But, unfortunately, chose to ignore it in favour of the more recognizable, fan-base building and generally amusing gimmicks.
Oh, what a pity. I advise you not be fooled by such a low score. Fallout 3 was a successful experiment, even though it is based more on a compromise rather than "the best of both worlds" philosophy. So, in line with the positive outlook of the 50's America I suggest looking at Fallout 3 as a continual growth for the Bethesda game company, building upon its own achievements while not shying away from taking the tips from the classics. And as for original games, they are always there to provide a nostalgic shoulder to cry on about the days long gone. So stop this nonsense about butchering the franchise, and enjoy the game for what it is. An interesting experiment that manages to produce an excellent breed of great RPGing, at the same time rejecting any emotional connection you try to establish towards it.