A brief stint with Fallout 3 gives the impression that it’s merely The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, albeit with guns and science fiction instead of high fantasy. The game runs on the same engine as the 2006 RPG sensation meaning that on a technical level, Oblivion’s strengths and weaknesses also ring true for this game. However, once you look past the graphical and technical issues, Fallout’s real strength appears in droves. Fallout 3 offers a world we’ve never seen before, characters we’ve ever interacted with and an experience completely and utterly its own.
Fallout 3 begins in the womb and the plot continues during your characters formative years in a vault, which is exactly as it sounds, a big underground vault used to shield citizens from the aftermath of a nuclear war. Your several stages of adolescence serve to teach you about the game’s character development system, you’re guided by your father. At the end of this phase things are shaken up when your father leaves abruptly, leaving the rest of the vault and its citizens in chaos. The player is then charged with finding a way out of the vault, and discovering the true nature behind the events of your father’s disappearance.
As the player exits the vault, their first glimpse is of the remains of what used to be Washington D.C. At this point is where Fallout 3′s universe distinguishes itself from others. This world is beyond saving, and your main focus is to keep yourself alive. From hereon the game’s world is yours for the molding. This world is scary, it’s funny, it’s ironic, and it’s yours. Your choices and decisions are all subject to various consequences as they fall into the categories of good and evil… and sometimes shades of gray.
Fallout 3′s narrative is about as focused as it possibly could be, given the amount of freedom given to players. Throughout the main quest, details of your character’s ancillary activities are peppered throughout the dialogue, helping to further convince the player of the authenticity of this world. The story’s biggest weakness, and a glaring one in the scheme of things, is the ending cinematic. Not being too specific, the manner in which the ending is presented is pretty atrocious, and not really too satisfying given the massive nature of the preceding quest. Aside from this, the narrative tale in Fallout is great. Every line in the game is spoken, and the acting is well done for the most part.
Fallout 3 has an enormous amount of aspects to its gameplay. Combat, Dialog, Trading, and Exploring are just a few of the activities the game offers, some being more interesting than other. The combat is both real time and turned base. In the VATS (Vault-Tech Assisted…something?) system, the player is able to choose various limbs and areas of their opponents body to maximize damage, the VATS system is treated as a resource, and once all the player’s action points are used up, they’ll have to fight in real time until they recharge. The real-time combat in Fallout 3 is pretty unspectacular, mostly because the game doesn’t play like a first person shooter so most battles will have players trading blows with enemies until one side falls not unlike some kind of revolutionary war battle.
The game does a good job of allowing a variety of solutions to each obstacle in the player way via skills. Depending on the level of certain skills, different options become available to the player, at times the sheer amount of available solutions to one problem can be intimidating. And in this is Fallout 3′s biggest strength. There is just so much packed into this game, that even several playthroughs won’t guarantee that a player will see everything the game has to offer.
Unfortunately, due to the vastness of the rest of the game, the technical side of Fallout 3 isn’t all wonderful, and at times it can be an absolute mess. The game itself looks good, but the Oblivion system’s aging does show through. The characters look much more impressive than Oblivion, but they still have a subtle creepiness to them. Graphics aside, the game is jam packed with technical glitches, hiccups and finicky geometry. Characters will disappear, and things will behave incredibly awkwardly (Every time I exited a certain town, a body went flying into the wasteland). It’s also possible to get completely stuck inside an object, rendering the character completely unable to do anything but jump. The auto-save feature is next to useless as it saves every time the player goes through a door, whether or not they’re currently involved in a conflict; if the player isn’t saving on their own, this can lead to some incredibly frustrating, and potentially game-breaking moments.
For all of it’s technical short-comings, Fallout 3 is completely unique. It’s an experience every gamer should have. Regardless of what you’re looking for in a video game, Fallout 3 probably has it, and it probably has it in spades.
Reviewer’s note: The Xbox 360 version was tested for this review
Great visual direction is marred by technical flaws.
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Quantity and quality are present all the way through.
Serviceable sound effects and good acting. The song playlist gets repititive pretty quickly though.
So much to do, especially with downloadable content on the way.
A must-have experience for anyone remotely interested.