Fallout 3: The Review

October 29, 2008 by Tim

Well, I have spent the entirety of yesterday wandering around the Capital Wastelands, and I feel I am prepared to make the following statement:

This game is Fallout 3.

Or at least, as close as I think we were likely to get. It’s got flaws, but looking at the big picture… it’s a faithful addition to the Fallout 3 franchise.

I sat down to play Fallout 3 in a way that I haven’t played a game in a long while. Very patiently. Slowly. Intent on absorbing as much as possible my first time through. I’m talking to everyone, seeing what people have to say. I’m exploring the wasteland, taking in the atmosphere, the details. I’m searching every room, every box.

Let me just get this out of the way, it’s nearly impossible to not see Oblivion in this game. It’s the same engine, and it shows. If there are flaws with Oblivion that bugged you (NPCs acting odd, scripted and bizarre physics mishaps), you may see them here, to a lesser extent. But it’s also not that hard to forget that it’s the same engine for most of the game, as it is wrapped so well in a very authentic Fallout skin.

The opening sequence is probably one of the most enjoyable I’ve ever played in a video game. And having Liam Neeson as the voice of your father is just a really nice treat, and a great way to start off the experience.

The moment I stepped out of Vault 101, I had no doubts that I was in the Fallout universe. The post-nuclear wasteland is captured in gorgeous and breathtaking detail and scope. And it is a wasteland. Don’t expect to encounter a ton of life out there while traveling and exploring. This is both good and bad. I like it because, well, it’s accurate. And when you do see someone out there, you think “What the fuck is this jerk doing out here?” and then you check to make sure your weapon is loaded in case they mean trouble. On the other hand… it can make travel a little boring at times.

The characters in Fallout 3 are… very  good. They’re varied, interesting, fun, and there is a wide variety of voices, which was nice to see after Oblivion’s three whole voices. Though they all still suffer from Oblivion’s complete lack of facial expression. But that’s not what keeps them from being great, in my opinion. The dark, tongue-in-cheek humor, the sarcasm, the smarmy dialogue that was so pervasive in previous Fallout titles now seems relegated to just some of your dialogue responses, and a few individual characters. I was sorely disappointed to find that the Raiders have no quirky one-liners to throw out during combat. “Bone… so white” after a crippling wound or “I’m going to supper on your groin, I promise you” always got a smile out of me.

Speaking of combat… this is where the biggest rift in the “feeling” of the games occurs. Obviously you can’t take an isometric grid and expect it to function well in a vibrant, 3D environment. So Fallout’s familiar turn-based, action point-oriented combat is gone in favor of real-time combat with a VATS system laid on top.

It’s not a bad system. In fact, it works pretty damn well with the 3D nature of the game. However, it does do so at the cost of a little bit of strategy and planning you used to get. In previous Fallout games, you got a specific number of action points each combat turn. You had to choose how you wanted to spend them. Did you want to move, shoot, take an aimed shot, manage inventory, heal, or some combination of the above?

Fallout 3 does away with that and gives you real-time twitch combat, with the option to pause and spend some (rapidly regenerating) action points to make an aimed shot. The game had to take this route, and frankly I’m okay with it. But it can’t be ignored that it does very much alter what someone might consider the Fallout feeling.

Still, as much as the system works, and as much as I enjoy the new system for what it is, I do have some concerns. One is that there often seems little reason not to run right up to an enemy and use VATS to get 95% on his head and take him out in one shot.

My biggest worry, however, is that the enemies are scaling to match my level, as they did in Oblivion. So far it seems to be the case, and I’ve yet to find a report to the contrary, and if that is in fact the situation, it will be a huge detraction from the game for me. I understood the theory behind the system in Oblivion. However in practice it just made you feel like you never got any stronger.

And let’s face it, if we’re playing an RPG, investing in building a character, we want to be able to look back and see how far we’ve come. We want to be able to one-shot those early critters that gave us such a hard time when we were low level, to feel like our character has really become a hero. I’m hoping that they didn’t rob us of that again with Fallout 3.

I’ve still got a ways to go with the game, but I’ve played for an entire day, and I’m looking forward to playing another one. It’s not the Fallout 3 I’d been dreaming of for the last ten year, what Project Van Buren was supposed to be, what Starcraft 2 is to Starcraft… a true isometric successor with fancy 3D graphics.

But it is Fallout 3. And so far, it’s really enjoyable.

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