Fallout 3 Review: Boom Goes The Nuclear Blast
“Oblivion” with guns; those three words have been repeated across the vast ocean of the internet ever since Bethesda announced “Fallout 3.” After beating the game, and working through my second play through, I am going to have to agree with those three words. The quick traveling, interface, and even the way you sleep are all elements borrowed from “Oblivion.” However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the game is bad; on its’ own, it’s jammed with content that places heavy emphasis on exploration and morale decisions. It’s just too bad that while the ideas of “Fallout 3” sound good on paper, a lot of it falls apart in the end due to bugs, and shoddy execution.
“Fallout 3” starts out with your 21-year-old character on the verge of escaping Vault 101, where he has lived for his entire life. He was born and raised in Vault 101, got his Pip-Boy at age 10, took his G.O.A.T test at age 18, and, at age 21, his old man escapes the Vault. The Overseer (the guy who runs this particular Vault) gets pissed off, and begins searching for you. Don’t worry though; his daughter wakes you up in your room to and informs you of the ordeal. After nabbing a pistol, some medical supplies, and a baseball bat, you’re on your merry way to follow in your Papa’s footsteps and escape the Vault - by beating up some highly trained security officers, as a level 1 character.
Just to be clear, in case the subtlety didn’t work: “Fallout 3” has some atrocious writing; a key element that is essential in an RPG. Sometimes the story is the only reason, we tolerate poor game play mechanics (ex: the “Final Fantasy” series). “FO3” fails to meet these standards through its’ numerous plot holes, forced dialog lines, and easily forgettable characters. Case in point – when your character is asking the NPCs where your father is. How do you ask? By saying. “I’m looking for my father. Middle-aged guy. Have you seen him?” No wonder the game stretched out to 16 hours. Maybe if my character was capable of offering up a decent description we could have cut the game play down to 4.
Then there are the side quests; most of them start with an interesting idea, but they don’t ever seem to actualize themselves, because they are riddled with plot holes. One such example deals with Moira, the shopkeeper in Megaton, who decides that it would be a good idea to write a survival book. The first task she bestowed on me was going to the local store to see if they have food and medical supplies. This sounds like an interesting idea, until you realize Megaton was founded “several decades ago,” and, for some reason, no one has ever decided to check out this store. More bad quests, filled with holes like Moira’s are continually found throughout the game, and it detracts from the immersive experience, unless the player is to assume that nuclear war causes people to have dumbass logic.
There are only two admirable elements that I can find in the writing; the character’s motivation and the some of the concepts for the side-quests. The reason you leave your sheltered life is a solid one; you want to know what happened to your father – the man that treated you so well growing up, and had to raise you alone, without a wife by his side. It’s admirable to want to go in search of your lost family member. As for the side-quests, even though most of them are executed poorly, they’re so damn odd that they just play on natural human curiosity, and they suck you in, begging to be explored.
Exploration is what separates “Fallout 3” from the RPG flock. There are so many weirdos and freaks all over the Capital Wastelands that the game continually entices you to see what’s over that next hill. After spending dozens of hours with the game, I have yet to explore even half of the game’s content. In my first play through, I encountered a drunken guy who decided to live Hugh Hefner lifestyle - with two girls. I also spoke with a scientist who was doing experiments involving giant, fire breathing ants, and a robot that believes he is Button Gwinnett. My current play through has so far consisted of me blowing up Megaton, killing off insane survivors in another vault, and the introduction of needlessly complex “incredible machine” traps in a store.
One of the great things about “Fallout 3”’s exploration is that when you do meet one of these oddities, sometimes you’ll be given a choice depending on your skills. For example, your speech skills can really help you out in not only negotiating a higher fee for your services, but sometimes they’ll allow you to skip quests entirely, while still making progress. If the situation is in need of stealth, you can sneak near an enemy and place a live grenade in his pants. Science and lock picking skills allowing you to open otherwise inaccessible doors, or screw around with the area’s defenses. There’s a multitude of character options available, and they’re all put to good use, even though they aren’t all combat related.
But, let’s just say you go the combat route; “FO3” has a fairly adequate system. It’s a pseudo real-time/turn-based combat with the use of V.A.T.S. “Fallout” and “Fallout 2” were entirely turn-based, and allowed you to aim for specific body parts on targets (legs, arms, head). “FO3” follows this model by having you’re A.P. (action points) “charge” as you fight in real time. When you want to spend your A.P., you pause the game and select your limbs, then watch the cinematic camera as you character hits (or misses) your target.
It’s a rather unique take on a decade old combat system, and it works, to a certain degree. Spending too much of the game in real time will allow the enemy to dish out damage, since you’re not very nimble and your weapons don’t deal as much damage as in V.A.T.S. It ends up working out so that V.A.T.S. is an absolute necessity, but it unfortunately makes the game too easy at later stages. While it was great during the earlier levels where I had to select the target’s arm to disarm him, or legs to slow him down, my character eventually became a God-like entity on the field, popping one head after another. Even on “Very Hard” difficulty, Super Mutants and Power Armored soldiers were push-overs, since my character had a 95% chance to hit them in the head while absorbing their shots like a Panzer Tank.
One of the key things about having a fictional setting is the ability to bringing you, the player, into the game’s world. This is executed via the graphics, an area where “FO3” sort of succeeds. Bethesda has created one of the most immersive settings in a game, and it can easily be compared to other graphically enhanced titles “S.T.A.L.K.E.R.” and “Bioshock.” When I first saw the Wastelands, my first thought was “This looks like shit.” It was just an endless sea of brown and grey, with slabs of concrete littering the hills. It was ugly, disgusting, and I never want to be a part of it - exactly what I wanted in a post-apocalyptic setting, and couldn’t ask for anything more.
However, “Fallout”’s immersion isn’t perfect and, it was easily broken by several things – the first of which are bugs, which are plentiful in “Fallout 3.” Besides the numerous crashes I experienced, sometimes setting me back as much as 30 minutes, the character animations were awful; stiff, very unrealistic, and sometimes they would even clip into each other. The character models don’t even look like normal human beings, and they have Barbie-like stares. Of course, it doesn’t help that these characters are spewing out poorly written dialog, having the same voice actor used for dozens of characters.
The strange thing about “Fallout 3” is, despite its numerous flaws, it is still a fairly decent game. This is one of the few RPGs where you actually feel like you’re making your own story as opposed to being a pawn in the writer’s wet dream. With that being said, it’s not the greatest game either. The writing is bad, the character models are horrible to look at, and the game leans way too much on the easy side. Still, not many games allow you to sell children to slavery or decapitate a super mutant’s head with a lawn gnome, so it’s at least worth checking out.