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Fallout 3

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Bethesda
Developer: Bethesda

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PS3/X360 Review - 'Fallout 3'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Oct. 28, 2008 @ 9:00 a.m. PDT

Fallout 3 places a player in the role of a Vault-dweller, who ventures from his secluded, underground survival Vault into a post-apocalyptic world of mutants, radiation, gangs and violence.

Genre: Role-Playing
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: Bethesda Softworks
Release Date: October 28, 2008

Fallout is a franchise with a long, and not entirely happy, history. The first two games in the series were released to positive reviews and extremely positive fan reactions, quickly cementing their places in the halls of classic PC games through their unique combination of RPG elements, freedom of choice, and amusing black humor. After Fallout 2, the series languished. Black Isle, the company responsible for the first two titles, collapsed, and the franchise was farmed out to less successful developers, resulting in the creation of the lackluster Fallout Tactics and the flat-out bad Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel, both of which were met with a cold shoulder by a majority of the fan base and complete disinterest from new players. The franchise seemed doomed to obscurity after those flops until the rights fell into a rather unique set of hands: Bethesda. Best known for the Elder Scrolls franchise, Bethesda's desire to make Fallout 3 was met with mixed reactions. Some people hoped that these developers would revive the series, while some fans feared that Fallout 3 would simply end up as Elder Scrolls Oblivion: With Guns. Thankfully, Bethesda has proven to be more than up to the task, and Fallout 3 is a worthy addition to a fantastic franchise.

It's 2277, and a nuclear war roughly 200 years prior had wiped out all but the barest traces of civilization, leaving humanity struggling to rebuild in the postapocalyptic wasteland among the radioactivity, lack of food, and an ever-increasing number of hostile mutants. Most of humanity ekes out a living in towns across the remnants of the United States, while a "lucky" few live in vaults, which are underground super-technological wonderhouses where the people are safe, well-fed, and protected until the wasteland becomes habitable again. Vault-Tec, the company that made the vaults, also decided to use them for weird social experiments, causing unfortunate mishaps that doomed all but the luckiest of vaults. In a land where civilization is rebuilding itself so slowly, even one person can make a big difference, and such is the role of your character in Fallout 3. Whether you'll be a tyrant or a savior is completely up to you.

Fallout 3 begins, literally, at birth. Your first moments in the game are your character's own birth and childhood in Vault 101. You slowly go through childhood, which serves both as a tutorial and a way for you to create your character. As in the previous Fallout games, your character is built on the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system, which gives you seven stats to level up: Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility and Luck. Each stat ranges from 1, which is awful, to 10, which is superhuman, and your character's abilities derive from that stat. A character with high Agility and Perception will be fast and capable of great gunfighting, while characters with high Strength and Endurance can carry more items or survive more damage. You don't have enough points to max out most of these stats, and if you intend to create a character who excels in one field, you're going to have to take points out of another.

Once you've distributed your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. points, you get to pick skills and perks. Skills are your abilities in the game world and vary in quality from 0 to 100. You earn skill points every time you level up. The more skilled you are in something, the more likely it is that you'll somehow be able to use that skill in the world. Those skilled at Speech can talk their way out of trouble or convince people to reveal things they normally wouldn't, while someone skilled in Small Guns will have much better accuracy and damage compared to a neophyte. Your skills have a wide variety of uses, including opening new dialogue choices, and there are very few useless skills in Fallout 3. Big Guns was the only skill that I found to be rather worthless, since it improves the abilities of heavy weaponry, such as a mini-gun or missile launcher, which are rare in the game. Ammo for them is even rarer, so you're much better off with the Small Guns or Energy Weapons skill.

You can really customize your character with perks. At every level after the first one, you gain a new perk for your character, granting you unique abilities or special qualities. You can gain additional skill points, make animals not attack you, regenerate hit points in direct sunlight, or a mysterious stranger will even show up to help from time to time. There are even some unique perks that you can get by completing certain side-quests, and clever perk usage will allow you to maximize your abilities. More perks become available as you level up, and unlocking certain perks depends on your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats and skills.

Childhood doesn't last forever, though. Your father vanishes from Vault 101 one morning, and you leave the vault to find him. Outside is the Capital Wastelands, which is what remains of Washington, D.C., and the surrounding area. As you search for your father, you become embroiled in a battle between the Enclave, who are the remnants of the U.S. Government, and the Brotherhood of Steel, a group of futuristic knights who worship technology in the name of the mysterious Project Purity. The main plot of Fallout 3 is a bit lacking because it's on the short side. You only need to complete a handful of quests to finish the main plot, and if you really rushed, you could probably finish it in an hour. Of course, as with the previous Fallout offerings, if all you're going to do is complete the main plot, you're missing out on most of the experience.

You'll be astounded by the sheer amount of stuff that you can do in the Capital Wastelands. Walk in any compass bearing, and you'll find something to visit, including an old woman who's searching for a rare violin, an abandoned Nuke-Cola bottling plant, a den of slavers, a town of children, and the burned-out ruins of Bethesda Studios. That's a very tiny sampling of the things you may encounter. Some locations are homes to side-quests or specific characters, while others are there to remind you that the wasteland used to be part of a thriving metropolitan area. Considering it is a postapocalyptic world, it's amazing how much there is to do and how many places there are to explore. Freedom is the name of the game in Fallout 3, so you can go anywhere and react in any way that you find fitting. You can help a group of former slaves take over the Lincoln Memorial to start an underground railroad, or you can sell them to slavers. You can rescue a town from the threat of an unexploded nuclear bomb, or you can set it off.

The various side-quests showcase the many ways in which you can solve any problem. For example, an early quest involves asking a bartender about your father's whereabouts. You can choose to ask him and pay a fee, try to use your speech stat to persuade him, pickpocket him to get his computer password, sneak into his room and hack the computer, or do dirty work for him in exchange for the info. These solutions have different rewards, and some even change your Karma, which in an indicator of how good or evil you've been and influences your character's reactions as well as certain plot elements. You gain Karma by helping people or being a nice person, and you lose it by stealing or murdering innocent people. It is worth noting that unlike most games, your Karma has benefits in both directions and in neutrality. You don't have to be a paragon of virtue or a complete devil if you don't want to be, and the title even has special dialogue choices and perks that depend on neutrality.

Fallout 3's freedom actually has a few flaws. There are some segments where this freedom is briefly taken away from you, almost always during the main plot, and it feels unnatural. One glaring example is when I had to send someone into a lethally irradiated room to pull a switch. I have a party member who is a super-mutant and immune to normally lethal levels of radiation —we met when I recruited him to walk through an irradiated room to get something for me — but I wasn't given the option to send him in! Thankfully, these moments of lost freedom are few and far between.

Since Fallout 3 uses an updated version of the Oblivion engine, a very welcome change is that scaling enemy strength has been fixed since Oblivion's broken method. Enemies still scale in strength, but the scaling occurs by location, and there are a maximum and minimum. You won't encounter level 20 molerats running around outside Megaton. Furthermore, enemies are more intelligently equipped, and you won't suddenly see raiders toting power armor and Gatling lasers once you reach a certain point. While there are certain areas that you won't want to explore at a low level, you also don't have to deal with the frustration of overpowered enemies very often, and the exceptionally powerful foes tend to be located in places where one would expect strong enemies, such as abandoned military bases. It is enough to keep enemy encounters fresh without making them silly, and the difficulty can be adjusted for gamers who find it too forgiving.

There are unique challenges to living in a radioactive wasteland that you'll have to adapt to, although it may feel a bit unfamiliar to Oblivion players. Everything in the world is irradiated, and while you have a certain tolerance to radiation, you have to learn to manage your radiation intake. Any food you eat or water you touch will raise your overall radiation, as will various enemy attacks or heavily irradiated locations. Too much radiation will cause you to get radiation sickness or even die, but food and water are also crucial to your survival. Stimpaks, the healing item, are in limited supply, and unless you want to spend every cent on keeping them in stock, you'll need to learn when it is wise to drink water or eat food, and when a less-radiated solution is necessary. You'll also have to learn to be a smart scavenger; even a strong character can only carry so many items, and sometimes the most seemingly useless junk can have a purpose. If you want to create custom weapons or repair damaged equipment, you'll need to keep a pretty healthy inventory of junk, and figuring out where to cut corners and what to leave behind is crucial to your survival in the Capital Wasteland.

Fallout 3 may look like a first-person shooter at times, but you definitely shouldn't play it like one because the usual FPS tactics of headshots and splash damage are not useful in the same way. Instead, Fallout 3 is focused heavily on limb damage, with every limb of every character having its own health bar. If you damage an enemy's legs enough, he won't move fast or run away; if you cripple his arms, he may have trouble holding onto or aiming his weapon; and if you incapacitate the head, he'll definitely have trouble targeting you. If you shoot an enemy's weapon out of his hands, it leaves him vulnerable while he's scrambling for it. If you're not careful, though, these scenarios could also happen to you. Non-human enemies have different targetable areas, but the same principle applies. If you damage a robot's targeting computer, it'll go berserk and attack anything nearby, friend or foe.

While it's possible to manually target limbs, it generally isn't a wise idea while you're being shot at by super mutants. There is where the Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System comes in to play. You activate V.A.T.S. by pressing the right bumper, which temporarily freezes time and lets you target any body part of any on-screen enemy. Selecting a body part will allow you to target it with V.A.T.S., activating a powerful attack, which plays out in a slow-motion cut scene. There are some hefty limitations, though. For one thing, each attack costs Action Points (AP), and the more powerful the weapon, the more AP it costs to target an enemy. Your AP slowly regenerates over time, but if you waste all of your shots on an ant, you may be in trouble when a super mutant is waiting around the corner. The accuracy of these attacks is determined by your stats; a high level in Small Guns will make your rifles deadly accurate, but a low level will mean you're lucky to hit a super mutant who's standing still. Finally, melee weapons can't perform targeted V.A.T.S. attacks, but you have a high chance of landing critical hits. Learning to use V.A.T.S. is essential to succeeding, and while you can get by without using it often, you'll need more Stimpaks and healing items to do so.

The visuals are Fallout 3's weakest point. The graphics are slightly updated from Oblivion, and while the facial features are better, the animations are still a bit odd. I also encountered many visual glitches with the character models, including a recurring effect where enemy corpses would float in mid-air if killed in an explosion. The overworld design is great, and there are a lot of interesting visual touches and elements that help make the game feel alive, but the underground areas suffer. The "dungeons" are very repetitive, with identical rooms and level design giving the player a sense of déjà vu. This makes sense when you're visiting the vaults, but it feels repetitive in other instances. With that said, when Fallout 3 is on, it is on, and some of the visuals are absolutely jaw-dropping. When you first leave Vault 101, go into the sunlight and see the ruined remains of a small town, it is stunning, and moments like that really drive home the desolate feeling of the postapocalyptic world.

The audio aspect of Fallout 3 is a bit mixed. The actual sound work is fine and lends some rather impressive atmosphere to a few areas. As for the voice acting, some of the actors are fine, but others are heartless and awful. Thankfully, the important voices tend to be quite good, with noted actor Liam Neeson headlining the bunch as your character's father. The use of music is really quite interesting, with many of the '50s-style throwback tunes emanating from portable radios or other music sources. You can even use your Pipboy 3000 as a radio to listen to the various ham radio stations being broadcast around the wasteland.

In the end, Fallout 3 feels like a Fallout game, and that is absolutely the highest compliment. Despite the changes, much of the charm and fun of the franchise remains intact, and despite the similarities to Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion, I never felt that I was playing anything but a Fallout game. The majority of my complaints are problems that also existed in the prior titles, and nothing in particular detracted from the experience. Fallout 3 is a game with a ridiculous amount of value for your money and easily worth the full $60. This isn't Oblivion: With Guns, but an honest-to-goodness Fallout 3, and a fine addition to the franchise.

Score: 9.5/10


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