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Fallout 3 Review - txa1265's View

by Michael "txa1265" J. Anderson, 2009-01-26

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Round the corner the cobalt bomb breeds visions of loveliness - Rg Gregory


When you come to the crest of your first hill and take a moment to look around, you will be struck by one of the most memorable graphical realizations of an environment in gaming history. Bethesda proved their ability to create regions and vistas that were both massive and detailed in Oblivion, and they have out-done themselves in Fallout 3. Looking at this in high resolution on a large widescreen monitor is breathtaking - you see laid out before you a large devastated world just waiting to be explored. Soon you will discover one of the more obvious side-effects of post-apocalyptic life...there isn't much to see in between the major milestones throughout the wasteland.

Your first stop - after you hopefully take a while to just wander the landscape for fun - is Megaton, the town built around an unexploded atomic bomb featured in so many screenshots and previews. In Megaton you start the usual RPG-town cycle: go in, find out the general details from someone near the entry, get the lay of the land, and go get quests and trade items. Taking my time talking to everyone in Megaton I started to see the strength and weakness of Bethesda at work: this is clearly deeper and funnier and more satisfying than Oblivion but just as clearly not up to the level of the original Fallout games.

Shamus Young detailed the lost opportunity of the 'Power of the Atom' quest, and I completely agree. But it is not an isolated instance - everywhere you go you will have discussions that will provide you with 'caps' and experience points, but not a very satisfying narrative.

Once you get enough quests and trade enough items, it is time to head back to the wasteland. This is where the real action begins: soon you will be meeting up with many more dangerous enemies than the Radroaches of the Vault, and occasionally meeting them in groups. There are two combat systems available - standard real-time FPS-like shooting and the VATS optional pause-based mode. You can try to outgun your enemies in standard FPS mode but since your targeting is based on skills as well as aim, and since the FPS system is at best clunky, you will quickly find yourself dropping into the VATS system more often than not.

 

 

When is a FPS not a FPS?


One of the cool things about the nice mix of action and RPG is the ability to play different sections in completely different ways. I have at times wandered around pretending that I am playing S.T.A.L.K.E.R. in full FPS action mode, then spent hours pursuing quests and using VATS exclusively for combat. Both are fun and can feel very different but each is flawed in a different way.

While I have read - and agree with - many assessments of how clunky the game is as a shooter, I pretty much chalk up to the difficulty in translating RPG combat mechanics into FPS gameplay. Any game that does this suffers similarly, but games with modern weapons suffer worse - we are simply trained to think that when we get a gun it is our ability to line up targets that will determine the outcome. Having a real-time system that messes with your accuracy just feels like a sloppy shooter - and there are already enough of those. But I actually praise Bethesda for doing that - Oblivion had completely eliminated the 'to hit' component: you hit 100% of the time you swung your sword at something.

I have played enough hours of Fallout 3 with nothing but real-time shooting to say that it is not a great shooter, but it is an area where you can see an immediate impact from advancing your skills by a decent amount. Generally speaking, using real-time mode will put you into a situation where you are chewing up so much ammo that you will impoverish yourself making trips to replenish your stocks and leave you frustrated at the general inaccuracy. Also, while the enemies are not too bright, they seem to suffer fewer weapon-related problems, meaning that an even exchange of fire with an enemy with similar hit points will almost always end up with you dead. But then, this really is not a FPS and really shouldn't be judged as such.

 

VATS...not exactly VAST

 

VATS is the other combat system. It is a paused-based system that attempts to offer a more tactical method of dealing enemies that is entirely based on your character's skills and also on location and positioning information. For example, an enemy right in front of you might show a 95% chance of hitting them in the head, but the same enemy partially obscured behind a wall a hundred or so meters away would have perhaps 16% of a head-shot. The mechanic works by allowing you to allocate your 'action points' to various shots with your current weapons at different locations on any of the enemies in your field of view. Once you allocate all of your actions, you accept them and then the game takes over and shows all of your shots carried out in a variable angle slow-motion camera.

I believe that without VATS the game would have been a terrible mess and that it is an ambitious attempt to bridge the real-time and turn-based systems, but I do not hold such a high opinion of the results as many reviews I have read. It is a really good idea that was ruined in implementation, reducing combat to so simplistic and repetitive that it makes it feel more like an exploit than a feature. First off, you get action points to spend in a 'round', similar to the earlier Fallout games. However, in the earlier games those rounds were 'serial', meaning I took my turn and had to wait for the enemy to take their turn before I got another chance at action. Fallout 3 doesn't work that way - the rounds are always happening, so while your actions are playing out, so are your enemies' actions. It seems like this could spell disaster if you ended up in a trap facing several enemies (which happens fairly often). However, while in VATS mode you only take 10% of damage. Also, when your actions are used up and you are dumped back into real-time mode, you can just run away and find some cover while your action points recharge - which doesn't take long at all. Then you jump out, re-engage VATS, and start over. So, you will win most battles by a strategy of 'VATS & run'.

Wait - did I just say that you only take 10% damage in VATS? Yeah, I did.

Another problem I have with VATS is the 'Final Fantasy Effect'. I have never been a big fan of combat systems that mystically transport you to some other arena to play out combat before bringing you back to reality. In some games - such as Heroes of Might & Magic (or the recent & wonderful King's Bounty remake) - it really makes sense and is integral to the way the game plays. In games like Valhalla Knights for the PSP it has a major negative impact on the experience. It is a staple of so-called jRPG's, so many gamers raised on Nintendo, Sega and Sony consoles are very much used to the mechanic. In Fallout 3 you are not so much transported to another place as you are displaced from controlling the action, left to watch the actions play out in slow-motion with no ability to just get to the end of the VATS session or speed it up or whatever. As I have leveled up I've gained action points, so now I get to do enough things per round that it gets boring waiting to return to the action - the first few heads bouncing down the road were a hoot, but after several hundred...I just want to get back to the game.

 

 

A final thought on combat


Unlike Oblivion, where the combat was pretty binary - too easy for most but too hard if you leveled-up too rapidly - Fallout 3 has combat that is challenging but not impossible. There is some local enemy level-scaling but it is also quite possible to wander into an area that is way over your head. I remember my first few minutes in the Super Duper Mart seemed to be full of more 'load games' than killed enemies! And as I criss-cross through the waste-land working on quests, sometimes I will walk rather than 'fast travel', and so I encounter areas where I take no damage as well as others where it is a brutal struggle. One of my favorite things in the 'old school' RPG's was that they were unforgiving in their difficulty...and while Fallout 3 isn't brutal by any stretch, it is quite willing to tell those who die to reload and fight smarter next time - and that is something I really like.

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Box Art

Information about

Fallout 3

Developer: Bethesda Softworks

SP/MP: Single-player
Setting: Post-apoc
Genre: Shooter-RPG
Combat: Real-time
Play-time: Over 60 hours
Voice-acting: Full

Regions & platforms
World
· Homepage
· Platform: PC
· Released at 2008-10-28
· Publisher: Bethesda Softworks

World
· Operation Anchorage DLC
· Platform: PC
· Released at 2009-01-27
· Publisher: Bethesda Softworks

World
· Mothership Zeta DLC
· Platform: PS3
· Released at 2009-08-03
· Publisher: Bethesda Softworks

World
· Platform: PC
· Released at 2008-10-28
· Publisher: Bethesda Softworks

World
· Broken Steel DLC
· Platform: PC
· Released at 2009-05-05
· Publisher: Bethesda Softworks

World
· Point Lookout DLC
· Platform: PC
· Released at 2009-06-23
· Publisher: Bethesda Softworks

World
· The Pitt DLC
· Platform: Xbox 360
· Released at 2009-03-23
· Publisher: Bethesda Softworks

World
· Platform: Xbox 360
· Released at 2008-10-28
· Publisher: Bethesda Softworks

More information


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