Your donations keep RPGWatch running!

Fallout 3 Review - Corwin's View

by Corwin, 2009-01-27

What’s in a name? If we listen to the hype, or the controversy surrounding the title of this game, we’d have to assume a name means a great deal. Let’s deal with this issue immediately so we can address the far more important aspects of this game.

No-one argues that the game contains many of the same elements we find in the earlier iterations: Pip Boy; Super Mutants; Vaults; BoS; etc, but many are complaining that the differences are too great. Rubbish! Let’s consider my favourite series - Ultima.

Ultima 5 had TB combat, while U7 was Real Time. Most Ultimas were party games, but U8 wasn’t. Not all had the same locations, nor did they all use the same perspective. Dialogue systems changed as did the nature of the gameplay. Who would have expected jumping puzzles for example, after playing U4-7? In fact, every accusation levelled at FO3 for being too different from the earlier game could be used against the Ultima series, but no-one has done so. Certainly this game is not perfect, but neither were the first two. If U8 belongs in the Ultima canon, then FO3 belongs with the originals, at least in my opinion.

What then are we to make of this game as a game? Well for me, the experience begins with the game manual; something that was always done brilliantly by Interplay/Black Isle when they held the franchise. Sadly, this was possibly my biggest disappointment; the manual is a disaster. I know my eyesight is not what it used to be, but I don’t even think using a magnifying glass would have helped much. Aside from being nearly impossible to read, it was also totally useless so far as being able to play the game after reading it. Basic information like turning on the Pip-Boy light (did you realise it had one?) was listed on the controls page and nowhere else. Lock picking was still a total mystery to me after reading the manual and I needed to ask for clear instructions which once given, made it fairly simple. To many, my concern with the manual might seem trivial (I know lots of people never read them anyway), but for me the enjoyment of the originals always began with reading the entertaining and well conceived Vault manuals. This is obviously something that Bethesda doesn’t do well.

Something else they have never done well is creating living and breathing unique NPC’s. They are improving, but still have a long way to go. Many of the females, for example, look (and sound) very similar. Perhaps there were very few original survivors, so after 200 years of in breeding that could be expected. Nowhere is this limited palette more obvious than with minor characters like Raiders where 2-3 templates seems to cover them all. It’s a small improvement over Oblivion, but still, something of a disappointment. Why does every vicious dog have to look the same? Did only one breed survive? If variety is the spice of life, then it should be an integral part of every game.

One of the Hallmarks of the original games was the dialogue which was usually clever, witty, sharp and full of often dark, wry humour. Unfortunately, as someone who has played almost all of Bethesda’s games going back to Arena, this too is something they don’t do well. Their writers are at best competent, but there is little of the sparkling brilliance we have come to expect from a Fallout game. Most of the dialogue is pedestrian and some, when trying for humour, makes one want to cringe. I’ve seen high school students write better stuff. The conversation Skill checks are great, but the options, especially the ones using Intelligence are frequently pathetic and display more a lack of intelligence than a surfeit.

 

By now, you’re probably thinking I hated the game, but you’d be very wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed it for what it was. I just wish Bethesda could learn to improve in the areas in which it has always struggled. We all know what they are really good at and we see those strengths throughout the game, but why can’t it improve more in the areas it has always been weak? After all these years they should have gotten better than they have.

Bethesda create huge, explorable worlds and with this game they did themselves proud. Exploring the wasteland is a joy. The scenery is spectacular and devastating. The only niggling complaint is that some of the ‘fill’ would be more appropriate after a lapse of 20 years, rather than 200. Would a tricycle or a teddy bear really survive that long? One or two might, but there’s an abundance of such items, including way too many still functioning computers. After all, realistically how many of us would expect our current PC to still be working after such a time period even without having to survive a nuclear holocaust. Still, the atmosphere created is totally appropriate to the gestalt the developers were seeking to produce. It looks like a post apocalyptic world, feels like one and you can almost smell and taste the devastation. Combine this with the decadent, barely standing towns and villages which dot the landscape and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Combat...much has been written, especially about the VATS system, so I assume everyone understands how it works. Suffice to say, that a combination of RT and VATS does create fun and exciting combat. When you mix in the use of the sneak/stealth option, you have a system which should please most people. Both modes have strengths and weaknesses and while neither works perfectly in isolation, I found careful use of both enabled me to win most conflicts. My primary complaint would be that by the time you approach the level cap of 20, most of the combat, at least using normal difficulty, becomes too easy. I don’t play shooters, but I had no trouble taking out entire raider villages without having to reload.

For the longest time, I wasn’t even aware that there was default music supplied with the game. The reason for this lapse on my part was because I was too busy listening to the various radio stations which exist within the game. I though it a really nice touch that one of them gives regular updates on your progress to the rest of the wasteland. It’s always nice to get a pat on the back from a relative stranger. On the whole, sound is handled very effectively in the game, with the exception of some of the voice acting. It’s not all bad, and there are certainly more ‘voices’ than there were in Oblivion, but a few are definitely overused. Sound effects are well done and often helpful if your character is operating in first person mode. That sound you hear may well mean you’re under attack from behind.

 

One of the most important aspects of any RPG is the number and variety of the quests. While the main quest story is nothing to write home about, it does keep your interest though, as in all Bethesda games, you can ignore it for as long and as often as you like. Suffice to say it has to do with your father and in homage to the original game, the need for water.

The side quests are many and varied, though a large number at their core are of the fed-ex variety. However, as they allow you to explore and open up large tracts of the wasteland this is not necessarily a bad thing. Some have optional components which make for greater challenge and many will give you the opportunity to either gain new skills, or the ability to craft new items. In many ways, these sub-quests are what really make the game worth playing. Some are even a lot of ridiculous fun, like the one where you have to give yourself a very large dose of deadly radiation as part of an NPC’s research for a book.

 

One of the important carryovers from the original games, was the use of the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system to distribute skills and perks not only in character creation, but throughout the game. While many of the perks were fairly useless, getting one at each level-up enables the player to tweak and develop their main character in a way which suits the style of gameplay they prefer. With the skill choices being important for such things as computer hacking, lock picking, use of explosives, and dialogue choices, planning out your character progression is vital. Despite the disappearance of traits from the earlier game, the system works well and I feel adds to the game’s replayability as there are multiple choices affecting how the game plays out, so different skill and perk selections will lead to a vastly changed experience.

Finally, we have to consider the overall "fun factor" of the game. Fallout 3 attempts to cater for all possible play styles. If you prefer something akin to TB play, then VATS is for you. If you prefer the frenetic action of a shooter, then you can play it that way. Those who wish a more diplomatic approach have that option some of the time, while players who prefer stealth are very well catered for as well. Taken together, this produces a great deal of fun that is well packaged and presented. Sure it has its failings, but overall I had a blast (literally) playing the game. I’m not a big fan of heavy action games, I prefer the tactical opportunities of TB, but I found plenty of chances to use tactics here and the mix of VATS and RT worked for me. If for you it’s not a ‘true’ Fallout game, then my advice is to "get over it" and enjoy it for what it is; a fun, action RPG that has been well designed and implemented within the limitations I have already detailed.

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


Other articles

Summary

Pros

  • Fun to play despite the flaws
  • Familiar gameworld - from real-life and the franchise
  • Great atmosphere
  • Huge number of sidequests
  • Lots of weapons

Cons

  • Terrible manual
  • Several perks are useless
  • Level too fast for the level cap
  • No need to play main quest
  • Combat can get repetitive

Rating

Review version

PC

Opinions from other editors

Dhruin:

I haven't seen a good game manual in a long time, so I've become inured to that issue. Otherwise, I largely agree with both Corwin's and txa1265's assessments.

So, I won't go over the same ground but I would like to make two points that both relate to Bethesda's large, open-world style. To fill the sheer land mass, they've created a multitude of locations to explore but lost the intimacy that helped create an emotional connection in Fallout. The first two Fallout's were all about the player's impact on communities; ironic and poignant against the apocalyptic backdrop. The setting might be a wasteland but Fallout was all about towns and communities and how a traveller changed their lives. Fallout 3 has two towns of any size and dozens of locations filled with two or three or four real people or nothing but raiders or the like for the shooting. It's like a theme park you wander from ride to ride and have fun but it doesn't mean much.

It's also clear that despite their experience, Bethesda still doesn't know how to get a handle on the core mechanics. The level-scaling is much better and S.P.E.C.I.A.L. provides a solid structure but the level cap, levelling speed and perk design are all poorly designed for such a large, free-roaming game.

Yet, I found the DC wasteland itself revelatory and thoroughly enjoyed exploring the ruins. They missed the full potential by quite some distance but still created a compelling experience.