Fallout is a series that has been known for its innovative role-playing, and fantastic presentation that goes along with it. The original PC versions were part RPG, part RTS, and tons of run and gun and stat building intermixed with great quests and fantastic secret areas in a dystrophic wasteland somewhere in the west. Ever since 1998, when Fallout 2 was released, gamers have wanted to experience the wasteland once more. Now, ten years later, they have that chance.
Bethesda studios, the makers of the Elder Scrolls series, have taken the helm for Fallout 3, and in many respects took back some aspects from the original games. Despite a total makeover and a “Oblivivified” look, Fallout 3 is easily a deep, engrossing adventure that will surely test the minds and reflexes of the player two-fold.
In Fallout 3, you star as a custom made character who is a vault dweller in vault 101, one of the numerous vaults that dots the destroyed landscape, when your father suddenly leaves the vault for unknown reasons, you decide to follow suit in order to find him, unwillingly going on an adventure of epic proportions in the capital wasteland of Washington D.C.
The entire game plays similar to Oblivion, you have stats to upgrade after each level, you have beginning stats that you focus on, your weapons and armor are all equip able and you can pretty much take anything you want in the world. Even the camera controls are similar to Oblivions. The differences lie, however, in the details. For example, your level cap this time around is 20, so you need to wisely choose which stats to augment in order to proceed in the game. You also have the choice of adding perks after every level, which function as special skills or statistics, such as extra attack percentages or a bonus to a certain skill. These greatly enhance the role-playing experience and the strategic elements of the game right off the bat.
The real star here is the VATS system, a special, strategic way to attack enemies that swarm you, which will happen a lot. With VATS, you can target specific body parts of the enemy, and depending on your skills, distance, what weapon your using, etc, will depend on the chance of hitting that part. A simple scenario has a super mutant running at you with a sledgehammer. You can shoot him in the head and try to drop him immediately, or you can shoot out his legs and slow him down. You can even shoot the sledgehammer out of his hand if you’re a crack shot. Since each shot takes up action points, and since each action point is determined by your stats and slowly regenerates over time, you need to choose wisely when and how to use them, creating great strategic play in the game.
Another smart system is the radiation system. Depending on where you are, you will slowly build up radiation in your body, which will cause a drop in your stats if you don’t get rid of it. You can use drugs (as long as you don’t get addicted) to make yourself immune to the radiation, or you can have a doctor remove it for a paltry price.
While these additives are real treats to the gameplay aspect, story wise, the game is well written and planned out. You can take part in quests by certain characters all over the land, and in doing so you can gain, or lose, karma. The karma is this games “good/evil” system, but what makes it different is that it’s possible to stay in the middle of the road, looking out for number one, which fits perfectly in the grand scheme of the game. Hell, games have pretty much played out the good/evil track, so it’s nice to see a third, and more realistic option, in there.
That being said there are some problems in the gameplay, mainly the buddy system where you can hire out a mercenary to be in your party. Depending on the track you go on in the game depends on who you can hire out, but unfortunately the A.I for these guys is pretty weak, especially when compared to your enemies, who always duck for cover and swarm you when possible. You also can get a hold of Dogmeat, the loveable stray, but his A.I is pretty bad as well, so it’s not even worth it.
One area that is though is the graphics, which by far capture the sense of destruction all around you. Everything is gray, brown, and some color in between; everything is dirty, destroyed and uncomfortable all around you. You feel a sense of dread when walking out in the wasteland, and even worse, you can’t help but explore to see what you can find out there. In my travels alone I stumbled upon giant fire ants, a town riddled with mines, two drive in theaters, and another vault filled with mercenaries. The scope of Washington D.C is great here, and there is a lot to explore in the capital wasteland. What makes it even better is the vintage 50’s vibe the entire world has, throwing in an amalgam of 50’s style with Road Warrior attitude, and a mix of cyberpunk for good measure.
And perhaps the greatest achievement of all is the games sound. The sound effects are throwbacks to the original game, from the squeaks and beeps of the Pip boy to the rifle shots from your gun. The NPC’s have slightly more varied voices this time, something that was an annoyance in Oblivion, and they actually have good conversations that flow and seem real. The real show stealer here is the games musical tracks. You have the option of a beautiful musical score, but the better option is the big band, 1940’s and 50’s music. Greats like Ella Fitzgerald, Roy Brown, and the Ink Blots all contribute to the soundtrack, and it’s a weird juxtaposition to the entire game, listening to soothing and enjoyable music while blowing the head off a raider in the middle of a destroyed subway tunnel.
Fallout 3 is one ambitious game, and a large one at that. Despite some minor bugs with graphical glitches, and the poorly implemented party system, the game easily immerses you into this world, into the destroyed future, and never lets go until the final super mutant falls from your hand. The comparisons from Oblivion are unavoidable, and the noticeable design choices can be complained about by purists of the game, but the fact of the matter is, Fallout 3 is an experience that people should remember for a long time, and one that will be constantly played by the hardcore and casual crowds, just for the sheer amount of hours that can be put into it. Fallout 3 is perhaps one of the few must have games, this year, and in a holiday season that has had acclaimed hits for the past few weeks, that’s some statement to make yourself stand out. In the end, come back to the wasteland for a great experience, and get ready for another Fallout adventure.
Final score- A