|System: X360, PS3, PC||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Bethesda Softworks||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Bethesda Softworks||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Oct. 28, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Mature||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Jonathan Marx
Bethesda Softworks struck pay dirt in March of 2006 with their epic RPG, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. That title, more than any other, served as the poster child for what gamers could expect from "next-gen" graphics and content. Skip forward two and a half years and thousands of man hours later and players are being treated to Fallout 3, a game that captures the spirit of Oblivion in a futuristic Washington D.C. wracked by nuclear holocaust.
This new setting along with the incredibly high play value should make this one of the bestselling titles of 2008. However, the game is not the infallible masterpiece many, including myself, expected. In fact, somewhat dated visuals, lackluster shooter controls, slow character progression, and an overdependence on the V.A.T.S. action point mechanic hold the game back from attaining perfection.
Like Oblivion, Fallout 3 is an expansive RPG that gives players a huge, highly detailed, living world in which to play. There are an abundance of quests and side missions to anchor the immersion, a host of interesting character creation options that truly affect the way the protagonist plays, and, of course, weapons and items galore to be found and used. However, unlike the classic high fantasy environment of Oblivion, Fallout 3 sports an alternate future set in Washington D.C., where a nuclear wasteland full of junk, ruins, radiation, mutants, and factions exist.
Taking a cue from former titles in the Fallout series, the Capital Wasteland of Fallout 3 is an incredibly harsh place. People barely scrape out a horrific existence on the toxic sustenance the irradiated land can offer up, yet it's a world filled with ironic humor. Players will appreciate the tongue-in-cheek nods to the 50's duck-and-cover era that existed well into the 21st century in the game's alternate reality. Products like Nuka-Cola from a bygone era run in stark contrast to the contemporary Chems and other-other white meats you'll have to ingest in order to survive. What's more, mundane species of old have been horribly mutated and prey upon the weak and unwary. Whoever is left eventually succumbs to radiation, disease, poverty, raiders and humanoid ghouls and super mutants that run roughshod in the lawless wastes.
With this as the setting, players emerge from Vault-Tec Vault 101 for the first time in their lives, fleeing the wrath of the Overseer and searching for some sign of their missing father. You see, ever since the climax of The Great War in 2077 (fully 200 years ago) a few "fortunate" Americans have been cloistered in massive fallout complexes, undisturbed by the savage world outside the vault door. Making the transition from lowly commune member to master of the poisonous and anarchic Capital Wasteland is difficult indeed, and players will find themselves making a beeline for Megaton, the settlement closest to the vault entrance. So begins the adventure upon which players are to embark.
There are seven scores that define characters' abilities known as S.P.E.C.I.A.L., which is an acronym for Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, and Luck. In addition to S.P.E.C.I.A.L. abilities, players will be able to dump a pool of points into 13 skills such as Lockpicking, Science, Speech, Medicine, Sneak, Energy Weapons, etc. upon leveling. Also, almost innumerable Perks are made available along the way, which give bonuses to all aspects of combat and non-combat interactions. This character building mechanic is very versatile and satisfying. Unfortunately, the slow-paced power progression means you'll be playing with a very weak character until you've spent a significant amount of time in the world (more than five hours).
Graciously, the Capital Wasteland is an intriguing place full of adventure for even low-level characters. Players will spend hours upon hours clearing out nearby "dungeons," filling up their inventories with worthless junk (which is actually not so worthless anymore), and acquiring the skill and knowledge to progress to the more dangerous and challenging areas closer to downtown D.C. Eventually, players will even uncover an interesting plot full of competing factions trying to shape the amorphous world into their vision.
By far, the most intriguing aspect of the game is the ability to make your own way in this dangerous world. There is no wrong way to play Fallout 3, and, as a result, players are afforded near limitless options when customizing their character, interacting with people, and completing missions. That means players could conceivably play the game multiple times, utilizing different skills (such as hacking computers as opposed to brute force), befriending or alienating different people, or becoming aligned with varying factions found throughout the game. In fact, there's virtually no such thing as 100% completion in Fallout 3; trying to do so in just one playthrough is impossible due to the sheer amount of content.
Moreover, the developers did a great job of fully realizing the scope and feel of the world and getting players to respond to their environment. Characters never truly feel healthy (radiation and Chems addiction will constantly plague you), there's never anything good to eat, weapons are always half-broken, jerry-rigged pieces of garbage, and no one you talk to seems to be quite with it.