Bethesda Softworks has formed a long history of creating great first-person role-playing games with their Elder Scrolls Series. But when Interplay went bankrupt and Bethesda acquired the license to create Fallout 3, promising to take the series out of its isometric home and slap it into the same engine that they used for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, eyebrows were raised. Yet despite being a new developer using an old engine, Bethesda launched a game that should be received by the gaming community like a nuclear blast complete with a shockwave that will leave gamers hooked until the radiation sickness finally gets to them.
Fallout 3 takes place 36 years after Fallout 2, 116 years after the original Fallout and 200 years after the devastating nuclear explosion that unravelled The United States and left Washington D.C. as a desert wasteland. Its narrative is endless – you take the on the role of a vault dweller who leaves in search of their father, hoping to help him save the wasteland in the process.
Once the character is created, you can wander the D.C. Wasteland, trudging through the main quest or various miscellaneous side quests. These can range from negotiating the character’s way into Little Lamplight, a city full of children where no adults are allowed, to exploration and getting irradiated in order to help a character write a book called The Wasteland Survival Guide. If you really start exploring you might even find tiny quests that don’t provide entries in the quest log, but often provide substantial rewards. For example, stumbling upon an old clone-testing vault where multiple men named Gary run at them screaming “Gaaaarry!”
The game itself is indeed rather similar to Oblivion. The player starts by giving and taking points from their primary skill set called S.P.E.C.I.A.L. This directly affects how many points the character has in each category of their regular skills and each time they gain a level they are given a certain number of points to add to these skills. In addition to the skill points each level also enables the character to gain a perk. Perks add effects that can make enemies’ entire bodies explode when killed or add five points to two different skills; it’s up to the player.
The V.A.T.S. targeting system has the player effectively rolling dice to use probability in attacking their foes. However, it runs on action points, so combat requires manual aiming a large portion of the time. The one downfall to the gameplay involves carrying capacity. Although ammo and stimpacks weigh nothing, it seems as though the carrying capacity should be larger considering the amount of loot the game throws along the player’s way.
The game brings with it an assortment of weapons that could make anyone play through twice on their own merit. The character has a broad choice that includes the gatling laser, the ripper – a melee weapon sort of like an electric bread cutter – and the fat man, which hurls mini nukes at enemies leaving mushroom clouds in their wake. Certain merchants sell schematics that enable the player to take seemingly random items found in the world and piece them together into makeshift killing machines.
In Fallout 3 almost everyone has something to say: be it caustic, worshipful or just plain indifferent, it’s almost always filled with a twinge of humor. The player can make friends or enemies with a variety of races such as the completely irradiated once-human ghouls, robots or even the rare intelligent super mutant.
Enemies consist of almost everybody depending on the path the player chooses. The more common, dimwitted super mutants have a ‘hulk smash’ mentality and will stop at nothing when it comes to blowing the character’s brains out. There are Feral ghouls which are Fallout’s version of zombies. There is also the ever looming government threatening all plans to save the wasteland and battling the friendly Brotherhood of Steel. They are called the Enclave and are headed by The President of the United States. Of course, since this is an open ended game, everything can be thrown to the wind and the player can start shooting up cities and making enemies out of entire towns at a time.
As far as graphics go, Fallout 3 features an amazing sense of atmosphere. During one breathtaking moment in the main quest, the character has to climb The Washington Monument. At the top they will find an astounding view of what seems like the entire wasteland, almost as if the clipping path was set to infinite. The game can get a little glitchy, which is understandable considering the size of the game, but this can be solved by saving often or loading up a handy auto-save.
The music in Fallout 3 is outstanding too. The player can tune into different radio stations while wandering the wasteland, some of which give clues towards what the character should be doing. The station that the player will find themselves listening to for the most of the duration of the game is GNR. Between the helpful hints and insights of the DJ, the player will hear 40’s music including the likes of Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. The soundtrack can get a bit repetitive, as there aren’t that many songs to fill the considerable length of the game. But there is always an off switch on the radio for that.
Fallout 3 had many opportunities to fail. This series is a fan favorite picked up by a new developer, which in many cases can draw up an apprehensive feeling of possible failure – especially among fans. Yet Bethesda pulled through, giving the game a fresh start and new concepts. It’s chock-full of content, and will provide hours upon hours of fun, weird, and dark post-apocalyptic gaming.