Summary: It's been 10 years since we last experienced the post-apocalyptic world of Fallout, but now, under the direction of Bethesda Studios, fans of the series can finally return. But is Fallout 3 as compelling as the original series? Read on for the full review!
In The Beginning…
Story and Setting
Set 200 years after the bombs fell, and 36 years after the previous game, Fallout 3 places you in the shoes of one of the lucky few who escaped the nuclear fallout by hiding in underground bunkers. You start out, strangely enough, being born in the game where your first glimpse is of your father. Your childhood serves as the tutorial of the game where you pick your appearance, gender, attributes, and starting skills, as well as where you learn the general mechanics of the game. This area also gives you the opportunity to master two very important features you will use throughout the entire campaign, the V.A.T.S. system and the PIP-Boy 3000.
V.A.T.S. or Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System, allows the player to pause combat and plan their actions in a way that is more akin to turn-based gameplay. The player only has a set amount of action points, which is determined by your base Agility value. While in V.A.T.S., you can distribute your attacks across multiple enemies, as well as across one enemy’s body parts. This allows you to, for instance, disarm a target by aiming for his arms, making it extremely useful against enemies with a high amount of hit points.
The PIP-Boy 3000, meanwhile, is a wrist-mounted device that functions as a PDA of sorts, tracking all kinds of useful information like health status, inventory, location, in-game time, quest notes, and much more. The PIP-Boy can also be used to light up your immediate area thanks to its flashlight function, which makes traversing dark areas and caves a lot easier. The PIP-Boy is also host to the Fast Travel system, similar in function to the system used in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Once you have discovered (i.e., traveled to) a location, you can bring up your map and fast travel to that location as long as there are no enemies nearby and you are on the “world map”, which essentially means not in a cave or tunnel.
Combat in Fallout 3 is played out in real-time, with the exception of when you invoke the V.A.T.S. system. Weapons can be bound to 1-9 for easier access and there is a good selection of weapons to choose from. From bare knuckles to mini-nukes, Fallout 3 features an impressive armory and you have the ultimate choice of which weapons you want to use based on your particular tastes. If you want to go futuristic, there are laser and plasma weapons for you. Or if Max Rocktansky is more your style, you can specialize in traditional projectile firearms like the sawed-off shotgun and assault rifle. Perhaps you are more into bare-knuckle boxing or going all “John Henry” on a super-mutants noggin’. If that’s the case, there are specializations for that too. Of course, you can also choose to ignore combat entirely thanks to the sneak skills which allow you to slink around like an atomic age ninja, complete with bonuses associated with backstabbing. It seems Bethesda took its time to ensure there are plenty of ways to customize combat for almost each person’s specific idea of fun.
In Fallout and Fallout 2, there were perks associated with leveling that helped to assist the player in his quest through the wasteland. Fallout 3 brings the perk system back, although Bethesda has re-tooled it to meet their needs. There are 67 perks in total, with 9 of them only being granted upon completing quests for specific people. Perks work as bonuses to your bases stats, skills, or are generic bonuses designed to help you throughout the game. For instance, the Bloody Mess perk grants you an additional 5% damage with all weapons, as well as the added bonus that every enemy you kill will explode in a smattering of blood and gore...so of course we picked that perk as early as possible. Some perks are only available after you’ve reached a certain level; in addition, others have pre-requisites that must be met before you can select them. Unlike previous games in the Fallout series, perks are granted at each level, as opposed to every 3 levels.
Weapons and items
As previously mentioned, there is a whole arsenal of weapons in Fallout 3, catering to the tastes of many different gamers. Weapons and items like armor and clothing have condition levels however and will break down over time. The player can repair their own items or pay an NPC to do it for them in the event they lack the requisite skill level. Repairs are accomplished by essentially combining two identical parts, such as two Chinese assault rifles. As items and weapons degrade, they become less effective until they eventually break and are unusable. You must keep your weapons and armor in good working condition, otherwise they have a tendency to break at the most inopportune moments. This became very apparent to us when our sniper rifle snapped in half after we antagonized four super-mutants, each one armed with a mini-gun.
Fallout 3 includes a new addition the series in the way of schematics, or weapons plans. Schematics allow the player the build special weapons, each one an interesting amalgamation of objects that are available in-game. Once the player has access to a set of schematics and a workbench, he can build these weapons, while his repair level determines the condition of the resulting item. Each weapon is unique and functions a little bit differently than the standard weapons. For example, the Rock-It Launcher allows you to turn just about any object into a projectile, while the Shishkebob is a sword that sets targets aflame.
Audio in the game is fairly robust and clear as well. Explosions are clear and crisp, while each weapon carries with it a distinct sound that eases in its identification from a distance. Surround sound is well executed, especially when you are on the wasteland for the first time. Our speakers were full of the swirling wind and total deadness of the immediate vicinity, adding to the shock value of seeing what once was,a beautiful town torn to shambles. The voice acting is better than Oblivion, although people still tend to say some pretty dumb things from time to time. Creatures and enemies each have their own distinctive battle cries, so it’s quite easy to tell them apart as well.
Graphics and Audio: From a purely technical perspective, Fallout 3 is an achievement itself. The world’s destruction is beautifully rendered and the audio immerses the player in a world brought to its knees. The attention to detail continues to amaze us, whether it’s the rusted out town of Rivet City or some stray alley in Downtown D.C.
…But DRM is still DRM: While it may not be as bad as Spore or Mass Effect, DRM is still a bane to the legal PC gamer. Anyone who has the littlest bit of PC knowledge knows that many cracking groups release NO-CD cracks within days (if not before) of a major games release, therefore defeating the purpose of DRM entirely. In fact, DRM doesn’t do anything but annoy the very people it’s meant to protect, the consumer who buys his copy legally.