Fallout 3

March 4th, 2009 by Potato

I really enjoyed Fallout 3. So much so that I think I’m going to reroll a new character and play through it all over again. So even though I may be my own critical self and focus on the parts of the game that freaked me out, I did really enjoy it.

First off, you might as well start by watching the Yahtzee review at the Escapist since he is a professional.

Right, so first off that part about the characters being in the uncanny valley… well, it gets worse. Not only do they stare at you weirdly rigidly when talking, and not only is everyone covered in a layer of itchy-looking, radioactive grime, but they glow. If you talk to a NPC in a dark area you’ll see that their eyes and mouth are self-illuminating. I wasn’t sure if that was a way of trying to make them look more life-like in the regular lighting, or a product of the radioactive fallout, but it was pretty creepy. Plus as photo-realistic as the broken terrain is, the characters don’t seem to ever quite touch the ground.

Ok, to start a little closer to the beginning: Fallout 3 is a hybrid between a role-playing game and a first (or third, depending on your camera preferences) person shooter. You level up, assign skill points, rummage through things, and go on quests like an RPG, but also can fight it out and go for headshots like a first-person shooter. The game takes place in the area around Washington, DC sometime around 2277 — about 200 years after a nuclear war broke out. Things are, to put it succinctly, post-apocalyptic.

My faithful readers will recognize that I have a soft-spot for post-apocalyptic fiction, and Fallout 3 snuggles up in there quite nicely indeed.

The world is broken and everyone is focused on survival, except for the vault-dwellers, who live beneath the ground in massive fallout shelters, largely ignorant to the plight of the world outside after generations of electricity and safe water. Of course, things are starting to run down beneath the ground too, and throw in a bit of a political crisis when your dad (voiced by Liam Neeson) does the unthinkable and leaves the vault. Forced outside to find him (and escape the insanity of the vault’s overseer) you have to survive in the ruins of DC. The game takes itself fairly lightly, with lots of humour around and cutesy 50’s-style cartoons and billboards (and cars with fins), and home-brew steam-powered teddy bear launchers. Highly advanced nuclear powered levitating robotic butlers are controlled by monochrome text-entry computer terminals. There are numerous entertaining small touches to be found throughout the game world.

I found the game to be quite hard at first: resources were so scarce that I would quite often run out of ammo when exploring (and not all that far from town, either), which was doubly damning because early on my small arms skill was not very good so a lot of shots missed their target (for the min-maxers, I have to say that small arms is probably the most important skill to level up). Every half-full clip of ammo was a treasure. On top of that, the world is just run down: the vendors have very poor stock, and are themselves nearly broke, so even if you do manage to load up on vendor trash in your explorations, they may not have enough caps (bottle caps — the currency of the Fallout world) to buy it all from you. And even if you have the caps to pay for ammo instead of finding it, you may find the vendor only has a half-dozen bullets themselves.

Of course, by the end it was one-shot one-kill, and I had a mountain of ammo (though the traumatic experience of the early levels kept me paranoid so I never went anywhere without at least 3 guns that took different bullets and a melee weapon). I continued to play long after I hit the level cap of 20, partly to finish off the main storyline, and partly just because it was fun to explore the world, meet the quirky characters, discover the unique weapons, and set giant mutant ants on fire. It helps that the game world is very pretty (better than most of the characters), though this is also the first game I’ve played on my new PC (all settings were on max).

You can effect fairly sweeping changes in the game world with your choices, one of the biggest of which you face very shortly after escaping the vault (spoiler warning!): you come across a town built around an unexploded atomic bomb. You can choose to detonate it, destroying the whole city and leaving nothing but a radioactive crater behind, which was very pretty to watch. You can be nice and help those in trouble, or you can just bash their heads in and take their stuff. I haven’t tried murdering the characters central to the storyline, but no one else is sacred: you can go on a rampage and wipe out virtually any settlement you want to.

There are a lot of subway tunnels to explore, most of which are mandatory for the downtown DC area (which you will need to thoroughly explore for most quests, including the main storyline). Fortunately, once you’ve navigated the tunnels once, the areas appear on your map for fast-travel (which is a godsend). These parts of the game in particular were a little freaky, I found. Things can jump out at you, and if you find Dogmeat, then his growling in your ear does not help. The game can get pretty gruesome, with bags of skulls, bodies hung from the ceiling like meat, and cannibalism, along with the splatter and decapitation/dismemberment physics of combat.

The game is a little slow at the beginning when you’re in the vault, and then it whipsaws up to what I thought was the most difficult right after you get out: you go from being in this small, contained space with clear objectives to being in this huge, open, visually stunning world to explore, and no direction at all. You have essentially no resources, no “home base”, no allies, very little ammo, and only a few levels under your belt.

My biggest wish for the game is that it had a multiplayer co-op component, I think the world they’ve created would be a really fun place to rampage through with a buddy. Beyond that, I found some of the clipping and character animations immersion-breaking (at least the sentry robots were supposed to be robotic), and the difficulty curve wasn’t very consistent through the game, with few challenges left after hitting level 20 and having a full arsenal. I also found the big guns and energy weapons a little lacking: even in the end game I found very few uses for them (although ash piles were much tidier than gore splatters). The AI isn’t great, and seems to rely a lot on super-speed running if you catch it off-guard, though some (scripted?) encounters feature some enemies trying to flank you, etc. The teammate AI is even worse, they love to go charging in to any situation. I played through the first time without patching, and actually found it pretty stable, with the main exception being the VATS turn-based combat kludge (which I try not to use too often, except to score righteous decapitations or to instantly wipe out one enemy when faced with several). I got the patch and the Operation Anchorage expansion, and it’s been crash city since.

Anchorage is a fun little add-on, focusing more on the first person shooter aspect (you can’t even try to loot the bodies), and it was a neat storyline to play through. However, aside from the power armor and gauss cannon you get at the end, the content’s only good for about an extra hour or two of commie-busting fun. Since my main complaint is that I didn’t want it to end, I think I’ll be getting the Pitts expansion as well when it comes out.

The level editor/mod kit has also been released, so there might be some decent user-generated content coming soon. One thing I would like to see is a “rock climbing” ability — ruined overpasses and waist-high cliffs blocked my path far too often.

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