When I heard about Fallout 3 a few years ago, I, like many of the hardcore Fallout fans before me was somewhat sceptical that the game could make the leap from isometric 3d rpg to a full blown first/3rd person shooter-style game and still keep much of what made Fallout as a series of games, great. I was somewhat mollified when Bethesda took up the gauntlet and being a fan of Oblivion in general I decided to adopt a wait and see attitude whilst many of my fellow Fallout fans spat hot iron nails.
Now finally I've been able to sink in some serious quality time with the game and I can report that Fallout 3, for me, was a huge success and is a massive open-ended beautifully crafted first/3rd person rpg with atomic levels of atmosphere and an almost insane level of detail. I'm not going to waffle on about the story since as you probably might guess I don't like spoiling things like that. Suffice it to say that the story is a good one, well created and brings you into the world from a baby, allowing you to play in Vault 101 before you leave for the outside world and the true meat/bones of the game.
Fallout 3 as mentioned previously runs on a modified version of the Oblivion engine. It has numerous tweaks and design changes. Gameplay is simple enough; it can be enjoyed as a single-player (it has no multiplayer at all) first person or 3rd person shooter (the camera is triggered by a button) with a minimum of fuss. It's possible to play the whole game like this and thanks to the changeable difficulty level (which scales the toughness of challenges to the xp awarded) it's instantly accessible to even novice players. It is a roleplaying game so you do have a character, either male or female, with a bunch of customization options and so on. Fallout has always operated on the S.P.E.C.I.A.L system, Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility and Luck. These 7 statistics are the core of your character and you can assign a certain number of points to them during the game.
There are skills, like big guns, small guns, repair (very important), science, barter (another important one) and so forth. And each time you gain enough experience to level up (from killing enemies or doing missions) you can distribute a generous number of points to these skills. Lastly you can gain perks; these are small additional abilities that can have a global effect on some aspects of your character. You could add a point to one of the S.P.E.C.I.A.L attributes of your choosing, gain 10% extra xp or increase your small guns and repair skills by 5 points with Gun Nut.
Perks can also be awarded as a result of missions (side quests) for various characters depending on how you do. There are a lot of side quests and a lot of world for you to explore, so don't rush through the main story thinking that you have to do it all in one day (since the main story is relatively short)
The biggest core mechanic change from Oblivion is the introduction of the Vault Assisted Targeting System aka V.A.T.S for short. This is activated by tapping the right bumper and puts the game into a pause mode, allowing you to target specific areas and watch a cut-scene result of your attacks. You have a certain number of Action Points that you can utilize during V.A.T.S and these can be split to various locations on the target or used to target numerous hostiles depending on a few factors.
Once you've assigned your attacks, press another button and you'll be able to see how things pan out. Not every shot is equal, some areas are harder to hit than others and your skill with the weapon in question will also affect your % chance to hit. It is this mode that makes Fallout 3 even more fun to play
The world is peppered with side-quests, it's a massive open-ended environment packed with hidden places to explore and treasures for those brave enough to find them. There are weapon schematics so that you can build your own custom tools of death, from the Rock-IT-Launcher (a gun that fires detritus and trash) to the amusingly titled: Shish-kebab, a sword that sets fire to enemies. All of these weapons require a blueprint to make and can be assembled by combining the correct items at a workbench. .
Lastly, it's a post apocalyptic world out there so it's not like Oblivion where every NPC is almost the same. There are plenty of unique characters waiting to be discovered and you're going to have to keep a close eye on the condition of your armour and weapons if you want to survive. Fortunately a high enough repair skill is a life saver and can allow you to repair your equipment by using parts from another weapon/armour of a similar type.
Bethesda have crafted a stark and beautiful post apocalyptic world with Fallout 3, placed numerous hidden locations (including their own offices) and stacked them with refuse, hand-placed trash and every underground dungeon/building has something to discover even if it is a new form of monster to vent your aggressions upon. The character graphics are much better than Oblivion and this new iteration of their engine has shown just what Bethsoft are capable of when they truly put their minds to it.
The exterior location of the Capital Wasteland is an incredibly atmospheric place that has been carefully constructed, it's broken, desolate and there are the occasional settlements and remnants of life that cling to the surface of this post atomic nightmare. Settlements like Megaton, built around an unexploded atom bomb and that serves as your first true safe zone in the game when you're out of Vault 101. The graphics for the exteriors and the interiors are loaded with atmosphere and grungy design.
The textures and the lighting are excellent; they really bring to life the broken world of Fallout 3. Bethesda have delivered on the graphical front in spades, the character design and animation are leagues ahead of the engine's humble Oblivion roots and it feels like a much bigger game both in terms of scope and creation. There's a real sense of wonder when you gaze out across the wasteland for the first time and a feeling of immersion as a slight pang of fear sets in, just where do you go?
Fortunately all of your information is tracked by the Pip-Boy 3000, an arm mounted device that lets you interact with your in-game menus. Manage your health (restore crippled limbs), see how many Rads you've accumulated and use your inventory items. It has quest notes, maps and is constantly updated when new information becomes available. It also functions as a light and is an invaluable tool when you become lost in this massive post-apocalyptic rpg.
It can also be used as a radio, once you've found the right signal. The radio stations cunningly bring me onto my bit about the game's audio and music. The Fallout 3 score is epic in scope and has some perfectly designed audio segments that really work with the various locations. It becomes tense and forbidding when you enter an underground location in the game. Megaton has a kind of wild-west theme to it and the Capital Wasteland is full of trepidation. I just hope there's a stand-alone score to this game since it deserves it.
Then there's the in-game radio dialogue, which perhaps repeats a few times too many with various comments from the one DJ: Stray Dog. The music is perfectly chosen however and with tracks like Butcher Pete and I Don't Want to Set the World on Fire playing along as you explore, you can't help but smile. The voice acting is much better than Oblivion and Bethesda have managed to get acting talents like Liam Neeson (as your father) and Ron Pearlman (narrating the start) along with Malcolm McDowell (President Eden) and few others to do great roles. Add to this the extremely well crafted ambient and spot sound effects, weapon sound effects and you have a perfect audio package.
Fallout 3 suffers from a few odd glitches however; it has a few lock-ups and crashes now and then. It has long loading times in some places. The save system makes up for it, since it's quick and fast to save and load a game respectively. I recommend until Beth fixes these problems, save frequently and save often. All in all though, Fallout 3 is an incredibly deep and open-ended game which allows you to play the kind of character that you want, every action has a consequence and there's more than one way to actually solve most of the quests.
It's a worthy addition to the Fallout series in every way.