Sorry I've been so long in writing a livejournal entry... Cara and I are back together, the Erkers came for a visit from Colorado, College is looming over my head, Governor's School is as amazing as usual, excluding my research project, my models are coming along as slow as ever, and yet, for the past week, I've done little but play Fallout 3. So I wrote a rather extensive review for the game, which I'm posting right now. Feel free not to read anymore.
I'll start off the review by saying I'm a Fallout 1 & 2 fanboy. I'll also say that, rare as they are, I'm a Fallout: Tactics fanboy, as well, something few people care to admit being. But this review isn't about Fallout 1, 2, or Tactics. It's about Fallout 3, and the other games are left out of it, except for a few plot confirmations which I was actually pleased with. This review is about Fallout 3 gameplay, not how brilliant I may or may not think Fallout 1, 2, and Tactics were. Also, I disliked Oblivion; I didn't hate the game, but it's broken combat system required extensive modding and broken item placement to be rendered enjoyable. That being said, I'll begin...
Fallout 3 is pretty, in a rugged way. I don't put much stock in flashy graphics, but I'm pleased with the game's. I play on the minimum requirements for the game, and the graphics look decent enough, but more importantly, they set the mood and atmosphere for the game fairly consistently. The grunge of the wasteland is certainly evident and enjoyable, although the dank, dark and item-strewn atmosphere of some of the urban dungeons becomes tiresome after a while. Character models are appropriate, if repetitious, but the variety is decent. Stylistically, the grievances I have concern the hats on the Super Mutants, and how destroyed the Vaults look; the paper on the ground makes the area look like a Hamster cage, and doesn't fit well with a realistic sense. Also, the game world seems remarkably well-maintained for being two hundred years post-apocalypse.
Now that graphics are out of the way, it's on to the meat of the game. Gameplay, and storyline. Comparisons to Oblivion are inevitable here, and the game has received much praise and ado from reviewers claiming that the character's actions have a real affect on the game world, and stealing gets you kicked out of town and you can actually roleplay and NPCs actually interact with each other and blah blah blah. That is a lie. The player has little to no affect on the areas around him, with the only exception being the potential annihilation of Megaton. Otherwise, the entire game stays static and unmoved; the radio replays the same messages with minor changes depending on the character's karma and actions, but the majority of the wasteland and its inhabitants have the same scripted responses no matter what happens. Character interaction is still fun, with the humor and style of the characters enjoyable even with their stasis. The mercenary who wants to “do the horizontal bop” or the semi-senile owner of a giant hotel are amusing enough, even while being totally flat. Dialogue is generally short and never goes too far in depth; there are three usually obvious choices for almost every action and quest in the game, a good, a neutral, and an evil response. This leaves very little room for fluid roleplay and true character development, but this part of the game isn't emphasized or even necessary; the brief interactions with NPCs are satisfactory, but not the best part of the game. It is my belief that the reviewers who labelled the game as such an immersive “RPG” game have really forgotten what real Role Playing Games are like, and should take the time to play Baldur's Gate again, because honey, modern games ain't it.
Stealing is as easy as ever in Fallout, where you can crouch and hide and take items from the store safe when the shopkeep is standing right behind you, much like in Morrowind, although you can actually sell things back to the people you've stolen them from in this case. The barter system is largely irrelevant; there is no use for bottle caps, really, besides purchasing ammo, but the amount of capital the player obtains with very little effort from the wasteland renders the barter skill useless and actually detrimental; I had trouble selling enough items at even 50% value to balance out my weight or receive anything useful in return. There are far too few stores in the game with far too little selection, and really far too few items in general; the workbench has a lot of potential to be an interesting and excellent part of the game, much like item creation and experimentation in Dark Cloud II, but the developers did so little with it that I am left disappointed. Items languish without a use in the wasteland, and I always wanted to combine weapons to make amalgam weapons, add a bayonet to an assault rifle, or put a laser sight on my sniper rifle. Paradoxically, sifting through the junk and beautiful environments of the game feels worthwhile, interesting, and enjoyable, when in reality most of the items that can be found are useless. There are far less weapons in Fallout 3 than there were in Fallout 2 and Tactics, and that leaves the accomplishment of conquering feel less satisfying. Fortunately the “Unique Item” system redeems this somewhat, as I can fill my house's desk drawers with all the unique weapon's I've collected over the course of the game. The Bobbleheads fill that 'collection and achievement' gap quite well, also.
The game feels both small and large at the same time. The largeness, being the wasteland and its exploration, is the best quality of the game. The smallness, being the (basically) single, flat town and sparse questline, is the worst quality.
The game is huge in potential scope. Every skeleton, every destroyed house, every ruin in the game tells a special, unique story that can be considered and pondered as the player traverses this vast area. The holodisks and computer terminals that are found all over the wasteland bring the world to life in the same vein and contrivance as the original Fallouts, with love, loss, passion and peril at every turn. Abandoned shacks, radio signals, a bus full of Chinese citizens, a family desperate to survive the holocaust, all of these little, unnecessary items are what redeem the game's storyline, replacing it with the atmosphere and sheer emotion and immersion into the world. Plot devices, like Ghouls originating from only radiation and not some FEV hybridization, are confirmed to my great enjoyment through these small sections. I am close to having scoured the game of all major locations but an unnumbered host of unmarked locations, a few of which I have already seen, will most likely remain undiscovered by me until a time when I play through the game once more. This is in complete opposition to the great emptiness of Oblivion, where any sort of plot was difficult to find outside the main towns.
The game is also terribly narrow. There are only five easily accessed 'towns' in the game, which I felt limited and weakened the overall atmosphere; the game sacrificed the richness of towns and characters and replaced it with an in-depth examination of the world, as opposed to the previous games, which implied an in-depth look at the world through the fabulous towns and NPCs. I also thought that the game could have used more player-owned houses, or at least a larger house with more customization beyond the few simple themes and accessories. Three of Fallout 3's towns, Underworld, Rivet City, and The Citadel, are accessible only after traversing the dangerous Downtown area of DC, or furthering the main questline. The other two, Tenpenny Tower and Megaton, can potentially be exclusive; the player can utterly destroy Megaton, or utterly destroy Tenpenny Tower, all within the major quests set forth in the game. Speaking of those quests, there are very few. For the size of the game, there are relatively few quest-giving NPCs, when there are quite a few personalities that seem to beg them. There is obvious potential for storylines with a number of NPCs that end up stale and largly unused. For example, the Outcasts, an entire group of Brotherhood of Steel fellows who you quite frequently see wandering the wastes, have no quests whatsoever dealing with them. Raiders have all been reduced to mindless cannibals, which is a mite disappointing as well. The quests themselves are short and easily completed; in one case I completed one of the maybe fifteen non-essential quests in the entire game in fifteen minutes. The main questline itself is the low point of the game, much like it was in Oblivion; it's rough and there is little suspension of disbelief; I doubted the convictions of every character even when the game attempted to assure me that they were genuine.
I've spent all this time on the setting, the story, the graphics, and the items, but what about the combat? What about the leveling system? The combat remains enjoyable throughout due to the diversity of the weapons, but just up to the breaking point; there is great potential for the game to become boring, but it manages to just stay out of that pit by a single handhold. The V.A.T.S. system is enjoyable in general, creating gory explosions. The Bloody Mess perk is as much a boon as it is a bane, just as in the original games, creating boring and messy organ splotches out of potentially enjoyable headshot sequences, but, hey, you get what you wish for, right? Aiming and shooting is fine FPS fare, although an annoying autoaim feature is defaulted on, and shooting around tight corners becomes a hassle when bullets are blocked by thin air. Creatures, thankfully, are capable of being killed in one shot with different weapons, and enemies are not leveled, curing the broken, boring, and frustrating combat system of Oblivion. The leveling system is true to the themes of the previous games, and the placement of perks every level was not so terrible, except that most perks had little to no affect on the game! The cannibal perk seems enjoyable but has application in only two areas; the equivalent of 'Sex Appeal' has a similarly small use, and most perks add to skills, most of which end up at maximums due to the copious amount of skill books that litter the gaming world. Different, more influential, more affecting and more usable perks would have been nice, as well as the ability to acquire reputations through actions, like in the previous games, but overall perks were not a detriment to the game as a whole.
To sum up the game, I give it a 7.5 out of 10, for how solidly enjoyable it makes wandering around aimlessly in the wasteland. While mechanics are not great, they are decent. While the NPC interactions are not great, they are decent. While the graphics are not great, they contribute to the atmosphere and feel of the game, which is great. I am satisfied with this game as a sequel to the Fallouts not because of its main story or some of its gameplay but because it is true to the spirit and basic story of the games and the world in which they are based, a world which I thoroughly enjoy. The original Fallout games aren't perfect either, but they are still my favorite games, and the games upon which my gaming elitism was weaned. While Fallout 3 falls short of the original games, it is still worthwhile and enjoyable in its own right. ~~~~~~~~~~`
Yeah. That's going to be a Tl;dr for most of us in the world.