My Journey through Fallout 3

Matt Barton's picture

There are few games in recent memory that have had as great an impact on me as Bethesda's Fallout 3. I just finished the game a few minutes ago and am simply stunned at the quality of the storytelling, gameplay, and aesthetics. While the game has a few minor faults, these pale in comparison to its masterful production.

Ruined City: Fallout 3 boasts one of the best-looking gameworlds I've ever seen.Ruined City: Fallout 3 boasts one of the best-looking gameworlds I've ever seen.I was a big fan of the earlier Fallout Games, but was initially skeptical that Bethesda would be able to recapture the magic of those earlier masterpieces (particularly I and II). Although some still maintain that Interplay's earlier Wasteland was better, I still count Fallout and Fallout 2 as some of the finest CRPGs ever designed. They eschew the stereotypical dwarves and elves for (IMO) a more interesting post-apocalyptic wasteland reminiscent of The Road Warrior. I love this setting, mostly because it's still recognizable as the "real world" but with a fantastic but still plausible twist. The Fallout games did a great job with the setting, but also created an innovative and fun role-playing system and plenty of Monty Python-esque dark humor. The premise in all these games is that a nuclear war has devastated much of the known world, and the survivors are mostly mutants and brigands. The few remaining pockets of humanity are desperate. Add to this mix the mysterious "Enclave" and "Brotherhood of Steel," two powerful military organizations whose motives aren't often clear. Then there's the vault dwellers--people who have spent their lives cooped up in a secure vault deep underground, safe and isolated. Of course, the player's character doesn't stay in the vault, but leaves to fulfill his or her destiny above.

VATS: The VATS system pauses the action to let you take aim at a specific body part.VATS: The VATS system pauses the action to let you take aim at a specific body part.Fallout 3 literally begins with the avatar's birth in the vault, a clever idea that lets players customize the character and gradually learn the interface. It's also charming and even disturbing, since the game cuts to various points in the avatar's life and gives a clear picture of what life was like growing up in the vault. It's really spooky and thought-provoking, like the best science fiction. Along the way you take a GOAT, a test to help choose your profession, which affects your stats and skill points. There are plenty of options; I chose to become a computer technician, but that didn't really limit me in any way. I'll come back to skills and such in a bit.

Eventually, your father leaves the vault for unknown reasons, and it soon becomes clear that you have to follow him out--the government of the vault has become too unstable for you to safely remain behind. It's not hard to think of psychological themes here (leaving the womb, Oedipal complexes, etc.)

As soon as you leave the vault, you're in pretty much constant danger. The wasteland is swarming with deadly creatures like molerats, rad-scorpions, raiders, and crab-like creatures that infest streams. There are also plenty of "dungeons" sprinkled around, which take you deep underground to confront more dangerous enemies. Probably the scariest are the ghouls, zombie-like creatures reminiscent of the infected in the film 28 Days Later. Eventually, though, you'll be fighting Super Mutants and Enclave Soldiers, both of whom are very tough.

Combat is either in real-time or a hybrid system called VATS. VATS works like this: see an enemy, hit the V key, target the body part you want to hit, and hit "E" (or the left mouse button). Sometimes a brief cut scene will play if you strike a critical hit, but this is a great way to go if you're not the fastest on the mouse. You can only use VATS so many times in a given period; players who rely heavily on this will need to find ways to boost their "Action Points," but I generally found it sufficient. Naturally, it's advantageous to aim for certain body parts on different creatures, and you can take perks to tailor your play style. I chose to increase my action points, damage from criticals, and improved targeting for head-shots. There's nothing really as satisfying as taking down a particularly nasty beast with a critical strike to the head (at point blank range!), and the cut scenes are exciting stuff.

Pipboy: Fans of the original games will be happy to see the Pipboy back in action.Pipboy: Fans of the original games will be happy to see the Pipboy back in action.This talk of "perks" will be instantly familiar to fans of the original game. The RPG system is based on SPECIAL (stats, really), SKILLS, and PERKS. The stats are the basic ones seen in most RPGs (strength, agility, luck, etc.) Skills range from combat-specific things like small guns and energy weapons to things like science, medicine, and lock picking. There are lots of computers and locked containers about, so I think it's well worth pumping up these skills. Every time you successfully open a lock or hack a computer you get XP, so it's quite handy. Indeed, not being able to pick locks will be a severe hindrance.

One thing you'll notice pretty quickly in Fallout 3 is that equipment, ammunition, and munitions are rare. Your gear takes damage from use, and you'll need to use your repair skills to keep things working properly. Let's say you're using a combat shotgun--it may start off doing lots of damage and be fairly accurate, but with enough use it will drop off, losing both. The only remedy is either to find another shotgun to either replace or repair it. If your repair skill is high enough, you will be able to keep your gear in good shape by salvaging worn pieces for parts. Otherwise, you're going to be going through gear very quickly. It isn't that problematic if you're fighting mostly humans, but can get very bad if you're in a dungeon confronting mostly beasts or ghouls.

Combat is quite varied. I quickly found myself using melee weapons to deal with roaches and rats, saving my bullets for things that shot at me from range. The most dreadful of all were monsters with missile launchers; a missile can either kill you outright or do so much damage that you can't move away before being hit again. These guys were seriously annoying. Although I eventually found a sniper rifle, I still wasn't effective with it, though this was probably because of my avatar's stats. In general, I either had to lure enemies into traps using mines or blast them at fairly close range with an assault rifle or shotgun. The combat shotgun and scoped .44 magnum are very effective, but limited ammo makes them last-resort weapons. There are also miniguns and the like about (big guns), but you really need a lot of strength for these since they will weigh you down so much.

The same is true for healing. The best thing is just to find a bed and rest an hour, which heals everything (including damaged limbs). Otherwise, you'll need to use stimpacks or chow down on food and water. Unfortunately, almost all the food and water is radioactive, and if you get too much exposure you'll get radiation sickness. You can also find drugs that provide certain bonuses, but if you get addicted to them you'll suffer penalties (like withdrawal symptoms). There are ways to cure such things, but it's important to think before popping those pills or injecting your veins with Jet.

Much of the game's strategy concerns resource management, since you'll quickly die if you find yourself without armor, weapons, or "aid" (food, stimpacks, etc.). The main skills to worry about here are repair, medicine, and lockpicking, since you'll find an abundance of ammo and such in locked containers.

Fawkes: You can recruit companions, though I spent most of the game alone.Fawkes: You can recruit companions, though I spent most of the game alone.The gameplay consists mostly of exploring and doing quests. The world is huge, and there are plenty of sub-quests and areas that are entirely optional. I chose to do some of them, but focused on getting through the main quest. Still, it was always tempting to see some building or structure off in the distance and want to check it out. I did several sub-quests that were quite fascinating. One of my favorites was a ghoul-infested building where I found tapes detailing a previous adventurer's search for his father. As I explored further, I found more tapes, and I could hear the voice on the tapes becoming less human and more ghoul-like. Of course, at the end of the dungeon I found the explorer, who had long been transformed into a ghoul (who I had to kill). This is a good example of the kind of depth you can find in an area that is entirely optional; there are no doubt dozens more such places I didn't see. You can also find the occasional companion, though I spent most of the game alone.

The main quest involves your father's mission to purify the water in a reservoir so the residents of Washington D.C. will have a safe, non-radioactive source. The mission gets more complicated, of course, with some spectacular twists that are really exciting stuff. I don't want to spoil too much, but just to give some flavor here--when you finally find your dad, he's trapped in a virtual world that looks like an old 50s sitcom. However there is something very, very wrong with the setup, and when I finally got the whole picture I was disturbed indeed. It's creepy to the core!

The production values are sky-high, with some of the best graphics and audio I have ever seen. The settings are fascinating to explore and wondrous to behold, and the whole thing really makes you feel like you're stuck in a Mad Max movie.

So, what are the cons? One thing that was a real disappointment was third-person view. Although you can switch from first-person to third-person with a click, the third-person aspect is very poorly implemented. The avatar doesn't move at all realistically, and I only used this mode when I had to jump around or follow a precise route. Another minus is the rather tedious clicking necessary to get aid, check your armor, and so on. Once you have a sizable inventory, getting through it all can be quite maddening. There really should have been an easier way to sort this stuff. On the plus side, it's easy to set hot keys (1-8) for weapons and aid, but if you lose a weapon you'll have to reset it.

Although it's possible to make your own gear using a workbench, I didn't find enough schematics for this to be useful. I was also irritated that I couldn't modify my weapons; it would have been nice to put scopes on certain weapons, etc. I didn't really focus on this aspect of gameplay, though, and there may very well be lots of schematics around for the diligent. As usual with a Bethesda game, I think I probably only saw about 25% of the game; there are no lots of content I haven't seen. If you really want to be thorough, you may want a guidebook or such to make sure you've seen it all.

On a related point, one glaring omission was vehicles. I kept finding motorcycle parts and even intact motorcycles around, but there was no way to ride them. This was a real pain, because it would've been very cool to have a cycle to ride around on (the world is, after all, immense). Thankfully, though, once you've visited an area, you can travel there instantly using your map. Still, I think having vehicles would have been a great addition.

Still, I wouldn't consider any of these factors a deal-breaker. The game is very solid and probably the best game you could buy yourself for the holidays. I really enjoyed it and looked forward to playing it everyday. Heck, I might try it again with a different character just to see the rest of what the game has to offer. The stories and writing (in even the sub-quests) are really worth seeing; there is very little here that is repetitive or left to chance. Bethesda has really created a coherent world whose nooks and crannies are well worth exploring.

Overall, I give this game a definite 5/5 and recommend it strongly.If you are only going to buy one game for the holidays, I'd either get this one or Mass Effect depending on your tastes. Both games have spectacular stories, memorable characters, and engaging gameplay. Oh--and remember: War...never changes.

Comments

Rowdy Rob
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Spectacular Review!

Perhaps this is the game that gets me to a) buy a new, more powerful computer, or b) buy a console. I'm conflicted there (I don't want to start a console/PC debate again), but my computer is woefully inadequate for modern games such as this.

Question: the videos I've seen of Fallout 3 make it seem more of a first-person shooter than an RPG. That might actually make it more appealing to the likes of action gamers like myself, but do you think the hardcore "old school" Fallout fans will go for this approach?

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Bill Loguidice
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Rowdy Rob wrote:

Question: the videos I've seen of Fallout 3 make it seem more of a first-person shooter than an RPG. That might actually make it more appealing to the likes of action gamers like myself, but do you think the hardcore "old school" Fallout fans will go for this approach?

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Matt can answer authoritatively, but I've heard little negative feedback from Fallout fans. It seems like as usual, these developers got it right and then some. It's certainly not lacking for sales either. I'm intrigued, but since I haven't gotten through Oblivion yet, I think I'd personally rather go for Fable II, which itself is kicking ass in sales.

And not to continue the PC/Console debate, but I would think in your case a console might be more interesting this time around just for something completely different, assuming your PC is still up to non-gaming tasks. At this point between the 360 and PS3 it's a toss-up and all depends on which advantages between the two you prefer, as well as which exclusive games.

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Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.

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Rowdy Rob
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Console
Bill Loguidice wrote:

And not to continue the PC/Console debate, but I would think in your case a console might be more interesting this time around just for something completely different, assuming your PC is still up to non-gaming tasks. At this point between the 360 and PS3 it's a toss-up and all depends on which advantages between the two you prefer, as well as which exclusive games.

The PC/Console debate is a bit more complicated for me. If I buy a console (and all three of the current ones have considerable attractions!), I'm going to have to "untether" myself from my PC and go into the living room to play a game, taking over the TV. The XBox Live experience sounds like one I'd like to participate in. The PS3 has "Little Big Planet," plus one of my PS3-owning friends keeps going on and on about "Socom 3," and it makes me want to join him in some online sessions! Then there's the Wii, with its "party-friendly" games that would be great when I have company over. Whichever way I go, it will be the first time in my life I owned a "current generation" console! I'm strongly leaning towards the XBox360. It would be silly to just get all three, even though it'd be cheaper than getting ONE gaming PC. And the truth is, I'd probably play whichever console I buy for a short while, then it would sit there as a decoration until I finally loan it out to someone or give it away.

I like the flexibility of the PC; one moment I could be typing THIS, then *click* and I'm kicking monster butt in the Nashkel mines, then *click* and I'm watching a TV show off of Hulu, then *click* and I'm listening to some music, all without having to set foot in the living room (do I even have a living room? Let me check....). But I've been burned with PC upgrading many times... I bought the ATI Radeon 9800 when it was hot stuff, only to find that graphics cards are outdated far quicker than videogame consoles. I bought a "X-Fi" sound card which corrupted my PC so badly that I had to reinstall Windows. And now that I've reinstalled Windows, several programs won't reinstall, even though I've typed in the correct CD keys.

Yes, I'm going to get a console, most probably the XB360, but I'll do it after the Christmas season, so all the people who REALLY want one can get one. Hopefully, a "new" gaming experience will be good for me.

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Bill Loguidice
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Rowdy Rob wrote:

Yes, I'm going to get a console, most probably the XB360, but I'll do it after the Christmas season, so all the people who REALLY want one can get one. Hopefully, a "new" gaming experience will be good for me.

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It's certainly a toss-up between the PS3 and Xbox 360. I enjoy them both, and that used to be not so true of the PS3, but it's made huge strides. When you buy the Xbox 360, be sure to keep in mind that it only has wired networking built-in and that you need to pay extra for Gold Level online access (roughly $35 a year or so). So if you want to go wireless on the 360, you'd need to buy the separate wireless dongle that plugs into the back. It's well worth it as the online experience is tremendous on the 360, light years ahead of everyone else.

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Xbox 360: billlog | Wii: 1345 2773 2048 1586 | PS3: ArmchairArcade
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GeneralDebacle
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My PC is hardly cutting

My PC is hardly cutting edge, and I have had to play it on low settings. It is still a good experience.

PC or Console: It depends on what you want I guess. With a console I am not sure if any mods will be available, and the games can be very expensive. If you have a decent monitor, along with DVD drive, etc, it shouldn't cost you more than about $500 US to upgrade your PC. Just my two cents worth.

As for 'Is it Fallout?'; I don't think so. Enjoyable? Certainly. However it doesn't replace my yearning for a true tactical turn based RPG. I would have wanted an upgraded Fallout, with isometric view, and better tactical combat more along the lines of JA2 or Silent Storm. I guess I will just have to keep waiting for my tb fix. The game is still good, but it doesn't scratch the same itch for me.

Bill Loguidice
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GeneralDebacle wrote:

My PC is hardly cutting edge, and I have had to play it on low settings. It is still a good experience.

PC or Console: It depends on what you want I guess. With a console I am not sure if any mods will be available, and the games can be very expensive. If you have a decent monitor, along with DVD drive, etc, it shouldn't cost you more than about $500 US to upgrade your PC. Just my two cents worth.

Old debate, but again, if you have a nice TV, why wouldn't you want to put that same $500 towards a console that you won't have to upgrade ever again or compromise any of the game settings? $500 can buy a lot of console. Game prices are generally $10 cheaper on PC on new releases, but overall, prices are comparable. If your PC can do everything BUT handle the latest games, why not focus on the console side?

GeneralDebacle wrote:

As for 'Is it Fallout?'; I don't think so. Enjoyable? Certainly. However it doesn't replace my yearning for a true tactical turn based RPG. I would have wanted an upgraded Fallout, with isometric view, and better tactical combat more along the lines of JA2 or Silent Storm. I guess I will just have to keep waiting for my tb fix. The game is still good, but it doesn't scratch the same itch for me.

I agree. I would love even a good old style top-down RPG. Have you tried any of the independent games? Many of them are done in the old style and might serve your needs. Of course they're no substitute for what a large team/big budget could provide, but it's probably the only way we'll have access to a game like that.

Vintage Games book!
Xbox 360: billlog | Wii: 1345 2773 2048 1586 | PS3: ArmchairArcade
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.

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Matt Barton
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BTW, I don't know if you

BTW, I don't know if you guys noticed, but I made all the links in this review with our official Armchair Arcade Amazon affiliate program, so if you do buy anything from those links, AA will get a cut.

I definitely wouldn't call Fallout 3 a shooter. Indeed, if you tried to play this like you would Far Cry you'd probably fail. The VATS system really sets it apart from shooter games, because you are essentially rolling dice the way you would in an RPG--your own skill at lining up crosshairs and the like isn't mandatory.

BTW, check out that crosshair link. It's fascinating.

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Mark Vergeer
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Nice review Matt!

Hmmm perhaps this Fallout 3 game could actually be something for me. After reading the review Matt made I really got curious. FPS with these types of game elements really do it for me.

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Mark Vergeer
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con vs pc

A console doesn't necessarily mean you'd have to move to the living room in front of the telly. In fact I haven't - I am using my xbox360 console on my 22" LCD monitor via a VGA cable and it runs in a higher resolution than on my HD Ready Samsung TV-set and it allows the wife to watch her TV episodes of Poirot & Magnum P.I.
You could even create a nice gaming-room-area in your study/basement and have a blast! :-)
I don't own a PS3 myself, would want to get one and probably will get one once BluRay movies have become a bit cheaper and a bit more mainstream than their current dvd counterparts. For BluRay there is no better upgradable and configurable player on the market than a ps3 in my opinion.
Oh yes there's one other thing. If you like your silence and your gaming PC is a quiet beast with all sort of noise reduction things going on than the xbox 360 is not for you. The device is LOUD! The sound the dvd drive produces is just off this world. From what I gather there is a dashboard update coming out this week that allows you to install the games to the 360's harddrive (provided you get one with a harddrive) but you'll still need to insert the game disc into the dvd player so that the 360 can check you actually have the game disc ready. It'll load everything off the harddrive which is faster and a bit more quiet.
The PS3 is silence itself. The DVD only makes slight noises and the system fan is very quiet. Great design!

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Rowdy Rob
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Fallout

I didn't mean to turn this thread into a console argument; my apologies to Matt. It seems the best way for me to play games such as "Fallout 3" would be to get a console and not have to worry about system compatibilities, frame rate, wiping out my Windows, etc.

The problem with "Fallout 3" is, unfortunately, the fact that I just didn't feel the love for the original "Fallout." I think I played it briefly on my old Amiga system, and I didn't get it. It felt clunky, primitive, and non-involving. I guess I didn't give it a chance, since I've never been a major RPG'er.

I recently started playing "Baldur's Gate," and it darn near gave me a mid-life crisis! "Am I even a gamer anymore?" I thought to myself as I "slogged" through the game, getting killed in just about every battle without seemingly having a chance. I wasn't enjoying myself, but I thought "no, this can't be it! Supposedly one of the greatest games ever made, there must be something to this boring game that made it a classic! I'll keep slogging on..... I'm still 'Rowdy Rob' and not an old workaholic curmudgeon who can't enjoy a game anymore."

Finally, I figured out that BG wasn't a "clickfest" RPG, and that I had to play each battle as a chess match, not only of battle strategy, but of resources as well. "Why is my party running away?" I raged as my main character, "Paladin Rob" gets killed by a magic missile salvo. After I figured out that the evil wizard cast a "fear" spell on my party, and that I could negate it with a counter spell, the intrigue deepened. "Hey, this really is Dungeons and Dragons!" I thought to myself, wishing that I still had my old D&D manuals from high school!

Soon, my party was kicking butt and taking names, and I gradually became immersed in the apparently grand story. Before long, my girlfriend what's-her-name started complaining "are you going to play that stupid game all weekend?" Huh? Has it been all weekend already? Rowdy Rob is still alive! ;-)

I do think that the "old school" RPG model (which BG falls under) is flawed, and therefore is dead and buried. I'll tell you why: there's something "impersonal" about the "party" system. Yes, many of these games have characters that throw out "quips" and such to emote some sort of personality, but in general, these NPC's are just "icons" and not really very involving. I think the JRPG's (which I've never really played) may be on to something; people need to FEEL an RPG, not just manage resources and fight battles.

I don't like the "dump a member of your party for a new character" choice that seems prevalent in these RPG's. Hey, we're all in this together, why would I dump one of my party for some random new character? My BG party desperately needs a magic user, though, but I'd have to dump a party member I've become somewhat attached to, and that would be cold-blooded. Once you form your party, that should be it, no dumping allowed.

I also miss the old Ultima "zip along the countryside at breakneck speed" that you don't get anymore in RPG's. Walking around the countryside isn't fun. Let me zip around and not have to wait five minutes for my party to walk a few feet.

Perhaps the "party" system is flawed in and of itself. If I'm controlling six characters, I'm not really role-playing "Paladin Rob." In a first-person environment, this would get even more complicated.

I haven't played a "modern" RPG such as "Mass Effect" or "Fallout 3," but it seems much of my criticisms of the genre have been corrected. There needs to be MUCH more character personalities in these games, more PLOT, and less reading of text; all character banter should be vocal, and there should be much more of it.

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