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TVG travels across a barren Washington D.C and pulverises a few Supermutant heads on the way...
- Utterly convincing free-roaming RPG.
- V.A.T.S brings strategy and entertainment.
- Depth beyond the main storyline.
- Karma system is a little too clinical.
- Merely Oblivion in a post-apocalyptic world.
- Lack of pop-culture references for Fallout fans.
War, war never changes...
Perhaps one of the most iconic phrases uttered in a videogame (up there with “It’s me, Mario”), and almost certainly the most banal way to begin a review of the return of the illustrious Fallout series
Some things, however, have changed. Eleven years after the original Fallout first appeared as an isometric RPG, and following the collapse of Interplay, we finally have the third chapter courtesy of new owners and creators of The Elder Scrolls, Bethesda Softworks. Understandably Bethesda's reign over Fallout begins with its own chapter in the Fallout canon. Wisely recognising that they couldn't rely upon an ageing PC fanbase (let’s not mention previous console Fallout titles) to make up the numbers, Bethesda has created Fallout 3 for fanatics and newcomers alike. Opting to tell its own tale set 200 years after the Great War, Fallout 3 doesn't delve particularly deeply into storyline aspects associated with the first two titles but it does bring newcomers up to speed with the facts surrounding the Great War, the Vaults, Supermutants, and The Brotherhood of Steel.
Beginning quite literally at the beginning with the protagonist’s birth, character creation in Fallout 3 immediately employs some witty references to the original titles. The S.P.E.C.I.A.L (Stamina, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, and Luck) setup works in conjunction with a streamlined pool of Traits and Perks from the original, to provide a thoroughly deep and expansive setup that stays truthful enough to satisfy fans of the original. Bethesda evidently has an expertise at creating open, free-roaming RPGs where you create your own character and carve your own adventure, so it’s not such a surprise that Bethesda has brought this to Fallout 3. The choice of attributes and traits largely dictates how your experience in Fallout 3 will pan out. Like Oblivion and Deus Ex before it, opting for skills in Charisma or Intelligence will bring benefits when it comes to communicating with characters or hacking into computer terminals, whilst those who opt for the more action-based approach can just ram through such diplomatic/stealth options with a well placed shotgun blast to anybody that opposes. Despite some fears surrounding where Bethesda was planning to take Falllout, the simple fact is that they're the only studio that could possibly offer a pedigree and understanding worthy of the Fallout heritage.
The main storyline mission centres on the quest to find your wayward father who abruptly left the Vault before you, and his experiments with ‘Project Purity’. However once you've left the Vault for the first time, Fallout 3 opens up in in the traditional Bethesda manner. The first moment you step outside of the Vault and adjust your eyes to the bleaching sunlight is as memorable as the first steps into Oblivion’s Cyrodiil. Whilst it's entirely possible to rush through the main storyline in a relatively modest amount of hours, the true testimony is getting yourself lost in the beautiful barren wastelands and encountering the many individuals you'll come across during your adventure. Missions are split between the primary storyline, main side quests that feel accomplished in their own right, and a handful of lesser challenges that serve as little more than padding and room to grab some experience points to level up your character. Rarely degenerating into the 'Kill 10 Radroaches' variety, quests often require unearthing notes to gain valuable clues, conversing with other characters for further information and are largely of a challenging and involving design that present multitudes of possible solutions.
Despite being a barren and desolate place, Washington D.C is an engaging gameworld to explore. The way in which different groups have formed to survive is well told and only really appreciated once you deviate away from the main path. Attributes have quite an effect on dialogue and the choices you can make, with percentage scores indicating the chances you’ll succeed with a response based upon a certain attribute. For example, when conversing with scientists you can have the option to impress them with your scientific knowledge, or perhaps intimidate them with the threat of brute force. It’s entirely possible to talk your way around some of the challenges that the game provides instead of taking the hard route, which highlights the many layers of choice running throughout Fallout 3.
In a nod to the original, Bethesda has come up with something quite original when it comes to combat. The V.A.T.S system sits somewhere between real-time action and the turn-based combat featured in the original Fallout titles. Carefully balanced by the player's Action Points, so it never becomes too cheap, V.A.T.S pauses the action and allows you to target individual areas of your opponent's body with the aid of percentage scores indicating the chances of success based on distance, armour, and your prowess with the currently selected weapon. Employing a variety of stylishly gritty camera angles, V.A.T.S adds both tactical elements to the action along with visceral, gory entertainment; it's certainly one of Fallout 3's most striking elements and a convincing success.
The Karma system however is perhaps an area of contention for long-standing fans of the series. Adding or deducting points based on your good or evil acts the setup is a little too clinical for its own good. It’s all too easy to change your alignment as and when you need (purified water to beggars or stealing), and whilst we can understand Bethesda not wanting players to become too restricted by one or two choices, the setup may be a little too 'black and white' for fans of Fallout. Morality is a grey area in reality and it would have been more satisfying to see things a little more muddied up instead of the calculated approach that Fallout 3 adopts whilst adding some weight to your decisions wouldn't have gone amiss – Megaton aside.
The relative scarcity of ammo, weapons, and currency, creates a suitable sense of anxiety to the proceedings with surviving and scavenging two key elements that Bethesda has absolutely nailed in Fallout 3. Following the Great War radiation is still an issue you’ll have to deal with by avoiding areas that are high in radioactivity and addressing dilemmas like eating contaminated food at the cost of radioactive sickness. Things as simple as purified water can be hard to come by, but the abundance of attribute-buffing Chems plays an important part. The downside of course is addiction and the withdrawal symptoms that you’ll develop, when you get a little too eager to rely upon the narcotic option. This is another element that Fallout 3 handles effectively. There will be times when dosing up on Jet and Med-X are the only way to survive a particularly tough section, however soon you’ll find yourself dizzy and disorientated from the effects of taking a little too much – seems you can have too much of a good thing! Equally radiation needs to be kept in check with a supply of drugs to reduce your current level of radiation sickness. These elements of the game develop the sense of playing in a post-apocalyptic setting, and certainly bring a well realised element to the gameplay.
Despite the many similarities between Fallout 3 and Oblivion, Bethesda has managed to address many of the issues that the team faced with its 2006 epic RPG. Most notably they've tuned the heavily criticised difficulty balancing system, which governed loot and opponents based around the player's current level. Sitting somewhere in between the scaling and a traditional RPG approach, the result is a setup that throws up significantly less 'odd' moments (so you won’t find any Raiders in Power Armour) and continues to promote Bethesda's free-roaming blueprint. It's also a wise move to insist player's level up immediately instead of waiting around to sleep to avoid any Lvl 1 game completed embarrassments and unlike Oblivion gaining XP isn’t tied to repeatedly performing actions but instead around worthwhile activities such as completing missions, killing opponents, finding locations, picking locks, and hacking terminals.
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