‘War. War never changes’. It is with these words that began one of the greatest role-playing games ever made (of course I mean Fallout). The RPG and its sequel are renown for their tongue-in-cheek humor, stylistic design, and isometric gameplay. When we heard Bethsoft was taking the reigns on Fallout 3, and that it would be a first-person game, forums around the ‘net lit up with flame wars on the subject. Die-hards of the series naturally had a worry that by bringing the series into the first-person, Bethsoft would be taking away an aspect which made the previous games undeniably ‘Fallout’. We are pleased to say, however, that this worry has proven itself false. This is a Fallout game.
Fallout 3 takes place along the East Coast, in and around Washington D.C., well, what’s left of the city anyway. It is 2177, two hundred years after the atomic exchange which effectively ended the world, and the capital is now known as the ‘DC wasteland’. You play as a vault dweller who has left the safe confines of Vault 101 for the first time. ‘Vaults’, for those of you who don’t know, are big underground communities built before the 1977 atomic war by a company called Vault-Tec.
One unforeseen effect that Fallout 3 had on me while I played it was an overwhelming sense of despair and aimlessness. I had not thought of the increased immersion that the first-person view would bring, and as I wander through the ruins of the nation’s capital I actually feel sad. Sad that we humans had to do this to ourselves. Our greatest monuments in ruins, our people now scavenging about like beasts. Making it worse is that I stumble upon Pennsylvania avenue and see the ruins of a very familiar White House. It actually reminds me alot of the Gears of War ‘Mad World’ trailer as Marcus wanders through the ruins of his world. I would say that Gary Jules’ ‘Mad World’ might almost be too much to bare while walking around DC in its ruined state.
Thankfully, if you can get past the sense of sadness for the human race as a whole, you will find a gigantic amount of things to do and see. Quests can be found in abundance and it is very doubtful you will finish everything in one play through. In fact, your character’s level is capped at 20, making it very likely you will play the game over again at least a few times, trying different character builds. Bethsoft has stated numerous times that they wanted to increase the re-playability of the game immensely and they have succeeded in this feat. Of course, the low level cap is also probably some foreshadowing that forthcoming DLC will raise it somewhat for added quests, etc.
Graphically, the game is beautiful, and the wasteland really feels alive and bleak. Dust devils swirl about the barren landscape as do wild beasts, most with some mutation such as the Radscorpions, which have grown to huge sizes and are hungry for human flesh. Characters are modeled wonderfully (especially the Ghouls) and animations are mostly fluid although I have noticed some spotty issues with characters moving between uneven planes.
Adding to this immersion is the sound design, which is simply spot-on. The constant howling of the wind as it sweeps across the wasteland is haunting as is the eerie silence. Sure, you hear the rare bird or cricket but for the most part the world is very sparse on the animal life. This eerie silence makes things all the scarier when you suddenly hear rustling about, causing you to immediately spin around in different directions, attempting to locate the source. Failure to locate the approaching creature could mean death or sever injury to your person. If your perception is high enough, you are able to detect creatures early on your HUD, which helps out quite a bit.
Combat is handled either by standard FPS controls or via the Vault-Assisted Targeting System (or V.A.T.S.). This system was put into place mainly for RPG fans, as it is a tactical way to approach the otherwise FPS-style combat. When entering V.A.T.S., you will get a reading on your current target and be able to click on various parts of said target (arms, legs, antennae…) to queue up attacks. When you are ready, simple click accept and the fun begins. The results of your stacked actions are shown in a cinematic, bullet-time, method with various camera angles and the like. The V.A.T.S. combat system can lead to some VERY cool-looking combat. For instance, using my Chinese pistol (which makes me feel a bit like Han Solo) I initiated combat with a raider. I queue up V.A.T.S. and assign two shots to the body, one to the left leg, and the last to the head and then click accept. The following ‘cut-scene’ (and I use the term loosely as it is all done in-game) blew me away and was completely unexpected. My two shots to the body blew the raider back a bit, obviously wounding him deeply. He turned around and began to run in an attempt to escape my wrath but he was not fast enough. My shot to his leg crippled him, sending him to the ground in a heap. My last shot finished him off with spectacular gore and violence. This kind of scenario does not happen all the time. However, it happens enough to make you want to continue using V.A.T.S. whenever possible. Using this mode drains you of action points (or ‘AP’) which must be recharged in real-time mode. This is just another example of the great lengths Bethsoft took in making Fallout 3 accessible to new gamers as well as fans of the original RPGs.
Character creation is done in an equally unique way, and will be familiar even to fans of their early Daggerfall RPG (one classic game). You start as a baby (literally) and progress via a few jumps to your adulthood. However, at age sixteen, you must take the GOAT exam. This test determines your aptitude as well as your future job inside Vault 101. It is made up of a series of questions each giving a situation. Your answer is how you say you would deal with such situation. For example, one question would be something like, ‘How would you deal with a co-worker who confesses he stole an expensive item from the boss?’. You could reply with either ‘A – Beat him up, take the item for yourself’ or ‘B – Sneak into his room at night at steal the item’. Each of these point your character more towards a skill-set you prefer. A would point you more towards being a melee-based character and B would point you towards being stealthy and thief-like. Thankfully, you have the choice of manually assigning your tag skills after the test, but it is cool to see what it thinks you are based on your answers.
Bethsoft has kept the SPECIAL (Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, Luck) system of character attributes, as they have also kept the Perk system of special characteristics. For instance, if you select the ‘Bloody Mess’ perk upon leveling up, you will notice that enemies tends to die in the most gruesome manner whenever you attack them. This is a fan favorite and is a welcome homage to the original games.
A new feature in Fallout 3 that we have not seen before in the series is the ability to own your own home. In certain areas and by accomplishing certain tasks, it is possible to own your own residence. This provides you with a free place to rest and heal up as well as the ability to customize it with house-specific items like jukeboxes, first-aid stations, and more.
Overall, this is a very worthy game of the Fallout title. Bethsoft has created what is probably their best product since Daggerfall, and that is saying a lot considering the gems they have produced in between the two titles. Fallout 3 will provide you with hours upon hours of entertainment as well as bring back fond memories of playing the first two games (look for homages to them throughout the game).