on October 12, 2010
I played (and reviewed) Fallout 3 about two years too late. In fact I remember along with its release came numerous other titles that also turned out to be pretty incredible, so I passed at first. I picked up Fallout 3 about a month prior to release of Fallout: New Vegas, to see what the hype was about. At first I had mixed reactions, but quickly realized I had totally dropped the ball in missing this game for so long.
Gameplay: 9.5 / 10
The controls were a little clunky at first. I felt right at home with the first person shooter feel of the game, but quickly realized this was no more an FPS than it was a turkey sandwich. Especially in the beginning of the game, it felt oppressively difficult to simply run-and-gun. But the game has a system to assist, which never seemed to get old called VATS. The VATS system allows you to select various limbs, parts etc. of the target. It sort of pauses the game for you to select how you plan to attack which body parts. Once you give it the OK, the action unfolds in slow motion. VATS provides a chance-to-hit percentage for the various limbs which considers things like the target's current cover, your cover, your ability with that weapon, and on and on. VATS gave this game a very interesting twist on combat.
The game is heavily based on the character you choose to build and the decisions you make in the world. Some game advertise "choices matter" but sort of restrict you when it really comes down to it. Not so with Fallout 3. I was absolutely dumbfounded with the degree of freedom and choice offered to a player in the game. You decisions matter...a lot. From the very beginning you select skills what you want your character to be good at, your character's attributes etc. However beyond those numbers that are the dialog choices that you're extended. Most conversations you're given a set of responses that range from angel to evil allowing you to choose. The non-player characters (NPC's) will change how they respond, but even more importantly, your reputation carries throughout the game world. So if you treat someone really horribly, or pickpocket a guy or just shoot a shop keeper and take his keys to his safe, great. Be prepared to deal with what may result from it later. Certain quests only open up if you do X, others will close down if you say Y. You can change much of the game simply through the way that you interact with people.
A major source of variation in the gameplay depends on the Perks you choose. Perks are awarded every time you level up. You can choose simple perks that give you more skill points to put toward things like small guns, lockpicking, repair, etc. You can choose perks that let you be add a point into your character attributes, like strength, intelligence or charisma. You can also choose more action-based perks like my favorite "Bloody Mess" which gives a chance each time you kill something for that something to literally explode into...a bloody mess. A set of new perks become available every two levels and I believe every set consists of around 4-8 perks to choose from. The catch, however, is that the perks that you can choose from each set greatly depend on how you've built your character up to that point. Perks become available/locked out based on your skill levels. For instance, a sneak perk requires you to put points into, well, sneak. If you don't meet the prerequisite you can choose the perk. The endless combinations of skill points, character attributes and perks allows for character crafting, or even the fine-tuning of a character. Frankly the possibilities are near endless.
Fallout 3's gameplay is so extensive, it's a rather daunting task to think of ALL the things you can do in Fallout 3. It so vast, so open , so HUGE, it's nearly impossible to sum it all up in a review. So I'll sum it up by saying it's impossible to do EVERYTHING in one playthrough. Even some of the trophies require you to play through as an neutral/good/evil character. I've been through only once, but plan to hold onto my copy for some time. I logged around 60 hours or so and only completed about 2/3 of the total missions before completing the main quest. PLENTY to do here.
Graphics: 8.5 / 10
The graphics while very good in textures, had some issues at times. This may be due to it being on a console, or perhaps on the PS3 specifically or just the game engine itself. The main issue I noticed was tearing. I believe it has to do with how some of the models were created and animated but it is definitely noticeable. Similar to tearing, the lip syncing animations were so-so at times. Another criticism of mine is inherent lack of color variety in everything. While this was no doubt intentional to give the feel of post-apocalyptic Washington DC, it gets a bit bland and boring from time to time. Only a handful of places (that I can think of) in the entire world map has more than the standard shades of gray, brown, tan & yellow. Again, I get that it's been destroyed by a nuclear holocaust, but still.
The towns and outposts were all very unique in design, and you get the idea that this world was not created with cookie-cutter blocks that were cut and pasted in tiles. The environment has so many different locations there is an entire perk dedicated to showing you how many there are (while embarrassing you with how little you've actually uncovered). The detail in some of the character models were excellent, the Super Mutants are downright hideous and the dingy look of some of the weapons is truly authentic. Gripes aside, the graphics do help to create the feeling of immersion that I am constantly seeking in a game.
Sound: 8.5 / 10
Fallout 3's sound gave me mixed feelings. I loved that all the dialogs were voiced by the person with whom you were speaking, however I would have loved to have my character have voice too. Perhaps a design decision on the part of the developers to leave the character generic or maybe another reason. Regardless, the conversations felt more like playing a text file than a conversation. I enjoyed playing old school RPG's before storage media had enough capacity to hold voice, but our technology is way past that now, and it seems a bit odd to voice half of every conversation.
For the most part those characters that were voiced had great dialog and were humorous at times. The spoken parts of the main quest were beautifully voice acted, enough to make me care about what was going on. The individual weapons had unique sounds that seemed to fit their particular type, caliber, and power. Surround sounds help a ton when walking around in the wasteland, as you'll hear voices shouting, enemies (Yao Guai) barreling up on you from out of sight, etc. the sound does a great job of conveying caution when entering a dark new area, or lightening up the mood when entering a non-hostile area. Over all the sound enhances the immersion into the game.
Immersion: 10 / 10
Immersion (I imagine) is a difficult thing to craft into a game. Probably because you're having to account for so many different play styles and so many different preferences. With that, there aren't many games out there that I can honestly say got me more immersed in the game world than Fallout 3. The fact that you can practically interact with anything, you can create your own weapons out of various scraps found in the wasteland, you can loot just about everything, you can choose your own moral code, you can talk to nearly everyone, there are cities ripe with people that react to your reputation and on and on and on. The various things you may find in this game are a major incentive to exploring the game world. There were numerous times where I was dead set on progressing the storyline of the game another step, when I come across a door and my curiosity says "oh, just have a peek". The door opens up to some mysterious cavern, or bunker or train station or building or whatever. And my journey to progressing the storyline would simply get put off for another 5 hours while I explored "that direction".
I realized I was immersed when I was in a bunker and this bartender gave me some flak, so I shot him...and then felt immediately bad about it. What I realized is he held one of the unique weapons in the game, one that I wouldn't have found had I been "nice". This game is the completionist's best friend and worst nightmare at the same time. The amount of things you can do, coupled with the character building, the options of choice, and the sound, Fallout 3 drew me in for far longer than I expected.
Overall: 9 / 10
This game sold gazillions of copies and was game of the year in many publications for good reason. It's the most extensive game world I've ever experienced, so much that this review is simply not enough to explain how much you'd be missing if you didn't give Fallout 3 a fair shot. It even has its own GOTY version (which I ignored due to price and apparent PS3 bugs) that adds the 4 different DLC expansions straight on the disc. Needless to say this is a game that every RPG fan should play. It is not to be missed.