Game Review: Fallout 3 (PC / XBOX360 / PS3, Rated M)

Fallout 3 is an interesting game – it is one that has inspired some of the greatest pre-release angst and discord in the history of gaming for several reasons. First, it is a new entry into one of the classic franchises of gaming, made a decade after the last entry. Second, the look, feel and playstyle are nothing like the original games. Finally, it was being developed by the same folks who brought us Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. The last one is interesting because depending on several things, that is either a really good thing or a really bad thing. But in the end Fallout 3 was finally release and can be judged for what it is – a game. So how does it do? Read on and find out!

A quick summary: Fallout 3 is set in the Washington DC area more than 200 years after an apocalyptic nuclear war pretty much destroyed the world. You are a child born and raised in one of the ‘vaults’ designed to protect people from the radiation that have grown into hive-like societies apart from the wasteland outside. The wasteland is the vast outdoor world, dotted with towns and villages built into and out of all manner of abandoned buildings and scraps. Your quest takes you immediately out of the vault and into the harsh and brutal wasteland. As the Kid Factor will mention, this is a brutal and mature game aimed at adults, not intended for anyone under 17.

Fallout 3 plays like an action or FPS game, but it is a hardcore RPG under the ‘beautifully ugly’ skin. There is a long main quest that will drag you all over the world, loads of optional side-quests and sub-quests and mini-quests and mini-games and hidden items and so on. The ‘SPECIAL’ system (Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility and Luck) for attributes is here, as are Perks and Tag Skills, and you are able to see them in use throughout the game. There are plenty of people to interact with along the way and loads of things to discover.

I have heard someone say that reading any ‘honest’ Fallout 3 review is like listening to someone argue with themselves; it is like a pair of discordant voices – one saying it is great and the other shouting about all of the flaws. There are loads of things I could talk about regarding this game, but rather than delve into too much more detail I’ll just list some of the core elements of the game and give a quick good/bad description.

Graphics and Sound: The soundtrack is beautiful, and the graphics are ‘beautifully ugly’. The external environment and recreation of the Washington DC area is … staggering. You feel slightly blinded by the glare of the sunlight as you stagger out into the wasteland, with the desolate landscape of rubble, ruined buildings, half-destroyed overpasses stretching before you as far as the eye can see. I showed some familiar DC landmarks to my family and they thought it was pretty amazing stuff.

Combat: Fallout 3 features two systems – a real-time FPS (first person shooter) mode and a pseudo-turn-based mode called ‘VATS’ (Vault-Tec Assist Targeting System). Both provide fun alternatives, but each is flawed. A FPS where you can miss based on your character’s skill level rather than your own ability is seldom satisfying, and that makes the game feel like a ‘sloppy’ shooter. The VATS system is a nice compromise

Quests & Story: There are loads of side-quests, some that are complex and branching and many that allow you to solve them in a number of ways. Sadly the end-results of so many of these cool quests feel sterile and unsatisfying. The main quest is practically nonsensical, and the morality forced upon you by the game feels braindead at times. That isn’t to say that even the silly and brain-dead quests aren’t fun: things like ‘Those’, ‘Power of the Atom’, ‘Tenpenny Tower’, ‘Android’, and ‘Family’ are all loads of fun … and there are just so many others that will keep you going. Just don’t look for the depth or quality of the original games and you’ll be happy.

Controls: If you are playing on a console you are all set – the game was designed with you in mind. If you are playing on the PC, prepare for compromises and frustrations due to the console-centric design. I won’t labor the point again, but it bears mentioning that the lack of testing of PC controls extends to being able to remap the key to call up the PIP Boy but not the one to dismiss it; and you can also modify the ‘WASD’ movement keys to a popular variant such as ‘ESDF’, but you cannot change the key assigned to ‘Force’ a lock, which is also F … meaning that the lockpicking mini-game won’t work correctly unless you forgo using your preferred movement keys. The majority of the control system works pretty well, but a couple of design choices directly and solely make the game less convenient for PC gamers and feel like a slap in the face to long-time RPG fans.

Dialogue and Writing: Let me just say that when Pete Hines said to Eurogamer that “Dialogue wasn’t a battle we wanted to pick. … we just don’t have unlimited monkeys and typewriters” I was reminded of a classic Dilbert strip that sums up my feeling on the quality and level of writing in Fallout 3:

RPG Elements: I love how many skill checks there are throughout the game, and the way I can see the impact of my specializations directly in my actions, but hate how quickly I was able to level core skills to the point that I seldom felt like I was missing ‘the other fork in the road’.

Mini-games: I lovethe lock pick game – it really required skill and showed the impact of your tag skill. The Stealth system was also very well done – not at the level of the Thief games, but far better than Oblivion. However, I hate the hacking mini-game … it is random and boring and you can skip failure by stopping and restarting infinitely without penalty.

Conclusions: There has been much talk about comparing this Fallout to the earlier games … yet I have really not done that much. Why? Because it just doesn’t matter. Fallout 3 is its’ own game, set in a universe that many of us know from past games, but none of it matters – the point is that this is a very good game loaded with excellent features and enough bugs and flaws to completely obliterate most games. Somehow it all works; somehow you can forgive the silliness and lack of depth and closure and lousy writing and combat issues and on and on. Somehow you just keep coming back, trying to avoid hitting the end of the main quest so you can just keep on exploring the Wasteland. I cannot say it is the best game I’ve played this year – it falls behind King’s Bounty, the just released Geneforge 5 (for the Mac only right now)), but is better than the recently released NWN2: Storm of Zehir expansion. But it is a really good game and certainly one of the better games I’ve played and one that I wholeheartedly recommend as a ‘must buy’ to all *adult* fans of RPG’s and action / shooter games.

Kid Factor: There isn’t really a ‘Kid Factor’ for Fallout 3 because this game makes little pretense about the fact that it is aimed at adults. The level of violence and gore alone mean that it should be off-limits to all but older teens, with the ability to dismember enemies in slow-motion and watch their heads roll down the street. Then there is the drug use and drug addiction portrayed without real consequences (but plenty of empathy), as well as the prostitution that is present in every town. The folks you meet are coarse and so is their language. The desolate wasteland of Fallout 3 is a harsh place in pretty much every way – and while the original games used more ‘dark humor’ to deal with that harshness, Fallout 3 is just a dark, gloomy and harsh place intended for adults.

Note: my ‘full’ 5 page review with much more detail can be found at RPGWatch.

7 Responses to “Game Review: Fallout 3 (PC / XBOX360 / PS3, Rated M)”

  1. So yesterday morning when I first read this review I had started typing this long response… then my laptop crashed. So now I finally have some time to try this again. :)

    As someone who has played about 75hrs of Fallout 3, including a few hours in the Anchorage DLC, I can say I agree 110% with just about everything you say here. Here is my point-by-point breakdown.

    The graphics/sound are what you would expect from the company that made Oblivion, spectacular. The soundtrack is great and I love listening to the radio while trekking across the wasteland. I often found myself, especially in downtown DC, going to places to see the view. Some of them were quite breathtaking. All that said, the game does suffer from some of the technical issues that plague Oblivion, such as some strange camera angles and clipping issues, but nothing that can’t be overlooked.

    The combat system is, well, interesting. I think you summed it up pretty good by saying it is flawed, but fun. Some of the slo-mo shots when using VATS look like they are straight out of a movie, while some of the FPS shots are frustrating as you miss when your mouse is right on the target. However, the end result is a combat system that works and is fun.

    One of the things that people loved about Fallout 1 & 2 was the writing and the stories. The quests were well written and sprinkled with liberal amounts of dark humor. Bethesda tried to get the same, or at least a similar, feel in Fallout 3 and fell short. Many of the side quests are fun and well written, but just as many will leave you feeling let down. The main quest is somewhat frustrating at times. There were many a time where I was wondering “Why am I doing this again?” That said, it was still a fun game to play. I think if Bethesda could have gotten the level of writing that Bioware does for it’s games, it would have been an amazing game.

    While the controls on the PC were better than the pathetic options you have with Oblivion, they were still lacking. One of these days a publisher will do it right when making a multi-platform title, or porting a console game to the PC. Lionhead did a good job with Fable: The Lost Chapters with allowing the PC folks to customize the controls, but all to often (Assassins Creed, the Lego games, Oblivion) the controls are just the console buttons mapped to keys. Keys that the gamer can’t change.

    The Dialogue and writing were good, but not on par with Bioware games. Of course, that is a pretty high bar to use for the standard, but why should we expect less than the best? Though there are plenty of gems in there that had me laughing.

    I can’t even add more to what you said about the RPG Elements and mini-games, you said it perfectly.

    Fallout 3 is an excellent game, flawed, but excellent. I do not feel like I wasted my almost $70 on the collector’s edition at all. I am currently playing the Anchorage DLC, which is good but seems to crash and lock up much more than the game did. As I said, I have spent around 70 hours playing the game and still haven’t visited every location. And I haven’t completed my 2nd run through as an “evil” player yet either. I would say anyone who is a fan of the original Fallout or an RPG fan should pick this game up. Unlike Call of Duty:World at War, which I totally wasted my money on, Fallout 3 is a keeper.

  2. My question is that I’m 15 years old and me and my parents dont have a problem with the violence so much as the drugs and prostitution. I own games like the most recent in the call of duty series, far cry 2, and assasins creed. Are the drugs and sexual themes in this game too big a factor to avoid or are they a smaller part of the game? And also do you think that the overall experience of the game is worth all the language and brutal violence?

  3. Amen Ryan. Fifteen also, and my fourteen year old friends are playing it, and I am BY FAR more mature than them. My parents know all about the game (my pops did some research on it) and they are still deciding wether or not to let me buy it. I have Oblivion and Morrowind for the PC (Oblivion isn’t so bad, but some of the mods out there for Morrowind are twisted), and it’s science fiction, so my pops is kinda leaning towards letting me get it, but my mom is opposed to it just because I’m shooting. I’m a good kid, and they know I really have no interest in using the prostitution involved, or any interest in the drugs, but there is a lot of blood and gore, mixed in with language. I watch some “R” rated movies just fine (Like “Wanted,” or “Righteous Kill”), but my mom is saying it’s way different because “you’re actually shooting people, not just watching it on a screen.” I say that it is the same, because it’s basically hitting the “Play” button on a remote to watch “Wanted” or “Righteous Kill” which are all about violence, and “Righteous Kill” is very much about drugs and killing people who didn’t deserve it. All in all, I think I can handle it, and know I can because I have played the game at a friend’s place, but my parental units are not so sure.

  4. Church, I honestly don’t see why you can’t get this game. I have the exact same situation just that my dad hasn’t gotten around to researching it yet. My mom is ok with it though. I can stand any kind of video game violence but not exactly realistic movie violence. It’s R movies I can’t watch. But anything else is completely fine. As for the drugs and prostitution, I honestly have no idea why I WOULD use any of it. I think it’s stupid really. I’ve done tons of research on the game (admittedly I’ve kinda obsessed on it) and I see no reason not to get it. I see no difference in why not to get it, It’s like resident evil just funner, you make your own story, and it’s less linear.

  5. I don’t see how anyone could object to the drugs or prostitution in this game. Let me sum it up.
    Drugs: Any time you take a drug, you get a temporary boost to certain stats while hurting others (liquor makes you dumber but more confident, morphine makes you more pain resistant). Any time you take a drug, you have a chance of becoming addicted, and the chance increases every time you use a drug. The withdrawal is horrible, and potentially lethal. You need to go to a doctor to cure your addiction – as far as I know, just going “cold turkey” has a very low chance of working.

    Prostitution: Curious to see what would happen, I paid a prostitute once in Megaton. She sleeps in the same bed with you, fully clothed. That’s it.

  6. i was thinking of getting the game, i am only 16, my mom is on edge, but my dad wants to do research first. personally, i am quite mature, especially compared to most everyone else in my school.and already have stuff like Unreal Tournament series, counterstrike, garysmod, Half Life series, team Fortress series, and Crysis. any of these compare to Fallout 3 and might help my cause?

    seeing as the drugs are negative effects and the prostitution isn’t anything really, it isn’t GTA where you get rewarded for this stuff.

    i have played some of it on a friends’ computer, and have found it quite fun. my parents are somewhat okay with that, but they don’t really like it, and i need something good that doesn’t sound like whining or sound rude to help them convince them of my side.

  7. Why is maturity an issue? Fallout 3 is an immature game made with the immaturity of players in mind. It is morally patronizing and gleefully irreverent. I can think of only one argument for children to play this game: children want to play this game. There is no logical reason to allow a child to escape reality into a simulated fantasy world designed by adult strangers who like extreme simulated violence, think that profane child voice acting is hilarious and exploit the reality of nuclear holocaust for cheap amusment.

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