I’ve finally gotten around to playing Fallout 3, and my god is the game amazing. It just does so many things right, and while it has some flaws, it overall feels just so complete. It’s smart, keeps you guessing, and has a great sense of exploration and wonder.
I mostly avoided Fallout hype pre-launch, in part because of my ultimate disappointment with Oblivion (great setup and concept, but the world leveling with you, and it’s too open-endedness, just killed the game for me) and because I’m not a huge fan of shooters. The idea of a great RPG franchise being placed into a shooter game really turned me off. Having only a vague concept of what the game was all about, and not having any hype about what the game SHOULD be like, really set me up to be pleasantly surprised and awed. One would think this would teach me to avoid future hype about games, but that’s not how gamers really operate…
As mentioned, my major concern with Fallout was the FPS gameplay. I did not want to be frustrated in an RPG by the fact that my twitch skills were not up to par, yet somehow Fallout is not affected by this. Combat is certainly difficult, and near-impossible if you stumble into the wrong area at the wrong time, but never feels ‘cheap’ like some FPS do. You don’t face that impossible to hit, always hitting you NPC that is clearly set to overpowered. Some situations will be difficult due to the setup, like facing 5+ enemies who are heavily fortified and packing serious heat, while others will be difficult due to the nature of the enemy, like mutant bears that run at you fast, and strike you incredibly hard. Luckily saving is super quick, as is reloading, and the range of weapons you posses generally means you can bring out the big stuff and deal with a problem if needed.
Another aspect of the combat I really enjoy is the variety of weapons and the tactics related to them. From simple stuff like melee weapons and pistols, to assault rifles and shotguns, to the big stuff like miniguns and missile launchers, each weapon brings something different. The hunting rifle, for example, packs a good punch with each shot, but the need to reload after each shot, and a longer reload after five, means it’s less than ideal for close combat, but great for long range sniping. In direct contrast, the sub-machine gun is a close combat beast, with a large ammo clip and quick reload. Its accuracy however is very poor at long range, limiting its use to indoor areas or specific situations. Luckily switching weapons and armor is very quick in Fallout, allowing you to adopt as a situation progresses. As I said before, I’m not huge into the FPS genre, yet the combat in Fallout has been really enjoyable, and does a great job keeping you alert and always watching your back as well as listening for enemy movement.
The story, be it the main quest chain or a side quest, is always great. You very quickly learn that everything in Fallout has two sides, and very rarely is anything black and white. The challenge is having that information before you make a decision, and that usually requires some creative exploring and searching. For example, (incoming spoiler, skip to the next paragraph if you have yet to play) one quest starts in a small town under attack by a group called “The Family”, and it seems the attacks have recently gotten worse, with one family being murdered and their son taken. The leader of the town asks you to find the gangs base and bring back the boy. Once you find the gangs hideout, you learn that they are basically vampires, yet the leader is trying to teach them to control it and not kill humans. You also learn that the boy you are rescuing is the one who killed his family. You only learn this information if you hack a computer terminal, and without it you might be less tolerant towards the vampire leader. You have the option of either getting the boy out using force, or making a deal with the leader, one that could actually be beneficial to the town. That’s just one example, but most situations in Fallout follow a similar setup of choices and consequences.
Finally I wanted to mention the setting, because despite the generic setup (post nuclear), it feels incredibly rich and real in Fallout. You can actually imaging what the world looked like before the nuclear bombs fell, and how people lived. You also get a great sense of how the world is coping with the disaster now, with everyone having a different set of problems and methods of dealing with them. The world does not give off that ‘just a game’ feel, with weapons being placed in odd situations and such. Everything really feels natural and works.
I’m a good 20 hours into the game, trying to follow the good karma path. I’m sure I’ll have more to say once I finish the main quest, and replay the game as a more evil character. So far though, it’s tough to stop playing, which is as good a compliment as you can give for a game.