Publisher: Bethesda Softworks (ZeniMax Media)
Developer: Bethesda Softworks
Platform: XBOX 360, PC, PlayStation 3
Genre: Post Apocalyptic 1st/3rd Person RPG
Suggested Retail: $49.99 USD (PC), $59.99 USD (360 & PS3)
Platform Reviewed: XBOX 360 (Note: PC and 360 versions are identical; PC version even has Achievements)
"War, War Never Changes..." Fallout 3 is a part of a running series of Post Apocalyptic consisting of two fellow titles named Fallout and Fallout 2, as well as two non-canon spin-off titles both named Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel. And this edition is no slouch, having returned back to the main-front of canon story, but this time, not by Interplay or Black Ilse, no, another company is at the helm of this grand, dark adventure; Bethesda Softworks! The makers of the long running The Elder Scrolls series and a few other free roaming titles, such as Pirates of the Caribbean (not to be confused with the film game, that's utter rubbish). The take on this title continues the time-line (and the story from Fallout 2 sort of; there are key hints and so on of events that transpired in Fallout 2) by advancing it three decades and giving it a new local. No longer in glowing Cali, but across the entire country over to that of DC, now called "The Capital Wasteland".
Now like other reviewers, I won't spoil the back-story, but tell of the prologue. You're born in Vault 101, the Vault that has been permanently sealed from the outside world, as they say, You're Born in the Vault, You Die in the Vault. Well, as that turns out, that isn't completely true, due to the protagonist's father decided to abandon ship and escape Vault 101 and it's your duty (or forced duty) to go after him. What you do about that? Well, that's up to you once you hit the Wasteland. Every action has consequences in the long run be it Karma hits or grand scales as the fate of entire towns, the game feels far more alive then other titles that attempt at such. This has been the best move for Bethesda in terms of storytelling, they are quite capable of capturing the essence of the Fallout universe and keep it held together, from the 50s Super Science Utopia turned Wasteland Nightmare theme to that of character interaction and story progression.
The only time it feels like it falls apart at random moments is interaction between the characters and not you. It's a mixed bag of treats and candy you don't like which gives some of the NPCs some rather awkward moments, but far from the same rhetoric that you've seen in Oblivion and other titles if you've played any Bethesda Softworks titles. So, with the small talk, it's a mixed bag, but not much to complain about. Now as to plot progression, it's a free-form title as were the TES series and the previous Fallout titles, but the gravity of your actions feel suitable right to the end of the game, much more then TES IV: Oblivion or Fable II for example. Like the other Fallout titles, it is also possible to "break" the main quest, ending the game prematurely and giving you a peculiar ending all right, which in it's own right is awesome. As said with that, the story is solid and keep you interested in the game be it the main quest chain or the many sub-quest chains.
The game is broken down into three forms of quest chains: Main Quest, Miscellaneous Quests (or town/city quests as I like to call them) and Free-Form Quests like TES IV: Oblivion. Now, the game doesn't have as many Miscellaneous Quests that TES IV had as it's more central based about towns and areas then actual "Go and do so and so" and each one feels unique for the scenario even if they have similar objectives in mind. Free-Form Quests are triple the amount as TES IV and split into three forms. Kill Quests, Collection Quests and the most fun, Exploration Quests; each suitable for the area, many with it's own story and fitting for Fallout. There is a lot to do in the game and some things cannot be completed due to your Karma alignment. I've spent over thirty hours in the game already and tackled two Main Quest chains and Two Miscellaneous chains, the rest of the time was done doing the various Free-Form Quests and exploration. The dark off-the-wall humor has taken a back-seat in this title, yet it has returned in a few random encounters (but not as bizarre) but it is retained in the gritty story and irony of many situations.
Before people say it's Oblivion With Guns, as I have also made some similarities to Oblivion, it isn't. The combat mechanics feel a lot different, same with the system and how everything is handled. Combat-wise, the game is fun in both real-time and in V.A.T.S. which feels suitable for the dangers of the game. The game shines in V.A.T.S. more then anything, even there is a Perk called Mysterious Stranger where said stranger comes up in the midst of a V.A.T.S. session and finishes off your opponent, your own guardian angel.
Now on to the actual application of V.A.T.S., what it does is pauses the carnage and allows you to target specific body parts of the body of said nasty (or good-guy if you're being evil) and the percentage of it is to hit said limb and even their weapon (if they have one), change between multiple enemies and tally up "who to shoot and where" which the game reuses the AP system to tally and even brings up the familiar combat tally sounds you heard from previous titles.
The outward results is fantastic as it plays out in slow motion of your actions. Many critical shots will follow the bullet to the enemy and you get to see them gib, fry, melt in slow motion and that never gets old as it gives it a cinematic feel to combat actions. Sometimes you see your protagonist scowling in third person, unloading a barrage of assault rifle fire into the gut of a Super Mutant that is trying to make you swish cheese with his chaingun as you watch his bullets fly by you and yours connect with him, sending him flying backwards, dropping his gun as his body goes ragdoll in slow-motion with blood spraying out. Utterly satisfying. Another use for V.A.T.S. I would say, would be as a scouting scope for baddies way out there as it zooms in on them.
V.A.T.S. isn't only used for ranged combat, but also close range and melee combat as well. Nothing more satisfying then seeing and hearing an unlucky Raider taking a baseball bat to the skull only to hear it crack to the sound and their body goes flying to the side to it. Real time combat although as what one would expect from a first person and third person shooter with hand to hand. Nothing spectacular and surely nothing bland; it works. There is limb damage and it simulates in game quite well. Crippling the legs of a Raider will cause them to move slowly, drag their broken limbs and so on. Extensive damage to said crippled appendage will destroy the limb, usually by forcible amputation in a gory fashion. Now, in saying that, the same damage can extend to you. Crippling limbs can give you great advantages when you're not on the receiving end, luckily you can heal individual body parts to restore vitality (temporarily) back to your crippled limbs (it is possible to have max health, but badly damaged limbs) which can only be fully recooped with a trip to the doctor or a nice night's rest (which also gives you a boost on performance with combat and social interactions).
Weapons and Armor (as well as clothes) degrade after usage and do need periodic maintenance which gives the game of a more survival feel to it. Armor only degrades if you're consistently trying to soak up damage like a sponge and thus lose their bonuses and armor potency. Weapons degrade faster with repeated usage and if you manage to get hit with damage that is in a splash measure or getting smacked by a giant melee weapon. Guns lose their damaging potency and prone to jam, causing your character to have to a longer reloading animation. Now they don't degrade inhumanly fast like System Shock II, but they do inf act degrade that you have to repair or salvage other types of similar gear and repair your own things to keep them in working condition. A nice balance to keep things tactical and on edge as apposed of going in with your 10MM Submachine Gun and unload five hundred rounds with no degradation to your weapon as if your weapon was made out of an indestructible metal.
Another thing, aside from health you have to worry about, you also have to take care of Radiation. The higher it goes, the more prone you are to sickness and other bad things. As with gear degradation, this only truly hampers you if you try to take Rambo everything and trudge through the wastelands kamikaze style. Some areas give you rads, eating radiated food and drinking radiated liquids obviously gives you rads. Luckily, there is Rad-X, RadAway and of course nifty perks to lower your radiation level.
The system used in the game isn't of Bethesda's own work, instead they reuse the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system from the previous Fallout titles and it works in this as well. Although they have modified it to suit a more realistic approach. The system tends to go on a scale of 1-100 instead of 1-300 and Tag Skills only give a 25+ boost at start with said skill, instead of that and a x3% with each skill point spent at each level up. As the max level is now 20, you get a Perk at every level, a new Chain of Perks at each even level. They've done away with Traits and instead added many of them as Perks either you can get if you meet the requisites when leveling up or by doing specific Miscellaneous Quests and it offers a Perk as a reward.
The PipBoy 3000 works wonders, it allows you to see the health, what weight you're carrying, a world map, a mini-map that you've explored, your inventory, quest chains and even radio stations. The inventory system is easier to navigate as it has things separated by types and gear with degradation of the same (like two assault rifles), the most serviceable one is on top.
Social interactions as what you'd expect from both Fallout AND TES series. Many offer three or more (sometimes seven or more if they have Stats in the picture) and various have what are called "Speech Challenges" to talk your way out of (or in to) situations to your best advantage; although failing these have consequences, be it large or small.
A nice well-rounded bit of both action and social interaction comes to be.
The controls are tight on the PC and XBOX 360; I would believe as well on the PS3. The buttons are responsive as they should be and easy to use and only a few buttons have more then one action mapped to them. The only thing I've noticed is that jumping at times can be problematic, as it sometimes doesn't want to respond to your press and you just stand there or worse, run off a cliff. Aside from that, it's quite top notch. The game can be played easily in third person as it can first person and the controls adjust to the change of the camera, which is nice.
The sound has increased, the music is suitable from the dramatic combat music, the exploration music of the Wasteland to that of the 50s music crackling over the radio-stations and the propaganda on others. The voice cast has increased considerably in comparison to TES IV, so recycled voices are varied and usually only seen in generic enemy variety (as they should be). No complaints here at all.
As it uses the same engine as the previous title released in 2005, some of it shows and that usually shows in some of the animations as a few of them have been recycled from TES IV. The actual appearance of the game although looks much better then TES IV and the people no longer truly possess a plastic doll appearance, yet there is always room for improvement (which I am sure people will do in the PC version; MODS ahoy!). They've taken measures and paid close attention to make the scenery look unique and they've also improved their polygon count techniques to keep slowdowns to a minimum (I've yet to experience one personally). The majority of areas look unique in appearance with many memorable places.
Release Glitches: Now on to the glitches, so far the list for the PC and 360 list are small. Usually coming from rather bizarre circumstances like an object connected with a chain bouncing and making sounds while "staying still" and the occasional ability to get stuck behind something. These are minimal at best, but the latter is more annoying then the first. From what I've experienced, always save before you go to a new unexplored area. Problem solved. Sadly, from what I've seen and heard from others, the PS3 version is a glitch-fest, with weird missing polygons, sound issues and other game breaking problems. I'd stay away from this platform until they patch it.
Final Thoughts: This title seems like it will bring countless hours of enjoyment, a great storyline you can follow or walk away from and explore the world. Stays true to the Fallout universe and for a first try by a new company that done primarily fantasy, I'd say a job well done.