I've been having an internal debate with this Fallout 3 review. I really want to say that Fallout 3 is just Oblivion set in the future, but that's simply unfair to the game and readers. However, that is exactly what this game feels like. The characters, dialogue, quests, combat, and so on are too much like Oblivion. Granted, Bethesda Softworks used the same engine for both games but they simply didn't change Fallout 3 enough to make the similarities unnoticeable. Valve uses their Source engine for multiple games but Half Life 2 doesn't have any similarities to Left 4 Dead even though both are FPS games. In the end, it's not much of a review if I leave it at one sentence so let us continue with the review.
The Fallout series began on the PC in 1997, although another game called Wasteland is considered the beginning of the series to some people but that's another discussion upon itself. The game takes place in a post-apocalyptic US where, as common in post-apocalyptic stories about the US, there was a nuclear war that made the US a wasteland. The people of the US survived by living in Vaults throughout the country, which were large bomb shelters that were small communities. Instead of saving lives though, these Vaults were intended to be social experiments conducted by the US government. The games themselves have a constant gameplay mechanic and stat system that will be talked about later.
Fallout 3 takes place in a desolate Washington DC rather than California like the previous games. Your character is the child of the doctor of Vault 101. When the doctor leaves the vault when you reach the age of 19, panic happens as no one has ever left the vault before. As his child, you're targeted by the Overseer, who's in charge of the vault, and you will have to escape. While the story continues as you search for your father, as expected in a game by Bethesda, the rest of the story is up to you. You can continue on with the main storyline, or never touch the main storyline and play as you see fit. There's plenty to do including many optional quests that are spread out throughout the game.
The game itself is a FPS RPG. There is an option to change to a third person perspective but the animation and view are just agonizing to watch. When starting the game, you're giving the choice of being male or female, and given a variety of choices to which to create your own character. Early on, you'll be given a choice of choosing your attributes, called S.P.E.C.I.A.L. that is an acronym for Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, and Luck. Each attribute is the basis for a variety of other mechanics within the game from how many hit points you have to how hard you hit something to even how many times you get a critical hit. Very soon after that, you will then have a choice of entering points into certain skills. While your attributes are very broad and effect several things, the skills are very specific. The skills include the use of specific weapons, lock picking, hacking, and even speech skills. This is where you can focus on creating a certain kind of character whether it is the big gun using brute to the unarmed fighting master. You gain experience in a variety of ways including killing enemies, completing quests, and even making use of certain skills like lock picking, hacking, or using your speech skill. When you accumulate a certain amount of experience points, you level up that will let you add points to different skills and choose a perk. The perks are very cool because they improve your character in a variety of ways. Some perks will mainly improve one or two skills, but other perks offer some great tools to help you out. Most notably there's a perk that immediately gives you another level which is always great, a perk that lets you eat the dead although there are some consequences to that, and another perk that will have a mysterious stranger come out at random times to help you kill an enemy. All these stats and other information are available on your Pip-boy, Personal Information Processor-Boy. This tool is with you throughout the game, and will be used plenty of times since it lets you change weapons and even acts as a flashlight.
In combat, you will have choices on what kind of weapons you can use. There are simple weapons like knives and bats to your own personal nuke. How well you wield these weapons depends on your skills. Throughout the game, you'll have access to a variety of armor that can add to certain skills as well as make your character look like a total badass. Both weapons and armor degrade and eventually break forcing you to repair them or get rid of them altogether. To help you during combat, there is a gameplay mechanic called V.A.T.S., Vault-Tec (makers of the vaults) Assisted Targeting System. When pressing the right shoulder button, the action will pause and your current target will be shown as having several points to attack specifically. Each point will effect your target in different ways(choose a leg to stop them moving, choose an arm to keep them from using a weapon, etc), and there will be a hit percentage will be listed for each point that depends on your skill, your distance from the target, your angle from the target, and what weapon your using. Depending on the weapon, attribute and perks you have, your action points will be sufficient for one attack or several attacks. VATS is a way to add turn based fighting in a FPS essentially giving you free and effective hits on your target since your target slows down in a "bullet time" type fashion.
Like the other Bethesda series, the Elder Scrolls, your character will have a choice of being good, evil or neutral. Depending on your actions, you will gain or lose karma. Stealing other people's stuff, killing innocent people, or making choices that will ultimately lead to the death of innocent people will cause you to lose karma. Gaining karma is a little harder because, in most cases, you will have to be given the choice of doing the right thing that will lead to you saving someone's life or being very generous to certain people. Your karma will not only affect what kind of ending you'll see, it'll also affect what teammates you'll have access to. There are several characters that will join you in your journeys but depending on the character you try to have join you, your karma will dictate whether they will join you. Also, very good or bad characters will have NPCs giving you random gifts for being so nice or hunted down for being so bad.
The graphics in Fallout 3 are somewhat of an anomaly for me. They look great from afar but up close, they don't look like anything special. The main eye-candy of the game is the torn apart national landmarks that are found in Washington DC. The Washington Monument, US Capitol and Jefferson Memorial are just a few of the landmarks in the game that look incredible from a distance. They convey a feeling of awe in size, but also a bit of sadness seeing such beautiful building being in such a desolate state. Yet up close, these landmarks don't look much different than other buildings in the area. The Capitol Wasteland is a 16 square mile that includes Washington DC, The National Mall, and other DC landmarks. There are also a variety of other buildings, vaults, stores, and other buildings that are spread throughout the wasteland. Inside buildings, there is very little to differentiate one building to another which is a letdown. Character models are detailed yet have very awkward animations leaving much to be wanted. There are some unique looking enemies, with the most impressive being the Super Mutants. These huge humanoid monsters send a shiver down your spine in both looks and size.
Fallout 3 has made a name for itself because of the music. Even though the game takes place in 2277, the music that is listened to is a variety of music from the 1940s. These 40s tunes create an almost haunting feel to the game experience with the music acting as a reminder of a time that was more innocent. To go along with the 40s music, there is a traditional score for the game as well changing tempo to match the action that is occurring within the game. Helping the game's epic feeling is the use of professional actors and voice actors. The most noticeable is Ron Pearlman who is the narrator of the game since he's been a narrator of the previous games, and Liam Neeson who plays the character's father. Neeson is a great contribution since an epic game always needs an English actor.
While the main quest line lasts a good 15-20 hours, trying to complete everything will take a minimum 50 hours. On top of that, there are plenty of endings available varying on certain actions that you've taken. Hopefully, in the future, Bethesda will release some extra content for download like they did with Oblivion.
All in all, Fallout 3 is a great game. For those that played Bethesda's Oblivion prior to playing Fallout 3, you'll see so much in common that it can be distracting. This has caused much controversy among gamers everywhere because of the similarities. If you haven't played Oblivion, you'll be amazed at the game and wonder why there's such a controversy.