My first experience with Fallout was with the original PC game way back in 1997 when Interplay released the original game. I still have my spiral bound Vault-Tec manual somewhere in my game room. I have to admit that I was never able to save the Vault. I tried hard to fix the water purifier but I just kept on getting killed by Rad Scorpions while trying to cross the desert.
I did not play any of the other games in the series because I moved away from PC gaming for most of the following eight years. I still dabbled in the occasional RPG game but with a growing family I found myself with little time to devote to PC gaming. As my daughter grew up I spent most of my gaming time among the Pokemon, Kirby and Spongebob.
When I heard about Fallout 3 being released in the FPS format I was nervous. I had developed a problem with FPS games (nausea) and I was worried that I would be unable to play this new version of the game. I was also concerned that some of the feel of the game would be gone with the move to real time and 3D. Those worries were all unfounded. Fallout 3 is not only a great game but it is also true to its roots.
Fallout 3 takes the long road when it comes to character creation. This is not a game where you can sit down, bump a few stat and skill points around and start shooting muties. Oh no! In this game you get the joy of living through your childhood years inside Vault 101. There is a joke there, please don't make me point it out to you...
The first scene you see upon starting a new game is your very own birth. Dad leans over you (voiced by Liam Neeson) and you use a special genetics machine to determine how you will look. It is now that you will pick your characters gender and a number of details that will alter the physical appearance of your character. Specifically you will be adjusting how their face will look.
The game resumes about a year later and now you are a toddler. At this stage you learn the simple skills required to walk around your room, open doors and talk to your dad. After a brief conversation with dad you will get a chance to look at a S.P.E.C.I.A.L. book and assign points to your seven ability scores.
Time progresses quickly and you will soon be awarded your own Pip-Boy and a BB Gun at your big birthday party! At the party you get to meet the other kids who share Vault 101 with you and enjoy a few other presents. The party is short and you soon find yourself growing even older.
The game opens up with you now in your teenage years. Butch has gone from threatening you about hot buns to looking like a 1950's greaser. I don't know where he and his gang found their leather jackets and switchblades but they did.
After dealing with Butch harassing one of your friends you go on to take the G.O.A.T. and the results will tell you what sort of career you have ahead of you in the Vault. Be sure to laugh when you find out Butch's future job! In game terms this test will decide which three skills become your tag skills (these three start 15 points higher than your other skills). If you don't like your results a quick talk with the teacher will allow you to fix the results.
Now comes the sad part. You are rudely awakened by the daughter of the Overseer who tells you that your dad has left the vault and now the Overseer's goons are coming after you! After a quick discussion she arms you and tells you how to get out of the vault. It is at this point that all the training you have gone through in your early years of living in the vault is put to the test.
Right before you exit the vault you will want to save your game. Why? Because as soon as you leave the vault you are given a last chance to change everything about your character. If in the future you decide to start life as a new character you can avoid the 15-20 mins of character creation and start from here.
Soon after leaving Vault 101 you will find yourself nearing the settlement of Megaton. Why is it named Megaton? It's on account of the large unexploded nuclear bomb siting in the middle of town! It is at this point where you will be given your very quest with two option. The people living in Megaton (namely the sheriff) would like to see the bomb permanently disarmed while another faction (Mr. Burke) would like to see that bomb rigged for remote detonation. Both choices result in you earning a place to live and the unending enmity of the other party.
Even if you decide to rig the bomb you might want to wait awhile before reporting back to Mr. Burke, there are a few quests in Megaton that you might want to complete before wiping this small community off the face of the Earth. It is also important to note that the house you get in Megaton is bigger than the apartment you get in Tenpenny Tower. There is also the issue of the serious hit to your Karma you get for nuking a bunch of innocent people!
In the game there is a very special karma system. If you do good things you gain karma. If you do bad things you lose karma. Sounds fairly simple right?
The game allows for you to play through it as either a good, neutral or bad guy. Even the ending of the game allows for these three options. However, as you play through the game the karma system can take its toll on you.
You might think that being a good guy would protect you from a lot of the bad happenings going on in the world. Not so! If you become too good some of the evil folks will attack you on site. There are also some good people who will give you freebies and some areas of the game open up to you.
Being evil causes the exact opposite situation in the game. The good guys put a bounty on your head and you often find yourself leaving one area only to be surprised by three or more angry people who want to claim the bounty on your head!
You might think you can pull off being neutral and avoiding these people but staying neutral can be hard. All those little nice things you do begin to add up and suddenly you find yourself as a good guy! So now you have to run out and kill a few civilians just to get yourself back into neutral karma.
Combat in Fallout 3 can be done in one of two ways: FPS and V.A.T.S.
FPS is your basic aim and shoot style of game play. Some weapons (Nukes and Sniper Rifles) benefit greatly from the FPS style while others benefit better from using V.A.T.S.
When you use V.A.T.S. the game pauses and you are allowed to select the specific body parts you want to shoot at as long as you have enough action points (governed by Agility and some Perks). There are other benefits to using V.A.T.S. that are clearly outlined in the rulebook for the game.
I find V.A.T.S. to be very satisfying and it makes up for a lack of FPS skills. However I would like to warn you that using V.A.T.S. with nukes is always a bad idea due to the way the nuke flies through the air. Don't be surprised if you lock on to a target when firing a nuke only to have the nuke fall well short of that target.
Speech: Let your words be a weapon
Fallout 3 is far from just being an FPS. The story and quests in the game make this more of an RPG with FPS stylings. There is a well laid out main quest and numerous side quests for you to enjoy. It is possible for you to complete the main quest and never even touch on the side quests but where is the fun in that?
Most NPCs that you meet that do not try and kill you on sight will allow you to speak with them. There are a few that just say a few words and walk away but there are also a lot of NPCs with multi-layered dialogue trees. Some even have branches where you can attempt a Speech challenge (Charisma based skill) to get what you want out of them. There are also some NPCs that you can get information out of if your abilities are high enough. For example some characters understand the power of strength and will respond if you are very strong.
Locks and Computers
Two skills that you will want to raise quickly are Lockpicking and Science. Both of these skills are used heavily in the game to overcome locked computer terminals and locked boxes.
When attempting to unlock a locked box (or safe, ammo crate, etc.) the game loads up a special mini-game where you use a screwdriver and a bobby pin in an attempt to pick the lock. There is also an option to use your relevant skill and brute force the lock. You can keep trying to pick it with a bobby pin but if you fail at a brute force attempt you can end up with a lock that you can never pick.
Likewise trying to hack a computer terminal also opens up a mini-game where you have to try and guess the password from a list of words that shows up. With each guess you are told how many letters in the word you picked match the actual password. If you find yourself down to one word just back out of the hack attempt and try again. The terminal will lock if you fail but you need never fail if you always back out!
There are also some terminals and locks that can not be picked at all. These require you find the key that opens them up. It is also important to note that if your skill is not high enough you can not even pick some locks.
Bobbleheads and other interesting collectibles
Hidden throughout the Capital Wasteland is a myriad of interesting collectible items. The most sought after are the Vault-Tec Bobbleheads. There is one for each skill and one for each ability. When you find them you either gain one point to your ability or ten points to your skill.
There are also skill books that when read grant you a bonus point (or two if you have the right Perk) to the related skill. There are 25 skill books for each skill hidden in the wasteland.
You like guns? Everyone likes guns! Hidden in the wasteland (often being used by an NPC) are named versions of every weapon in the game. These named versions are always better than the regular version in some way (more damage, more ammo or both) and are highly sought after. There is also a special Alien Blaster that puts all other energy weapons to shame! Too bad there is only a limited amount of ammo for the weapon in the game :(
I have already completed the game once and I'm currently playing through it one more time as an evil character. On my first trip through I did not explore every nook and cranny of the D.C. Wasteland. At best I might have hit 75% of the locations hidden throughout the game world.
I found the NPCs to be well rendered and the voice acting to be satisfactory to keeping me immersed in the game. There were a few minor problems where my hired help would get lost or walk in circles when I passed out of their visual range but nothing terrible.
There are a few bugs that have to do with in game loads. I ended up avoiding one particular set of underground because some areas would lockup my Xbox upon entering. To make matters worse the game often auto-saves when passing through doors into new areas! I only had the game lockup once or twice while wandering about outside.
I think I logged a good 20-30 hours playing through the game from start to finish. I did not find everything or do everything in that time span and it took me about another 20 hours to complete the side quests.
The feel of the game is 100% Fallout. Between the 50's era stylings and the Vault-Tec jokes the game just feels right. There are a lot of little Easter Eggs and homages in the game, don't be surprised of some of them slip past you.
Oh yeah, in case you are wondering why I don't talk much about the content of the game it is because I don't want to spoil anything.
This game is good, real good. It deserves to be made game of the year and I consider it my favorite game of 2008. If you like post-apocalyptic gaming Fallout 3 should be on your must-play list. It is so much more than Oblivion with guns...