The post-apocalyptic world of Fallout 3 is bleak, cold, desolate, and lonely. Unless you are within a small settlement, the people you’ll meet likely only want to kill you. Wild dogs will attack you, as will giant mutated mole rats, scorpions, cockroaches, and other unpleasant creatures. Life in this post apocalyptic wasteland, which exists in and around a fictional future Washington, D.C., is harsh. So harsh you might at first find little fun in the game. While it may not bear much similarity to previous chapters, the creators of the immensely popular – and just flat out immense – Oblivion have crafted a brutally realistic adventure worth taking.
Similar to the approach used in their previous release, in Fallout 3 you can go anywhere and deal with quests in multiple fashions. If you want to, you can spend more time doing side quests and exploring than even worrying about the main campaign. It gives you an incredible amount of freedom. This time around, though, instead of offering a fantasy themed setting with swords and sorcery, you use guns, traps, and explosives, as well as hacking into computer terminals and picking locks.
Character development is quite different from Oblivion, and has more in common with previous Fallout games. Your character, which can be a man or woman and is quite customizable appearance-wise, has stats, skills and perks. Stats are determined up front and change little over the game. They govern things such as strength, perception, and luck. Skills include medicine and speech, and affect how well you use items or interact with people and objects. Perks enhance stats and skills, allowing you to overload them and enhance your character in interesting and sometimes comical ways.
You gain experience by killing enemies, completing quests, and successfully interacting with the game world. You can then level up, which allows you to add points to skills and choose new perks. Leveling up not only increases the number of hit points you have, but can also open up new possibilities when conversing with NPCs. It also makes you more lethal in combat. This system, which is called S.P.E.C.I.A.L. and stands for Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, and Luck, gives you an incredible amount of freedom and allows you to tailor your character as you see fit.
Combat takes place in real-time but can also be paused. When paused you use what’s called V.A.T.S., which is the Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System. It allows you to queue up attacks which target specific body parts or even the weapon an enemy holds in their hand. Once targeted you simple confirm your selection, which is carried out in slow motion. You can’t use V.A.T.S. continuously though, as your character only has so many action points (AP), and each attack you attempt takes a certain amount of AP which in part depends on the weapon you use.
Not using V.A.T.S. is suicide though since attempting to fight battles in real-time is very difficult. Enemies often appear in groups and they will quickly close in on you. You have to use a combination of avoiding enemies, strategically placing your character behind cover, as well as invoking V.A.T.S. appropriately to beat them. Also, ammunition in the game is often scarce, so you also have sometimes switch weapons or resort to melee combat.
A pillar of any RPG is of course loot, and besides the plethora of weapons, armor, and other goodies that you can find or take from fallen enemies, there are plenty of in-game stores that you can trade with. Some have special items, and many appear as caravans that wander the game world. In addition you can also find workbenches where you can create weapons and other items using schematics found or purchased in the game world.
There is an optional canine companion that can follow you, and you can recruit a single human at a time to accompany you. These cohorts can assist in battle, and you can send the dog out to find supplies. They can die though, so be sure to take care of them lest you find yourself all alone. In addition to anyone who will accompany you there are plenty of others still alive in the wastelands. If they aren’t trying to kill you they likely need help. This is where most of the quests come from.
In Fallout 3 you are welcome to be good and helpful or evil and uncooperative. You can tackle quests any way you want, and based on your actions you’ll either gain or lose karma. The amount of karma you have then affects how people see you. Skills and perks, as well as those basic stats, also affect your interactions with people, which makes the whole system fairly robust and versatile. You can of course ignore what people want and just run and gun your way through the game, but the interactions are well done and shouldn’t be avoided.
The game has an amazing cast of characters, with even more varied voice talent than what you’d expect from the creators of Oblivion. Besides the likes of Liam Neeson and Ron Perlman, there are many other actors who do a great job of delivering their lines believably. When combined with gorgeous, frightening landscapes and detailed graphics that are among the most technically advanced every seen in a RPG, it’s clear that this new Fallout is one of the best looking games around. An unbelievable draw-in distance, great looking characters, and some excellent slow-motion combat really help bring this bleak world of the future alive.
As dark as the game gets it also has an offbeat sense of humor. The characters you interact with are often quite amusing, and freely use adult language that seems appropriate given the situations they are in. There is no sugar coating of such issues as prostitution, racism, or murder. This makes the game quite gory, with violence that is pretty over the top, and you will routinely see decapitations, dismemberment, and other horribly graphic scenes of death.
With its bleak worldview and desolate atmosphere, it’s a given that Fallout 3 is not for everyone. It is a game meant for those who can stomach a world that is oppressive, violent, and brutal. It definitely builds on previous Bethesda titles, and offers character development, combat, and character interaction more sophisticated and satisfying then what has come before it. While it may not feature the most uplifting of outlook for humanity, it does provide an incredible experience that is compelling and challenging. In its own way it’s a beautiful and memorable game that should not be missed by anyone craving a mature, radically challenging RPG that’s distinctly western in approach.