Developers: Bethesda Game Studios
Publishers: Bethesda Softworks
Plot: The player lives a sheltered life in a Vault, protected from the nuclear apocalypse outside. However, when the player’s father commits a serious crime, they are forced to flee into the harsh wild, alone and vulnerable…
Fallout is one of my favourite gaming series. I have already spoken about how I prefer it over the Elder Scrolls, mainly because the setting just feels so much more interesting to me than the fantasy world of Skyrim. As soon as I powered up a copy of Fallout 3, I was hooked, dragged right into this interesting world of a nuclear wasteland. The setting is easily Fallout’s biggest positive. While animation-wise, Fallout 3 is incredibly ropey compared to other games released at the same time, it is an understandable downside. The map is massive, so we can forgive the lower frame rate and the fact that many of the characters are copied and pasted character models with a few changes here and there. However, Fallout makes up for this with powerful imagery. The first major city you stumble across is a labyrinth of thrown together houses, a scrapyard moulded into a living area. At first it is confusing to travel around, but after a time, you end up memorising every step and Megaton begins to feel like an actual home. Game design at its best. Other set-pieces are just as impressive, like the rich hotel where Tenpenny resides or the dark, murky subway tunnels, overrun by the terrifying Feral Ghouls. The universe is much more than pretty visuals however. As someone coming into the franchise in its third entry, I loved how much history is already dripping from it. The Enclave are instantly horrifyingly evil, as the game’s big bad. The Supermutants and Brotherhood have interesting histories to delve into. Fallout boasts a living and breathing world and just lets the player explore it in an open world setting. Endless fun.
The story that goes with this world is also very intriguing. You play a character just ending their teenage years (the character needs to be created by the player), oblivious to the world outside the Vault, their home. The Vault is ruled by an Overlord, who seems kindly, but it is clear that he is over-protective, keeping his disciples naïve, rather than letting them mature. One day, you wake up to discover your father (Liam Neeson is actually in this game! So much yes!), has killed someone, stolen something important and fled. You decide to break out and track him down, forcing yourself out into this dangerous world you don’t understand. Thus begins a great underdog story, as you track across this ruined landscape, coming up against some dark forces and deranged killers. The perfect thing about this story is that it is perfect for people like me, who are newcomers to the franchise. Your character is just as clueless to the Fallout universe as you are, so when something new is thrown out at you, you and the character react in the same way. When you bump into a Ghoul for the first time (badly scarred humans who are now subject to horrific racism in society), you theoretically react in the same way. There is no trying to catch up with your player in terms of experience. It makes every step of this adventure feel so much more real. Right up until the nail-biting ending, Fallout 3 has a story just as impressive as its universe, making it so much easier to just slip into this world and let yourself become immersed.
The combat system is also totally different than anything I have experienced before. You can play it as a straight-up third person shooter, but the controls are purposefully ropey. I like how your character is hindered by a bad aiming system, so every battle is pumped full of adrenaline. You will see an enemy running for you, firing, but you are unsure if a shot from your current distance will land. Needing to save ammo, you need to wait until you have a comfortable shot, before attacking. But for all you know, waiting a second longer could result in a fatal bullet to your skull. It makes every encounter feel desperate and unpredictable, like a shoot-out in a Western. There is also a secondary combat system, which feels totally original. You can switch to a freeze frame mode and actually pick where on the enemy’s body you would like to aim for. The game then plays the next few shots for you, predicting how likely your bullets will land. It works out your accuracy, the speed of the player, the body part you chose to go for (as well as the shots the enemy might be able to get off in between yours), and throws in blind luck as well. It predicts how those shots will go and you are subjected to watching the fight unfold before your eyes in a bloody cinematic. It might annoy those looking for a more action-packed gaming experience, but for those looking for an original take on a RPG, this works well. There is more than combat to enjoy as well. I love working my way around dialogue options in Fallout. There are some tricky people you will encounter in this game, from an oily bartender to an Enclave lieutenant who hasn’t decided if he wants to kill you or not yet. It is fun working your way through a conversation, trying to come out with the best scenario. You might end up destroying whole fragments of the story by accidentally sparking a conflict, which ends with you killing someone who could become a major character. It is exciting and as you progress throughout the game, you wonder how much story you missed, because you chose to kill a character and let another one live.
But Fallout 3 struggles, because there is too much going on. While I love the open world side of the game, Fallout 3 was released at the height of open world mania. There was no control over the genre and the bigger the map, the better the game. As a result, Fallout 3’s map is just that little bit too big. You will be progressing through the story at a fine pace, only to discover that to get to the next part of the narrative, you need to cross to the next district, which often involves wandering through lengthy subway tunnels, full of enemies that eat up your conserved ammunition. There are also entire city networks full of Super-Mutants, interesting foes turned irritating, due to the timely method it takes to actually kill one of them. Sure, the massive map does mean that there are several little territories, totally hidden for anyone sticking to the game in a linear fashion, but a delightful little secret for the players that wander off the beaten track (the Republic of Dave anyone?). However, the middle act of Fallout 3 is bloated through petty wandering and it does mess up the pacing of the game. By the time, you’ve met up with your father, you have partially forgotten all of the character development you spent the last few hours building up.
Final Verdict: Fallout 3 has a great universe, grounded by interesting characters and a well-written narrative. I am happy to finally join the franchise.