Interplay had a good run with the Fallout franchise, getting four games out of it in the end, but after a few bad decisions (like making Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel for instance) they found themselves suffering from a wee bit of bankruptcy and in 2007 Elder Scrolls developers Bethesda presented them $5.75 million to take the whole thing off their hands. So this is the first Fallout of the Bethesda era, with a new immersive first person real-time approach to gameplay and combat that seems precision engineered to piss off the existing fan base. It was also developed with consoles in mind this time, which was made blatantly obvious to me right away by the fact that I couldn't use my mouse on the menus until I'd disabled my Xbox 360 pad!
Oh, like the Elder Scrolls games, this has all kinds of user made mods available for it, which I won't be touching. I've got nothing against mods, much the opposite in fact, I just like to play games vanilla when I'm showing them off on this site.
(Click the screenshots to double their resolution.)
Fallout Tactics intro, because the camera is always revealing new info instead of just staring a book for five minutes.
Fallout 3 was released a full decade after Fallout 2 and produced by an entirely different developer, so it's reassuring to hear Ron Perlman's voice again as he returns as narrator for the fourth time. He skipped 2004's PS2/Xbox Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance clone Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel, but I honestly have to say that it's the least of that game's issues. Because Brotherhood of Steel is narrated by Tony fucking Jay instead and there's no way you'll ever catch me complaining about his voice turning up in a game.
The narrator explains that humanity went and nuked themselves into near extinction a while back, but some had managed to find sanctuary in giant underground complexes called Vaults. It's been two hundred years since the end of civilization and most of the Vaults have opened by this point, but the narrator informs me that Vault 101 has remained sealed ever since the day the bombs dropped. It's here where my character was born and it's here where they'll die. Sound like it's going to be a fun game.
This gene projector device seems pretty similar to Oblivion's face generator, with dim lighting, limited options, and sliders that move around by themselves while you're adjusting the other sliders. I found I was frequently dragging the bars to their limit to achieve the kind of look I wanted, and I wasn't even trying for anything weird this time.
Bethesda have really redeemed themselves with the beard choices though; there's almost 50 of them here, more than twice as many as there are hairstyles!
ONE YEAR LATER.
My first objective in the game (besides walking into the playpen at Liam Neeson's request) is to escape the playpen, which is as simple as opening the gate. So I tried to jump over instead and found that I could stand on top of the fence just fine, but an invisible wall prevented me from completing my daring escape. Pointless invisible walls in the very first room, that's just not a good sign.
I mean take Perception here, the book claims it affects my sense of taste, smell, eyesight and hearing. Fair enough, but does that increase my ranged weapon accuracy? Does it open up new dialogue options? Can I use it to loot more out of containers? What exactly am I getting for putting points into it? The older games gave me immediate feedback on how my chosen attribute scores were affecting my stats, but in this it's all a mystery.
NINE YEARS LATER.
Anyway, I've got a whole birthday party to explore now! People to talk to, chairs to jump on, maybe even gifts if I'm lucky... and I'm sure it won't be interrupted with anything dramatic happening at all!
And then the game crashed.
A quick internet search revealed that this is a common problem on modern systems and that I have to edit the game's ini file to fix it, changing one line to read:
bUseThreadedAI=1And adding the line:
iNumHWThreads=2I'm writing the whole thing out like this in case it helps someone else. We'll soon find out if it worked for me, and I'm kinda hoping it does, as I don't really want to play through the game in 10 minute sessions.
Oh this is my back you're looking at right now by the way. Now that I've grown up a bit I'm allowed to switch to third person view. The lack of diagonal walking animations makes me think it probably wasn't a big priority during development, but it seems to work well enough.
Hang on, there's a message up at the top of the screen.
SIX YEARS LATER.
Thankfully Bethesda have decided to drop the persuasion mini game they introduced in Oblivion and it looks that certain dialogue options are more likely to work if I've sunk points into the appropriate skill. So I guess if I go with that choice at the top and it doesn't work, I can just load my save and retry it until it does. Or I could just beat him into a bloody mess with my bare fists instead. It's nice to have options.
I talked him down in the end and then sat down to take the infamous G.O.A.T. test, to see what job I'd be ideally suited to carry on doing for the rest of my life in the Vault.
By the way I love that granny's speech bubble in the background has the 'Bloody Mess' trait cartoon from Fallout 1 in it, that's an awesome little touch. Then again all the Vault Boy images are awesome.
Oh whatever, where's my tea at?
My job determines which three skills are tagged, though I'm free to change that and make my own choices. The skills are pretty similar to the set in the earlier games (and nothing like the Elder Scrolls series), though Steal, Throwing, Traps, Gambling and Outdoorsman have gone AWOL, and First Aid and Doctor have been combined into Medicine. Thankfully.
Well it's a Fallout game, so tagging Small Guns is practically mandatory. Speech would probably give me an advantage in the 'talking' side of the game so I'll go with that too. The last one I'll tag is... Repair. I'm sure I remember reading somewhere that it's a good skill in this. Or maybe it's Science I'm thinking of.
THREE YEARS LATER.
Actually my father's just found a way to escape and it's triggered chaos inside the Vault. Anyone even suspected of helping him is getting beaten to death by Vault security and the Overseer's men are out looking for me now. Still, I reckon if they were that serious about it they probably would've found me already, seeing as I'm inside my own apartment right now.
Well I suppose I'd better grab my baseball bat and go see what's going on out there. No sense wasting this exciting opportunity to begin some kind of hero's journey.
I immediately ran in there like a big damn hero, pushed the Overseer into a corner and told him that I'd surrender all my weapons and come peacefully. He was happy to accept my surrender, and was positively overjoyed to start beating the crap out of me while I was unarmed.
Well beating the Overseer to death with my fists wasn't really the way I intended that to play out so I'll load my last quicksave and just creep on by instead. Actually I'll open the door, let Amata run out, and then make a run for it myself.
But now that I've loaded my save and he's alive again I have to find another way to get this door open. It's possible he's got another key in a box somewhere or maybe I could've pick-pocketed one off a guard, but I've decided to shove a screwdriver into the lock and see where that gets me.
The trick is to turn the lock slightly with the screwdriver and see if the hair clip rattles. Rattling means I've got the clip tilted the wrong way and need to fine tune the angle before trying again. As lockpicking mini games go, it's not so bad. It's less of a pain than the lockpicking in Oblivion that's for sure, and more satisfying than just relying on chance like in the earlier Fallout games.
The hacking mini game is all about picking the correct password out of the text on screen. When I make a choice, the software lets me know how many letters were correct, and I keep doing that until I either run out of attempts or get it right. Hidden inside the code are brackets and if I click a pair that match (like the bit I've got highlighted right now) I get a reward like a dud word being removed, or my allowance being reset.
I actually like this minigame... I think. I've definitely seen and played much worse. Also when you hack a computer in this, you tend to get some information about the people who owned it and what they were up to as a reward. Kind of like an audio diary... except in text form!
Wait, I don't have time to rationalise justifications for potential lore discrepancies, I'm being chased by people trying to kick my ass for the crime of being related to someone who opened the Vault door... I don't even want to know what they'd do to me if they saw that I'd opened it again myself.
Like Oblivion, before I step outside I'm given a final chance to redo my appearance, skills and attributes now that I have a better idea how the game plays. It was a good idea in that and it's a good idea here too.
You know, in Fallout 1 you can get out onto the map screen in under five minutes on a new game if you avoid most of the rats, and that's including the mission briefing. In Fallout 2 you can get through that bloody Temple of Trials, across the tribal village, and out to freedom in under 10 minutes without skipping dialogue. In this it took me more like HALF AN HOUR to see daylight.
But look at it all, ruins stretching out as far as the eye can see! All of them no doubt entirely empty after being thoroughly looted over the last few decades! I don't even care, I'm going to pick a direction and go exploring.
I'm going to go with Intense Training this time I think to get an extra attribute point, then I'll stick it in Luck. I have ambitions of getting critical hits.
And now I'm free to explore the wasteland!
I do appreciate having the journal entry and the quest marker pointing the way on my compass though. I know a lot of people find it turns these kinds of games into a series of mindless journeys from point to point, but personally I find that knowing exactly where I should be gives me more freedom to go where I want to be, without worrying that I'll lose my way. Also if this means less searching around buildings for the exact item I need to recover/activate/shoot/whatever, then I can live with any downsides.
There's a good question actually: is this closer to 3D Fallout or a post-apocalyptic Elder Scrolls? Is Fallout 3 just Oblivion with guns?
|Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion with guns (Photoshopped, I'm afraid).|
It's funny how different the same engine can feel though when all the plants are dead, the buildings are trashed, and it doesn't have epic fantasy music playing all the time. Fallout 3 doesn't let me increase my jumping height by bouncing everywhere either, but it does make up for that by not saying "Loading area..." every few steps.
9 times out of 10 I'm totally against item durability and I think it's basically a shit idea, but I gotta admit they've used it pretty cleverly here. Items become weaker as their condition deteriorates, so it's possible to find decent weapons early in the game without them ruining the balance too much, because they tend to be wrecked to the point were they do reduced damage. To fix equipment I need to combine it with another one of the same item, destroying the second piece of gear in the process, but the max condition I can achieve with this is limited by my Repair skill. Or I can take the stuff to a shop and get it fixed for money, which is limited by my money. It's basically like level scaling the loot, except I'm not penalised for finding something early.
It sucks that I don't get to see the gear previewed in the window though. I gotta keep putting the Pip-Boy down to see how I look.
Incidentally the armour you find in this magically transforms to match your gender, so you can bet this isn't going to be quite so exposed on a female character. I wouldn't have thought this feature would be an issue to anyone, but I've heard a couple of good arguments why it is. It's designed to make all gear functional for either gender (and the earlier Fallouts handled armour the same way), but it means you can never dress your female hero up in a suit or give a guy a dress... and in fantasy world set 200 years after the fall of civilisation, why not?
V.A.T.S. is a homage to the 'called shots' system from the earlier games, intended to help to make the game more accessible to people who enjoy classic RPGs more than first person shooters. It removes the need for twitch gaming skills by letting me freeze time and queue up shots automatically aimed at specific body parts, by spending action points. Then I hit accept, watch the bullets fly, then get my head down and wait for the points to recharge.
It's entirely optional though and, unlike in Fallout Tactics, taking actions in real time doesn't use up action points, so it seems like I'm getting a bit of an unfair advantage here. Plus I get cinematic camera angles of my carnage! I love both these things!
Silent Hill. I'm especially vulnerable right now with only a quarter of my health left and no ammo, so I'm trying to creep around and catch them unaware... with my baseball bat. There's no regenerating health in this, though once they're all dead I can go find a bed, have a good night's sleep, and get my hitpoints back.
I'm also struggling to fight off the urge to steal every bit of crap I find in here. I have absolutely no use for bent tin cans, Abraxo cleaner, ruined books and coffee mugs, and the game's straight up telling me that they're near worthless... but I need every bottle cap I can get for bullets! It kindly tells me that the lockers are empty when I highlight them so at least I don't have to search everything in here.
SOME LOOTING LATER.
This junk town has an interesting problem as it was kind of built around a 200 year old unexploded nuclear warhead, and the thing could go off at any second. Even if it doesn't, the bomb must be leaking a crazy amount of radiation at this point.
Anyway that's their problem. I've got problems of my own to worry about, like trying to find my way around this maze of walkways. How the fuck do I even find the shop in this place?
If you look at the original Fallout's dialogue system on the other hand you'll see that...
Hey there's a Fallout 2 callback behind her. If you scroll up you'll see that she's got that Vault jumpsuit strung up on the back wall in the same way as you find it in the Temple of Trials.
The actor's playing the guy as if he's the world's worst spy, saying lines like "I'm afraid there's been a misunderstanding. I'll be sure to address the situation... personally" with an astonishing lack of subtlety.
Just out of curiosity I decided to reload my save and see if there's any other way this could've gone down.
It's funny just how trivial the justifications for doing this are, there's basically no reason for it beyond 'I didn't like the look of it from my balcony'... and you could barely even see the place from here! I think Bethesda were just trying to win over all the people who liked to massacre entire towns in the original games.
Anyway I can't let Megaton be nuked, I'd be throwing away all that potential XP from sidequests just to get a cosy room in a posh hotel! I'm going to reload and disarm the bomb this time.
I still don't get why these people chose the radioactive bomb crater to build their fortified town around when there's a half intact village just down the road with a large school building. Sure there were raiders around, but I managed to clear them out on my own with a baseball bat in about five minutes, so that's barely an excuse. Use the scrap to build a fence and some guard towers, problem solved.
Then I went north instead and found this poor dog all alone in a scrapyard! Like I said, I use quest arrows as more of a suggestion than a guide. When I'm bored of exploring it'll lead me back to where I need to be (and if I'm too far off I can always fast travel to the closest discovered location using the map).
Man this reminds me of all the bullshit I had to do to get around Necropolis in Fallout 1, ducking in and out of sewers. Though at least this time I have my awesome Pip-Boy map. Yep, that's a auto-map in a modern(ish) 3D first person shooter you're looking at; it turns out that such a thing is possible after all!
Don't worry, the dog's still with me, he's just standing a little bit out of shot. Either that or he's been eaten by a sneaky super mutant. I hear this place is crawling with the bastards, that's why no one lives here. Well, except for this radio DJ I've come here to find.
Still, I don't care how much of a heavy-hitting bullet-sponge boss he is, I can just go shoot him from a doorway and duck inside when he gets close. I bet I've got more rifle bullets than he's got hitpoints.
Plus it helps that the enemies in this are scaled to my level. I know that's often a terrible idea in RPGs, but kind of necessary in open world games to a degree and I think they've actually pulled it off this time. It's far better than Final Fantasy VIII or Oblivion's systems anyway, where I avoided levelling up entirely as it'd actually put me at a disadvantage.
I reloaded this bit like five times, trying to tell my dog to leave the fight and go back home, but every time I failed. It turns out that the only way I could keep him alive in the end was to load an older save and not bring him along in the first place. What's the point of giving me a companion who can't survive a decent fight? I mean I'd understand if I had direct control of him, but he's a purely AI driven sidekick.
Anyway I killed the mutant (told you he'd be easy), found the DJ... and learned that he wanted something from me first before he'd tell me what I wanted to know. I'm spotting a pattern here.
Fallout 3 has issues, I'm certain of that, but after a couple of hours of playing it I'm struggling to actually list any. Well I suppose the gunplay isn't exactly top-tier (no iron sights), the graphics are a little dated, and I believe there's a severe lack of crazy shit you can get up to compared to Fallout 2. But there's more than enough here to keep me happy. Though I'm sure a couple more trips through those Washington DC subways would soon wear down my good mood.
One thing I found interesting about the game's main storyline, is that no one gives you the quest to find your father at the start. In fact he gives you a message asking you not to follow him. The Vault Dweller in the first game was sent to recover a water chip or else there'd be GRAVE CONSEQUENCES. The Chosen One in the second game was tasked with recovering a G.E.C.K. device or else EQUALLY GRAVE CONSEQUENCES. But the Lone Wanderer in Fallout 3 steps out of Vault 101 with absolutely nothing driving them but their own motivations. Sure it'll develop into a 'save the wasteland' plotline eventually, that's just inevitable, but right now it's an entirely personal quest, and that's really rare. The player has got no greater ends to justify their shitty means for once, no excuses.
But yeah, this game was practically custom made to appeal to me specifically on every level, so there's no way I was ever not going to love it. I mean the only way I could possibly like it more is if they added some kind of spaceship level as DLC...
Okay now's your chance to tell me how wrong I am about everything in the comments box below. Or you could talk about what you like about the game, what you think about the Fallout franchise in general, you know, all kinds of things. Speak your mind.