The lights are on
On the surface, Fallout 3 appears a somewhat mediocre game. Within the first hour or so of gameplay, all one would notice are the less than stellar graphics and shaky gunplay. The player is limited to a linear stream of simple quests while trapped in a small bomb-shelter community. However, any sense of said mediocrity vanishes as soon as the player sets foot outside of the introductory level. In stark juxtaposition to the claustrophobic "Vault 101," the player now sees a vast, simultaneously horrifying and beautiful wasteland that stretches as far as the eye can see. The sun rises over a hazy, waste filled desert. Mutant animals fight to the death over a scrap of rotten meat. A trader kindly offers the player weapons and supplies in exchange for bottle caps, but makes it clear that she won't put up with any funny business with the ammo belt hung around her blood covered armor. The player's "Pip-Boy" device picks up a signal and begins playing jazz music. The Pip-Boy also lists a quest that can be completed, but Fallout gives the player the option to instead walk for hours in the opposite direction and find something just as interesting to do.
Here is where Fallout 3's genius lies. While many games give you a small amount of choice and claim that there are infinite possibilities, Fallout lets you truly do whatever the hell you want. Instead of helping an old woman find a missing piece to her violin across the world, you can murder her and take whatever small amount of supplies she had for yourself. You can spend your time murdering innocents and collecting their ears, or making caps by roaming from town to town, selling large amounts of silverware you've stolen from various restaurants. You can complete every quest the game has to offer over dozens of hours of gameplay, or spend the same amount of time doing absolutely nothing but living in the desert, hunting animals and harassing various travelers. There are so many quests and locations in the game that it is at times daunting.
Along with all of this is a well crafted leveling system. Unlike Oblivion, where players level up their stats by using them, Fallout follows a more traditional system where those players level up by gaining experience from just about everything they do. The system offers a multitude of play styles. One could be a combat powerhouse by leveling only their "Big Guns" and "Explosives," or, form themselves into a stealthy thief after putting points into "Lockpick," "Melee Weapons," and, "Sneak." After they apply these skill points, they can choose a new perk. These range from the practical, like, "Gun Nut," which boosts the player's "Small Gun" and "Repair" skills, to the ridiculous and hilarious like, "Bloody Mess." That one causes any of your enemies to explode into mangles pieces of flesh when they die. The experience of watching a person disintegrate into nothing but a hand and a leg after punching them in the face is highly recommended.
Now, this freedom of choice doesn't mean there is no story or path for the player to follow. The main quest line follows your story of discovering your father's past, and helping him in creating a future of free, clean water for everyone. It is a satisfying journey that strings you along to many of the most prominent locations in the game, which range from the Washington Monument to Rivet City, which is a large town contained within a Titanic-scale ship. The arc is interesting and all of the quests are fun. However, one of my small complaints in the game lies in that once you finish the main quest, credits roll and you can not continue. If you want to keep playing, you will be forced to load and older save and ignore the endgame situations occurring around you. However, this problem is alleviated by purchasing the Downloadable Content, "Broken Steel," which continues the events at the finale of the game.
While Fallout 3 is an amazing game that I sunk well over 100 hours into, it is by no means perfect. As I stated above, the combat/gunplay has some faults. The controls aren't great when engaging in combat with your enemies. Many of the guns don't pack a lot of punch. However, this issue is made less with the wonderful addiotion of the "V.A.T.S." system, which stands for "Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System." In V.A.T.S., time is stopped and the player is able to select which specific limb on their enemies soon-to-be-corpse that they want to fire at. After selecting where and how many times to attack this enemy (which uses up AP), the player watches their move play out in a cinematic slow-motion scene. Using an RPG and clicking on an enemy's face several times in a row before watching the daylights get blown out of them is immensely satisfying. Other issues lie in the graphics, which can look beautiful at times, and very ugly the next. While the wasteland looks absolutely fantastic from a distance, moving up closer reveals muddy textures. Also, animations are not great. If you switch to 3rd person mode, you can watch as your survivor ice-skates across the desert. However, when you think about the pure scale of the game world you are witnessing, these graphics aren't an issue at all.
Now, with all that I have written here, I haven't even delved into several aspects of the game, including the radiation system, the stat-boosts and addiction that come with food and drugs, the barter system, the different species of mutants found in the world, the weight system, the multiple endings, or the crazy variety of weapons you will find, among other things. However, I want to leave much of this to be discovered by the player. While it isn't perfect, it is easy to lose DAYS of playing time to Fallout 3. The world is simultaneously enormous and dense with activity. The V.A.T.S. system is satisfying, the RPG leveling addicting, and the number of activities are seemingly infinite. You can bet that when the nuclear holocaust is upon us, Fallout is the one game I would bring into the bomb shelter.
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