My Journey through Fallout 3

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Matt Barton's picture

There are few games in recent memory that have had as great an impact on me as Bethesda's Fallout 3. I just finished the game a few minutes ago and am simply stunned at the quality of the storytelling, gameplay, and aesthetics. While the game has a few minor faults, these pale in comparison to its masterful production.

Ruined City: Fallout 3 boasts one of the best-looking gameworlds I've ever seen.Ruined City: Fallout 3 boasts one of the best-looking gameworlds I've ever seen.I was a big fan of the earlier Fallout Games, but was initially skeptical that Bethesda would be able to recapture the magic of those earlier masterpieces (particularly I and II). Although some still maintain that Interplay's earlier Wasteland was better, I still count Fallout and Fallout 2 as some of the finest CRPGs ever designed. They eschew the stereotypical dwarves and elves for (IMO) a more interesting post-apocalyptic wasteland reminiscent of The Road Warrior. I love this setting, mostly because it's still recognizable as the "real world" but with a fantastic but still plausible twist. The Fallout games did a great job with the setting, but also created an innovative and fun role-playing system and plenty of Monty Python-esque dark humor. The premise in all these games is that a nuclear war has devastated much of the known world, and the survivors are mostly mutants and brigands. The few remaining pockets of humanity are desperate. Add to this mix the mysterious "Enclave" and "Brotherhood of Steel," two powerful military organizations whose motives aren't often clear. Then there's the vault dwellers--people who have spent their lives cooped up in a secure vault deep underground, safe and isolated. Of course, the player's character doesn't stay in the vault, but leaves to fulfill his or her destiny above.

VATS: The VATS system pauses the action to let you take aim at a specific body part.VATS: The VATS system pauses the action to let you take aim at a specific body part.Fallout 3 literally begins with the avatar's birth in the vault, a clever idea that lets players customize the character and gradually learn the interface. It's also charming and even disturbing, since the game cuts to various points in the avatar's life and gives a clear picture of what life was like growing up in the vault. It's really spooky and thought-provoking, like the best science fiction. Along the way you take a GOAT, a test to help choose your profession, which affects your stats and skill points. There are plenty of options; I chose to become a computer technician, but that didn't really limit me in any way. I'll come back to skills and such in a bit.

Eventually, your father leaves the vault for unknown reasons, and it soon becomes clear that you have to follow him out--the government of the vault has become too unstable for you to safely remain behind. It's not hard to think of psychological themes here (leaving the womb, Oedipal complexes, etc.)

As soon as you leave the vault, you're in pretty much constant danger. The wasteland is swarming with deadly creatures like molerats, rad-scorpions, raiders, and crab-like creatures that infest streams. There are also plenty of "dungeons" sprinkled around, which take you deep underground to confront more dangerous enemies. Probably the scariest are the ghouls, zombie-like creatures reminiscent of the infected in the film 28 Days Later. Eventually, though, you'll be fighting Super Mutants and Enclave Soldiers, both of whom are very tough.

Combat is either in real-time or a hybrid system called VATS. VATS works like this: see an enemy, hit the V key, target the body part you want to hit, and hit "E" (or the left mouse button). Sometimes a brief cut scene will play if you strike a critical hit, but this is a great way to go if you're not the fastest on the mouse. You can only use VATS so many times in a given period; players who rely heavily on this will need to find ways to boost their "Action Points," but I generally found it sufficient. Naturally, it's advantageous to aim for certain body parts on different creatures, and you can take perks to tailor your play style. I chose to increase my action points, damage from criticals, and improved targeting for head-shots. There's nothing really as satisfying as taking down a particularly nasty beast with a critical strike to the head (at point blank range!), and the cut scenes are exciting stuff.

Pipboy: Fans of the original games will be happy to see the Pipboy back in action.Pipboy: Fans of the original games will be happy to see the Pipboy back in action.This talk of "perks" will be instantly familiar to fans of the original game. The RPG system is based on SPECIAL (stats, really), SKILLS, and PERKS. The stats are the basic ones seen in most RPGs (strength, agility, luck, etc.) Skills range from combat-specific things like small guns and energy weapons to things like science, medicine, and lock picking. There are lots of computers and locked containers about, so I think it's well worth pumping up these skills. Every time you successfully open a lock or hack a computer you get XP, so it's quite handy. Indeed, not being able to pick locks will be a severe hindrance.

One thing you'll notice pretty quickly in Fallout 3 is that equipment, ammunition, and munitions are rare. Your gear takes damage from use, and you'll need to use your repair skills to keep things working properly. Let's say you're using a combat shotgun--it may start off doing lots of damage and be fairly accurate, but with enough use it will drop off, losing both. The only remedy is either to find another shotgun to either replace or repair it. If your repair skill is high enough, you will be able to keep your gear in good shape by salvaging worn pieces for parts. Otherwise, you're going to be going through gear very quickly. It isn't that problematic if you're fighting mostly humans, but can get very bad if you're in a dungeon confronting mostly beasts or ghouls.

Combat is quite varied. I quickly found myself using melee weapons to deal with roaches and rats, saving my bullets for things that shot at me from range. The most dreadful of all were monsters with missile launchers; a missile can either kill you outright or do so much damage that you can't move away before being hit again. These guys were seriously annoying. Although I eventually found a sniper rifle, I still wasn't effective with it, though this was probably because of my avatar's stats. In general, I either had to lure enemies into traps using mines or blast them at fairly close range with an assault rifle or shotgun. The combat shotgun and scoped .44 magnum are very effective, but limited ammo makes them last-resort weapons. There are also miniguns and the like about (big guns), but you really need a lot of strength for these since they will weigh you down so much.

The same is true for healing. The best thing is just to find a bed and rest an hour, which heals everything (including damaged limbs). Otherwise, you'll need to use stimpacks or chow down on food and water. Unfortunately, almost all the food and water is radioactive, and if you get too much exposure you'll get radiation sickness. You can also find drugs that provide certain bonuses, but if you get addicted to them you'll suffer penalties (like withdrawal symptoms). There are ways to cure such things, but it's important to think before popping those pills or injecting your veins with Jet.

Much of the game's strategy concerns resource management, since you'll quickly die if you find yourself without armor, weapons, or "aid" (food, stimpacks, etc.). The main skills to worry about here are repair, medicine, and lockpicking, since you'll find an abundance of ammo and such in locked containers.

Fawkes: You can recruit companions, though I spent most of the game alone.Fawkes: You can recruit companions, though I spent most of the game alone.The gameplay consists mostly of exploring and doing quests. The world is huge, and there are plenty of sub-quests and areas that are entirely optional. I chose to do some of them, but focused on getting through the main quest. Still, it was always tempting to see some building or structure off in the distance and want to check it out. I did several sub-quests that were quite fascinating. One of my favorites was a ghoul-infested building where I found tapes detailing a previous adventurer's search for his father. As I explored further, I found more tapes, and I could hear the voice on the tapes becoming less human and more ghoul-like. Of course, at the end of the dungeon I found the explorer, who had long been transformed into a ghoul (who I had to kill). This is a good example of the kind of depth you can find in an area that is entirely optional; there are no doubt dozens more such places I didn't see. You can also find the occasional companion, though I spent most of the game alone.

The main quest involves your father's mission to purify the water in a reservoir so the residents of Washington D.C. will have a safe, non-radioactive source. The mission gets more complicated, of course, with some spectacular twists that are really exciting stuff. I don't want to spoil too much, but just to give some flavor here--when you finally find your dad, he's trapped in a virtual world that looks like an old 50s sitcom. However there is something very, very wrong with the setup, and when I finally got the whole picture I was disturbed indeed. It's creepy to the core!

The production values are sky-high, with some of the best graphics and audio I have ever seen. The settings are fascinating to explore and wondrous to behold, and the whole thing really makes you feel like you're stuck in a Mad Max movie.

So, what are the cons? One thing that was a real disappointment was third-person view. Although you can switch from first-person to third-person with a click, the third-person aspect is very poorly implemented. The avatar doesn't move at all realistically, and I only used this mode when I had to jump around or follow a precise route. Another minus is the rather tedious clicking necessary to get aid, check your armor, and so on. Once you have a sizable inventory, getting through it all can be quite maddening. There really should have been an easier way to sort this stuff. On the plus side, it's easy to set hot keys (1-8) for weapons and aid, but if you lose a weapon you'll have to reset it.

Although it's possible to make your own gear using a workbench, I didn't find enough schematics for this to be useful. I was also irritated that I couldn't modify my weapons; it would have been nice to put scopes on certain weapons, etc. I didn't really focus on this aspect of gameplay, though, and there may very well be lots of schematics around for the diligent. As usual with a Bethesda game, I think I probably only saw about 25% of the game; there are no lots of content I haven't seen. If you really want to be thorough, you may want a guidebook or such to make sure you've seen it all.

On a related point, one glaring omission was vehicles. I kept finding motorcycle parts and even intact motorcycles around, but there was no way to ride them. This was a real pain, because it would've been very cool to have a cycle to ride around on (the world is, after all, immense). Thankfully, though, once you've visited an area, you can travel there instantly using your map. Still, I think having vehicles would have been a great addition.

Still, I wouldn't consider any of these factors a deal-breaker. The game is very solid and probably the best game you could buy yourself for the holidays. I really enjoyed it and looked forward to playing it everyday. Heck, I might try it again with a different character just to see the rest of what the game has to offer. The stories and writing (in even the sub-quests) are really worth seeing; there is very little here that is repetitive or left to chance. Bethesda has really created a coherent world whose nooks and crannies are well worth exploring.

Overall, I give this game a definite 5/5 and recommend it strongly.If you are only going to buy one game for the holidays, I'd either get this one or Mass Effect depending on your tastes. Both games have spectacular stories, memorable characters, and engaging gameplay. Oh--and remember: War...never changes.

Comments

GeneralDebacle (not verified)
I tend to take the opposite

I tend to take the opposite side of the coin when it comes to RPG's.

There is too MUCH "personality" in todays RPG's, to the point that they have turned into more of an adventure/JRPG/FPS hybrid. Now don't get me wrong, I can appreciate these kinds of game, but that is ALL there is these days.

I really yearn for RPG's more along the lines of the original Fallouts, the Goldbox games et al. Managing a party, thinking through different combat strategies depending on the makeup of that party, and hopefully having different ways of winning the game.

Where you found Baldurs Gate to be boring and slow, I actually would say it is a little too clicky for my liking. I love both of the BG games, but the combat system is bordering on too little tactics at times, luckily the mage duals and some of the tougher battles make up for this.

Horses for courses. But what you want is in the majority these days. Unfortunately for me ;)

As for independant games, there are a few on the horizon but I think that the indy area is still in its infancy. Too many of them are attempting to follow the mainstream instead of branching out and trying out newer or retro gaming styles (or both!); going down the path that Matt hoped RPG's would, instead of the path they did. Fallout 3 is really along the same old path of RPG's that we have seen in the past few years, with the Witcher, Oblivion, etc.

Still, F3 is an enjoyable game, and I much prefer it to Oblivion.

Bill Loguidice
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Agreed
GeneralDebacle wrote:

I tend to take the opposite side of the coin when it comes to RPG's.

There is too MUCH "personality" in todays RPG's, to the point that they have turned into more of an adventure/JRPG/FPS hybrid. Now don't get me wrong, I can appreciate these kinds of game, but that is ALL there is these days.

I really yearn for RPG's more along the lines of the original Fallouts, the Goldbox games et al. Managing a party, thinking through different combat strategies depending on the makeup of that party, and hopefully having different ways of winning the game.

I agree on all counts. Particularly JRPGs fall more into the adventure-hybrid category for me. There's nothing that pushes my buttons more than having a predefined character or characters for the purposes of the story. I grew up on pen and paper RPGs and early computer RPGs where the whole point was to lovingly craft your party from scratch. That's a lost art.

That's also what I was trying to say in the Garriott quitting NCsoft forum topic. I'd love for someone like him to go back to creating a classic style RPG on the cheap. Top-down wilderness and first person dungeon. That would serve me just fine and I'm sure it could sell more than well enough in relation to the required budget. The key is to take the concept out of the indie realm and give it some real market juice, and having a big name attached would be one of the few ways to do that. Certainly it will take someone else to do it though and surely it will be on an independent basis. And you're right, it would be very tough for a modern designer to avoid JRPG influences, which would kind of ruin the point.

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Xbox 360: billlog | Wii: 1345 2773 2048 1586 | PS3: ArmchairArcade
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.

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GeneralDebacle (not verified)
Exactly, though I doubt

Exactly, though I doubt Garriott will be one of those to undertake such an ambition.

My feelings on him are like a seesaw; he made some of my favourite games (Ultima 4 and 5 in particular) but then went on the make the Ultima 7 combat system (loved the world et al), Super Avatar Brothers (U8) and Ultima 9.....

His creations actually represent the most loved and hated of RPG designs to me. Unfortunately his later creations are what rule the roost today (based on similar mechanics that is). When you look at his works, he is an innovator. He can never just take a tried formula and stick with it, adding improvements incrementally, rather he wants to constantly create the "Next Big Thing". That is why I doubt he will be the one to do the deed.

Actually I think the Industry will have to get even bigger before we see that excellent idea. Troika tried to recapture the flame to an extent, and reading about the crap they had to wade through is hideous. Even turning to the twitch gamers failed to work in the end, even though i think Vampire Bloodlines is one of the best clickers created. It took a very long time for arthouse and indy films to gain funding for their niches. We may have to wait until we are in retirement homes for that to come about haha.

Sorry for the sidetracking Matt. One thing leads to another...

Matt Barton
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Coming back to Garriott (I'm

Coming back to Garriott (I'm steering clear of the hopeless console/PC debate), I must again point to something I read in The Wisdom of Crowds. At one point, the author talks about former one-man "geniuses" like Henry Ford. Although Ford had some revolutionary ideas that turned out to be very successful, not all of his ideas were good (and it was also a right time, right place kind of deal). Eventually, his ideas got so bad that they wrecked his company (the Edsel = bad; GM rose to dominance). He cites several more examples to show that putting faith in one great man whose ideas are always great (or have the potential for genius) is very bad. You're better off with a team or a group, assuming that team or group works correctly. Again, there are conditions for this -
1. The members must have diverse backgrounds and be able to state their opinions and be heard
2. There must be a sensible way of aggregating these opinions (not just one man deciding what sounds best, but some weigh to measure the inputs and adjust accordingly).

In this model, the best leader is one who is able to capitalize on the assets his team brings to the table. He isn't a good leader if he listens but then goes off and does something else, or trusts his "intuition" instead of what the results show.

I see Garriott much like Henry Ford. He definitely had the right idea at the right time, and was able to capitalize on it. However, he's unlikely to ever achieve anything like that again. IMO, the reason Will Wright has managed to stay successful is precisely because he's always branching out into new bodies of research (outside information), but a look at Maxis' library shows that he's been wrong on several occasions.

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Bill Loguidice
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Degrees and what the console/PC thing is really about
Matt Barton wrote:

I see Garriott much like Henry Ford. He definitely had the right idea at the right time, and was able to capitalize on it. However, he's unlikely to ever achieve anything like that again. IMO, the reason Will Wright has managed to stay successful is precisely because he's always branching out into new bodies of research (outside information), but a look at Maxis' library shows that he's been wrong on several occasions.

To be fair, Wil Wright, with the exception of The Sims Online, has taken a slightly less ambitious approach to his games in terms of scope. His work is no less groundbreaking, but I think the costs of Garriott's ambitions were considerably higher than Wright's, making his creations less tolerant to failure and in fact higher stake failures. In other words Wright could easily write off something like a Sim Copter, while Garriott would have a harder time with something like Ultima IX.

And the console versus PC debate is pointless and not what the discussion is really about. The question is not owning one or the other - I think the vast majority own both - the question is should one upgrade their PC yet again just to play the latest games when it functions just fine for everything else or put the money instead into a console that plays the latest games and doesn't need further upgrades. That's all it's about. If you don't want to bother with consoles you go the first route, but if you do you obviously go the second route. Ideally you could treat the PC as the fourth console and just put it into the mix and keep upgrading it until it can no longer play the latest guys on near the highest settings, then just replace it. That's of course assuming money is no real object (and that you need it naturally to play something that you can't get on console - it's the same debate about owning either a PS3 or Xbox 360 versus both - one or the other has to have something you want to play or do that you can't on the other to justify it). I'd personally love to be able to do the fourth console thing and have a dedicated PC game machine, but it's impractical for me at this time from a time/cost standpoint. Time is of course a big factor in this as well, as the more systems you have, the more you have to split your time. Though it can be lots of fun to do so. For instance...

This past week or so I've been playing Sam and Max Season One (PC), Baldur's Gate Dark Alliance II (PS3 in PS2 mode), PAIN (PS3), Little Big Planet (PS3), Boom Blox (Wii), Guitar Hero III (Xbox 360), Activision Classics (PSP) and Assassin's Creed (DS), and it's been tremendous fun. I may even give that trial of Tabula Rasa a try, though I'm not sure how well it will run on my system. It's one thing to run something like Sam and Max (though we're using Christina's laptop), it's another something like Tabula Rasa. I'd be curious if my Tablet PC were up to it (I do have a Dell desktop in the office basement that I've repurposed as a gaming box, but it's definitely a last generation system).

Vintage Games book!
Xbox 360: billlog | Wii: 1345 2773 2048 1586 | PS3: ArmchairArcade
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.

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Bill Loguidice
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Fallout 3

I accidentally got the PS3 collector's edition of Fallout 3, so surprise, surprise, I'm now in the fold. I guess I'll try to play it after it comes. I still have more interest in Fable 2 at this point, but since I don't have that, I can give Fallout 3 a genuine go.

Vintage Games book!
Xbox 360: billlog | Wii: 1345 2773 2048 1586 | PS3: ArmchairArcade
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.

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Matt Barton
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I really don't think you'll

I really don't think you'll be disappointed, Bill. Heck, I have half a mind to create a new character and run through it again, now that I know the basics.

One part of the main quest is intentionally vague about where you need to go; I think they did that to encourage you to explore the map more thoroughly. "Luckily" I found it right away, but I certainly wouldn't say the main quest here is something you necessarily want to rush.

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Bill Loguidice
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Games and being anal
Matt Barton wrote:

I really don't think you'll be disappointed, Bill. Heck, I have half a mind to create a new character and run through it again, now that I know the basics.

One part of the main quest is intentionally vague about where you need to go; I think they did that to encourage you to explore the map more thoroughly. "Luckily" I found it right away, but I certainly wouldn't say the main quest here is something you necessarily want to rush.

That's part of my problem with gaming in general. I feel "bad" if I don't explore every nook and cranny and do every little thing possible. Of course that's impossible with games like Oblivion and Fallout 3, but still. Regardless, I doubt I'll be seriously dissapointed with Fallout 3, it's just a matter of getting the time to play it. That was my problem with both Oblivion and Mass Effect, two games I loved but I just couldn't block out enough time to keep playing.

Vintage Games book!
Xbox 360: billlog | Wii: 1345 2773 2048 1586 | PS3: ArmchairArcade
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.

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Matt Barton
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Just to follow up--Fallout 3

Just to follow up--Fallout 3 Mod Tools and First DLC Announced
PC gets "creation kit," PC and 360 get DLC, and the PS3... is out of luck.

As usual, looks like the construction kit is only for PC...But it's still cool to imagine what people will be able to create with this. I haven't really followed much of the mod scene with the other games, though, so not quite sure what to expect. Perhaps what's most interesting here is that the PS3 is being left out! Just doesn't make sense to me why you'd want to exclude anyone.

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Bill Loguidice
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Add-ons
Matt Barton wrote:

Just to follow up--Fallout 3 Mod Tools and First DLC Announced
PC gets "creation kit," PC and 360 get DLC, and the PS3... is out of luck.

As usual, looks like the construction kit is only for PC...But it's still cool to imagine what people will be able to create with this. I haven't really followed much of the mod scene with the other games, though, so not quite sure what to expect. Perhaps what's most interesting here is that the PS3 is being left out! Just doesn't make sense to me why you'd want to exclude anyone.

Unfortunate since I will be getting the PS3 collector's edition soon, but it was a deal I couldn't pass up (I saved like $20 off the normal price). Nevertheless, as much I support DLC and add-ons, I know that most likely I won't be making use of them, as I'll have a hard enough time finding time for the main game (that's been the case with Oblivion - I've downloaded the free add-ons, but never bothered to pay for the ones that cost money as I still haven't gotten through the main game). With that said, it sucks for PS3 owners who do want it. Hopefully they just have to wait a bit longer and there's not some technical restriction (i.e., bad programming/porting, as the PS3 is obviously capable of the same type of DLC as PC and 360).

Vintage Games book!
Xbox 360: billlog | Wii: 1345 2773 2048 1586 | PS3: ArmchairArcade
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.

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