My Journey through Fallout 3

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

Rowdy Rob
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Some questions about XBox 360

Just some questions about the XBox 360... I assume I can get some answers here.

1) Does the XB360 support voice chatting online via Bluetooth headsets in-game? A PS3-owning friend has been telling me some fascinating "Socom 3" stories using headsets in-game, and I was wondering if the XBox supports this? Heck, even just voice chatting online outside of the game would be cool.

2) What is a good "base" configuration for a semi-serious gamer, but not a "hardcore" gamer? I assume the cheapest XB360 is not good enough, but how much do I really need if all I want to do is play games semi-regularly and get XBox Live?

3) Can you upgrade the XB360 yourself??? Something Bill posted in an older thread suggested this, saying he was going to give someone he knew who purchased (or was going to purchase) an XB360 one of his older hard drives. Does this mean I can put an old PC hard drive in the XB360 myself? If so, why would I need to purchase anything but the "base" model?

Just curious... thanks in advance for any info!

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Bill Loguidice
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Xbox 360
Rowdy Rob wrote:

Just some questions about the XBox 360... I assume I can get some answers here.

1) Does the XB360 support voice chatting online via Bluetooth headsets in-game? A PS3-owning friend has been telling me some fascinating "Socom 3" stories using headsets in-game, and I was wondering if the XBox supports this? Heck, even just voice chatting online outside of the game would be cool.

The Xbox 360 has its own headset that plugs directly into the wireless controller, so no need for bluetooth. Nearly every online game supports voice chat (hundreds upon hundreds), unlike on the PS3 or Wii, where only a few do. You can also video chat if you have the camera, and several games even support video with the camera. In short, there's no other platform with more integrated voice/video features. In fact, no other platform comes close to the online features available on the 360. That's what makes the subscription to Xbox Live Gold over the free Xbox Live Silver worth it.

Rowdy Rob wrote:

2) What is a good "base" configuration for a semi-serious gamer, but not a "hardcore" gamer? I assume the cheapest XB360 is not good enough, but how much do I really need if all I want to do is play games semi-regularly and get XBox Live?

Here's one option... Get the $199 model without the hard drive. Contact Microsoft and they'll sell you a 20GB refurbished hard drive for $20. You then have a complete system outside of whatever cables you need for your TV/sound system (say an additional $20). You can have a 360 without a hard drive, but it limits your ability to store things with just a memory card.

Then there's the question of getting online. The 360 does not have built in wireless, unlike the PS3 and Wii. It does have an Ethernet port, so you can just plug a cable in and you're good to go. If not, you have to buy Microsoft's wireless USB adapter or a bridge, which costs $50 - $90. You then would want to get a subscription to Xbox Live Gold, which would allow you to play games online and whatever without restriction (a Silver account is free, but restricted). This costs around $40 for a 13 month subscription, though you can get better deals.

So, let's see, $200, plus $20, plus $20, plus $40. That's about $280 sans tax assuming you needed all of those options. That's about the cheapest you can get for what I would say would be a minimum system to get the absolute full gamer effect. Keep in mind that even the $199 model already comes with several games.

Rowdy Rob wrote:

3) Can you upgrade the XB360 yourself??? Something Bill posted in an older thread suggested this, saying he was going to give someone he knew who purchased (or was going to purchase) an XB360 one of his older hard drives. Does this mean I can put an old PC hard drive in the XB360 myself? If so, why would I need to purchase anything but the "base" model?

No, you can't, it's a proprietary drive. There are some hacks out there for the truly skilled to take a proprietary shell/interface and upgrade it to a higher capacity drive, but you still need a drive to start with. What I did was replace my official 20Gb hard drive with an official 120GB hard drive (I got the latter for about $85 off of eBay a while back). The new drive comes with transfer software to transfer your content from the old drive to the new drive. The drives are very easy to swap out. They simply snap in and out place, making them portable, but they can only be used on 360's.

Check the other threads - I had posted some deals from Dell and TigerDirect on the 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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Bill Loguidice
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Here's the link to the other

Here's the link to the other thread, Rob: http://www.armchairarcade.com/neo/node/2173

The Tiger Direct deal is especially good. By the way, you can save some additional money upfront by just doing an Xbox Live Gold trial.

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

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Mark Vergeer
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I upgraded my 360 hard drive

I upgraded my 360 hard drive to a 120Gb version as well. That's only because I have tons of demos and Live Arcade games on the drive. Mind you with a 20Gb you'll have more than enough space. I just wanted to keep up with MrCustard's big 120Gb Xbox360 Elite. ;-)
I keep the 20Gb in a drawer in order for it to be used on a 2nd xbox without a drive that I may be purchasing in the future.

Xbox 360: Lactobacillus P | Wii: 8151 3435 8469 3138
Editor / Pixelator - Armchair Arcade, Inc. | www.markvergeer.nl

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Bill Loguidice
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Mark Vergeer wrote:

I upgraded my 360 hard drive to a 120Gb version as well. I kept the 20Gb in a drawer in order for it to be used on a 2nd xbox without a drive that I might be purchasing in the future.

Me too! I suspect at some point in the future hard drive-less 360's will be quite cheap on the used market, especially the pre-HDMI models.

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

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Rowdy Rob
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Thanks, Bill!

Bill, your information was extremely informative and much appreciated!

I'm not concerned about the cost so much as getting what I need to get a good experience without overkill and waste. I guess I'll spring for the 120GB hard drive, since I don't know what I'm getting into. (Hard drives for a console???? What the heck?)

My real concerns are personal... will I buy the XBox, play it for a week, and set it aside? Or will I spend all my free time zoned out to the XBox addiction?

I do look forward to having some "Xbox parties" at my house! :-)

qoj hpmoj o+ 6uo73q 3Jv 3svq jnoh 77V

Bill Loguidice
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Good luck if you get it
Rowdy Rob wrote:

Bill, your information was extremely informative and much appreciated!

I'm not concerned about the cost so much as getting what I need to get a good experience without overkill and waste. I guess I'll spring for the 120GB hard drive, since I don't know what I'm getting into. (Hard drives for a console???? What the heck?)

My real concerns are personal... will I buy the XBox, play it for a week, and set it aside? Or will I spend all my free time zoned out to the XBox addiction?

I do look forward to having some "Xbox parties" at my house! :-)

qoj hpmoj o+ 6uo73q 3Jv 3svq jnoh 77V

The nice thing about the 120GB model is that you don't have to worry about space. You can pretty much download everything to your heart's content. Just make sure that if the system you get doesn't have the TV/Audio connections you need that you get the right ones, official or otherwise, that you address the wired or wireless issue, and that you need to make a decision on Xbox Live Gold after the trial. Otherwise, you're all set (I suppose you'd need extra controllers though if you have people over!).

Are you a Netflix user? If so, then streaming is included on the Xbox 360. I love it!

Anyway, if you do get a 360 and get online, be sure to add friend requests to all of us here and/or let us know what your ID is and we'll do the same!

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

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Mark Vergeer
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Wii vs 360

Most people with Wii's I know have shelved the system after their initial enthusiasm for the Sports games. Quite a few of them have also picked up Nintendo DS consoles and are still playing them enthusiastically especially the women are very much into those puzzle games.

I myself played quite a few of the Nintendo only games out there on the Wii, but it can sit underneath the tv-set for weeks without having been powered on. Even got the latest Zelda - Twilight Princess game for the Gamecube even though I have it on the Wii - just because the entire game is a mirror image of the Wii version!

I tend to use the 360 quite often also for the casual Live games. Elise uses the 360 almost solely for the Live games. It is a console that can also function as a Media Center Extender so if you got some Media Center PC in the house it is able to interface with that through the ethernet or with the optional wifi adapter if you have a wifi network. It is quite a noisy system though! I actually have my 360 setup on my widescreen computer monitor with a switch and a VGA cable so that I can have the same experience as with the PC videogames I play. I am thinking about getting a Live Arcade edition and using my spare 20Gb harddrive for it and setting it up in the Living room so that Elise can play on it too. I moved it upstairs because the tv was often occupied resulting in a blocked 360.

It al depends on your gaming habits and the games you get for it if you shelve a console or not. It is harder to shelve a PC as you can use it for other purposes. I like the 360 online experience and scoreboard, ranking systems a great deal. Especially on the older live arcade games. I just get a kick out of beating Bill's high-scores ;-)

Xbox 360: Lactobacillus P | Wii: 8151 3435 8469 3138
Editor / Pixelator - Armchair Arcade, Inc. | www.markvergeer.nl

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Bill Loguidice
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360
Mark Vergeer wrote:

Most people with Wii's I know have shelved the system after their initial enthusiasm for the Sports games. Quite a few of them have also picked up Nintendo DS consoles and are still playing them enthusiastically especially the women are very much into those puzzle games.

I'm one of them. I like the system, but seem to get distracted by the PS3 and Xbox 360 more. I often turn down a Wii session because it requires more physical involvement to play many of the games, something I'm often not interested in after a long day of work and then a work out.

Mark Vergeer wrote:

It al depends on your gaming habits and the games you get for it if you shelve a console or not. It is harder to shelve a PC as you can use it for other purposes. I like the 360 online experience and scoreboard, ranking systems a great deal. Especially on the older live arcade games. I just get a kick out of beating Bill's high-scores ;-)

Yeah, I kind of stink, but I love trying to do better and beat those crazy scores of my friends!

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

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