The Fallout series has become synonymous to many gamers as being one of the highest quality franchises out there. Originally belonging to, the now defunct, Interplay, Fallout has been on a hiatus for the past decade now, as Fallout 2 came out way back in 1998. With the struggles of Interplay also came the disappointment that we may never see Fallout 3, which was been in and out of development numerous times, until it was canceled. But four years after the cancellation of Fallout 3, Bethesda has announced the return of the series, and fast forward to today, we finally got our much anticipated third title.
Now, before continuing, if you don't wish to know what the first events of the game are like, I suggest skipping the next paragraph. There are no story spoilers or anything, just a fair warning. The paragraph following the next one explains how the game's story picks-up, again, fair warning.
Fallout 3 starts off rather unconventionally, certainly unlike any other game I can think of as I write this. Your first moment in the game is your very own character's birth (literally), and here's where you're prompted to configure how he or she will look like when all grown up. After an unfortunate incident following your birth, the game forwards one full year, and here you are again…a toddler who just learned how to walk. Before actually getting into the core of the game, you go through a series of these milestone events, so after your toddler event, you fast forward to your 10th birthday. Following that you're 16 years old, and you'll have to take the G.O.A.T (Generalized Occupational Aptitude Test) exam to determine your occupational placement. Once that ends, the game fast forwards another five years and you're off…
The story starts when your character finds out that his father has escaped out into the open world, and now it's up to him to find out why. Because nobody escapes fallout Vault 101, by association, you have been marked as a traitor and so you'll have to arm yourself in order to escape to the outside world. So you set out in search of your father, and you set out prepared. Now that you've made it out, you see exactly the kind of carnage that the Global Atomic War caused. Fallout 3 takes place in Wasteland, a living, breathing post-apocalyptic world where no one is safe. Monsters such as giant insects, raiders/outlaws, and various types of super mutants run amok this ruined depiction of Washington D.C., and equipped with your Pip-boy 3000, weapons, knowledge, and some cool features, you should have all the methods of getting rid of them.
Fallout 3 is essentially Oblivion set thousands of years in the future. Instead of having swords, shields, and heavy chain armors, you have guns, reinforced military armor, baseball bats, pipes, and a slew of other modern-day and futuristic weapons. Just like Oblivion, Fallout 3 will also give you the option of choosing between good and evil, or an in-between, so you have the opportunity to approach situations from various angles, and directly affect your future. A Karma system exists in the game that'll affect your encounters with NPCs in positive and negative ways; regular NPCs will often find themselves disgusted with your presence if you've strayed towards the evil side, while raiders are more likely to ally themselves with you. On top of that, comes what Bethesda calls Limitless Freedom. Do you see something off in the distance? Go on and walk to it, because whatever you see in the world you can visit. And in Fallout 3, you'll see a great deal of ruined monuments and structures, all of which you'll be able to gander at.
Just be careful not to get near the water as its riddled with copious amounts of radiation, and unless you want your character to grow mutations, you'll want to avoid the water and consuming products you find in Wasteland. But if you have no regenerates left and your only option is to drink the Nuka-Cola you got from the vending machine, then go ahead. Fortunately for you, there are anti-radiation medicines that'll decrease your radiation exposure and heal whatever mutations you may have.
But don't get me wrong, because Fallout 3 and Oblivion share fairly different gameplay features. For example, Fallout 3 makes use of a great combat mechanic called VATS (Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System), this mechanic is highly reminiscent of a similar feature found in Square's Vagrant Story, as it allows for the pausing of time in order to target specific body-parts. The health bar of the enemy will show which body-part will cause the most damage if hit, but you have to take into account the distance and angle you're facing an opponent, otherwise you'll have lower chances of striking your preferred target. Furthermore, pausing time will also allow you to build up a range of attacks to unleash on your opponents, all of which will unravel with cinematic presentation and details. Of course, you can always perform the tried-and-true method of doing it all on your own, and play Fallout 3 just as you would any other first-person shooter, by using your reticule to aim and fire at will.
With every fight and objective you finish, you gain experience points. For starters, as you progress through the game, your character will be able to gain new abilities by utilizing the game's points-based system called "SPECIAL". Basically, the system allows for unlimited customization of your character, including the learning of combat abilities and improving your skills across a variety of traits. Throughout the game, with every level your character grows, you're given points to distribute across your board of traits, on top of enhancements called Perks.
Fallout 3 is simply mammoth in size and execution. There's just so much to do, to see, and to play that at times you feel overwhelmed with the scope of the game. The game's world is estimated to be just over 15 square miles in size, and that'll take hours to fully explore, so you've got a lot of terrain to cover. Thankfully, for quicker travel, and teleporting option does exist. Aside from the main quest, there are tons of side-quests and objectives to fulfill, so don't expect to fully finish Fallout 3 anywhere less than 100 hours, or so. The two complaints I can address with the game are: the third person mode isn't any good, and I'd have liked to see a more refined camera that didn't just float around. And some more variety in enemies would've been nice too.
Visually, as mentioned already, Fallout 3 runs on an updated version of the Gamebryo engine – the same engine that powers Oblivion. The engine does run smoother, with no screen tearing, anti-aliasing, and minimal pop-up in the background. But it's not free of framerate drops, and when you get up-close to most of the textures, they aren't exactly pretty. Still, considering the sheer size of Fallout 3, it's no wonder why there's a notable sacrifice in texture quality. There's also no doubting that Fallout 3 is a solid looking game with a superb atmospheric backdrop that does a great job of immersing you into this destroyed environment, as you'll often find yourself marveling at the destruction. The return of the day and night cycle is always nice, as well.
As far as audio goes, I'm sure you're well aware that there's a megaton amount of voice acting in the game. Unfortunately, as is common with Action-RPGs like Fallout 3, Oblivion, Star Wars: KOTOR, Mass Effect, etc., the voice acting isn't always very well done, it often lacks the correct emotion and the delivery doesn't match the context. For example, there are times when you can be part of a very tense moment, but that emotion of fear and tension doesn't come through the voice acting – it's bland and emotionless. Not the entire game is like this, but chunks of it are. Still, during normal dialogue with NPCs, the voice overs do a fine job. And the background noises you hear all around you sound solid, too.
Fallout 3 isn't the kind of game you play to witness its graphical prowess, or its amazing sound. Yes, it does have a nice soundtrack, and yes it does have nice visuals. But more importantly, the game boasts an adventure that is so epic in size that it can only be the product of Bethesda. The Oblivion engine is a perfect fit to create a Fallout game around, and Fallout 3 is that much better off for it. With a game world that's as large as a real world city, mechanics that are engaging and easy to use, on top of unparalleled depth…Fallout 3 is the no brainer choice for those looking to embark on an epic quest.