While I’m still far from completing this game, I have played more than enough to give a review IMO.
First off, I have not played a Fallout game since the first one, way back when. So unlike many people out there, I’m not as steeped in Fallout lore as I could be. So, I come at this game with something of a “noob” perspective, which I’m sure will color my review.
Fallout is based on a post-Apocalyptic USA. Fallout 3 specifically takes place in Washington DC and its envrions. Humanity struggles on some 200 years after a nuclear apocalypse between the USA (an Eisenhower 50′s futuristic idyll), and Communist China. You play a Vault dweller (a decendent of people who moved into survival bunkers sealed away), who goes out into the world to pursue your father.
Anyone familiar with Bethesda’s previous 1st Person “RPG”, Oblivion, will be immeadiately familiar with the basics of this game. The actual game play is almost identicle, unsurprising given it’s from the same company, and utilizes the same basic engine. Some people have even described this game as “Oblivion with guns,” which has some truth to it, but doesn’t cover everything.
Beyond the basics, Fallout 3 diverges greatly from Oblivion. Yes, you can still roam around freely, and aren’t tied to just following along on the main quest. I don’t think that the Fallout world is quite as extensive as Oblivion, either in terms of over all size, or in the number of side quests. Even so, there is still more than enough stuff in Fallout to keep a player busy for many many weeks.
Unlike Oblivion, the main quest is rather narrow. You are essentially “stuck” as a Vault dweller. You can do some customization, mainly cosmetic, but that’s about it. You can’t play as a Wastelander, or a Ghoul, or as a member of the Brotherhood of Steel, or the Enclave. Your starting point is in Vault 101, so no other option can work. It would have been nice if alternate starting options were available, or to have made the starting point more generic to allow for a wider degree of style play choice.
Even so, you do have a great deal of lattitude as to how you play, just like Oblivion. Want to be a crusading do gooder? No problem. Want to be a complete jack ass mass killer? Go for it. Somewhere in between? It’s all up to you. Your actions and choice do effect game play, though probably not to the extent that many will hope for. Depending on your game play style, and in game choices, some quests will open up for you (or be locked out of), and various individuals who you interact with will have different reactions, and you will get different dialogue options. You can always check how your over all good-evil direction is going through your PIP-Boy (stats, inventory, notes, map), which shows as your “Karma level.” So, be aware of this as you play thorugh. One other thing to be aware of: radiation exposure. Yes, you can get radiation poisoning, and it will adversely effect you. You cannot escape exposure, but you can get rid of your “rads.” The effect on you is dependent upon your level of exposure, and can become quite debilitating. So keep an eye on it.
The biggest deviation from Oblivion is in the character development system. Fallout 3 goes back to a more “traditional” method of character improvement. Instead of having your level based on your skill progression, as in Oblivion, it is now a direct Experience point (XP) based system. You get XP for killing enemies (duh), completing quests, hacking computers, picking locks, and even for discovering locations on the map. Each time you “level up,” you get boosts to your Health, a number of points to put into your skills, as well as a “perk.”
Perks are a traditional feature of Fallout games. You get 1 perk per level. The list of available perks is dependent upon your statistics, level, skill levels, and even on your Karma (good-neutral-evil). Some are very useful, others less so. Some are just plain fun (like Bloody Mess). There is a good variety to the list of perks, and allows for a greater degree of character customization.
In terms of graphics and sound, Fallout does improve upon things from Oblivion. It’s worth while just to wander around the ruins of DC, and see how wonderfully the destroyed monuments and iconic builds have been rendered. One thing missing, or at least not that I’ve found, is a sports stadium, either RFK or Griffith’s Field. Should be at least one here, given how much Baseball gets metioned on some of the radio broadcasts available. Even so, the graphics are gorgeous. The sound really compliments things IMO. You will learn to dread hearing the scuttling of chitinous legs on rocks (Radscoprions), or the whoosh of missiles from Supermutants, or the whirr of a minigun spooling up to fire, or the tinking of grenades as the land, or even the beeping of a mine.
The voice acting is slightly above average. It’s still canned lines, but what do you expect? I’d have too look, but there’s at least one “name” actor providing voice work. Liam Neeson provides the voice of your father, James, in game. His work isn’t as stilted or flat as many others have done for video games, so it was a bit refreshing in that aspect. Otherwise, it’s about what you should expect form a game like this. A lot of voice actors get reused for various characters, so the uniqueness of some is diminished.
On the whole, Fallout 3 is a rather addictive game. Not quite in the same way as Oblivion, but just about. I’m not quite the cheerleader for this game that some of the various magazines are. It’s not a “prepare to suspend your life for a few months” type game. It’s close, but not quite there. You still should expect to spend many weeks doing everything in game. Even just barreling through the main quest will still take several days.
I do have complaints. As I previously mentioned, you’re restricted in only having cosmetic customization for your character. Your starting point is fixed, and the main quest is far too narrow. It would have been terrific if you could have chosen to play as a Ghoul, or a memeber of the Brotherhood of Steel. Or to have started outside of the Vault, in say Megaton or Rivet City or Underworld. How cool would it be to play as a Ghoul, and have raditation exposure heal you rather than hurt you?
So far, I’ve only come across 1 bug (unusual for a Bethesda game), and it was anything but a game killer. Specifically, while looting a Raider body, I somehow got the body “stuck” on my cross hairs. As I moved the corss hair around, the body got dragged around with it. Annoying, but easilly corrected by going to the menu screen, and back to the main game screen.
If Bethesda builds on Fallout 3, and takes some more of the game play form Oblivion, for Fallout 4, that will be an incredible game.