I’ve spent a while playing Fallout 3 now. Most of yesterday, and a portion of today.
Fallout was a turn-based RPG title with adventure elements and a more open plot than most comparative things around at the time. It is notable not only because it was quite good, but because it managed to create and maintain a unique style that it carries to this day, a seamless meshing of 1940s/50s visual and media style and tone with a modern level of technological progress. The style is distinct and very, very cool. The game was produced by Black Isle, who also made Planescape: Torment and other games I count in my top releases ever, but Black Isle no longer exist – a lot of the team are now Obsidian Entertainment – and the IP for Fallout was sold to Bethesda Softworks, most famous for the Elder Scrolls series, and especially Oblivion.
Fallout 3 is a lot like Oblivion. It shares with it, to a large degree, the more organic character generation, the graphics engine (which is pretty), the general game style and even, to an extent, the interface. I would say, in fact, that it shares as much with Oblivion as Planescape did with Baldurs Gate. They are on the same engine, and the general structure works, so this becomes a more focused, better plotted, both broader and narrower version of the earlier game. The story follows the trend of the previous Fallout games. You are a person who has had to leave your Vault for some reason, and you have to make your way and – ideally – complete your eventual quest. In this way it’s more like Oblivion, again, in that while you have the general quest, it’ll hang around forever while you help every tinpot dictator find their dog.
The quests themselves are quite open. You have an objective, and providing you complete it the world continues to be happy with you. In one example, I needed some information, but in order to do this the NPC wanted me to go intimidate someone. So I seduced one of his members of staff who gave me his password, to save me trekking across the desert looking for deadbeats.
The graphics are pretty. One of the things you get to begin with is a radio, which you can tune to things like the local government broadcast, or the pirate radio station, and these will drift in and out of signal, and the music is pretty, and it’s very easy to get immersed in the game for a long time.
I’m not massively impressed with the combat. I didn’t like it in Oblivion, and the same system in FO3 isn’t wonderful. I do like the “VATS” system, where you can pause the action, queue up shots at different locations, and play them out, but it has two limitations. First, the percentages seem off (A 95% hit chance doesn’t seem to hit very often), Second the amount of “Action points” you have to do this is not ever enough to actually down something (You may be able to munchkin this with a character build, that doesn’t matter) and you end up falling back to the old, crappy, manual method. Thirdly, while you do get some pretty slowmo action shots of your queued action, it doesn’t return control back to you quickly enough, and while you’re busy shooting Zombies One and Two, Zombie Three is eating your brains. Which is unreasonable, and then he’ll try and eat your eyes. There are too many monsters for the amount of ammo around. The audio hates my soundcard to the point where I can hear NPCs if they’re to the left or right of me, but not if straight ahead. The entire game slows down to unusablity if I try to change my haircut.
The game itself is excellent for most of the time. The visual design is wonderful, the graphics pretty, the sound well-realised and most of the major NPCs well done (Some of the minors are a bit crap, but not in a game-breaking way). A lot of the dialogue is good, but it’s a bit mixed. The game is pretty combat focused, which is a design choice rather than a criticism, but either I’m crap at the combat, or I’ve gimpped my character, or it’s too random, or something. In the game’s defence, I’m writing this while slightly frustrated at my inability to find enough ammo to get though one dungeon without resorting to a baseball bat and, eventually, my death.
Actually, I do have one remaining bit of ordinance I could try, but firing off a tactile nuke in order to destroy some scorpions seems slightly over the top.
If you liked the openness of Oblivion, but wanted it to be more fighty, I’d recommend Fallout 3. If you’re expecting Fallout 3 to be like Fallout 2, you may be disappointed.