After leaving fans hanging for over a decade, the beloved post-apocalyptic RPG franchise Fallout finally has a new installment in the form of Bethesda Softwork's Fallout 3. Bethesda's goal was to create a compelling, open-ended gaming experience that newcomers and old-fans of the franchise alike could love, while at the same time making sure said fans didn't show up on their doorstep en masse the day of the game's release pitchforks and torches.
Now the game is out, and Bethesda is still intact, but is that only because game critics are too lazy to form a mob? Find out after the jump.
Before heading out into the post-nuclear wilderness, players may go through a thorough character customisation process. You can toy around for hours with the appearance of your avatar, setting everything from different beards, eye-colour, the size and shape of the nose and lips, etc. You're also introduced to the handy PIP-Boy 3000 and what is better known as S.P.E.C.I.A.L. - Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility and Luck. Adjusting these greatly influences how your character acts and moves in combat during the rest of the game.
Fallout 3 wasn't created as a firstperson shooter so V.A.T.S. is a balanced way to solve the game's lack of shooting accuracy. Most of the time, it's a great tool for eliminating threats but shooter fans may find the lack of accuracy frustrating at times — especially when your character misses near point blank shots. V.A.T.S. also has an issue with your player is near corners or if there's an obstruction between you and the target — when it indicates that you're likely to hit it, your character pops up and wastes ammo by shooting a rock, wall or other item. The other problem with V.A.T.S. is that weapon damage is listed as number values during combat; your target's health is represented by a list of red numberless lines.
You'll be astounded by the sheer amount of stuff that you can do in the Capital Wastelands. Walk in any compass bearing, and you'll find something to visit, including an old woman who's searching for a rare violin, an abandoned Nuke-Cola bottling plant, a den of slavers, a town of children, and the burned-out ruins of Bethesda Studios. That's a very tiny sampling of the things you may encounter. Some locations are homes to side-quests or specific characters, while others are there to remind you that the wasteland used to be part of a thriving metropolitan area.
One thing that surprised me is how well some of the traditionally non-combat oriented skills are incorporated into the action parts of the game. Sneak, primarily used for shady activities like stealing in towns, can be a lifesaver in combat. A sneak attack is an automatic critical hit. The only thing more effective is pick-pocketing a raider and leaving a hand-grenade in place of the stolen item. If you have a high lockpick skill, you'll find that you can open boxes to restock your ammunition supplies which can be a lifesaver on long quests. Raise your science skill enough and you can hack terminals to open doors and avoid combat entirely. Repair allows you to combine similar weapons by scavenging parts from one to raise accuracy and damage on the fly.
...when you get all the way up to level 20, you simply become a bit too good for the game. With your abilities capped, you're generally such a badass that the tension is reduced as you explode every head you aim for. With no more levelling possible (at least until the DLC, perhaps), there's no longer the same sense of reward, and it turns into a bit of a victory march. This is a problem specific only to truly committed players, but in a series that attracts an unusually large proportion of hardcore gamers, the endgame is relevant.
With Fallout 3, Bethesda hasn't so much created a game as they have created a living, breathing slice of post-apocalyptic America for you to survive in. Much like a Vault dweller taking his first steps into the sunlight, it's easy to be initially overwhelmed by the sheer size and scope of the game, but once you learn the ins and out of life in what's left of the Washington DC area, you'll find that you aren't so much playing the game as you are living it.
Certainly sounds like a keeper to me.