Living in today’s world amidst the threat of economic crisis, depleting oil reserves, terrorism, global warming and the possibility of a worldwide catastrophe that could change the entire world as we know it, it’s hard not to imagine what would it would be like if something truly bad were to happen to our little planet. I’m sure pretty much all of us (especially being gamers) have imagined what it would be like to survive a nuclear holocaust or a zombie apocalypse or an economic meltdown. Fallout 3 lets you experience what it would be like to live in a world totally ravaged by nuclear war.
The year is 2277, 200 years after a global nuclear war has devastated the entire world. Only a few survivors remain scattered across the globe along with others who have spent their entire lives underground in “Vaults”, large nuclear shelters with all the basic needs for human survival, safe from the harmful radiation and dangers of the outside world.
The game takes place in a post apocalyptic version of Washington DC. The world of Fallout is futuristic (complete with laser rifles and robots), yet strangely stuck in a retro 1950s American style. The washed out posters on the walls, the music on the radio, the various gadgets, monochrome CRT displays and even the game’s artwork all create a bizarre, yet amazingly captivating retro-futuristic atmosphere which sci-fi fans will feel right at home with.
You play as an inhabitant of Vault 101, located deep underground in the Wastelands of DC. The game begins with you being born in an elaborate blurry scene with the doctors getting you out of your mother’s womb, all in a first person view; a scene which I’m quite sure you haven’t really seen before in a video game. Unfortunately, your mother dies due to complications during the delivery, leaving your dad (played by Liam Neeson) in charge of taking care of you. This is where the character creation comes in. Like Bethesda’s previous game Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, the character creation is not just a screen with text and numbers but a part of the plot, which also doubles as the tutorial level. This is presented via various stages in your life, from a toddler to a 12-year-old to a teenager.
You can customise your character’s name, gender, appearance, attributes (known as S.P.E.C.I.A.L., which stands for Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility and Luck) and your primary skills. Note that unlike Oblivion, your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. attributes do not increase when you level up, so choosing wisely in the beginning is the key. You’ll also receive your very own Pipboy 2000 – Fallout 3’s version of the standard RPG journal.
As expected, things go bad in the Vault which results in your dad suddenly going AWOL and leaving you to pick up the trail and find him. Getting out of the Vault is not easy but after some effort you are finally able to escape and venture outside into the Wasteland. Stepping out into the open for the first time is quite an experience. Your character’s vision gets blurred as his eyes take time to get adjusted to the bright sun outside. Just looking around and taking in the seemingly limitless wasteland around you is a truly breathtaking moment, not different from the first time you stepped out of the prison in Oblivion, only a lot more epic.
From here on out you are free to explore the world of Fallout 3 as you wish. You can either stick to your main quest and go looking for your dad or forget about it and just do what you like. Then again, if you are planning to just stick to the main quest then you’re playing the wrong game. Fallout 3 encourages exploration and finding random side quests and locations. This is where the game starts feeling a lot like Oblivion. A lot of the initial reactions to Bethesda’s taking over of the franchise were that Fallout 3 would eventually turn out to be nothing but “Oblivion with guns”. For the most part it is actually true. Fallout 3 does in fact feel that way. Right from the conversation system to the character voices to the way you use your Pipboy to fast travel, similarities to Bethesda’s previous RPG juggernaut are apparent.
You can also switch from first person to a third person view at any time. However, there are several key differences and tweaks to the Oblivion formula. For starters, the difficulty level of Fallout 3 is much higher than Oblivion. Enemy level does not scale with you. Wander into an area you’re not supposed to be in and you’ll get slaughtered in no time. This alone makes Fallout 3 a much better RPG experience than Oblivion. You will be spending a lot of time making your character better by raising skills in the right areas and finding better equipment. Guns are the weapons of choice in the Wasteland, and although you will find a few melee weapons, the combat is designed around the use of firearms.
Combat is another standout feature of Fallout 3. It is extremely well designed and addictive. Combining turn based and real time combat is not an easy task but Bethesda has somehow managed to pull it off. You can fight in real time with controls that work very similar to a first person shooter. However, the damage that you inflict is stat-based and so is the aiming. You can manually aim to target different body parts of enemies but it all depends on your skill with the particular weapon you’re using.
This is where the Vault-tec Assisted Targeting System (V.A.T.S.) comes in. You can pause combat at any time with the press of a button during which you are free to select your targets as well as where you want to hit them. Your probability of hitting your target depends on your skill, your distance from the enemy as well as the stance the enemy is currently in. Also hitting specific body parts has different effects on the enemy. Hitting them in the head affects their accuracy and paralyzes them temporarily or shooting them in the leg cripples them slowing them down. You can also knock their weapons right out of their hands by targeting the weapon or their hands, if they’re holding a grenade you can even target the grenade and cause it to explode while in their hands! The possibilities in V.A.T.S. are many and in most situations, it’s actually a life saver rather than a fancy gimmick, especially early on in the game when you don’t have decent equipment and health.
Using V.A.T.S. will also give you a cinematic slow motion view of the action once you resume the game. These scenes can be incredibly over the top gory. Later on in the game you can blow heads and limbs clean off or make your enemies explode into chunks of meat if you have the “Bloody Mess” perk. And it never gets old.
Like most story-driven western RPGs, Fallout 3 does not rely on grinding. The level cap is (only) 20 and large amounts of XP can only be earned through quests. Speaking of quests, there are plenty of side quests and optional tasks to be found. The number of side quests is comparatively much lesser than Oblivion but the quality of these quests more or less makes up for it. Each quest has multiple objectives and sometimes you will have conflicting objectives where you must make choices which can potentially affect your “karma”. This will usually depend on the kind of character you’re playing. You can either be Mr. Goody Two Shoes “Hero of the Wasteland” or a murdering psychopath who shoots everything in sight. Yes, the game can be played that way. You can also choose to align yourself with any of the game’s factions or choose to be a lone explorer. Still, much of the game’s fun comes from exploration and doing your own thing.
The main quest is passably decent (better and more involving than Oblivion’s main quest) but leaves a lot to be desired. However, it would have been good to see a longer, more fleshed out story. The game does have multiple endings depending on the type of person you’ve been throughout the game. The main quest can be completed under 20 hours or so but if you want to do each and every thing in the game then it should take you around 40-60 hours or more. There are also things like weapon crafting, synthesising chems (Fallout 3’s “potions”) and scavenging for materials, but none of these feel particularly necessary for progress. Most of the good equipment can be found through looting corpses or dungeons but if you’re still inclined to build stuff on your own, the game allows for that.
Bethesda has pretty much nailed down the atmosphere of the Fallout universe with this game. Every single location from the barren wastelands to the ramshackle towns and settlements to the run down downtown DC looks just like it should. There is an incredible attention to detail in each environment. The graphics engine does a great job of pumping out amazing visuals at a steady frame rate. The partially destroyed DC landmarks such as the Washington Memorial or the Capitol building look very convincing. The day/night cycle is also worth mentioning, since it adds a lot to the atmosphere. The environments alone make the game world worth exploring despite the odd low resolution texture.
However, the same cannot be said about the character models. They’re rather stiff and the animation is awkward at times. Most of the NPCs and enemies have the same fixed set of animations and sometimes they will just slide instead of walking. In conversation, they look lifeless and boring, especially if you’re spoiled by Mass Effect. The same issues plagued Oblivion as well. On the other hand, the weapons, armour and equipment looks great, appropriately detailed and worn out. Some of the larger guns look ridiculous but cool and somehow fit in well with the setting. From a technical standpoint, Fallout 3 might not be the best looking game of this generation, but it’s still a pretty solid looking one.
Fallout 3 also features some amazing sound design. All the weapons pack a punch. Whether it’s the booming shotguns or the whirring of the minigun, the guns sound loud and crisp. Creature sounds can be very effective especially while exploring dark underground subway tunnels or abandoned buildings. The scuttling noises of mutated scorpions or roaches scurrying about will have you checking around your feet every now and then.
The music sounds quite similar to Oblivion for the most part (especially the laid back tunes that play while you’re exploring with no enemies around). The music ramps up during battle and some of the themes that play during some of the game’s dramatic scenes are rather nice. You can also tune in to the in game radio and listen to American oldies. The effect of the music while exploring the desolate wastelands and buildings is actually quite chilling. Voice work is decent. Bethesda has used more voice actors this time around and quality of voice acting itself is better than Oblivion. But still, expect to hear quite a few familiar voices. The highlight, however, is Liam Neeson. He’s somewhat underused but still adds a lot of charisma to the game. His calm yet commanding voice is absolutely perfect for the character of Dad.
As a highly anticipated RPG title, Fallout 3 delivers on all fronts, but the real question is does it live up to the standards set by the previous games? A lot of Fallout purists may be turned off by the “oblivionisation” of the game. Many will feel that it has been dumbed down to appeal to larger audience. And to a certain extent, it is true. Fallout 3 is a lot more accessible than its predecessors and you don’t actually even need to be an RPG enthusiast to be able to like the game. A lot of the humour which made the past Fallouts stand out has been toned down significantly. There are almost no pop culture references this time around.
However, appealing to a broader audience is not a bad thing, especially in Fallout 3’s case. This is a game that should be played by every self-respecting gamer whether you like RPGs or not. Also, judging from Bethesda’s previous efforts, Fallout 3 looks like a game that’s going to be around for a while. It’s safe to expect at least a couple of expansion packs and new adventures in the near future. The main game itself should keep you busy for quite a while and the PC version will also enjoy extra benefits courtesy of the modding community.
Despite a couple of technical flaws and a rather bland story, Fallout 3 is a winner. It oozes enough atmosphere and style to please long time fans as well as grab the attention of newcomers. Regardless of the platform of your choice, Fallout 3 is an extremely well made and polished title. Take our word; don’t miss it and enjoy the apocalypse the way it’s meant to be.
(+) Very atmospheric, highly detailed and fun to explore game world
(+) Wide open world with many random quests and locations to be found
(+) Weapons and equipment are fun to use, especially the ‘Fat Boy’ mini nuke launcher
(+) Amazing presentation and top notch production values
(+) Liam Neeson
(-) Main quest and story is somewhat disappointing
(-) Character models and faces are somewhat lacking
(-) Voice work could have been a little better
IndianVideoGamer Verdict: 9/10 (Must Buy)
Note: Fallout 3 has not been officially released in India