War never changes.
This is a message that “Fallout 3” hammers into you at the start of the game. War, a blight of humanity, led to a nuclear apocalypse.
But even after that apocalypse, in the nuclear fallout that remained (hence the name of the series), there was war. Apparently, said war never changed.
Factions still battle for over control of the wastelands surrounding what was once Washington D.C.
“Fallout 3” is developed by Bethesda Game Studios, the same people responsible for the highly acclaimed “Elder Scrolls” fantasy role-playing series – the most recent title being “Oblivion.”
“Fallout 3” shares a lot in common with “Oblivion,” causing some to go as far as to say that “Fallout 3” is merely “Oblivion” in the post apocalyptic future. To be honest, this isn’t entirely inaccurate.
The two games have a lot in common mechanically, and if you’re familiar with the way “Oblivion” or “Morrowind” worked, then you can drop right into “Fallout” and know exactly what’s going on.
Just replace swords and sorcery with guns and technology.
The game – the first true sequel since “Fallout 2” was released a decade ago – begins near what is now called “The Capital Wasteland,” underground in Vault 101.
Like previous games in the series, the story is based on the idea that American families took cover in a large number of underground vaults in order to survive the impending doom of nukes raining from the sky.
As the game opens, you are immediately born into a world of options – literally. Your character is born, you choose whether you’re going to be a male or a female, and use determine what you are going to look like when you grow up.
This is the start to a relatively short prologue that spans several years. The choices you make “growing up” help determine what kind of person you’re going to be, and what kind of skills you’re going to excel at.
Are you going to be good at sneaking around and lock-picking? Are you going to be strong and good in combat? Are you going to be charismatic, and solve all situations through speech rather than steel?
The choice is entirely up to you.
Throughout the game, these sorts of choices also determine whether you are good or evil. And whichever path you take can lead to dire consequences.
For example, early in the game you are given a rather simple, though extremely devastating choice: To save an entire town, or to blow it up with a nuclear explosion, reaping the money and penthouse rewards that such a choice could bring – while of course losing that town forever.
These elements are really the best thing about “Fallout 3.” The total freedom of choice and exploration is reason alone to play the game. To sweeten the deal, the massive world is filled to the brim with interesting characters, and interesting conversations to be had with them.
Unfortunately, the combat isn’t always as satisfying. At its core, “Fallout 3” is an RPG, like previous games in the series. However, it also tries to be an action game.
The action game portion of the gameplay – the real-time combat you can participate in – is somewhat disappointing, in that it’s still an RPG, just an RPG in disguise. This means that you can point a gun at an enemy’s head but still miss because a series of hidden “dice rolls” happening behind the scenes didn’t go your way.
Thankfully, there’s also a much more clever and satisfying system in place: VATS.
The “Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System,” or VATS, allows you to pause the action and spend a number of “action points” to carry out combat. This ends up being a much better blend of the action and turn-based RPG elements the game is trying to capture.
It also means that you can solve every enemy encounter by running up close to them, going into the VATS system, and shooting somebody in the head until their head flies off.
Which, of course, is extremely satisfying.
This brings up the issue of the game’s style, which is a delightful blend of dark, dirty, and oh-so-bloody war and violence as well as lighthearted, campy and genuinely humorous elements. You can literally walk into a town after blowing the heads off of enemy raiders only to laugh out loud with another character in a bar.
The good things I could say about “Fallout 3” are too many to be mentioned in this space, but it’s not at all a perfect game, either.
On top of the aforementioned problems with the combat, you may find much of your exploration around the wasteland to be boring. This is because the wasteland is like Lubbock: flat.
There are some awesome locations and cities, and it’s extremely cool to see a torn-up Washington DC, but your long walks from place to place may leave a lot to be desired.
All in all, “Fallout 3” is a fantastic game and a worthy successor to the “Fallout” name. Fans of RPGs and post-apocalyptic settings should definitely do themselves a favor and check it out, available now for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC.