Fallout 3 – PC Game Review
Fallout 3. Bethesda Softworks. $43.99
Passed Inspection: Strong main story, hundreds of side quests and locations to explore.
Failed Basic: Infested with bugs, doesn’t have that same special ambiance of previous Fallout games.
There are a lot of really pleasant gameplay moments in Fallout 3, both within and outside of the main quest story.
When you mention the name Fallout to the older generation of avid PC gamers, it’s a very good chance they will know what you’re talking about. The conversation may turn to fond memories of roaming the Wasteland, popping Mentats, swilling Nuka-Cola, and watching your combat foes explode into amusing giblets. Fallout and Fallout 2, and to a lesser extent, Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel, are a few of those rare games that just seem to have it all there: story, atmosphere, gameplay, and that all-important fun factor. That is why they still captivate many a gamers’ hearts and hard drives some eleven years later.
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This is the legacy that faced the game creators at Bethesda Softworks when making Fallout 3. By this reviewer’s account, at least they succeeded in capturing the fun factor that is so often missing from games, especially those series of games that make it to a third edition. Fallout 3 is infested with bugs the size of radroaches, and many other problems that had me wondering why I continue to play, and then I would blast a Raider into a pile of goo and remember, "oh yea, that’s why."
We wargamers tend to be much more critical of games than the average gamer, what with our passion for dealing with TO&Es and OOBs and the like. It was easy to pick out a bunch of errors and discrepancies in Fallout 3‘s initial release. Then, like a sledgehammer to the back of the head, I’d realize I was having fun, despite all my Wasteland woes. Even now, as I think it imperative to make note of more than a few points of contention I have with Fallout 3, I don’t want those points to overshadow the emphasis on just how much fun I had and am still having.
I wish I knew more—or anything for that matter—about the entire process of game development. Then I could better understand just how so many problems could radiate throughout a game not very long after that same game engine was used for an earlier game that didn’t have nearly the same amount of problems at launch. Bethesda’s previous release, the highly acclaimed The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, is to me one of the best games I’ve ever played, and as I recall, it was released in a cleaner state. Not perfect, no, but I have not had any problem with it on my computer in all these years I’ve been playing it.
Yet, with Fallout 3, which also uses the same Havok engine as Oblivion, the bugs and errors run rampant, like a radscorpion with its stinger on fire. Important NPCs suddenly vanish from the game—said NPCs being the object of or crucial to a quest, which now leaves the player unable to complete that quest. Frequent game freezes that require nothing less than a full hard reboot. Enemies that were able to meld into various places in the landscape, be it a wall or rock, making it impossible to kill them with any means available. Flying opponents. Yes, I said flying, or at least levitating. Many times I would zone to an area where I had previously been and had killed something, only to see what I had killed go zipping up into the sky and / or come crashing down to earth, and then continue to do so in an endless cycle.
Then there are the way-overdone ragdoll physic death throes, where I would score a critical headshot on a creature and watch them flip 20 feet up in the air. Another vagrant physics error often happened when merely bumping into a world object, like a shopping cart or body part, would send it bouncing around like a pinball. All these errors and more jumped out at me during gameplay as being downright unacceptable, especially with a game engine that’s been used before by the same company. Aren’t you supposed to get better with something the more you use it?
Landscaping the Capital Wasteland must have been a tremendous mission, and much credit should be given to the team for their attention to detail in major landmarks and important game areas that mimic real-world places in Washington, D.C. However, areas in between those detailed landmarks look photocopied and uninspired—buildings in particular. This was most obvious to me in and around the D.C. area, and if you’ve had the pleasure of actually visiting the nation’s capital, you know it is anything but uninspired.
Outside the D.C. area, the landscape did very well at immersing me in the feeling of wandering the grounds of a nuclear holocaust, especially playing as I do with the lights down and headphones on. With upwards of 245 above- and below-ground places to discover, simply paying attention to the compass markers and walking in any direction will bring you to possible adventure. I think the variety of areas to explore was also nicely done, from survivors in small camps to larger settlements, You might encounter raiders in makeshift outposts, radio broadcast towers, and small urban towns now gutted and abandoned and crawling with monsters straight out of a 1950s sci fi movie. Scripted and random encounters happened anywhere and often result in a combat action of some sort, almost always easily handled even if caught by surprise.
In fact, very little did catch me by surprise, which in itself was a surprise to me. After all, as a character I’m a 19-year-old kid fresh out of Vault 101, and my only combat training thus far is shooting a radroach with a BB gun. And yet I am able to survive going up against these terrible denizens of the Wasteland who have been tempered by struggle and strife on a daily basis for longer than I’ve been alive! I’m saying that the enemy AI was more than a bit crude, making combat a rather easy affair, even after just leaving the vault. The most difficult problem I encountered at first was obtaining a quality weapon and sufficient ammunition for it. That event only happened once, with my first character. Subsequent characters have not had that as a problem, since I know now where to go immediately after exiting the vault to better equip them. Overall, Fallout 3 is a much easier game to play than the previous editions, and while I’m sure such gameplay caters to some players, I and other solid fans of the series remember that those earlier games were more challenging, and that element is sorely missing in this edition.
From the very first announcement of Bethesda doing Fallout 3, much debate has been about whether this game would be a proper addition to the series or merely "Oblivion with guns." I was most certainly hoping for the former, but my opinion now resides with the latter. I can’t compare it with any other Fallout game. I just never got the same vibe here as with the previous games in the series, including Tactics. While playing Fallout 3, I kept having fleeting thoughts of comparing gameplay with the most obvious games, Morrowind and Oblivion, but also with elements of Half-life, Bioshock, Deus Ex, and even Silent Hill. Not once did I ever get the same or even a similar thought or feeling that it compared to the former Fallout games, and that’s a very sad contemplation for us fans who were hoping for exactly that.
Now, taking into account all that I have said until now, I think Fallout 3 is a megaton of fun to play! I’ve created three different characters according to physical appearance, S.P.E.C.I.A.L. points allocation, and unique Skill choices, and went through the main quest with them all, and it just hasn’t gotten old, whether I’m sneaking up on a Super Mutant and stealthily dropping a Nuka-Grenade into his pants or sniping Raiders from the height of a broken, crumbling freeway overpass; taking on Deathclaws while armed with only a Powerfist, or craftily setting up elaborate minefields amongst a bunch of nuclear-engined cars and luring a party of Talon Company mercs into the trap. Everything I do is quite enjoyable, in spite of the bevvy of programming bugs.
Including and aside from the main quests, all the quests that I have so far done have been spot-on for the greater part. I think the NPC voice acting and personalities to be much improved over those in Oblivion, though again not up to par with Fallout or Fallout 2. A couple of shining examples include Moira in Megaton, owner and operator of Craterside Supply. Interacting with her throughout the Wasteland Survival Guide questline was more fun than a barrel full of radioactive mole rats. If you happen to go the "evil" route and blow up Megaton, quickly return to the Megaton town crater and see her again now that she’s in ghoul form. She’s not lost any of her charm! Another NPC I recommend not missing is Button Gwinnett, from whom you may retrieve a cool headpiece. If you’re a military historian, be sure to ask him directions to Arlington Library, then sit back and listen.
There are a lot of really pleasant gameplay moments in Fallout 3, both within and outside of the main quest story. You may have to force yourself to turn off the analytical portion of your brain for awhile to look past the blatant bug errors, at least until they are completely fixed via patches or until the public release of the content editor tools, which I am looking forward to. If you can do that, you may find, as I do, that Fallout 3 is a good and fun game. Notice I didn’t say it’s a good Fallout game. I see this as a good nuclear-holocaust-survival first-person shooter. Heck, add some working vehicles and Tina Turner, and I’d even go so far as calling it a good Mad Max game. Or create an entire city enclosed within a towering wall behind which I have to go rescue the President, and I’d say what a good Escape from New York game it is. I even think it has the makings of an interesting MMORPG, as if we need yet another one. As far as continuing the masterful saga of Fallout and Fallout 2, Fallout 3 is quite a few rads shy of achieving that full radioactive glow.
Armchair General Score: 87%
Jim began life much like everyone else – upside-down, naked and screaming. A child’s life on a few Army bases in the early 1970s sparked his interests in all things military & historical soon after. His junior high and high school years were filled with martial arts, Dungeons & Dragons games, wargames, video games, and paintball, which served to only reinforce his military history knowledge. Soon after completing a 14-year tour of duty with the U.S. Army and Army National Guard, he came to Armchair General, where his voluntarily assigned duties here include Game Journalist, (super) Forum Moderator, and Alyssa Milano guru, among others. He’s still involved in those activities mentioned earlier, along with enjoying fine cigars, books, movies, (disco) music, and exercise. Military history TV shows and the SciFi Channel just about round out his daily life. Jim currently resides in Decatur, Alabama, where you may on occasion find him upside-down, naked, and screaming.