Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Fallout 3

I've been following the release of Fallout 3 for more than a year now. The game is out, I've played it all the way through once, and I might as well throw my opinion into the Internet's sludge pool about the game, since everyone else already has.

If you haven't finished the game, or don't want (minor) spoilers, you might want to read something else.

I kept my expectations for Fallout 3 firmly in check, not because I didn't enjoy Oblivion (I did, repetitive as it could be sometimes) but because of my history with Fallout and Wasteland, and - yes - the heritage of the series. If my expectations were low, then I couldn't be disappointed. I had my doubts about a lot of things about the game, but at the end of it I walked away feeling satisfied, and like I had a lot of fun. What more can you ask for?

Fallout 3 is shorter than Oblivion but somehow more engaging; the world seemed a little smaller as well, which helped everything have a more immediate feel to it. You quite literally start the game as your character comes out of the womb and in a pretty innovative starting sequence, you choose your gender, race and stats as your character grows up. You finish off your character by making choices in a standardized test, or you can simply do the gamer thing and assign yourself some skills and start rocking.

The main quest involves you searching for your dad, and I suspect you can tear through it pretty quickly if you ignore all the other stuff going on around you. But why would you want to do that? While the world may be small it is very lush (as lush as a post-nuclear wasteland can be, anyway) and it seems like there is always something new and unique to do and discover. There's also a hell of a lot of latitude as you go through the world to approach things on your own terms, and I suspect I only scratched the surface of the depth of some of the puzzles and areas in the game.

The final mission is really awesome, until the end which seems almost anticlimactic. I was a little disappointed that the game forces you to stop playing at the end as well; there was a whole world out there for me to keep exploring and I wanted to see the rest of it, damn it!

The Good

  • VATS. Action-based RPGs aren't my thing. I prefer to stop, look around, assess, and make decisions in combat. Oblivion felt more like a shooter than an RPG when it came down to brass tacks. VATS was an excellent solution to this problem.
  • The depth. There was a lot to do in this game, and so much of it purely optional or fun that the world felt more fleshed out than Oblivion did. Add to that locations that had enough variety to feel fresh as well.
  • The setting. It's Fallout. And this was a Fallout game, no doubt about it.

The Bad
  • Herding. I felt herded at times, especially when I was supposed to be travelling through the city and I couldn't just walk through the streets or over piles of rubble, I had to run through some predetermined dungeon funhouses to get there. Ugh.
  • Slightly unpolished. There are some strange things - I noticed this the most during the final battle, when I had to load the game several times just to get the robot to walk the path correctly (once, he got stuck in the air and wouldn't come down. No, he doesn't fly.) Of course, comparing Fallout 3's polish to the absolutely unplayable state of Fallout 2 when it released if kind of a joke in and of itself.
  • The plot. The plot never changes. I'm going to go fanboy for a second, but my biggest pet peeve of this game was that it was a frankenplot of previous Fallout games. And evil overseer who turns you out of the vault? A quest for water? The need for a GECK? The Brotherhood as mysterious allies, the Enclave as antagonists? All straight from other Fallout games, which were set on the other coast. I wanted to see new organizations, new enemies, new problems to solve. Not the same stuff in a different setting with a different game engine.
  • Power. Last but not least, a tiny bugbear of mine. How the hell was there still juice running through the destroyed DC power grid to power vending machines and neon signs in the metro system? In my best comic shop guy voice: as if.

Fallout 3 was fun, and apart from my pretty minor complaints an excellent entry into the series. The previous games were not perfect either, and this one can join its slightly flawed brethren on my shelf any day.

War. War never changes.

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