Duck and Cover: Fallout 3
Last Sunday, I ran out and picked up a copy of Fallout 3 and then proceeded to play it several hours every evening and then pretty much all day Saturday (I was sick as hell) and today, Sunday, when I completed the game’s “main quest.”
Which should tell you a lot. But it’s is far from the complete story, and I’ll get to that in a bit.
The “when” of Fallout 3 is the year 2277, some 200 years after a nuclear holocaust. One of the survival tactics for humanity was the creation of the “Vaults” – underground, sealed biospheres where people could live and wait out the radiation. Your character is a “vault dweller”, and escapes into the great Capital Wasteland.
The “where” of Fallout 3 is. . . Washington, D.C. and the surrounding areas. This makes for a hell of a lot of creepy imagery as you wander around: you can watch the sun set behind the crumbling ruins of the Washington Monument or get slaughtered by hordes of Super Mutants who have dug in at the Capitol Building and control the Mall.
(One side-quest I particularly enjoyed had me breaking into National Archives to steal a copy of the Declaration of Independence.)
For those of you who do not know, Fallout 3 is an “action role playing game”, which is really just fancy words for “first person shooter where you have a shit ton of side quests”. If you ever played Oblivion, you’ll be familiar with the game’s engine, since both games were made by Bethesda. More on this later.
The game is incredibly detailed and it is quite obvious that a huge amount of love was poured into it. The game’s setting and storyline are filled with unique flairs as well as wonderful homages to great stories already told: the Mad Max films (particularly Thunderdome), the Planet of the Apes series, A Boy and His Dog, and various 1950’s “retro future” films (ala’ Forbidden Planet). There is a lot of Gamma World thrown into the mix along with a healthy dash of old Star Trek episodes.
This is, frankly, the game’s strongest point. One could easily spend 200 hours or more just roaming the wasteland, exploring, and handling small odd jobs. However. . . this is also a bit of a problem (see “The Ugly”, below).
The “RPG” elements of the game are pretty solid. Some of the neat things I liked about Oblivion are gone (like the minigame for raising the dispositions of NPCs), but other minigames are introduced (hacking computers), which makes up for it.
There is a neat auto-targeting system (called VATs) that goes a long way towards making difficult combats survivable.
Otherwise, a set of standard RPG tropes abide. You have a wide variety of buffing drugs and healing tools, and can target which of your limbs you want to heal independently (though this can get irritating at times). Gear must be repaired; you can craft gear; etc., etc.
There are maybe 20 or so “real” side quests, which is far less than Oblivion’s $INSANE amount, but there are a metric butt-ton of quests that you can pick up that don’t show up on the “quest” panel.
Your actions have karmic response. I chose to be a “good” person, and after a while random people were just running up to me and giving me cool stuff. Your karma score also decides which companions you can pick up and some storyline options.
And, of course, it affects the game’s ending.
I can’t say that the kids at Bethesda spent a lot of time fixing the bugs in the Oblivion engine. All of the minor, irritating things remain. There are issues with crashing and autosave file corruption that will drive you bonkers.
Save early, save often.
The AI pathing bites, and the behavior of companions leaves a lot to be desired. Don’t bother trying to sneak if you’ve got one; they just pick fights with everyone.
Not that sneaking seemed to work much for me; no matter how dark it was, how quiet I moved, or how high my stealth score was, it seemed that any level 1 Joe Shmoe was perfectly capable of detecting me before I was able to get within range of gun fire.
Sadly, this game comes after other games that are incredibly detailed as well, that have much better AI technology, and more realistic AI movement routines (such as Grand Theft Auto IV). This means that AI creatures and beings feel. . . clunky, with robotic movements.
The lighting routines are also weird. It is difficult to explain, but the first time you see someone’s eyes glowing while they are backlit, you’ll understand.
I once had a bad guy fire a missile at me and it just hung there in space, not moving. As far as I know, it’s still there, waiting for some helpless wasteland wanderer to touch it.
This next bit can be considered a spoiler, but you should read it anyway if you are enjoying the game.
The last several episodes of the main quest are “chained” together. You cannot avoid doing them in a row, which culminates in the end of your game.
Unlike Oblivion or previous Fallout games, you DO NOT get to continue playing after the completion of the main quest.
I found this especially irritating because I was in the habit of doing one or two side quests, then hitting a main quest branch, then going back to side quests. By accident, I found myself caught in a swirling vortex of storyline when I did not want to. And poof! The game is over.
Obviously, I can go back to an older save, but still. Quite irritating.
(For those interested: The quest that gets you is the one where you have to go through the settlement of children to get into the irradiated Vault in order to obtain a bit of lost technology. You’ll know the one when you get there.)
All in all I have had a great deal of fun with it and it is absolutely worth the sixty clams. I will likely load an earlier save and finish off a bunch of side quests that I was unable to do simply because I’m not sick of the game yet.