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Trevor Wagner

Not Quite So Retro (NQSR) Review - Fallout 3

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Images copyrighted by Bethesda; taken from the official Fallout 3 site

With the recent release of Fallout: New Vegas, I decided that I'd go back in time a few years and revisit Fallout 3 for review. A little bit of a history lesson - Bethesda released Fallout 3 in 2008, a sequel to the critically acclaimed Fallout 2, which was released by Black Isle Studios in 1999. Fans had gotten other games in the meantime, such as Fallout: Tactics and Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel, but neither of those had the success of their predecessors. With the release of Fallout 3, fans were reintroduced to a war-torn vision of the world, this time centered in Washington D.C. It was interesting to see the game that I considered one of my favorite games for a while again after all this time, but was it a good experience? Read on to find out if my second trip to the post-Apocalyptic Capital Wasteland was a bomb of a time, or if it was about as pleasant as a Radscorpion sting.

The biggest difference this time in comparison to the other games is that now, the game plays much more like a FPS than a top-down RPG. That's not to say that the game has abandoned it's roots, because it hasn't. The game is based around a story quest, along with the player exploring the wasteland, searching for whatever they want. The game operates off of the “S.P.E.C.I.A.L.” system, where players create their characters, and are given a certain number of points to allocate into 7 main stats (Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, and Luck), which are the basis for all of the games skills. All of the skills are attributed to the related S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stat; Strength increases unarmed, melee, as well as how much your character can carry, Agility increases Sneak, your skill with small guns, etc. Beyond that, when you level up, you're given skill points to allocate into the game's 13 different skills. Your skills determine how you're going to progress the the game, whether you want to be a silver-tongued charmer, a thief that takes enemies by surprise, or a brute who runs in swinging a Super Sledge, destroying everything in their path. On top of that, you get to pick perks every other level, which can do things as simple as letting you increase one of your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats by one, giving one of your skills a permanent boost of 15, or letting you do more damage against certain types of enemies; on the other hand, you can get perks that allow you to have unique dialogue with members of the opposite sex, cause enemies to die in over-the-top gory ways, or allow wild animals to help you in battle. Beyond your stats, you can find a wide array of weapons (from basic bolt action rifles, to nuke launchers and plasma rifles) and armor, which degrade with use. To counter this, you can repair items by using similar items, allowing you to keep unique items in good condition, so that they do more damage or protect you from more damage. As far as combat goes, you can either play the game as a basic FPS, or use the V.A.T.S. system, which allows you to essentially pause time, and chose what body part of your targets you want to fire at, and how many times. The amount of you can in V.A.T.S. is based on your current amount of AP, so you can't just infinitely stay in V.A.T.S. Either way you play, the combat is a lot of fun, though after a while, I started to get a little bored with it until I started making myself play the game in a different manner, using melee instead of sneak attacks, it rejuvenated the combat.

Previous installments in the Fallout series were fairly heavily story-oriented, and this entry is no exception. The game has the main story line that will last you a while, and has a few different endings. The main story is fairly impressive, with some pretty decent writing and plot devices that work well. The other side of the story are all of the side quests you can find in the wasteland, from helping a deliver a mission from one sibling to another, to saving a town that's being terrorized by two costumed “heroes,” all of the quests are entertaining, and fun to play through. I would try to give some sort of numbered estimate of how many quests there are, but I honestly have no idea. I put over 60 hours into my first playthrough, and this time, I was still finding things that I hadn't seen before. Exploring the world is a whole lot of fun, with tons to discover. Drive in theaters, abandoned school, houses that have been filled with booby traps and the like scatter the wasteland, with the occasional settlement built from the rubble. Hidden caves, ammo and weapons are stashed away, and destroyed monuments are all really interesting to find, and there's no shortage of any of those. In a quest-related vein, Fallout 3 sports one of the now-common morality systems, in which your actions determine how people think of you, and open some doors, and close other doors. Some characters won't follow you as a companion if you have high or low karma, and some quests aren't given if you have karma that's too high or low for the quest giver. The system is fairly simple, with good deeds giving you good karma, and bad deed giving you negative karma. It is possible, however, to remain completely neutral in your karma, though the amount of petty crimes or random murders you have to commit to stay in the neutral zone while also doing quests that give positive karma is a bit cumbersome. The game starts you off with morality choices almost immediately after you finish creating your character, and the choices never really stop. The only thing I can really say negatively about the system is that it's usually pretty black and white – you either ask someone to leave someone else alone, or you just murder him. Now, that's not to say that all of the quests are completely black and white, but for the most part, you'll either be a savior or the devil.

As far as actually playing the game goes, the controls are pretty much the exact same as Oblivion, with a few game-specific changes. They work just about as well as they did for Oblivion. Combat feels tight, though occasionally trying to target a specific body part in V.A.T.S. will leave you wishing that you could just click on the body part instead of having to use the analogue stick to highlight it. Inventory management is a breeze, as is shopping, which is nice, as you'll usually have quite a few items to sell after you go wandering for a while. There's not a whole lot to say about the controls if you've played Oblivion, because really, they're the same.

Graphically, the game still looks pretty nice; it's obvious that the game is a few years old, but it still shows off the wasteland just the way you'd want a post-nuclear fallout world to look like. The landscape is as impressive as it is desolate, and ruined monuments like the Washington Monument are truly impressive. Effects like fire, water, and lasers are all well done, especially for the time that the game was released. The general animations of the characters are well done, though some animations end up looking a little odd, such as running diagonally in third person, or watching another character run in a similar manner. The facial models aren't all that spectacular, especially not when compared to games like Mass Effect 2, but they still get the job done. The audio work is stellar at some points, and lacking in others. The music in the game is all from the 1950's era, and fits well with the general theme and atmosphere of the game, though with only a small selection of songs, you'll tend to get tired of them quickly. Sound effects for weapons and environmental sounds are well done, and sound the way that they should. As far as voice acting goes, this is where the problem lies. Liam Neeson as your characters father is impressive, and works quite well. On the other hand, it becomes obvious rather quickly that many voice actors play a large number of roles, and even if they are just generic townsfolk, talking to three completely different people and hearing the same person's voice all three times is a little disconcerting. To be fair, there are a large number of characters in the game, so repeats are an inevitability, but it seems to happen a bit too much.

Overall, Fallout 3 is an impressive game, and is really worth your time. There are a fair amount of bugs and glitches, though by now, most of them have been patched away, though you'll still occasionally find yourself stuck on a rock or something similar. The gameplay is solid, as are the graphics, and the audio work isn't bad either. If you've never played it up until now, you owe it to yourself to spend some time in the Capital Wasteland and see the sights. However, I will say that if you've already played New Vegas without playing Fallout 3, I can't say that you'll be quite as impressed, because it seems that New Vegas improved on pretty much every aspect of the game. Regardless, Fallout 3 is a solid game, and is worth checking out if you haven't already.

Note: On GameGavel, reviewing new games is great, but what about those games that aren't old enough to be retro, but you still may not have heard about, or want to know more about? Well, look no further, because our new Not Quite So Retro (NQSR) reviews are here to help.

Trevor Wagner

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