This generation of consoles has brought about an interesting and sad trend at once, the death of the traditional Japanese RPG and the rise of western oriented ones on consoles. Bethesda Softworks has been a pioneer on this, with its two massive open RPGs Oblivion and Fallout 3.
After playing both games I have come to appreciate the western RPG genre a bit more, the subject of this review Fallout 3, is in many ways inferior to Oblivion but in many others succeeds where the earlier title fails.
Fallout 3 is huge, not as big as Oblivion, but it comes damn near close in scale, and for some reason even though post apocalyptic Washington is no where near as pretty as Oblivion’s game world I was more compelled to explore this world than Oblivion’s. Washington feels eerily real, and the sense that you are truly alone venturing a dangerous wasteland stays with you always.
It took me 38 hours to beat the game on my first play-through and I only discovered about 2/3 of the game world. If you were to take your time to finish every quest Fallout 3 could be a 60 plus hours game easily.
Tons of sidequests await players who are patient and willing enough to tackle them, however most quests here lack the length and difficulty of the ones found in Oblivion. Perhaps because of that fact I was always willing to take on them where as in Oblivion I was likely to avoid the vast majority of the quests.
A Graphical Upgrade
Fallout 3 has a futuristic post apocalyptic view of Washington D.C. because of this it is hard to compare it to oblivion’s lush fantasy world in order to appreciate any graphical improvements, but that being said I have to acknowledge that the character models found here are better looking than those found in the earlier Bethesda title, and the things like moving water look more detailed.
While the game has a vast collection of creatures, such as Super mutants, robots, mutated dogs, and zombie like ghouls, it troubles me that all of the human like characters are composed of the same model…kill an old man, and upon stealing his armor you will reveal a body that looks about 20-30 years old, and this is true for every human character they all have the same model of body, no one in fallout is over weight or underweight and details like this can break the illusion of reality that the game world tries to convey.
Apart from that this game is much gorier than Oblivion, exploding human heads and dismembering of human limbs, in which blood splatters all over the place are of common occurrence in Fallout 3. This is definitely not a game for young ones to play.
The artwork is fantastic, it faithfully represents many historical buildings, and the post-apocalyptic world is as eerily real as one would expect from a game made this generation. It is the fateful representation of Washington D.C. and the scope of both underground and surface environments that truly impresses here.
It is easy to spend hours upon hours just traveling and discovering new places to plunder and search. Fallout 3 is a truly an amazing piece of visual work.
There is a large variety of weapons, all with a unique look and feel, as in oblivion the armor equipped on the character is visible when you play the game in the awful 3rd person mode.
This brings me to my main gripe with the visuals here aside from the obvious slowdown when things are hectic on screen; Oblivion’s problem in third person was that the main character looked like he was skating across the environments, the problem still exits in Fallout 3 and to the same degree of annoyance.
I understand that both Oblivion and the subject game for this review Fallout 3 were designed as first person experiences…but c’mon! 1998’s Ocarina of Time featured a large epic world for its time and the third person view was in every way possible flawless, why can a decade later Bethesda accomplish the same feat in Fallout 3?
For what it’s worth FFXIII and Mass Effect look better, but those two titles do not offer the vast open world experience that Fallout 3 does.
An Aurally Strong Performance
The music in the game is nearly as good as the one featured in Oblivion, conveying an epic feeling, while the music is not varied there are a couple radio stations that play music through your handheld device.
The voice acting is a step up from the one in Oblivion in what NPC characters are concerned, however do not expect any MTV movie award performances here, and that is saying something.
The sound effects are top notch, and you will have to have to keep your ears open while roaming the wastelands in order to avoid being ambushed by enemies. The guns and weapons all have distinct sounds, the aural experience blends perfectly with the visual one to create a fantastic playing universe.
Clunky Gameplay At Times
If there are any noticeable downfalls to be found in Fallout 3 they are scattered all over the game play. For starters the game does an admirable job as first person shooter…until the actual shooting starts. The V.A.T.S system is the most useful tool in combat, during the game, and you get the feel that this system was designed solely because (even though the mechanics involved in it are somewhat innovative) the shooting in real time is so clunky and inaccurate that it would be nearly impossible to beat even the most meager enemies.
What V.A.T.S does is freeze the game, and zoom into enemies in order to target specific body parts in order to do a specific amount of damage, head shots typically being the most damaging ones.
This system makes the game a little too easy, and it would practically turn your character in to a demi-god if it wasn’t for the fact that AP points are consumed every time you use this ability. So you have to use it and rest a few seconds before the AP charges back up.
While Fallout 3 is molded as first person shooter your ability to shoot and cause damage does not only depend on how well you aim (or how lucky you get seeing how bad the accuracy is) but on the statistical points your character has on weapon handling abilities which are gained as you level up. Fallout is an RPG at its core, you have to consistently repair and upgrade armor and weapons in order to find success with ease.
The level cap in the game is 20 after you reach level 20 you can’t get any stronger…and you won’t have because the game for the most part is fairly ease even though enemy shooters seem to always find a mark in your character. While Fallout 3 runs on the easy side of things it is quite possible to be trapped in the middle of a city in ruins with no ammo and tons of raiders surrounding you, it is in these instances were the game presents a nice challenge.
The last boss battle in my play through was a disappointment and more of a joke. Also it is very easy to be evil in the game and succeed, for example by killing everyone in your path you level up faster, gain Caps (the equivalent of money in the game), weapons and armor among other goodies. Being a nice guy makes your progress slower; I will like this issue to be addressed in the Fallout: New Vegas. While you get bad “karma” for doing evil acts I have no idea what this affects in the gameplay other than having a few “Regulators” which are more like bounty hunters hunting you down from time to time. These hunters are usually easy to deal with and should pose no problem other than providing cannon fodder for your ammo and weapon needs.
The game itself does a good job of letting you save anywhere and auto saving when you enter a new area, which is helpful considering that the PS3 version of the game at least…. CRASHES!!! My game crashed at least 4 times during my 8 hours and one time I got stuck in a concrete column and I couldn’t get out, so I had to load the game from an earlier point!
On a positive note I found Fallout 3 much more accessible than Oblivion, and the main plot much easier to follow through, there are many side quests but they seldom last too long, so I never lost focus on what I had to do to finish the main quest.
A So So Tale
Mass Effect being the exception, western RPGs usually lack strong engaging tales, and Fallout 3 stays true to this tradition. I am pretty sure there are strong western story tellers out there, but one can only do so much when the main character is mute (A la Zelda) and the world is so open ended, yet Link was mute in Twilight Princess, but the entire cinematic experience around him, and the supporting Midna made it one of the stronger stories ever told in an RPG period.
Why Bethesda hasn’t managed to emulate this kind of narrative success is beyond me…I tend to believe that they are not very good at telling stories, and defiantly not very good at staging cinematic sequences in game…I know that to make a cut scene play in the middle of the action can probably seen as reality breaking, because Bethesda wants to present a true to life first person experience. But Zelda has always managed to do this since 1998 with real time graphics and to great extent…perhaps it’s time that Bethesda adopts this practice in order to make their stories come to life in a more efficient and natural manner.
Fallout 3 does a great job in putting you in a great sci-fi post apocalyptic waste land, the plot however does nothing to make me care for its characters…even the main protagonist feels life less and bland.
While you have many dialog choices (ala Mass Effect) to choose from, that dictate in which direction the plot will move on its fairly straight forward you either do the evil thing or the good thing, and then a series of events happen for better or for worst but there was never any emotional attachment or emotional after effect to any of the decisions that I made. I have always complained about western RPG tales and perhaps it is a complaint that will never be remedied since games like Fallout 3 focus on freedom and exploration while Japanese RPG focus on linearity and sadly as of late (FFXIII) exploration has been thrown on the back seat.
Maybe someday we will get the FF title that plays more like FFVI, VII, VIII and IX and not like FFXIII…maybe some day we will get a mind blowing NEXT GEN Zelda, but until then western RPGs will continue to thrive on ground breaking gameplay features and uninspiring stories like the tale of a boy who tracks down his missing father…Storywise that is what Fallout 3 is…no plot twists no surprises.
A REWARDING EXPERIENCE
The main tale of Fallout 3 is utter garbage, if one were to follow the main quest by itself the game would clock in around 10 hours…but then one would miss 95 percent of what this amazing game has to offers which is a post apocalyptic playground in Washington D.C. for you to explore at your leisure. Fallout is not a perfect game but considering that the Japanese RPGs of this generation aren’t as good or as numerous as in past gens, if you want to play a rewarding RPG experience you can’t go wrong with Fallout 3, even if it isn’t all around as engrossing or as huge as Oblivion is.
Gameplay: 8.0-Gigantic world to explore in first person, third person doesn’t play half as well, battles are tad too easy, and manual aiming is too inaccurate, however the customization and freedom of choice make it a worthy experience.
Graphics: 8.5-Not the best looking RPG the PS3 or Xbox 360 has to offer, but considering the epic scope of its world it looks pretty darn good, and Washington D.C look eerily convincing.
Music: 7.0- Good enough to keep you in the mood, but not enough variety, the sound effects and voices are okay.
Story: 6.0-Very poor tale which is typical of western RPGs, but considering that you have a say on how it all unfolds it is a better tale than average.
Addictiveness: 9.0- very addictive because of the many quests and many possible story branches.
Overall: 8.0-One of the best Action RPGs out there in this gen, but that is not saying much considering the lack of Japanese greats in this gen, however a worthy purchase.