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Fallout 3 (PlayStation 3) artwork

Fallout 3 (PlayStation 3) review

"More than two years after its release, Fallout 3 remains as flawed as it is fun."

Like many other stalwart gamers, I pre-ordered Fallout 3 the moment it became available. I then regressed mentally to a stubborn child. At age 25, I prevailed upon my mother to drive me to another city so that I could pick it up a day earlier than everyone else. Yet by the time I built up enough interest to beat it, everyone else was on their second character and the first new missions were available as DLC. Does that make sense to you? I was one of the first people in line for Fallout 3. I am one of the latest in reviewing it. Why is that?

The answer is simple. More than two years after its release, Fallout 3 remains as flawed as it is fun.

Fallout 3's biggest selling point is its environment. When I think about the game, I have exhilarating visions of riding up an elevator to the top of a Washington Monument with half of its siding collapsed, revealing the steel girders that make up the rib-cage of its frame. I imagine cresting a destroyed chunk of concrete that used to be an interstate highway, reaching the top at the perfect moment to witness the blazing sun set over waters that once held freighters and luxury yachts. I even occasionally yearn for sprawling dungeons that were not created by an evil overlord for the purpose of keeping treasure and trapping hapless wanderers, but rather by forgotten union workers for the purpose of speedy transportation aboard things called ďsubway trains.Ē Iíve long held the belief that familiarity makes for a compelling environment. While I canít recommend that one use Fallout 3 to plan their next trip to Washington, DC, I do believe that accuracy has been approximated to a inspiring degree. Bethesdaís apocalypse becomes the sort of place where we can easily imagine what our real reactions to the environment would be. The photographic quality of the environment is often what kept me up for hours past my intended bedtime, with no other motivation than just wanting to see what was around the next corner.

Fallout 3's biggest failing, on the other hand, is a bevy of useless skills and perks. Or rather, I should say that there are skills that are stupidly more useful than others and there are perks that are simply irrelevant. For instance,Ēbig gunsĒ might sound like a nice skill to invest some points in. After all, thereís little to match the damage of a missile launcher. But for every one missile you find in the game, you will find approximately eighty shotgun shells. Not to mention that the oddly named ďsmall gunsĒ skill which governs the use of the shotgun also governs the use of handguns, sniper rifles, and sub-machine guns. Furthermore, the biggest gun, the Fat Man, instantly kills anything it hits, no matter your skill with the weapon. So whatís the point? Similarly, the ďmeleeĒ skill would be a lot more enticing if half of the enemies in the game didnít have long range capabilities. Just from reading the skill's basic descriptions, a player can already see how the game steers them towards building a specific type of character.

Then thereís the perks. Some of these are just pointless. For instance, thereís the Cannibal perk, which lets your character feed off dead bodies to regain health. The game warns that doing this will make you an outcast from wasteland society, as you indulge your abnormal hunger. On the surface, this perk might garner some interest. It not only gives a character another way to heal (always handy) but it introduces a potential plot point to further develop that character. However, these reasonable suppositions donít translate to reality. Choose this perk and youíll find that eating corpses heals you less than drinking out of the toilet (Iím not being sarcastic) and the only response society has to the perk is to shoot you in the head if they happen to catch you using it. Not likely since, nine times out of ten, dead corpses in Fallout 3 are surrounded by more dead corpses and little else.

Other perks are less obviously useless... but still a waste of time. A perk that instantly gives you another level sounds really powerful and it would be, if there was limited experience in Fallout 3. But not only is there unlimited experience to be had from the constantly respawning Super Mutants, Rad Scorpions, and Mercenaries who actively seek you out, but thereís also a level cap! Even the downloadable content only boosts this cap by ten levels. Consider the potentially hundreds of hours you can spend wandering around the Capital Wastelands. Consider that 95% of that time will be spent killing enemies and gaining experience... against that, thirty levels just isnít that hard to achieve. A similar situation arises with the perk that gives you 10% extra experience for each rank you take in it. A new player could easily waste four levels raising that perk to its maximum rank before realizing how pointless it is to rush towards a level cap. Keep in mind that you only gain one perk per level and you can never take back your choice.

The real shame here is that you can unintentionally build a character that isnít fun to play. My first time through, I ended up with a character who ate corpses, couldnít use half the guns in the game, and reached level 20 really quickly... with no point to playing after that unless it was to start over. Fallout 3 isnít the kind of game you want to have to start over. It may be non-linear, but itís not particularly dynamic. Youíll be seeing/skipping all of the same conversations and engaging on all of the same quests with usually only two options for completion.

Thatís the other thing that gets old fast in Fallout 3. The difference between being good and bad is hardly subtle. Take this famous choice, for instance: blow up an entire settlement of starving wastelanders that has done nothing to you for some guy you donít know and who drops constant threats while talking to you, or save the city and earn their ever lasting love and respect. If that choice seems difficult to you, then consider this... blowing up the town destroys an entire subset of money-making quests, a useful shop, and a potential traveling companion (who, ironically, will only join you if youíre evil enough). Consequences like this often lead players to break away from roleplaying their character and to think in terms of straight up numbers and weighing the game effect rather than the moral effect. A choice that feels like it should be made within the first hour of hearing it will more likely be dragged on for days and days while the NPCs complacently sit around and wait for you to make your decisions. This breaks any illusions you might have of them as actual inhabitants of this world; it reveals them as set pieces.

Because of this, I usually ignored the quests and spent my time just wandering around the wasteland making up my own adventures. The times when I became most engrossed in the game were when I would pick a spot on the map at random, set a marker there, and then try to make my way to that place on foot. Never did I make it to the marker without discovering at least three new locations and engaging in four or five intense gun fights complete with slow-motion head explosions (courtesy of the VATs targeting system). Itís worth mentioning that my enjoyment of this wandering kept me from choosing another useless perk, which reveals all of the locations on the map... now whereís the fun in that?

This aimless journeying, more than anything else, shows Fallout 3's true nature. It is an incredible game-world but not an incredible game. It reminds me of when my friend and I found a copy of Monopoly when we were four years old. We quickly decided that the most fun things inside the box were its miniature tokens (fights soon erupted over who got the hat) and the paper money. We came up with all sorts of great uses for those pieces before, years later, we actually sat down and tried playing the real game. A similar thing occurred with me and Fallout 3, only in reverse. Now that Iíve stopped playing the game as it was meant to be played, Iím having a lot more fun.

I do have to give Bethesda credit for their incredible dog mechanics. My doggy companion acts just like a real dog! It often runs towards walls and stares at them while drooling, or barks at things that donít exist. Once, while wandering through Tenpenny Tower, its back leg began suspiciously twitching over a fine bit of carpet. Just like in real life!

Thatís all intentional, of course... right?

Rating: 7/10

zippdementia's avatar
Community review by zippdementia (November 02, 2011)

Zipp has spent most of his life standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox there. Sometimes he writes reviews and puts them in the mailbox.

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WilltheGreat posted November 03, 2011:

New Vegas was like 10x better.

Nice review though. FO3 did have it strong points. Though I personally thought that the beautiful mushroom cloud was reason enough to nuke Megaton. Moral choices and lost side-quests be damned.

Does that make me a bad person?
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zippdementia posted November 03, 2011:

No, it doesn't; and I guess that's kind've the point :/
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zippdementia posted November 03, 2011:

I have been wanting to play New Vegas, by the way, but it just hasn't made it onto my busy gaming schedule. I liked everything I heard about it (except the supposedly rampant glitches)
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jerec posted November 03, 2011:

The glitches are mostly gone by now.
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WilltheGreat posted November 03, 2011:

The only glitch I've really noticed is the one where sometimes your rifle flips itself upside down when your character slings it over his back.

Makes sneaking look a little silly, but I've yet to encounter a really game-breaking bug.
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zippdementia posted November 04, 2011:

Just goes to show, it doesn't hurt to wait to play a game!
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overdrive posted November 04, 2011:

Western RPGs are best when you wait for a bit.

So many glitches get covered in patches released over the next couple months, it's crazy. I remember taking an extended hiatus from Dragon Age Origins just because I dl'd the Return to Ostagar pack as soon as it came out on XLA...and found out the next day that it was immediately taken down because of a glitch that disabled any specialization classes for characters that hadn't already been found and applied to a character. That was awesome...

And reading the Oblivion wiki can find you some even better patched glitches. Like imagine playing that and finding out your Fighter's Guild progress came to an end because you explored a cave before getting a guild mission to go there, which prevents a necessary corpse from spawning, which means you can't finish a mission, which means your advancement in the guild is over. That glitch is gone now, but just reading about stuff like that is a great reason to wait a while after games like that come out before buying them.

Although it would have been interesting to see what our Facebook "friends" would have thought about Tom Chick's New Vegas review, based solely on the initial product that seemed to have glitched horribly for him. Like would the comment apocalypse have been lesser or greater than the current Uncharted 3 one?

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