Fallout 3

After owning _Fallout 3_ for about 6 months, I finally decided to play it over the Easter holiday. You see I wanted to dedicate a good chunk of time to it, so I could enjoy it fully; worryingly, this good chunk turned into a huge chunk. I was addicted to _Fallout 3_; I played it nearly every day of the holiday and simply couldn’t get enough. Why was I addicted? Because _Fallout 3_ is a fantastic game with so much atmosphere and depth that it makes every other game inadequate when compared to it.

_Fallout 3_ is about everyone’s worst fear; the nuclear apocalypse! Ok, so it might not be your worst fear but, it’s safe to say, we would be screwed if it happened. The game takes place in the USA, after a full scale nuclear war has occurred. Luckily, the government knew something like this would happen, so commissioned the construction of multiple “Vaults” throughout the country designed to keep people safe from such an attack. And that’s where the player’s story begins, in Vault 101; a small, sealed off, underground city. You don’t stay cooped up in there for long; after about the first hour, you bust out onto the Wastelands in search of your missing father and it all escalates from there. What originally starts out as a search and rescue quickly turns into saving all of humanity. Since the story is one of _Fallout 3’s_ major assets I won’t go into it any further, what I will say is that it’s excellent and one of the main reasons I got completely obsessed.

Although the third game in the _Fallout_ universe, _Fallout 3_ is considerably different to its predecessors. Firstly, it’s a completely different type of game; although retaining most of its RPG roots, it’s now been changed from a top-down, point and click sort of thing, to what is effectively a first person shooter. Of course there was considerable outrage from hardcore fans of the franchise when this was announced, but would anyone really want to play a top-down RPG in 2008? The answer is no. Secondly, while the original two games were set on the west coast of the US, in and around the LA area, _Fallout 3_ is set on the east, Washington DC to be exact. Most of the _Fallout_ canon is intact though, ranging from how the quests are set-up to the same mutated cows hanging about. In short, _Fallout 3_ is a franchise reboot. If you haven’t played the previous, 12 year old games it doesn’t matter; I hadn’t even heard of _Fallout_ until this installment and that didn’t stop me from enjoying it profusely.

The game revolves around you completing a number of main and side quests; obviously the main quests move the story forward but they only account for about 40% of all the things you can do. By solely concentrating on the main quests you would miss out on a huge portion of the game; entire regions of the unbelievably massive Wasteland, all of which can be explored, are never even mentioned let alone fully explored through the main story alone.

Completing quests, killing enemies and a number of other tasks (such as hacking computer terminals) all give you experience which contributes toward levelling up, at which point you gain more health, can carry more and have stronger attacks. The main reason for progressing to higher levels is that you can assign more skill points and choose a new “perk”.

Skill points simply relate to increasing certain attributes of your character, such as small guns proficiency and medical ability. Each category, of which there approximately 15, can reach a maximum of 100; considering that the level cap of the game is 20, you simply can’t max out all of your skills. You therefore have to choose what you want to specialise in; do you want awesome melee skills or do you want to laser people in the face? I choose the lasering people in the face, mainly because I heart technology. Perks are a feature more unique to _Fallout_. On levelling up you can select one “perk” which adds an ability to your character; what each one does varies wildly. Some increase your accuracy with a certain weapon, while others give you a stat boost while in the dark. These really add to the game, greatly changing how you perform in certain situations and, due to there being so many differences between each perk, it becomes increasingly harder to choose as your character progresses.

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Although _Fallout 3_ appears to be primarily a first person shooter, it is in fact a hardcore RPG underneath; the shooting is nothing like that found in the _Call of Duty_ franchise, instead actually hitting an enemy is based on dice rolls, _Dungeons & Dragons_ style. And this is where the V.A.T.S system comes into play; rather than going all guns blazing, you can implement some strategy. Once V.A.T.S is engaged, through a simple button click, the game freezes and the enemy’s different limbs are highlighted, each with a percentage likelihood of being hit. At this point you choose which limb, be it an arm or their head, to attack using up Attack Points (of which you have a limited number). The game then carries out the actions that you’ve lined up, which will hopefully kill the baddy in question. V.A.T.S is effectively an implementation of the usual turn based style of gameplay found in most RPGs and works rather well.

I did have some issues with the combat in _Fallout 3_, however. Outside of V.A.T.S the combat can feel very hit and miss; you can be aimed dead straight at an enemy that’s 3 feet away and still miss. This is very annoying and made me rely on V.A.T.S a lot. And here lies the next problem; the most effective combat strategy is to simply run right up to the enemy (so your hit percentages are very high), engage V.A.T.S and shoot them in the face. Although this works very well, it feels pretty cheap and I’m sure it’s not what Bethesda was going for.

The presentation of _Fallout 3_ makes up for whatever limitations there might be in the combat. The designers have created one of the most believable game worlds I have ever seen. The post-apocalyptic Washington DC found within the game is exactly what you’d expect it to be. Everything is in ruins, there’s no grass or trees and all the water is irradiated. Although you could complain that there’s little diversity in terms of the colour scheme, the game world is so convincing that any variation would seem out of place. The game is also extremely detailed which, combined with the staggering scale, means there is so much to explore; you can literally spend hours just walking around the “Wastes”, running into an abandoned structure here-and-there, fighting some raiders and simply get immersed in it all. In fact, there’s so much scope that I actually started to get worried about living in a post-apocalyptic world…

The sound also adds considerably to this immersion; there’s always some haunting music playing in the background with some excellent effect work on top. When running across open plains, the wind blows; while in the sewers, bugs and running-water can be heard. Every character you interact with is also voiced, there are no text-only moments in _Fallout 3_. And this voice work is also fantastic, not once have I heard two characters sounding the same; the range is phenomenal. The voices also match up to the visuals of each character. For instance, ghouls in the game are a group of people who have been hideously mutated by radiation; funnily enough they have rather gruff voices.

_Fallout 3’s_ presentation does have a few issues that stop it from being perfect. The main problem being the animation found in the game. Characters when moving simply don’t look realistic while when standing still, they don’t really do anything at all. Although this isn’t too much of a problem in combat, when in a conversation they look dead into the camera with no body animations. Granted there is a considerable amount of facial animation, which is good, but it’s the little details that make interactions with characters believable; something that _Fallout 3_ lacks. It would have been nice to see as much work going into the detail of the animation as that which went into the visuals; Bioware’s _Mass Effect_ being an example of how to do this well.

Aside from these – in comparison – trivial problems, I can’t recommend _Fallout 3_ enough. For me it is the best game of 2008, when story and depth are in question, and, although an RPG might not be your cup of tea, it’s definitely worth a look if you want to be engaged in a fictional world more than that found in the mindless shooter. With incredible presentation, both audio and visual, and so much content to get your teeth into, _Fallout 3_ is one of the most outstanding games available today.

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