Fallout 3 review

  • Imaginative, epic and brilliant
  • Works as RPG and FPS
  • Ripe with highlights and set-pieces
  • Not for instant-fix gamers
  • Not enough voice actors
  • Unsatisfying side-quests

Nobody knows who dropped the first bomb, and nobody cares. 200 years have passed since a nuclear war between the U.S. and China reduced the planet to cinders, and humanity has only one concern: survival. The fallout not only destroyed civilisation, but twisted and distorted it. Humans mutated into feral monsters, water and plants were irradiated and animals grew in ferocity. But for you, life is peachy. For the past 19 years you’ve been living with your dad in Vault 101, a nuclear fallout shelter buried deep underground on the outskirts of Washington DC.

Fallout’s one of the biggest, deepest RPGs out there. Not a role-playing fan? It’s also a brutal and accomplished FPS. It tells an incredible story across 100+ hours, but it’s also packed with Call of Duty-style set-pieces. As we type, we’re 29 hours in and have finished the main story, but the volume of worthy remaining side quests is boggling. It’s a measure of Fallout’s depth that it begins with your birth – you emerge from the womb in first-person view, with squealing and crying that you control yourself. Your vision’s blurred, but you can just about see your dad (Liam Neeson), his face obscured by a surgical mask. “Let’s see what you’ll look like when you’re all grown up”, he whispers as a nearby monitor flickers to life, displaying the game’s character creation tool.

The editor is flexible, but no matter how much you adjust the sliders your character will always look vaguely the same; handsome, slim and youthful – mercifully, your appearance has no bearing on the plot. It’s in your character’s stats and abilities that the depth of customisation lies. As you go through your youth and teenage years, you’ll shape your character via a series of clever interactive ‘minigames’. In one you flick through a toddler’s book called ‘You’re SPECIAL!’ which determines your core stats: strength, perception, endurance, charisma, intelligence, agility and luck. In another, you take an exam called the GOAT (Generalised Occupational Aptitude Test) that judges how good you’ll be at things like sneaking, using weapons, picking locks and bartering with merchants.

You’ll spend about an hour and a half in Vault 101, making friends, fighting bullies, struggling with moral decisions and completing tutorials. We won’t say exactly what happens as it’s one of the most compelling, intriguing parts of the game, but eventually you leave the confines of your lead-lined tomb and emerge blinking into the outside world. This is where Fallout 3 really begins. You’ll prickle with relief at escaping the claustrophobia of the Vault – the sun’s blinding – only for icy trepidation to take hold as your eyes adjust to the numbing desolation outside. This isn’t a game of rich forests, and lush spires, but cruel, brown open wasteland and haunting symbols of times past.

The Capital Wasteland stretches for miles in every direction, and what you do now is your choice. The game nudges you toward Megaton, a nearby shanty town constructed from the remains of a crashed jumbo jet, but you needn’t bother. The main ‘quest’ features the game’s best set-pieces, but if you want to build stats, and gather weapons and money to buy supplies, it’s wise to attempt one of the game’s myriad side quests. The wastes look barren and empty, but every few miles you’ll bump into someone looking for help or an offer of work. Problem is, the side quests aren’t that satisfying. You can spend an hour traipsing through a subway tunnel fighting giant ants, only to find some low-level loot and a handful of bottle caps (the game’s currency) at the end. Quests that offer up moral quandaries result in little more than raised or lowered karma (your character’s good/evil meter) and an underwhelming reward. In Oblivion you felt as if your choices were affecting communities, but the scope of your actions in Fallout is disappointingly limited.

By any other standards, the game’s ripe with highlights. In a town called Canterbury Commons, two rival superheroes (the Antagoniser and The Mechanist) are at battle, turning the streets into a warzone and terrorising its residents. The mayor asks for your help, and you end up battling through each hero’s secret underground lair to end their reign of terror. You even get their ridiculous costumes as a reward if you finish the quest a certain way. And working for the slavers (human slavery is rife in the world of Fallout) is deliciously evil; especially when you’re tricking hapless eight year-old kids into a life of eternal, thankless servitude. “Here, try on this necklace, kid…” you say before explaining that it’s designed to make their head explode if they run away.

The first two Fallouts let characters with high charisma and intelligence finish the game without killing anyone, but Fallout 3 is action-packed like Call of Duty. Your VATS skill (Vault-tec Assisted Targeting System) lets you pause the action during real-time combat, then target an enemy’s specific body parts for tactical takedowns. The ability is limited by a finite allocation of Action Points (AP) that recharge over time. Your percentage of success is relative to your position and stats, so it’s no cheap fix. Do you go for a sure-fire shot to disable the enemy’s weapon? Or a risky one-kill head shot? It’s great fun, but the game’s confusing mix of familiar FPSing and RPG-style combat grates. If you fire at an enemy manually and unload ten rounds into their head, the damage you do will still be partly determined by your weapon stats, not your accuracy. And despite early promises that you’d be able to talk or sneak your way out of most situations, far too many missions leave you no option but to murder everyone with VATS, especially toward the end of the main story.

Fallout 3’s world looks incredible, tinged by the chill of the desolate, post-apocalyptic emptiness. Towns are populated with dozens of characters, all with their own stories, quests and personalities, and some locations are stunning, like the Museum of Technology (filled with interactive displays and real-world relics), Little Lamplight (a gorgeous candlelit underground city populated entirely by children) and the Lincoln Memorial, now ironically overrun by slavers.

The game’s ‘dungeons’ come in the form of sewers, abandoned Vaults (which tell eerie stories about their former inhabitants) and the Washington DC metro system. Here you’ll find hordes of enemies to boost your XP and scrap to scavenge, which is used to create new weapons. Our favourite custom weapon’s the Rock-It Launcher, which is created by combining a leaf blower, a vacuum cleaner and some other bits. When you get this, ammo isn’t a problem as the device uses random objects as deadly projectiles; coffee mugs, books, rocks etc.

You customise your character’s abilities by choosing perks. Selected after each level, these include Cyborg (permanent boost to endurance and strength, but a loss of charisma) and Lady Killer (or its female alternative, Black Widow) which lets you seduce characters to get extra info and caps. We recommend Mysterious Stranger. With this, during VATS a random guy in a trenchcoat and hat will appear accompanied by a sting of Wild West music and kill the enemy with a pistol.

Our only major gripe is the weak voice acting, which often doesn‘t match the face of the person it’s coming from. Raiders will threaten you in a perfectly-intoned medieval brogue and every child has the same voice. It’s a critical oversight, and shatters the illusion that you’re in another world. The celebrity voice talent, however, is excellent. Liam Neeson has gravitas as your father, Malcolm McDowell is excellently pompous as the mysterious President Eden and Ron Perlman reprises his narrator’s role from the first two games. Fans will beam at his famous opening lines, “War… war never changes.”

Fallout’s genius is that there’s so much to see, do and discover, and it’s rare you’ll find a character who doesn’t have a quest or directions to a new location. The game buckles under the weight of its own ambition in some of the epic scenes at the end, but wandering the wastes, finding new towns and getting involved in the world’s politics is a thrill. The role-playing isn’t as far-reaching as Oblivion and as an FPS it’s merely above average, but there are almost no other shooters of recent memory as deeply imaginative and rewarding. Only BioShock offers such a consistent, well-designed world.

Until you’ve sat with it for 30 hours, from birth to epic ending, you won’t realise how engrossing it is. The freedom may scare people used to more linear shooters and the simplified customisation might disappoint hardcore RPGers, but if ever a game was worth broadening your horizons for, this is it.

Oct 28, 2008

More Info

Release date: Oct 28 2008 - PC, Xbox 360, PS3 (US)
Available Platforms: PC, Xbox 360, PS3
Genre: Role Playing
Published by: Bethesda
Developed by: Bethesda
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Use of Drugs
PEGI Rating:
Rating Pending


  • Genericpenisjoketista - August 5, 2010 4:28 a.m.

    Just finished the game recently. Some parts of it are really great, but overall I'd have to say that gameplay sucks, the traveling is boring, and there is absolutely no immersion. Some would think that I'm trolling, but alas, I am not. I mean, come on, there's probably 7 voice actors for hundreds of characters, everything is ugly and all of the people look the same, conversation lacks emotion (the whole intro makes no sense, emotionally), the story isn't written well, it ends way too soon (for a game being in DC, it really wasn't explored that well. Not one mission had you go into the most important building in the whole city). Another problem with the game: if you're not competent in a zone (say you're undergeared or outleveled) than all that happens is dying left and right. As soon as you competent in it, the entire game is a breeze. Raising the difficulty just makes it harder to kill enemies, and really, who wants to shoot someone in the head and see them live? That's just not fun, nor is it realistic. I could go on with more gripes, but ah, what the hell. I'm not saying that it's bad, I'm glad that I played it (because I'm a Fallout fan and it would nag me forever if I hadn't), but I really don't have any fond memories. I bought the Broken Steel DLC and quit playing two missions in. I don't intend on going back.
  • Mastermind897 - July 13, 2010 10:19 p.m.

    I played this game for over 300 hours. Best game I have ever played.
  • FalloutFreak666 - May 7, 2010 2:32 a.m.

    15 out of ten where do i start the game is all around awesome to the max no matter how you put it awesome graphics awesome plot even though the main gameplay is a bit short it doesnt really matter the uniques and books and sidequests add hours or days onto the gaming hours for this game you just cant say no to this game its impossible it may be a bit hard to understand sometimes but as long as your not a chick you will love this game this game easily is 100 hardcore hours of intensity bc its not like o killed this guy dont have to deal with him anymore no its i killed this guy where the hell is the next one say i can blow his head off too you cant just play this game for 45 mins no you have to keep playing bc you want the best and need the best so if you are a hardcore gamer like myself and have intelligence perfect buy more than worth the money and garuntee you will never ever be done with this game fully
  • brickman409 - February 2, 2010 12:33 a.m.

    i think this game gets 9/10 cause its too easy i was on very hard difficultly and killed a super mutant brute with 1 round of assault rifle ammo. thats impossible to do in fallout 1 on easy
  • 3tuollaf - January 30, 2010 1:37 a.m.

    dude games asweom best game ever i go with ferla1o1 on that one if a game dont have a flaut its not a game and think most flauts lead to asweom glichtes the side quest are not the best but mor hours to play and cut people with sword or turn them into goo lololololololololol!!!!!!!!
  • 3tuollaf - January 30, 2010 1:28 a.m.

    this does not not desver a 10 it deserves a 20 of the charts it has so much thing to do leveling up all the weopons the way u can play in 3rd or 1st person bioshocks asweom and all but its not compared to fallout asweom stroyline for both but fallouts got the opthions karma buddies spiecial weopons a house a dog what game do u have dog i mean thats asweom
  • SanFranCyco420 - December 2, 2008 5:28 a.m.

    How Come oblivion got a 10 and fallout 3 which is better got a 9??
  • Monkeylink - November 30, 2008 10:54 p.m.

    Bethesda I only bow 10/10
  • jmtinfinitet - November 27, 2008 1:14 p.m.

    In my opinion a 10, i seriously do not know how gta4 has a 10 and this has a 9 but hey i dont get paid to review games so i wouldnt know. Gta4 is a paper weight in my house dont know about anyone else.
  • piccolodevilking - November 15, 2008 2:19 a.m.

  • SumthinSacred - November 9, 2008 8 p.m.

    Cannot wait to play this, unfortunately for me i have to wait until x-mas to play this, or anything else that's new, still got my not-so-old reliable ps3 and CoD4 tho so i'll live =D.
  • volrath46656 - November 6, 2008 11 p.m.

    Level cap of 20? F you too, Bethesda - you spoiled us with Oblivion This game still kicks major ass though
  • SandroTheMaster - November 5, 2008 5:44 a.m.

    Oh yeah, and I'd like that diplomacy had a bigger role in the game. Even in the originals you couldn't do nothing in a random encounter with raiders, but that was then. I'd love to be able to talk some sense into (or confuse with words) any inteligent being that bumps into me at the Capital Wasteland. After all, if raiders form groups and know how to use computers it bears to reason they'd hear out someone with a "proposition" to make, especially if you're a fine example of your gender (has high charisma) and the band leader is of the opposite sex. At the very least I think that an option to accept (or even offer) surrender should be in order (having the last crippled merc start to limp away begging "please don't kill me" only to look back and attack you after a while is a bit outputting).
  • SandroTheMaster - November 5, 2008 5:29 a.m.

    The problem is that 10 out of 10 isn't for the perfect game, but for a game that makes you overlook its shortcomings because it's strong points make you daze. That said, I prefer PCGamer 100% style where a game CAN'T reach 100% and you know it is a masterpiece from 90% and up. Also, I get just mad that games like Halo 3 and Guitar (fuck this game is boring as hell, I'll listem to a CD instead) Hero 2 get 10 when they have very serious shortcomings and Fallout 3 gets a 9 when the things that'll bother you in it are only noticeble when you try finding them. Pretty much, for me the criticism for Fallout 3 are: Radiant AI is still very experimental: It is an incredible AI, but like 3D looked like shit in its first attempts Radiant AI acts like a retarded baby at times. Fortunately it acts proper most of it. Torsos don't get damaged: Really minor, but it bothers me that everything from a body is turned into mush and the torso stands there impecable. At least a ribcage burst would make me perfectly happy. Voice acting is quirky: but way better than in Oblivion and very good for game standards, considering the fuckload of people (and everyone talks) in it. Dogmeat should learn to stop dashing for the people you're throwing granades at: it is annoying. At least your companions have very decent AI overall, even standing far away AND sneaking when you do so. Oh, but mostly I hope people stop disappearing and killing themselves in an early patch: because fiddling with console commands to get them back really packs a punch againt gameplay.
  • SeraphicDragon - November 3, 2008 2:34 a.m.

    This review is right, but I don't agree to the unsatifying side quests. I believe it would have gotten a 10 out of 10 from this site, but I guess the unexpected... LIKE THE SIDE QUESTS. Oh well.
  • crimson_soulreaper305 - November 1, 2008 8:58 p.m.

    biggest buulsh*t ever!! it gets a 9 when rock muthafu**in band gets 10!! yall bi*ches must be hopped up on lsd or sumthin
  • TyrannosaurusAlan - November 1, 2008 2 a.m.

    What's so great about this game? An 8/10 at the very most
  • raptorboy - November 1, 2008 1:44 a.m.

    I agree with the 9 I guess, It would definatly be a 10 if you could custimize and or create your own armor out of Items and animals that you find throughout the game, kinda like Monster hunters. The game does rock, It rocks hard core. I love it and will play it for a while to come.
  • TEBBIOS - October 31, 2008 1:27 p.m.

    Never mind fallout, Bring out more free roam FPS, RPG, car games. You know, how about we have a concoxtion of genres once in a while.
  • infinite doo - October 31, 2008 1:39 a.m.

    WTF!? You gave Halo 3 a 10, but Fallout 3, Dead Space, Fable II, and Far Cry only get 9's? You guys need to get your priorities straight. I love my 360 and (almost) all the games on there, but if I lit Halo 3 on fire, set it on someone's porch, and rang the doorbell they'd stomp it out and be like "Aww, I got Halo 3 on my new italian loafers! Curse you darn kids!!!"

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