Twenty-four moons ago in this column (December 2006), I identified five points that Bethesda needed to get right to create a satisfying Fallout game. After previewing Fallout 3 last year, I vaingloriously bestowed ratings on those five points in an interim report card. Now, I’ll conclude that ostentatious trend by meting out my final assessments:
GET THE COMBAT SYSTEM RIGHT
Overall, the combat worked out better than I’d hoped. VATS manages to work as intended to cleverly simulate the turn-based tactical feel of the older Fallouts in a visually rewarding real-time combat system. The resulting slow-motion attacks get repetitive, despite randomly selected camera perspectives, but the satisfaction derived from decapitating and disintegrating foes has longevity.
It’s disappointing that you can’t target body parts with grenades or melee attacks (which are also marginalized by an overabundance of gun ammunition), but combat offers some nice surprises, such as the inclusion of explosive gas and other environmental traps. Mines and grenades are also more useful than in the older Fallouts, and there’s a greater range of viable weaponry throughout the game. Grade: A
DON'T USE OBLIVION'S DIFFICULT SCALING
Fallout 3’s system is better than Oblivion’s. Much better. But it’s not perfect. The important thing is that it feels more natural now. You still stumble upon stronger opponents later in the game, but by that point you’re exploring further out in the wilderness or coming across enemies like the Enclave, so the encounter difficulty seems sensible. You’ll also run into stronger creatures in certain areas, and can pick up stronger weapons early through careful or lucky exploration. But the opponents you encounter can still feel artificially leveled down if you speed through the main quest. Grade: B-
Above: Fallout stalwarts like Molerats, Deathclaws, and Radscorpions have never looked better
KEEP IT DARK AND VIOLENT
There’s plenty o’ graphic violence. You can retain prostitutes; rehabilitate a drug addict or blackmail him into becoming your dealer; and parlay with cannibals or eat them. You’ll encounter slavers, suggestions of sexual servitude, and child abuse. You can’t kill kids, and sexual situations are handled prudishly compared to The Witcher or the old Fallouts, but given current commercial realities, Bethesda should be lauded for incorporating so much dark content. Grade: A
ENSURE WE HAVE UNIQUE CHARACTERS
The game uses the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. development system, but it’s too easy to overcome skill shortcomings. There’s too much wearable equipment that improves skills, and you can bump up to 10 attribute points by repeatedly taking a perk. It’s not as bad as Oblivion’s jack-of-all-trade characters, but by retaining a utility wardrobe and bumping attributes a single character can be devoid of weaknesses and master too many abilities, making character development choices less meaningful. Disappointing. Grade: C-
CREATE YOUR OWN VISION
World-building is Bethesda’s specialty, and Fallout 3’s apocalyptic setting is bleak and convincing. Character factions have purposeful roles, and we’re given graphic insight into their lifestyles. NPCs have individual homes, and they eat, sleep, fight, and die. Washington landmarks feature in memorable action set-pieces. The use of the Pipboy as the interface screen was brilliant, even if we should also have direct keyboard shortcuts to its various tabs. Orphaned transmissions from long-dead broadcasters linger in the wasteland. The hodgepodge of inconsistent elements that comprised pre-war culture actually manage to seem plausible, since we’re exposed to so much pre-war propaganda, art, toys, and detritus.
Above: A+ for teddy bears. Collecting is addictive
On the other hand, Bethesda shouldn’t have provided a robot butler and decked-out abode just because character strongholds are popular, and the inclusion of the rock-it launcher perhaps wasn’t the best way to ensure Big Guns are always available. But lapses in restraint aside, the world that was largely played for laughs in the older Fallouts finally comes to life. Grade: A+
November 20, 2008