We have to admit that, when we first heard about the direction the new Fallout game was taking, we were a little worried. Fallout 1 and 2 both follow the tried and tested formula of excellence that other games such as Baldur’s Gate and Planetscape: Torment had great success with. These games were all of a certain time and made by teams with a certain attitude for a certain type of player. Grabbing one of these titles and trying to make it all shiny and ready for a console audience was never going to be easy. We are pleased to say our fears were unfounded; let the love-in begin.
Fallout 3 is set in an alternate reality, 1950s culturally-locked, post-apocalyptic America. In this reality, the year 2077 signalled the end of a long-running conflict with China with a huge globe-destroying nuclear war. Many people took refuge in massive vaults under the ground. It is here that you are dropped kicking and screaming into the world as a baby. You spend nineteen years in the vault (a relatively brief time that allows you to decide what type of character you want to play as) before venturing out into the wastelands in search of your father.
As soon as you step outside the vault, you are free to do whatever you want. You can try and follow your father or just wander off into the wastelands to explore. This is one of the great things about Fallout 3; at no time does it restrict the player from doing what they want to. You are also not required to follow a strict chain of events in order to progress the story. It is quite possible to stumble across the location of various artefacts and characters long before you would have found them if following the main quests. The world is out there acting independently of you and it is up to you how you want to discover it.
The same applies to the many interesting characters you meet along the way. People are always moving around the wastelands. Sometimes they end up dead, sometimes they get to their destination, it just depends on what they encounter along the way. As the characters are far more interesting than the bunch of drones you usually find in games, it can be quite emotional when you find someone you liked dead in the middle of the waste. Emotional trauma aside, it is things like this that show just how much thought has gone into the game. Don’t worry about important characters being killed off, either, because there are a number of safe guards to stop this from happening to storyline quest-givers. Even most side quest-giving characters will only end up dead if the player decides to do away with them.
Here we have an amazing landscape to explore, filled with interesting characters, which puts the level design and character interaction of Oblivion to shame. Fallout 3 is smaller than Bethesda’s other project but it is also much more refined and focused and all the better for it. The combat mechanics also work extremely well. Like many other aspects of the game, we were worried that the VATS targeting system wouldn’t work as intended and it would become dull, constantly pausing and targeting areas of enemies to shoot. Again, our fear was completely unfounded as it works brilliantly. Should you find it difficult just to point the weapon and shoot, you can use VATS to pinpoint an area to damage. The use of the system is integrated brilliantly and fits in with the style and pacing of the title well. The two combat systems blend cleverly together to create an excellent FPS/RPG hybrid.
The game is not just incredibly flexible in terms of combat, either. Almost everything you can do in Fallout 3 can be done in a number of different ways. Your character can be set up and tweaked to play the game exactly the way you want to. If you want to go in all guns blazing, then fine; but if you want to solve things through stealth or by talking or thinking your way through, along with numerous other ways, you can do that too.
The quests themselves are also much more original and inventive than your normal fare. One in particular, where you have to solve a dispute between some vampires and a small village, is particularly well constructed. If anything, the main story quests are the least imaginative of the lot and we found ourselves eagerly scouring the wastelands in search of more quests to solve in new and interesting ways.
So there you have it. Fallout 3 is an incredibly well-accomplished game that lets players explore a rich, diverse and interesting landscape however they see fit. Along the way you will meet interesting characters, help them out with original and varied quests, fight intimidating monsters and find plenty of the Fallout humour that graced the other games in the series. Or, if you prefer, just set off an unexploded nuclear warhead and wipe everything off the face of the earth. Whatever you want to do, quite simply, the choice is yours.