Fallout 3




Genre:   Role-playing game

Developer:   Bethesda Game Studios

Publisher:    Bethesda Softworks

Released:  October 2008

PC Requirements:   Windows XP / Vista, 2.4 GHz Intel Pentium 4 Processor, 1 GB RAM (XP) 2 GB RAM (Vista), Direct X 9.0c compliant video card with 512MB RAM (NVIDIA 6800 or better/ATI X850 or better)




by Trail_Mystic


Introduction and Story Line

“War does not determine who is right, only who is left.”

That quote by famed Mathematician and Philosopher Bertrand Russell certainly fits the setting for Bethesda’s role playing game (RPG) Fallout 3, a follow-up to the now classic Fallout Series.

The year is 2077. Declining international relations, open war with China, flagrant use of atomic power, an artificially inflated economy and an emotionally stagnant population living in denial of current affairs…

…then the missiles fall.

The population of the world is decimated, most of the infrastructure destroyed or just barely salvageable. Even 200 years later survivors can hardly scrape by from day to day. Humans now live off a terrifying wasteland inhabited by abominable creatures that have arisen from a twisted genetic tangle as a result of persistent radiation. The rest of the wasteland is populated by violent criminals and mercenaries. Solitary human “wastelanders” and small communities are essentially fair game for robbery and worse. Horrific acts of desperation are commonplace in the wasteland; one has to eat something, you know.

By 2277, much of the background radiation has dissipated, but many “hot spots” still exist. Food and water supplies are still contaminated and purified water is like something holy to those in the wastes. There is very little, if any, agriculture active in this world. Food sources are mostly limited to what can be “scaved” (scavenged) from the minor remnants of heavily preserved TV dinners, snacks, soda and liquor. A few of the wasteland animals are edible, but also dangerous.

That is the world into which you are born.

You are much luckier than most. Your life is safe underground in a Vault -- a kind of long-term fallout shelter. Even though your mother died when you were very young you have an intelligent and loving father who has the highest hopes for you and for the rest of humanity. Even isolated, your young life is very much like it would have been on the surface had the missiles never been launched. You confront bullies, make friends and cultivate burgeoning relationships. Life in the Vault is one of mutual cooperation; it has to be, for the greater good. Then a day comes when your world is turned inside out and you are faced with the choice that may thrust you into the unknown -- the Atomic Wasteland.

This is the world of Fallout 3.

Game Play

Keyboard and mouse controls are almost a duplicate to other Bethesda games. Movement is accomplished through use of the W, A, S, D keys. [E] is the action or selection key and the Spacebar is used for jumping. The [Ctrl] key places your character in the default “Sneak” mode. The [R] key is used to either reload weapons or, if held down, will equip or holster weapons. Inventory management leaves a lot to be desired. Inventory item selection for use is straightforward and organized enough through a device you will acquire early on in the game (accessed by hitting the Tab key). But selling or storing items forces you to cycle through the entire list, a time-consuming and (many times) confusing endeavor.

Fallout 3 was developed on the Gamebryo graphics engine, which Bethesda has been using since the creation of Morrowind. The latest iteration, which produced the most recent in the Elder Scrolls line, Oblivion, was quite “glitchy” -- so much so, in fact, that YouTube is full of videos displaying various ways to exploit or break the game to humorous ends. Have they made improvement to the engine over the years? To a point yes, but many of the same irritations exist in Fallout 3 that still exist today in Oblivion, even with the latest patches.

I think that, visually, due to its now relatively outdated appearance the engine was a good choice from a nostalgic perspective. What could have been done better was exploring how to more efficiently utilize it to prevent “graphic character traps” and crashes or slowdowns at maximum quality settings. The PC that this reviewer used for the game was equipped with a 2.4GHz Core2Duo CPU, 2GB of memory and an 8800GTS Graphics card with 512GB of DDR3 Graphic Memory on a top shelf ASUS motherboard with a recent NVIDIA chipset. By all rights, it should have been able to eat the game for breakfast. At times it did, but there were still digestive problems that moved me to turn to a more midrange group of display settings.  Due to occasional crashes, it’s suggested to take advantage of the [F5] Quick save key often.

Combat utilizes rifles, shotguns, handguns and the occasional laser pistol or rifle as well as grenades, mines and large weapons such as missile launchers and miniguns.  Melee is also available, but mainly confined to early in the game and against less challenging opponents in small numbers. The twist to ranged combat is V.A.T.S. or the Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System. This system pauses the game and allows you to select what portion of an enemy you would like to perforate with a bullet and offers percentages on the hit success rate. This is fine for medium and close range shots. For long-range shots go with your gut, as the percentages offered by V.A.T.S. can be much lower than the actual probability mixed with your skill at the trigger. There is also a “cool-down” period associated with V.A.T.S. You cannot take every shot with that system. The number of shots allowed is based on your Agility level, and this needs to regenerate after use.

Gaming Environment

The general setting for Fallout 3 is well done. There are Steam Punk influences seen in the remains of the past architecture and technology, which contribute to the game’s otherworldly feel. This is Earth, just not the one with which we are familiar. The wasteland itself is, well, just that -- a wasteland. Long stretches of scrub brush, contaminated mud puddles, burned-out vehicles and building ruins make up most of the surroundings. Piles of rubble and the fallen concrete husks of buildings limit your travel while in cities, forcing you underground through the mass transit tunnels, which can be as perilous as the wasteland above.

Traveling in the game would be a bit of a slog at times if it weren’t for the recurring attacks by the wastelands inhabitants, which consist of criminals, many imaginative creatures and a surprising proliferation of robots. Apparently, robotics was a booming prewar industry, leaving a wandering, residual population attempting its best to fulfill outdated security programming, which usually means attempting to kill you (or anyone, for that matter). There are a few “friendlies” among the circuit-head crew, so it’s best to see if they fire first if your moral compass points towards good.

A “boon” to travel is another feature familiar in past Bethesda games -- fast travel. Simply bring up your World map and select the location to which you would like to travel. The limitations are that you need to have first visited the target area at sometime during the game and you cannot fast travel from inside a building or when enemies are nearby. Additionally, fast travel may land you in the midst of a group of enemies, so don’t think you’ll get off easy every time.

Character Leveling

The character leveling system in this game is very similar to that seen in past Bethesda games. Attributes are easy enough to track as a character’s level increases, consisting of the usual RPG fare of Strength, Charisma, Agility, and so on. The skills assignment, though, lacks a perceivable system. It is just a listing of character improvements that provide permanent boosts to various root skills, defensive abilities or targeting additional damage to specific enemies. Unfortunately, the list lacks any type of organization. As your character levels, new skills open to you, and so the list just gets longer. Organizing it into sections such as Defensive, Offensive, Survival Skills and Attribute Boosts would have gone a long way toward making it easier to use. Skills and attributes are also increased through the use of various forms of clothing and medications, many of which are addictive. The obvious drawback of continual use of medications is withdrawal, which is counter-productive, as it takes away from your character stats.

The Karma system used to display the alignment of your character as good, bad or neutral provides far too little information to be useful. Only a message is displayed stating if Karma has been lost or gained, indicating the performance of a good or bad deed. Your current status of good, neutral or evil is displayed in your inventory under stats, but there is no running scale that accurately indicates how good or how bad. As a result, monitoring your alignment is hit-and-miss.


The quest organization and structures are almost duplicates of those used in Oblivion and Morrowind. The main quest line does have a good flow, but is linear and far too short. If you are more of an immediate goal oriented type of person, you may miss the clues that point you towards further exploration -- finding yourself rushing to the end game only to say, “That’s it?” Unlike Oblivion, the conclusion of the main quest truly ends the game, so it’s best to explore until you feel the need to complete the main.

Several of the side quests lack easy-to-interpret dialogue options or triggers needed to find specific information from key quest characters.  I’m not sure if these were forgotten omissions or simply dead portions of the quests that were never finished.  There are also a few quest endings that give the user “Bad Karma” without really clarifying why it was a poor or “evil” resolution.


The music tracks written for Fallout 3 are fairly unimpressive. What stands out is the music selection played by one of the few still operating radio stations. It’s a mix of early jazz and crooning from the 30s through the 50s and lends to the nostalgic feel of the game.


Considering that the game starts about as close to the beginning of the protagonist’s life as one can get, character development is minimal. In truth, I could summarize the main character’s interaction with the world in a single sentence, but that would give away a major portion of the plot. This is a symptom of the real failing of the game -- lack of depth.

While well known for the award-winning and also classic RPG Elder Scrolls series of games, Bethesda selected a rather large pair of shoes to fill, as the Fallout originals were created by the venerable Black Isle studios, the same developers of Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale and the forever classic Planescape: Torment. Entering the realm of a development house whose games traditionally used the Dungeons and Dragons rule set and adapting it to their own style outwardly seems quite ambitious. The Fallout series was a good choice though, as the original rule sets did not fall under the D&D license, so that gave Bethesda some room to work.

The game is an entertaining post-apocalyptic romp reminiscent of “Mad Max” and “Road Warrior” with minor references to Ellison’s A Boy and His Dog and Sir William Golding’s Lord of the Flies.  It is an interesting blend of FPS and RPG genres, but the unwieldy inventory and character development feel rushed and lack real usefulness. I think I would have identified with this game more if it were released as a stand-alone title by Bethesda rather than releasing it as a follow-up to the Fallout series.

Overall the game is fun and does provide many hours of good game play. Although  I wish Bethesda would have put as much work into character development, leveling and the story line as they did into the rest of the game’s features.



November 2008

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