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.
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.
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
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.
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
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