Fallout 3: GotY Review
by Ryan Crierie

(Written February 2010)

War.

War never changes.

The end of the world occurred pretty much as we had predicted. Too many humans, not enough space or resources to go around. The details are trivial and pointless, the reasons, as always, purely human ones.

In 2077, the earth was nearly wiped clean of human life. A great cleansing, an atomic spark struck by human hands, quickly raged out of control.

Spears of nuclear fire rained from the skies. Continents were swallowed in flames and fell beneath the boiling oceans. Humanity was almost extinguished, their spirits becoming part of the background radiation that blanketed the earth.

A quiet darkness fell across the planet, lasting many years. Few survived the devastation. Some had been fortunate enough to reach safety, taking shelter in great underground vaults...


Welcome back to the Wasteland, and the series that took RPGing out of the dungeons and into a post-apocalyptic retro-future.

Yes, I know I am several years too late with this review; but we all know Bethesda's reputation for releasing games with bugs or performance problems; so I decided to wait a while until the game came down in price -- while the Game of the Year Edition was still $49.99 in December 2009; it did have the advantages of:

1.) Out of Box Patched to 1.7
2.) Patched DLCs etc (I've heard there were some damn big problems with the early DLCs)

So without further ado, I dove back into the wasteland after several years' absence.

Like you, at first, I was pretty apprehensive of the game after I heard that Bethesda was going to take it over, and that they were going to do it in a first person style format, rather than the traditional turn based format.

But Bethesda has managed to actually do a pretty damn fun and immersive game -- the in-game counter on my last save game file after beating Broken Steel, the last DLC I did -- was 69 hours. Add in about 5~ hours spent replaying after the usual -- your character dies and you forgot to save recently enough, or trying to get through a tough bend. Plus, there were one or two lockups that occurred during gameplay, which forced me to go back a couple of saves to avoid the lockups from repeating again.

Of course, a player a bit more perceptive than me could probably easily cut about 10-15 hours off the game -- I didn't notice key bits of clues on holodiscs in a crucial location.

SPOILER TEXT:

Your dad's holotapes which you find in the Rectory of the Jefferson Memorial in the airlock to the Project Purity Main Control Room which point you towards the general direction of Vault 112 and tells you it's hidden under a gas station -- I completely missed those, and spent some time exploring and doing other sidequests until I asked my brother where do I go to find the main quest again?

So lets break things down by the numbers:

Technical Characteristics:

Put simply, the game is beautiful, and runs decently on my Core 2 Quad Q6600 with a GeForce 8800 GTS.


Engaging Ghouls in Downtown DC

In 1280x1024 on a 4:3 LCD, I was getting decent and near smooth frame rates with about 2 or 4 anti aliasing samples turned on, and Anisotropic at about 15.

However, when I turned it up to 1980x1080 after getting a new 16:9 LCD monitor; I had to turn off anti-aliasing and turn anisotropic down to about 9 to get acceptable frame rates.

The DLC also seemed to run a bit slower or require more computing power than the normal game -- which makes some sense -- Bethesda had a very short period of time to put it together, and didn't have time for optimization of some of the more complex elements of the scenery.

But what really showcases how far computers have come since the first Fallout is this comparison:


Pre-Rendered 'Talking Head' of Frank Horrigan in Fallout 2 (1997)


Dynamically Rendered Closeup of Scavenger in Fallout 3 (2008)

Gameplay Characteristics

VATS works pretty well, and I think it's spoiled me towards FPSes; there should be a "screw this" button similar to 'V' that brings up a VATS-like system for other FPSes when you just don't feel like playing a twitch shooter; but I don't think the concept will catch on in anything other than the Fallout series, since the gaming world seems set on mediocre FPSes that port over well to consoles to cater to the twitch crowd.

There are a few annoyances which mar the otherwise smooth as greased snot gameplay of this game:

1. ) While just about everything in the game is subtitled, the opening video; the radio stations, and the ending video which tells you what happened to who aren't subtitled. ARGH! (I am deaf/hard of hearing).

2.) You cannot skip the opening sequences or speed it up, which makes starting a new game after the first play through quite tedious.

3.) The redundant lockpicking and hacking games -- they're amusing the first couple of times you try it; but after you've done it for the 100th time, you just wish that 'force lock' worked more often.

4.) The fact that you can't pick or hack some locks/terminals unless you have a certain level of skill -- this is pretty frustrating early on in your first playthrough of the game, when your wanderlust is at it's highest.

5.) The fact that the GOAT test gives you an option to shoot a locked door in the vault off with a laser pistol to free old man whatever -- but when you come to a locked door in the gameplay sequences, you have to either open it from a switch, find a key, or pick it -- you can't just pull out your plasma rifle and blow the lock off. Obviously, doors would need to have hitpoints under such a system, to prevent you from blowing open an armored door with a .32 pistol.

6.) While I do like the element of you having to travel to a location on a map before you can fast travel to it; to encourage you to explore the world map -- this isn't implemented on a low level -- I don't want to have to endlessly travel around a town to get to my house or a store -- I should be able to bring up the Local Map on my PIPBOY, and click on the location I want to fast travel to.

7.) The evil path as far as I can tell, isn't as well implemented or as in-depth as the good path in the game.

SPOILER TEXT:

If you nuke Megaton for Tenpenny, you have to travel a pretty long distance to reach Tenpenny tower to get your quest reward; and when you nuke Megaton, you close off a largeish portion of early quests, which have no equivalent “evil” counterpart; like for example this hypothetical quest chain:

You end up being Tenpenny's "Cleanup Man" who makes the wasteland fit Tenpenny's athestic -- “Son, I don't like that giant tacky statue at Paradise Falls. Fix it for me.” and the hilarity that ensues with you telling the slavers to get rid of that statue, and then killing them when they don't.

8.) The rather simplistic weapons system in the game -- apparently there are a million 10mm pistols in the Wastes, and they are all identical, save for special stat-modified ones that share the same 3D model as the stock weapons. The DLCs add a few more weapons, but quite a few weapons are useless basically, except for show purposes.

Hopefully for Fallout 4; they'll implement a customizable weapon system -- e.g. you could take this 10mm SMG, and modify it to have a hunting rifle scope you found in some abandoned ruins on the top of it -- duct tape together two magazines for faster magazine changes; and top it off with some tinkering of the internals to get a faster rate of fire. That kind of stuff. Or you could hunt radscorpions to get their poison glands to allow you to make poisoned weapons or ammunition.

9.) Rather bland NPC interactions, compared to the earlier Fallouts. Don't get me wrong, the interaction with NPCs is still pretty awesome -- it's just that in some instances, you really do have to wonder if the developers just ran out of time to script NPC interactives; for example:

SPOILER TEXT:

If you're wearing the Ghoul Mask, nobody ever screams in terror or refuses to do business with you -- though if you're wearing Outcast Power Armor in the Operation Anchorage DLC, they think that you're one of them when you walk up to their outpost at the VSS building. The game needed more of that kind of context-sensitive interaction.

I do think Bethesda spent a bit too much time on getting celebrity voices like Liam Neeson and Malcolm McDowell for voice acting, and demanding that every single line in the game be spoken -- this no doubt took away time and money from writing and scripting a whole bunch of other content which would have fleshed out the game -- e.g. people behaving differently according to what you're wearing -- the Brotherhood shouldn't even begin to give you the time of day if you're wearing the Mad Max Hummungus raider outfit.

10.) The stupid original ending. Please; for the love of God, when you get GOTY, put in the second DVD that comes with it, and install the DLC; then activate them via FalloutLauncher.exe under the DATA button. ESPECIALLY activate Broken Steel. Your sanity will thank you.

SPOILER TEXT:

With Broken Steel enabled, you'll be able to tell Fawkes to go into the chamber and turn on the purifier for the main game quest; and even when the Broken Steel quest ends, you'll still be able to wander the wastes as long as you want.

Atmosphere Characteristics

The game pretty much nails the Fallout universe feel of being in a post-apocalyptic wasteland and the zany humor of the universe quite well; e.g:

Federalists Enraged about Food Riots
By Walter "Street Beat" Munroe
Capital Post Staff Writer
It would appear that Washington's tolerance for American social disorder has finally reached its breaking point.
In a recent public statement, White House spokesman Warren Eccleston said:
"Okay, Americans are hungry. We get it. Well I've got news for you - things are tough all over, people. The President himself has been forced to substitute cube steak for his nightly prime rib, and the only wine available is a detestable Chateau Montrose 2043. But does he whine? Does he take to the streets like a rabid Red? So please, good people, please. Wait in line. Get your food. And then go home. We're Americans! We do not solve our problems with violence."

And of course, we can't forget the various hilarious industrial mishaps that get referenced at the Nuka-Cola plant, and elsewhere in the game -- plus various corporate hilarity:

Weapons Policy #H31
As standard policy, all employees are required to carry low-grade military-class weaponry at all times (see HR Policy#A12). In the event of a hostile takeover, your desk can be used as a makeshift barricade. Position the desk between yourself and your opponent, then crouch behind the desk while firing any weapon approved on Form B43-2.
NOTE: Cafeteria privileges will be suspended in the event of a hostile takeover.

Or this one:

From: Warring, Joanna
To: Entire Company
Subject: Oh, !@#
THEY'RE HERE! MAN THE DOORS! THE FEDS ARE HERE!

Leading to this email:

Memo: Company Policy: Caps in Emails
From: Director of Human Resources
To: Entire Company
Subject: Caps in Emails
I would like to remind everyone that, despite the impending Federal invasion, standard company policy is still in effect. Specifically, do not write emails in all caps. This style is offensive to your coworkers. Thank you for your cooperation.

The Art guys at Bethesda really did outdo themselves on this one -- they did a pretty good job of populating about 26 square kilometers of map with random destruction -- making something that's shiny new is easy -- applying entropy to it is hard to do consistently.

However, as others have mentioned in the previous Fallout 3 threads on StarDestroyer.Net; there seems to be a pretty large disconnect between the artistic goals in large parts of the game, and how much time has passed since the War -- e.g. a lot of the place looks like it's been about 10-25 years since the bombs fell, as opposed to 200 -- e.g. there are a lot of wood frame house wrecks left over from the war, when without maintenance, a wood frame house rots and collapses into a woodpile of junk in a decade or so due to plant life, weather, etc.

Let's not get into the fact that a lot of pre-war tech still seems to work, e.g. you have computer terminals still functioning 200 years after the last person did maintenance on them -- though I can understand that design decision -- a glowing terminal tends to attract people's attention in a dark ruined building, and thus will be noticed easier than a grey holodisk -- thus allowing game 'fluff' to be noticed more often by people.

The one place where the artistic vision and the 200 year timescale both matched up were:

SPOILER TEXT:

In the various Vaults which had been opened or went bad -- like Vault 87, Vault 106, etc.

Final Summary

I really do think that this game is going to age pretty well technically and gameplay wise -- as opposed to Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault (2004) -- I got that one for the low, low price of $2.00 USD at a Friends of the Library Bookstore, and even at that low price, the bullshit is too much for me to put up with playing it.

Fallout 3 on the other hand, other than some annoying tropes that pretty much are endemic to the computer RPG genre -- was good enough to hold my interest through several marathon gaming sessions -- it's been a damn long time since a game grabbed me enough to make me play it this intensively.

This was a big surprise to me -- I had been expecting a lot worse going in.

I guess Bethesda sort of knew that they couldn't half-ass it most of the time, the way they did with Oblivion, because Fallout was an intellectual property that was not only wider known to the general gaming community than 'generic fantasy RPG aka The Elder Scrolls -- it also cost a bit more -- IIRC Bethesda paid Interplay like $1.3 million for the initial rights to Fallout 3; and then later bought out all of the remaining IP rights -- so they could make a load more games in the universe.