on 8 November 2011
Along with Bioware, Bethesda Softworks is the most loved and most respected RPG developer company in the world. With their long standing Elder Scrolls series, the American company has managed to successfully captivate millions of people. Initially, Fallout 3 was in development by Black Isle studios, but BethSoft acquired it back in 2004. Four years later, the game hit the shelves in late October. Unfortunately, Fallout 3 is a crash prone game. It shipped with quad core support, but loses this after patch 1.1, which means that if you have a quad (or more) core CPU, this game WILL crash. To solve this, do the following:
Open up the fallout.ini file in: My Documents\My Games\Fallout3. Find the line:
and change it to:
Add another line after it and insert:
This will limit the game to 2 cores and prevent the engine bug from causing the game to freeze. If you still experience crashing, you might want to disable Multi-GPU mode and try running the game in Single-GPU mode (this of course only applies to people who have 'sandwiched' Dual GPU cards, or are running SLI/crossfire setups) - for SLI cards, it will also eliminate the "flickering" (rapid altering of brightness) of the sky when you're moving around and HDR is turned on.
In the beginning of the game, you get to live the life of a true wastelander - always on your guard for potential attackers; roaming the wasteland, sifting through dustbins and old supermarkets for that small bit of precious loot that you can trade in for some bottlecaps to buy that much needed stimpack. Really - in the beginning, you barely scrape a living off ...what is essentially garbage! Low on ammo, low on medical supplies, in dire need of chems to get you through hostile encounters, and as a result, getting addicted to them, and also in constant danger of radiation. Fallout 3 nails the gameplay immersion in the first few hours after you exit the Vault, but over time, you start getting really strong. Just after finishing a dozen or so side quests and not even properly into the main storyline, I already found myself with thousands of caps, ten different weapons and pockets filled with hundreds and hundreds of bullets of every different kind, size and shape. At this point you start to lose the survival-struggle feeling the game initially puts you in, and it just devolves into a cheap Call of Duty experience, as you no longer need to worry about caps or ammo scarcity. Things are made worse by the fact that you can only level up to 20 (which you reach after about 20 hours of gameplay). One of the Downloadable Content, Broken Steel, ups this to level 30, but that's about it - no more fun from there on, just combat and selling loot, rinse and repeat.
Gameplaywise, Fallout 3 can be considered the sequel to The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Since it is the same developer that created both games, one can notice a lot of things that these two games have in common. To begin with, Fallout 3 uses the same 'Gamebryo' engine as Oblivion, and so, the physics, looks and game mechanics are very similar on first glance. However, the graphical quality has been improved - most noticeably on the faces of NPCs and on distant landscapes, which now appear to be a lot more realistic than in Oblivion. Nevertheless, when it comes to the overall graphical presentation...well...let's just say HDR lighting is pretty much the only thing that makes this game look good. If I turn it off (or even use bloom lighting), we are transported back to 2006 running Oblivion on a low-end rig - that's how bad everything looks.
One of the core elements of RPGs is character interaction - Fallout 3 has its ups and downs, here: unlike Oblivion, you can only talk to a select few characters in the game, with the majority of wasteland dwellers shooing you off if you try to talk to them. Furthermore, you cannot manually raise their disposition towards you via conversation. However on the bright side, those characters that you do get to speak to, present you with an astonishing number of ways to engage in dialogue, almost forcing you to save the game beforehand, and then try all alternate versions to converse with them - learning something else every time. This makes for some good replay material.
Since Fallout 3 is set in the (dystopian) future, guns play an integral part in the game. Bows and magic were supplementary methods of combat in Oblivion - it was just too easy, too effective and too seductive to pull your blade out and charge the enemy headlong. In Fallout 3, close combat is a viable option, but as the game progresses and you get your hands on more and more ammo, ranged combat, as found in most first person shooters, becomes the norm. Fallout 3 introduces a new ranged combat system called V.A.T.S, which allows you to pause the game the moment you catch eye of an enemy, and then decide which part of his body you want to target with your gun - the V.A.T.S. system shows you how high the chances of a hit are, in percentage, and drains your AP points to allow you to engage the target in bullet time, placing precision shots on the selected body part. If critical damage is done, be prepared to witness slow-motion dismemberment and some really gory visuals that put Oblivion's best fan-made gore-mods to shame. Looks like Bethesda wanted to show us how grown up they actually are. In some aspects, Bethesda has even gone overboard: You can kill an NPC, smash up the corpse to a bloody pulp and then proceed to eat them. And this isn't a mod or something - it's actually in the game.
Another new addition to the combat system is, as mentioned before, the body parts: while in Oblivion you just lost health and contracted diseases (which have been replaced by radiation poisoning in Fallout), you can also cripple parts of your body in Fallout 3. This has a variety of disadvantages, ranging from blurred vision if you receive blunt trauma to the head, to loss of aim if your arms have been hit badly, or loss of movement speed if your legs have been crippled. To heal your damages, you need to apply a stimpack directly on the affected limb. However, this means you aren't using that stimpack to heal your general health - tough choices.
Just like in Oblivion, you can repair weapons and armor. But instead of buying repair hammers, you now have to scrounge for identical loot and basically *fuse* them together. Also, it is not until late into the game that your equipment can be brought to 100% of its condition, as neither you, nor the wasteland merchants possess the skills to bring things to pre-war condition, which I found to be a very realistic and immersive approach, given the rather ramshackle state of the Fallout world they live in - in other words, damaged equipment is the norm.
Another nice feature is the inclusion of two radio stations, thus giving you the opportunity to take a break from the generic environment music and either get all patriotic with Enclave Radio, or kick back to some 50s tunes with Galaxy News Radio. Both stations' radio hosts also regularly interrupt the broadcast for either patriotic speeches, or down to earth news, the latter often following your actions in the game. However, the rather short tracklist (for a long game like this) means sooner or later, you'll get sick of the same songs playing again and again. Bethesda could have expanded the song list (given, that a lot of the songs are in public domain today, and thus need no expensive purchase of rights), but luckily, there are fan-made modifications that add new radio stations to the game, such as Tenpenny Tower Radio, Conelrad, or even mods that add new songs to both of the original stations.
Horses as a method of faster transportation are gone, but the fast-travel system has (thankfully) remained. I saw so many motorcycles in the game and thought 'why not?' - they would be perfect to trudge through the wasteland and park before a metro entrance or such, but no.
Another area where Fallout 3 falls short is when it comes to populated settlements. There are exactly three big settlements in the Capital Wasteland, as well as some minor villages. Compare this with Oblivion's nine unique cities, each of them having at least half a dozen quests and about 30 NPCs and you'll realize just how desolate the Wasteland is.
As an Oblivion player, one thing I missed are the factions. In Oblivion, you could become a member of multiple factions, each having a unique and challenging storyline that took you all across Tamriel. In Fallout 3 however, you only get to join two factions, which aren't even marked in your notes, and none of them features a particularly distinct line of quests - unless you consider capturing slaves in the Wasteland, and then bringing them back to point A, a real quest.
Fan made free modifications, such as high resolution textures, new weapons, clothes, darker nights, bug fixes etc. can be found on Fallout Nexus, but unlike Oblivion, mods aren't as desperately needed to make the game better this time around, in Fallout 3.
In Oblivion, you got better at the things you did. For example, the longer you used an axe as your primary weapon, the more skilled you became with it. Of course, at the beginning of the game you had to choose certain skills as your 'main' ones, i.e. they would increase a lot faster than others, but still you were given a lot of freedom. In Fallout 3 on the other hand, Bethesda decided to bring the classic RPG elements back, such as experience points and skill points. The points range from 0 to 100. You need to have invested a certain amount of points into that particular skill to be able to make use of it in practical situations. Let's take lock picking or hacking, for example. If you have the respective skill upto 25, you can only hack 'very easy' terminals, or crack 'very easy' locks. A skill of 25 to 50 allows you to work on 'easy' locks or computer terminals. Very hard equals a skill of 100. For explorers, this often means that some locks/doors will remain inaccessible until you have poured enough points into either of these skills to access new areas. However, these usually only end up leading into small rooms with a lot of loot, so players won't miss much gameplay if they cannot get to these areas. Investing skill points into any of the weapon classes improves the effectivity of the respective weapons, as well. The higher your sneak skill, the harder it is for enemies to detect you. Furthermore, there are so-called 'perks' in the game - a list of abilities that you can pick every time you level up. For example, one perk increases your radiation resistance, while another increases your pistol accuracy by 5%, per tier.
Another thing worth lauding is the Wasteland itself. While the world space may be slightly smaller that Oblivion's Cyrodiil, and completely barren to boot, it still has its charm, and is full of small shanty towns, abandoned schools, metro stations, desecrated vaults and irradiated creeks. Washington D.C. especially, is indeed a sight to behold - the entire Mall has been modelled very well (although not to scale) and a lot of the landmarks can be explored.
Intended or not, Fallout 3 also has many humorous factual errors. For example, it never rains. Packaged pre-war food found throughout the wasteland, such as 'Blamco Mac & Cheese', is edible 200 years after expiry date. All cars you manage to blow up explode into nuclear mushroom clouds, and pre-war robots still roam the Wasteland, 200 years without refuelling or maintenance.
Overall, Fallout 3 can be considered a reboot of the franchise - there's no need to have played its predecessors to be able to delve into the world properly. Unfortunately, the game is rather short. And by short, I mean averaging at about 70 hours of gameplay, that includes 40% exploring of the entire map and doing about 70% of all sidequests. Now this may not be "short" for most RPG standards (Mass Effect gives you what...30 hours at most per game?), but compared to Oblivion, it is. You could pour well over a hundred and fifty hours into Oblivion and still have things to do. Fallout 3 is essentially half of that. This is a legitimate reason why the game's DLCs deserve to be bought - not only are they excellent additions to the game (unlike some of Oblivion's DLC such as the infamous horse armor), but they also give you more hours of gameplay, while bringing a welcome change from wandering the desolate Capital Wasteland. The Pitt for example takes you to Pittsburgh - or what's left of it. A complete change in the visual palette from green-tinted wasteland to reddish-brown post-apocalyptic industrial nightmare. Battling mutants here is a very different experience from that on the Capital Wasteland.
More so in the fact that the main quest only takes place across a fraction of the map. Oblivion's main quest took you all across Cyrodiil - from Chorol and Kvatch in the West, over Bruma in the North to Cheydinhal in the East. In Fallout 3, there's no need to even set foot in the Northern half of the map to complete the main quest. By the time you finished the game in Oblivion, your quest list is usually filled with tons of side quests that they made you run into in the main mission. In Fallout 3, you can get through the whole game very quickly and without many side missions ever popping up, you have to wander around to find them.
In light of all these factors, the crash-prone technical hiccups due to incompatibility with Windows 7 (game still works, though), as well as the Games for Windows Live requirement (but offline play is possible) Fallout 3 just barely manages to achieve four stars out of five, but gets all five for the immersive gameplay.