Monday, February 16, 2009

Fallout 3

I’ve been a major fan of the Fallout franchise since I played the first Fallout game back in 1997. Fallout was the game that made me fall in love with the RPG genre thanks to it’s depth, attention to detail and trademark mix of drama and dark humor.

So I had some serious reservations about Fallout 3. When such an iconic franchise is taken over by a completely new developer, especially so many years after the previous game’s release, bad things tend to happen.

For example, when it was announced that Fallout 3 would be first person rather than the usual top-down isometric view, Fallout ‘purists’ went nuts.

However, once I heard that Bethesda Softworks had taken over the license and they were using the same engine from Oblivion, I went from completely wary to cautious optimism with a little excitement thrown in for good measure.

I needn’t have worried. Fallout 3 is an absolute masterpiece.

Firstly, the drama and horror of the post-apocalyptic setting was still there, and so was the dark and slightly twisted sense of humor. There’s also amazing attention to detail that you might miss if you’ve never played the previous games. For example, something as small as a the design box of ‘mentats’ has exactly the same design as it did in the first game. Shortly after leaving the vault, I spotted something in a burned out gas station and instantly thought “Hey, that’s a Nuka-Cola Machine!”

This leads to what I think will be one of the most important things for Fallout veterans. This game feels like Fallout, and the first person view adds a lot more than it subtracts. For example, if you want to, you can still fight based on action point and ‘point and click’ targeting…but in a top down view you can’t get chills down your spine when you look up at a partially wrecked Washington monument.

The art direction in the game is just absolutely epic. Despite the fact this game is based in an alternate timeline that has a lot in common with 1950’s sci-fi, it is entirely believable. In fact, if you wander around a post-nuclear Washington DC and don’t get a shiver in a couple of places, there’s something wrong with you.

As for the story, well, the main quest’s story is good, but the back-story, the incidental things you learn while exploring the world are absolutely amazing. As this is my third Fallout game, some of the revelations in it absolutely blew my mind. I won’t spoil any here for you, but let me just say that as deep and rich as you thought the Fallout universe was, it’s about to get a whole lot deeper.

There are only a few minor problems.

Firstly, after playing Oblivion, the Capital Wasteland just don’t seem all that big. You can walk from one end to the other in about twenty minutes. Don’t get me wrong, it’s more than big enough, it’s just after playing Oblivion, with its massive playing area, it can feel a little small.

Secondly, the main quest itself is kinda short. If you stick primarily to the main quest, expect to be done with your first playthrough in about fifteen to twenty hours, and when the main quest ends, the game ends.

However, I think I understand what Bethesda had in mind when they designed this game this way. At first I was disappointed at the shortness of the game and just plain annoyed that I couldn’t explore the wasteland with the main quest ended.

Basically, instead of finishing the main quest and then wandering around looking for side quests when you’re done, Bethesda wanted to encourage you to play through the game repeatedly with different characters. By leaving the main quest a little short, and spreading out the side-quests in areas you won’t always visit in the course of the main quest…it makes every playthrough significantly different and actually extends the life of the game.

For example, for the main quest, you reach a fork in the story where to progress you need to rescue some people in order to get access to a town. The town is run by slavers and you’re faced with multiple options. You can go in guns blazing and kill everyone, or you can work with the town and round up some slaves to trade for the people you need to rescue. Of course, even then you have a choice. You can march into another town and kidnap some innocent people from their beds, or you can go out and capture some murderous raiders and criminals instead.

Basically, in my first playthrough, the slaver settlement worked like a ‘dungeon’. It was just an area I had to fight through to reach an objective. If on my second playthrough I decided to play as a more thuggish, evil character, that same settlement could become my main base of operations, along with all the side quests, characters and facilities it offers.

Long story short, you can completely ignore the main quest and just roam the wasteland looking to do every sidequest, but I think you’ll get a lot more out of this game if you pick a role and stay true to it.

In closing, Fallout 3 is an absolute masterpiece that you’d be mad not to own.

1 comment:

Kato said...

I'm thoroughly enjoying it. I've got some ridiculous amount of time invested in the game, and I've still got a lot of exploring to do.

It's not without its warts, though. The game was released in a fairly buggy state (for instance, prior to the first patch, residents of Megaton would often plummet to their death off the walkways, or other NPCs would disappear). The recently released Operation Anchorage has a few glaring bugs too that seem like they are so obvious they should have been caught in the first round of bug-testing.

I also think the leveling is a bit uneven. I hit level 20 quite awhile ago, with a lot of game left to play. Obviously, the goal isn't simply to level, but part of the fun of an RPG is getting to that next level and getting some new or better power. I was naive enough to choose one of the perks that gets you more XP, so I leveled even quicker, only to realize that I'd hit the cap and kinda wasted a perk or two in the process.

I did revel in the beauty of the desolation when I first stepped out into the wasteland, though. They did a nice job in presenting it to you in a way which felt natural. You don't step out and immediately find a bunch of NPCs asking for your help, or stumble upon a giant firefight to get "thrust you into the action". You walk out into the bright sun and see desolation before you with nothing but the wind blowing through a ruined highway to break the silence.

Amusingly, I spent the first couple hours of my time in the wasteland following a trader. I wanted to see where he went. I just decided to tag along behind him (and, as an added bonus, he was much better at killing raiders than me, so I would loot their bodies and sell what I needed back). After a couple of in-game days I got bored and finally set off on my own, but I really liked that the game never forced me to do other than explore to get started.