Fallout 3 Review: Wasting Away Again In Radiationville

Fallout 3 began life under the loving care of Interplay's Black Isle Studios, creators of the first two Fallout titles. But before the game could be completed Interplay was struck by a financial apocalypse, selling the license to create the game to Bethesda Softworks of The Elder Scrolls fame. Bethesda then scrapped what had come before and started fresh, promising fans of the series that they would do the property justice. With rabid fans breathing down their necks, the company polished up the Gamebryo engine used in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and went to town.

Now Fallout 3 has been released, soon to be on store shelves across the world, and we've taken our first, tentative steps into the bleak world of post-apocalyptic Washington DC. Is the journey worth taking, or were we much better off staying locked up inside the Vault?

Loved
Epic Scale: Stepping outside of Vault 101 for the first time and seeing the huge expanse of ruined landscape spread out in front of you neatly mimics the experience of going from most games to Fallout 3. It's a much larger game than any amount of screenshots can convey, and randomly exploring the world is just as enjoyable as following the storyline, if not more so.

Beautiful Ruination: Fallout 3 is easily one of the best looking games I've played on the Xbox 360, and for once the folks who complain about the use of browns in today's more realistic games can't say much – it is Fallout's color scheme, after all. While the wastelands themselves are impressive enough, the ruined cityscape of DC proper is so realistic you can feel the bleak despair of those making their home there. Character models are gorgeous, especially compared to Bethesda's previous outings.

Much To Do Amidst Nothing: While the main quest only took me thirteen hours to compete, the true meat of Fallout 3 is to be found in the sheer amount of land to explore and quests to undertake. Side quests range anywhere from simple fetch missions to epic undertakings that rival those of the main story.

Good? Bad? I'm The Guy With The Laser Gat: Bethesda has always been big on giving players moral choices in their games, and the choices in Fallout 3 have more impact than in most games. Do good deeds and be lauded as a hero; blow up an entire town and suddenly followers don't want to hang out with you and they're calling you a reaver. When I stepped into a slaver compound and folks ran up to me and started giving me gifts I realized I had made some poor lifestyle choices.

Voices In The Wastes: The combination of excellent writing and excellent voice acting makes talking to NPCs in Fallout 3 a sheer delight. There is a ton of spoken dialog in the game, and you'll find yourself actively seeking out new characters to see what they have to say. Otherwise you might miss out on a medical robot calling you an asshole.

Music From Days Gone By: While Inon Zur's score is filled with epic goodness, the real star of Fallout 3's music is the vintage songs from the 1940's. The first time I heard Pete Brown's 1949 song "Butcher Pete", about a man who likes chopping up women's meat I was certain Bethesda had made it up, but no...it's a real song. I just wish they had managed to secure more music, as what's in the game repeats far too often.

The Apocalypse Builds Character: The leveling system in Fallout 3 is extremely satisfying. What skills you chose to invest in make a definite impact on how the game plays. Putting points into the Speech skill managed to drastically alter the outcome of one of the game's key moments, while oftentimes your skill set determines how you go about solving particular problems. The Perks system only sweetens the deal, making multiple play-throughs a must.

Hated
A Bit Stiff In The Joints: Bethesda has been creating beautiful, expansive environments for years, but their characters have always been a bit on the stiff and ugly side. They've taken care of the ugly, but character and monster animations are still a bit scattered and robotic. On several occasions NPCs would walk into walls, humping them for several seconds before finding their way once again.

Combat Issues: While the V.A.T.S. (Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System) does allow for some rather gory, cinematic enemy deaths and a bit of strategy in the heat of battle, when you run out of Action Points you're right back to the same clunky, inaccurate combat from Bethesda's Oblivion, with the transition between the two often resulting in awkward camera angles that leave you open to damage while you get your bearings.

With Fallout 3, Bethesda hasn't so much created a game as they have created a living, breathing slice of post-apocalyptic America for you to survive in. Much like a Vault dweller taking his first steps into the sunlight, it's easy to be initially overwhelmed by the sheer size and scope of the game, but once you learn the ins and out of life in what's left of the Washington DC area, you'll find that you aren't so much playing the game as you are living it. While it only took me thirteen hours or so to complete the main storyline from start to finish, that's not the way to experience Fallout 3. Be prepared to invest a large amount of time and you'll be rewarded accordingly.

Fallout 3 is an epic experience that manages to channel the odd combination of dark humor and bleak despair of the original series while being more than strong enough to stand on its own two feet, stepping out into the sun for the very first time.

Fallout 3 was developed by Bethesda Game Studios, published by Bethesda Softworks. Released on Oct. 28 for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC. Retails for USD$59.99 on console, $49.99 PC. Played Xbox 360 version. Created multiple characters, played story mode to completion, experienced two different endings, and spent countless time exploring.

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