As a first-person shooter, Fallout 3 is a success, but only moderately. Fulfilling its demand as a role-playing game, Fallout once again succeeds. The interesting part is when the mediocrity of both these genres is put together, the game becomes a masterpiece.
If Fallout 3 were strictly a shooter, it would have interesting yet disenfranchising features. The most obvious problem is the damage system in the combat, where guns feel like they do more damage than they really do. Thus, the gunplay, and strictly the use of guns alone, can feel very clunky and even contrived because of how slowly it’s paced. Very few people should expect the game to replace Call of Duty or Halo.
As an RPG, Fallout is difficult to enjoy having already played Oblivion, as both were created by the same developer, Bethesda Studios. The engine is extremely similar, with item storage, quest infrastructure and even certain elements of level design very comparable to The Elder Scrolls IV. Once again, it is unfair to simply take Fallout 3 as an RPG alone; since the gamer can view it as a FPS and an RPG, it truly works to become both, and as an FPS-RPG, it’s a must-have for anyone looking for less of the same and something truly unique.
Though the engine is very reminiscent of Oblivion, after an hour, it’s obvious that this is no demon-killing tangent in Tamriel. With an entirely different visual design, accompanied by much cleaner and more believable textures and graphical integrity, Fallout 3 includes a truly unique art direction.
The setting of the game is a post-apocalyptic Earth, but more specifically, the Washington D.C. area. The interesting feature of the environment is that D.C. is the same as it was up until the 1950’s, when the nuclear wars began. Though it’s been several hundred years since, the culture has not greatly evolved from a utopian, Pleasantville-esque scene, with characters who favor good hair gel as much as the very scarce clean water.
The story is engaging, though because the environments are more limiting than Oblivion, the story is much more linear as well. The open-worldly feel is not as apparent, and part of it is because the danger of the “Wastelands,” the vast expansive region that encompasses the game (much like Cyrodiil in TES IV). The character development and the attitudes of people are extremely believable, and though the character progression is not huge, the ability for the user to change the world—for better or for worse—is stupefying. In short, Fallout 3 is epic.
The most useful, fun and vicious feature of gameplay is the Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System (V.A.T.S.). It’s like a slow-motion Burnout Crash Mode take on shooting. As an enemy (or ally) is nearby, pressing a button turns on the system which indefinitely pauses the game, and the gamer can choose what part to shoot on which person. With several enemies of various styles, shooting the arms on one and the head on another isn’t a bad plan, and V.A.T.S. becomes this limitless, gory gameplay element that allows the user to be creative and violent at the same time, a la Quentin Tarantino.
As the character levels up, he or she can choose various upgrades to allow more action points, which limit how many shots a person can pull off in V.A.T.S. mode. In this sense, V.A.T.S. is a replacement for magic in Oblivion.
Even without V.A.T.S., Fallout shooting is fun. Body parts blow off with grenades and expert shots, and there’s even a cannon that shoots all sorts of objects, from ashtrays to bottles to actual ammunition. The variety of guns, plus the ability to make one’s own, makes gun combat in Fallout more realistic in terms of gun usage—guns break down, get repaired and get upgraded. If there’s one thing that Bethesda repeated with Fallout from Oblivion, it’s the limitless options with combat.
Though guns are important for survival, the game also employs strong use of blunt weapons, from a baseball bat to a grim sledgehammer. There is not only health anymore, but also radiation poisoning, which is easier to avoid than expected. Other features include damage of one’s own body parts, customization of armor and a huge experience and leveling system as in depth as any other RPG.
It’s impossible to sum up Fallout 3 in a few words because of how much the game undertakes and the unbelievably realistic environments. The game is so much more than the sum of its parts, and because Bethesda decided to do something very few developers even attempt – much less succeed at – the game is a milestone in game design as well. At the very least, the subject matter of nuclear fallout and the choices of the individual in a cut-throat environment allow this game to be something more than just a violent shooter or a cheesy RPG—this game is an event and an experience.