|A year late to the party, Fallout 3 finally found its way into my life these past few months. So just how is the long-awaited sequel to one of PC gaming's greatest?|
This might be coming up on a year late now, but I did kinda warn
you it was coming. A mammoth Fallout 3 love-fest, that is. Given my endless affection for Bethesda's Oblivion
- not to mention a new-found infatuation with the original Fallout title - the melding of the two in its recent sequel was always gonna be one of my favouritest games of them all, no? Indeed. It just took me 'til now to find the time to play the darn thing.
Well, that's not strictly true. Last year I did in fact lock myself away and blaze through the main story of Fallout 3 in a couple o' days. It was "fine". At which point I cast it aside and moved on. Whatever.
It's with the seemingly never ending DLC releases that my interest recently resumed though, and those - coupled with my relentlessly niggling urge to go exploring outside
of that main quest - culminated in my return to the radioactive crater that is Fallout 3 this past month or two. It was time to play the son of a gun properly.
If you take nothing else from my forthcoming gushings then, at least know this. If you only ever played through Fallout 3's main quest? Then you haven't played Fallout 3
Home Sweet Home
My god, is that true. I mean, sure, that was the case with Oblivion too - with a brief, central storyline completely overshadowed by its side missions, exploration, and the sheer size of its game world. But I feel it even more so here. Fallout 3 actually feels like an entirely different game
|F3 reminds The Dig of some of his fave first person adventure-y shooters, namely Vampire Bloodlines and even a lil' Deus Ex|
That main quest told the tale of James - your father - and his relentless pursuit to bring clean water back to this alternate reality-ed future rendition of Washington DC, in which a Great War has reduced Earth to a radiated wasteland of mutants and rubble. And it worked reasonably well I guess. It was even somewhat exciting at times. Pressing. See, that's how I experienced Fallout 3 back on release; kinda like an action movie. I had a mission - to find my father and help him save the world - and I took off into the wasteland to do so as fast as humanly possible. The end. Not so this time.
Now I live
in the wasteland. This is my home. I've made friends here. I have a house. I even have a dog. And a robot. And a bed shaped like a heart with a statue hanging from the ceiling of two people doing it (note: Fallout 3 is mature).
I have my own jukebox that plays the local radio station. I even have a large weapon collection - many of which are valuable and rare - that I have gone on to decorate my house with. My own museum of sorts. Trophies from my adventures.
And what adventures they've been! Taking me from the darkest caves, to demented robot factories, to small outposts striving to rebuild themselves, to millionaires living in their ivory towers safe from harm above the horrors below (or so they think...). And a whole heap o' others I just can't bring myself to spoil.
I've met vampires. I've met cannibals. I've even discovered an alien race.
I've done good things to help out poor souls less fortunate than myself. I've done evil things for a quick buck. I've saved lives. I've murdered. I've stolen. I've given. I've felt guilt. I've felt pride. I've laughed. I've been touched. I've made mistakes.
. And fuck me, it's been a blast.
War Never Changes
|Originally developed by Interplay, Fallout was bought out and produced by Oblivion-devs Bethesda for its latest incarnation. You can tell, but in a good way|
This sort of stuff is where Fallout really starts to peer out head and shoulders above Oblivion. Choice and freedom is very much the same in both games - giving you a wealth of quests and "stuff to do" - but I'd argue morality and sheer personality
are far more prominent this time around. You're crafting
a character here...not merely playing one. In a preview article
last year, I touched on how Bethesda has seemingly taken more than a page or two outta BioWare's book, adding far more robust social interactions and dialogue choices than found in their previous games, not to mention branching plot-lines and a greater sense of good versus evil. But while that's very much true, let me P.S. that point by also giving credit to the original Fallout itself; arguably the game which pretty much invented
such concepts, let us remember. Back in a time when games seldom had speech
I bring that up because my opinion differs quite substantially to the pack in that respect. You see, I not only love Fallout 3 as a stand-alone game (which it very much is)...but I'd also call it a fantastic sequel too. I adore
what Bethesda has done with this franchise. An IP, of course, they didn't create - merely bought - yet one handled with such immense love and affection, it comes across like some kinda multi-million dollar fan sequel crafted from pure adulation.
Minor things may bug the jihadists. It's all a little "blue" next to the original Fallout's endless browns. The music's often relaxing and calm, rather than haunting and scary. But minor brush-strokes aside, this is
Fallout. In 3D. The dark humor. The thrill of the exploration. The danger of the wasteland. The eeriness of the caverns. The bustle of the towns. The grotesqueness of the wildlife.
And again...that sense of choice.
The original Fallout was an exceptionally hard game if you ask me
. One which refused to hand-hold, and demanded the player essentially find their own way through this fucked-up universe in whatever manner they could. Death came quick and unexpectedly, while massive chunks of content would cut themselves off from the player if they made poor decisions or screwed the wrong people over. Understandably, we live in a different time now, and thus F3 proves far more forgiving, yet still proves a little
tricky in its early hours. Ammo is scarce, supplies hard to come by, and even the most pathetic looking radiated cockroach can see you laying face down in the mud as it suckles on your brain.
|A quasi-turn-based combat system with little skill involved, VATS is more for show than anything. It works though, due to the laugh-a-minute slow-mo death sequences on offer|
In a minor nod to one of my fave games of recent years - STALKER
- scavenging becomes the name of the game as a result. Through breaking into houses, pick-pocketing dudes, and flat-out murdering fools, one can beef up his arsenal and prepare for the harsh realities of living in the wasteland...albeit by slipping to the dark side in the process. Meanwhile playing as a more reasonable and idealistic kinda guy brings its own rewards by how people treat you and the added benefits which that endows. Throw in a superb leveling system, tons of stats to tweak, the incredible "perks", and even its own crafting system, and this all feels exceptionally organic and open, with the kinda sandbox-y freedom you always dreamed of seeing in video games. I've never seen anything quite like it.
True, as a genre-bending RPG-slash-FPS, it suffers from some of the same pitfalls that this sub-genre's become known for. Combat can't stack up to the Halos of the world by any means, while the optional VATS system - which attempts to appease the old skool die-hard fans by making shoot-outs a lot slower and more stat-based as in the originals - feels sorta like the win button here. You won't really care though, given the insanely beautiful gore porn
The Fallout art style renders this all beautifully in the Oblivion engine, incidentally. Endless vistas of lonely grey rubble may sound dull as dishwater, but Bethesda breathes life and style into this thing like no other. Take the western-themed town of Megaton for instance, which might as well be plucked outta some Full Throttle concept art by way of Deadwood, or the spooky claustrophobia of the underground vaults, some of which could almost pass themselves off as deleted scenes from Bioshock. The world feels vast, yet detailed, see, with locations, items and weaponry that feel, well, used
. Lived in. Oh so authentic. Engine updates and performance tweaks see the whole thing run buttery smooth too, which is another pleasing upgrade over Oblivion.
For the most part anyway. Which I guess leads us onto...
Vanilla Fallout 3 is a modern classic, make no mistake, but the reason I and many others still talk about it so many months on is the exceptionally speedy job Bethesda has done in regards to releasing downloadable content for this game. Almost every other month there's been a new adventure released, each following a very specific theme and style, forming self-contained episodes that slot into the pre-existing world beautifully. Needless to say, I've blown through the lot these past few weeks. Let us discuss.
|As a combat-heavy shooting spree, Anchorage ain't gonna set your world on fire. It does what it does well though|
F3's first add-on pack has two things going for it. First, the look. Set inside a virtual reality lab, Anchorage aims to reconstruct a pivotal battle from the Great War. Not just that, but it sets itself in Alaska too, so not only do we get visions of a pre-wasteland Fallout in all its bright blue glory, but one very much drenched in snow to boot. It's lovely to behold and makes for quite the sight for sore eyes.
The second? Loot. Precious, beautiful loot. Specifically a crazy new Gauss Rifle, along with a Chinese stealth suit that'll make any sneaky thief type a lot more powerful. Not to mention, look like a Metal Gear ninja.
The mission itself ain't bad either. It's nice to take a brief tour though Fallout's history - for those of us beard strokers into this story and universe - and while the actual gameplay is comprised of very little more than basic running and gunning through icy trenches, it's suitably fun and exciting in a Call of Duty-light kinda way. Not bad at all
|Zapping Enclave choppers into a million pieces proves fun. Beyond that though, Steel is really only worth it for the boosted level cap|
Steel should probably be your first choice in DLC however, as it bulks up the main game's level cap from 20 to 30, including a host of new perks to go with it. This is a massive bonus, as let's be honest, earning XP, skills and perks is a huge driving force in playing this game. A level cap is a great excuse to keep exploring and seeking out new quests, and will take quite some time to max out (70 odd hours, here).
Steel also, somewhat pleasingly, fiddles about with the ending to the main campaign some - in ways that I won't spoil - and adds a chunk of new story to round that main arc off. A mini sequel of sorts. Where previously the end credits scrolled, you'll instead see a simple "2 Weeks Later...", followed by more Fallout-y goodness.
Like the main campaign from which it continues, this story is one of the more down to earth and, well, dull quest lines in the game however. Expect pretty standard militaristic shoot-outs against the Enclave, with the odd new weapon and side quest from The Brotherhood. Worth noting are some pleasing new locations to visit though, including an underground tunnel system beneath the Whitehouse, along with Adam's Air Force Base.
A must-have purchase for the level cap alone. Not so much the rest
|Big fan of The Pitt's look and feel here. It may not be a nice place to visit, but it sure is evocative|
Set in Pittsburgh, the Pitt's a far darker and more grisly affair than pretty much anything else found in F3 thus far. As a self-contained slaver town in which humans are treated like dogs, you're tasked with infiltrating said ring and taking it apart from the inside.
While not horror per se, The Pitt feels considerably more brutal and gory though, thanks primarily to its overtly gross setting. The steel works factory and its surrounding zones are greasy, miserable and bloody, with a new strain of mutated humans running amok that bear more of a resemblance to Aliens in their wall-scaling ability. As a result, The Pitt is not a particularly pleasant place to spend time in, though it does include some fab loot and nab-able perks for your trouble, including my fave melee weapon of the entire game, the Auto-axe. Straight out of a chainsaw-wielding horror movie, the damn thing shows off Fallout's bloody limb-removal physics spectacularly well. Yum.
Sadly - and here would be a good place to bring up a negative aspect to pretty much all
these add-ons - The Pitt exhibits pretty severe frame-rate issues in places. Perhaps the rigorous release schedule of these packs in quick succession disallowed the polish and sheen found in the rest of the game, and it definitely takes a huge dollop o' fun out of an otherwise impressive add-on pack
|Lookout provides a glimpse of a place I'd like to see fleshed-out into a full-blown game|
All in all, Point Lookout would have to be the pick of the bunch, and does by far the best job of providing the same free-roaming, multi-quest style of adventuring found in the main wasteland, albeit transported to a new zone.
That would be the Point Lookout State Park in Maryland; a rare location in the Fallout-verse in which no bombs were dropped. As a result, Lookout is far greener and more tree-laden than you're used to. Throw in an abandoned fairground, still-standing buildings, and a hillbilly-infested swamp land, and Lookout proves somewhat unique really.
Where the story goes, I won't detail, but the ghoul character of Desmond does provide one of the more memorable and strongly acted NPCs of the entire game. There are a few new rifles and some perks available here too, but my fave part of Lookout by far was an optional side-quest involving a (long since dead) Chinese spy using a motel there as his base of operations
The recently released Mothership Zeta goes way more sci-fi than Fallout's perhaps felt yet, albeit still in keeping with the giggly '50s aesthetic of this tangent universe. You see, back in the wasteland one can randomly stumble across a crashed alien spaceship on their travels - one housing a dead alien and the game's most powerful weapon, by the way - and Zeta picks up that thread and turns it into a full-blown mission.
|Looks cool? Don't get too excited|
On visiting the crash-site, now you'll be beamed up to the alien mothership you see, and promptly thrown in a cell in preparation for a metallic anal gangbanging. Again, I'll resist spoiling what happens next, but ultimately you find a way out and start to wreck dudes in an attempt to get back to Earth.
Sadly, this boils down to essentially playing a '90s style corridor shooter, and not much else. It's Quake 3 with your Fallout toon. NPCs, dialogue, and any sort of branching whatsoever prove sparse to non-existent, while only the audio logs of fellow captives provide the kind of hilariously dark and engrossing context you'll now expect of this game.
On the plus side, Zeta at least looks
brilliant. The retro feel is truly unique, while the ship's bustling with cool alien items and weaponry at every bend. Ultimately though, it just doesn't really provide the thrilling climax long term Fallers may have wanted from the game's final add-on pack. A shame really
4000 Microsoft Points?!
Beyond Broken Steel and Point Lookout then, I don't feel any of the add-ons flat-out demand
a purchase unless gagging for more to do, though you'll have varying amounts of fun in each if you grab 'em regardless. Accumulatively they provide just the right amount of content to push your toon up to level 30 by the way - a feat that may prove tricky if you stick to nothing but the wasteland.
I should point out however, that I noticed way more bugs in the wake of installing these expansions, including the odd broken quest, warping NPCS, and even my first (albeit only) system lock-up. Given the immense size of the game and each of its add-ons, it's still startlingly polished, but that and the aforementioned frame-rate issues are certainly worth bearing in mind.
|Fallout 3's easily...easily...up there among my top 10 of them all|
Anyway, back to the main game. If, like me, you loved Deus Ex, worshipped System Shock 2, and smiled your way gleefully through Vampire Bloodlines, all the time pondering why we don't see more of..."these". That is, the free-form, first person RPG with real-time shooty bits, then ponder no more. We have another in Fallout 3 - a game just as good as all those in their prime, and one more than worthy to sit alongside 'em in the video gaming Hall of Fame.
I eagerly await the upcoming "New Vegas" - Obsidian's sister game to F3 developed by many of the original Interplay developers that actually created this franchise - not to mention the often-rumored Fallout MMO currently situated in hushed limbo. But to be honest? There's still so much
left for me to do in this game, those can take their sweet arse time for all I care.
'Cos Fallout 3 transcends mere video gaming. It - like Bethesda's others - becomes an alternate virtual lifestyle
for the player. One running concurrently to their own, ready to be dipped in and out of for months, if not years at a time. One always waiting. One that never ends. And one I recommend any sane gamer experience right this god damn moment if they haven't. Fallout 3 is undoubtedly one the most engrossing gaming experiences I've ever had.
I just can't believe it's that same game from last year with the dad and the water