First we were pumped - then less so. Then reassured, and now, decided. Is Fallout 3 megaton or mega letdown?
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Fallout and its predictably titled sequel are PC RPG legends, whose internet fans make most Al-Qaeda look like reasonable people open to healthy debate. In picking up the Fallout licence, Bethesda knew what it was letting itself in for if they fudged this one. They've certainly decided to play it straight and stick as close to the original concept as possible, boldly opting to title their latest venture Fallout 3.
Bethesda received heaps of praise for its last effort, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Many feared that Fallout's traditional isometric world would be lost in a modern upgrading to an Oblivion engine. And they were completely right. Sorry if that puts any of you off, but as far as I'm concerned Bethesda made a great choice in bringing Fallout into the new millennium with a first person real-time RPG, regardless of how many of you zealots wish otherwise. Get back to your self-flagellation and keep praying StarCraft 2 can turn your PC into a time machine and teleport you back to the late 1990's!
Fallout 3 runs on the Oblivion engine, and it shows. The graphics and sound do a sterling job of portraying a post-apocalyptic world; Half-Life 2 is the only other game which can immerse a player so completely in its world. Where Oblivion created a fantasy wonder, with lush forests, magnificent mountain ranges and a sense that anything is possible, Fallout 3 creates a sense of desolate isolation in its vast wasteland. Grey dead trees, rotting townships of pre-war society and the titanic skeletal remains of decrepit motorway flyovers create dread in the player of what lies in wait, with each step forward reinforcing the terror of your surroundings since your escape from the safety of Vault 101.
Like the initial jail-break and sewer run in Oblivion, Vault 101 serves as your character creation tool and defines the skills that you will be forced to rely on once you enter this irradiated hell. A glimpse of your father (played by Liam Neeson) helping your mother through labour decides your sex, race and name. At the age of 10 you are required to sit your G.O.A.T. test, to decide your aptitude and skills for a future job in the Vault. Be careful with your choices here, as these define what skills you will receive. While there is plenty of junk in the wasteland, those aiming for a job as a binman may find their skills come up short when facing denizens of the wastes.
Fallout 3 does much which still would be original and remarkable had Oblivion not been here first. The open world, allowing players to explore at their own leisure, helpfully points you to the main areas of interest with the first friendly characters you meet, but there is no need for you to heed their advice. It's remarkably easy to waste hours exploring any point on the horizon which looks interesting. It's possible to find quest items before you have learned what the quest is, and it's also possible to truly bugger up any chance of completing that quest should you decide to use, sell or simply throw away some of these things before you realise that they would become relevant at a later stage.
Decisions you take also impact on how good or evil you want your character to be. Do you want to help the misunderstood mutants who live outside the human settlement, or are you happy to wade in and blow them all to smithereens before collecting your reward? Once you have collected your reward is there any reason not to let everyone in town have a taste of your firepower? It's possible to kill everyone and anyone in the game, although finding out exactly what you should be doing if you treat every character to a .10mm caliber massage may prove tricky.