Too many games go unnoticed, solid titles missed or forgotten. So, my goal is to pique some interest and let you know what is worth going back to revisit or possibly even add to your collection.
Fallout 3 is not in the Wilds Collection. I have owned the game twice before through different means and have given the thing away or traded it in—something I do not often do—both times, because for whatever reason the title just does nothing for me. Here we are though with Fallout 4 breathing down gamers’ collective necks and I am trying to get in on the hype. I can’t though. So the best way I can think to attempt a fix here is by traveling back into the wasteland again—making it mine. Maybe a fresh look and the anticipation of something bigger will convince me to clear a spot on the shelf for it.
For the purposes of full disclosure I have not only played this game before, but was actually a fan of Fallout 2, even though I never finished that game either. This time I am playing on the Xbox 360 and attempting to do the main story with a few side quests while running a balanced character in stats and morality. The most important part though is that I am approaching this with an open mind and giving Fallout 3 a clean slate. I also asked a lot of other people why they liked the game and what annoyed them for some perspective. This works as guidance and general moral support.
I remember when the game came out back in 2008. I kept hearing the phrase “Oblivion with guns” referencing Bethesda’s last hit, but I think that was a horrible over-generalization. Some parts do look like The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion with a new coat of paint, with all of the hallmarks of the usual Bethesda game, but there are some notable differences that set it apart and stand out, and we’ll get into those.
The introduction is highly talked about, mostly because of Liam Neeson (at least it comes up often), but also because few games incorporate character creation and stat selection so well. Depending on who you ask though this introductory section in Vault 101 is either too long or could have gone into more areas and opportunities as the protagonist grows up in several time jumps. I was quickly reminded that the dialogue choices often do not have anything that I would actually want my character to say, usually touching on the extremes of good, uncaring, and evil, where I often fall somewhere between those lines in role playing games. I also hate the G.O.A.T. test. It is a neat idea to make a single part of the skill assigning process integrated into the story, but the player is allowed to change whatever they do not like and it feels long and a little silly.
It is a small complaint though because once dear old dad abandons us, the action picks up and the vault can no longer satisfy. It is time to venture out into a large open world that has a great reveal. This is where some of the trouble begins though, as I am not huge on the game’s presentation. The wasteland is just that, a dead and desolate area, and the developers captured the initial presentation, but it quickly loses any luster and all begins to look the same. The colors are dull and blend together, which does help point out how putrid everything is when the player comes across an actual flourishing bush. Textures are poor and suffer from popping in and out while NPCs often look very similar and doll-like, lacking detail. Also, the third person view makes me cringe for some reason (it’s the jerky motions). I am taking the game’s age into consideration, but even for that time the engine was pushed and many things were patched together. Hell, now we know the train cars were just hats, so who knows how many more corners were cut or neat fixes were thought up. I’m told the PlayStation 3 version is even worse though with way more visual imperfections and glitches.
I am putting a good bit of hours into the game this time around and I really wish it would stop freezing up on me. This is apparently an issue no matter what system the game is played on though. NPCs often glitch out or get stuck in things (mostly each other) as well, but at least I can laugh about that.
Fallout 3 has a bit of a learning curve. Everyone starts off weak and quickly grows to be a badass, willing to take on an army of Deathclaws. Most though, myself included, need a change of pants after running into a Super Mutant within the first few hours of the game. The combat is not hard to pick up, but playing through again I am still not a fan of it. The V.A.T.S. system is neat and has its place, sure. Popping the heads off of enemies with it never gets old, but Fallout’s attempt to have one foot in the RPG pool and another masquerading as an FPS almost kills it for me. This feels like switching gears mid-fight, which always seems to break the immersion and my enjoyment of the combat. I see why people like it, but this is not for me. Melee seems useless for the most part and I hate that the zoom on most weapons is almost nonexistent. Overall the mechanics feel like they are missing something, or that this is a bridge to a better system that is still missing a key component.
What Fallout 3 absolutely excels at is its content. The sheer amount of things to do is almost overwhelming, as there is so much to see and do, often the player is left wondering what would have happened had their decisions been made differently, all making for a huge replay value. This is a game with a main story that can be beaten in ten hours, but a title that most of my friends have easily put a hundred plus in. Even after that there is a large amount of DLC, not all of which is essential, but some of them are just great and add to the story. Even without objectives though it is easy to spend hours getting lost in simply exploring the wasteland, which is really helpful in the beginning when the fetch quests get old.
As stated, replay value is high, but I feel like the ending to the main story was lackluster, so I am not sure how many times just doing that will be satisfying. The raised difficulty level doesn’t seem to do much for changing the game experience, but the quirky humor and era specific music will be enough for some people, but for me it is finding something new each time or learning something different about the game.
I finally mastered lock picking this time, got a companion, and started to enjoy the radio stations. It is cool to hear them talk about the character’s exploits—though it is done better in the Grand Theft Auto series—but the radio gets annoying after a while. I saw a few more flaws in this playthrough though, mostly weaknesses in the story and mechanics as well as a few cheesy things that make certain side missions hard to complete without specializing in certain things. There are also some good think pieces out there on the illusion of choice that Fallout 3 offers, and that stuck out more, but it doesn’t really hurt the experience. Most of those I talked to didn’t care anyway, as long as they got to blow up Megaton.
This is not my usual approach for this column, but the idea is to highlight games that may have been missed, and even I can miss some good ones. With Fallout 4 fast approaching I thought the last installment deserved another shot, but I doubt the game will find its way back onto my shelves. I can say I liked this playthrough more than my last two and learned a lot more about the game and what I liked. This does not mean I won’t give the new one a go though, as I have learned that it is possible to like only a couple of games in an overall good series—cough Metal Gear Solid cough. For those who may have not picked up Fallout 3 in a while and want to again, or maybe even someone who never gave it a shot, the game is easy to find out in the wild for pretty cheap. My current copy only cost $5 and it will be going to a good home soon, just not here. I recommend it on PC for new players for the improved visuals and the fact that the whole package can be bought during a Steam sale for dirt cheap. If someone out there is like me though and not a fan of Fallout 3, the first two in the series—as well as the Brotherhood of Steel Xbox/PlayStation 2 title—are very different. There are many ways to get into the wasteland.