Post-Release Post-Apocolyptic Impressions

Fallout 3 has turned out to be everything I anticipated and more, if only because I understood from the beginning that Fallout 3 was going to be more Oblivion than Fallout.  The game plays largely identically to Oblivion, right down to the vast majority of the controls, but with aspects borrowed from Fallout.  Universally, the Fallout aspects have been an improvement.

S.P.E.C.I.A.L. without specialization

To an extent, many of the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. RPG flaws I have observed have been mended, and the overall product is to the better.  However, some of Fallout 3’s modifications have created new flaws, not the least of bit being a lack of true specialization.

The key changes that bring this about were in the new handling of tag skills, perks, and traits.  The tag skills used to grant double advancement in 3 skills in order to allow specialization of your character, have been eliminated in favor of one-time point bonuses.   The traits have had their negative aspects removed and rolled into the perks, which can now be taken every level.

My first character handily exploited this new system.  I started with 8 Intelligence and quickly jacked that up to 10 by taking the “Intense Training” perk twice, then Educated and Comprehension.  Where most characters get 10-15 skill points a level and one point bonus to a skill each time they read a book, my character gets 23 skill points a level and a two point bonus to a skill each time they read a book.

Maybe I’m jumping the gun a bit to say “specialization is broken” as even my “exploited” character does not really have enough points to spend on absolutely everything.  (At level 12, he’s reached 70 in sneak, lockpick, and science, 40s in energy weapons and repair, 25-40s in Explosives and Small Arms, but not much else.)  However, there is certainly not as radical of a difference between characters in Fallout 3 as ther was in Fallout 2, and this may hurt replay value.

The Battles Of Alternate Tomorrow

The way combat is resolved is identical to Oblivion in several ways.

  • Hitting and missing is up to you, the player, and your characters’ weapon skill points primarily modify the amount of damage done.
  • Armor scores are represented as a simple percentage of damage mitigated.
  • Armor and weapons become damaged and lose a proportional amount of effectiveness based on their current level of damage.  (The extent in which something is damaged is often the difference between high and low level loot.)
  • Melee combat is made up of swinging with the left mouse button/trigger and blocking with the right mouse button/trigger.  Blocking a weak blow throws the enemy off guard, power attacks (initiated by holding down the button longer) are slow but break through blocks.

Another Fallout tradition sacked is that energy weapons and big guns are fairly accessible from the very start of the game, so there’s no longer a need to save up your skill points for them later in the game.  Although, to an extent, these higher tech weapons do require more effort to find parts and ammo.

Fortunately, the Fallout mechanics necessitate many changes to the standard Oblivion combat experience, and these changes are all for the better.

  • The foremost improvement is the V.A.T.S. This allows you to spend an accumulation of action points to attempt a number of trick shots against a given target, going for the torso, head, or limbs whose crippling grants numerous combat advantages.  (This is extremely well handled, along with slow-motion cut scenes which display your character in action in a cinematographically excellent manner, with the occasional camera snafu.)
  • There is now a cone of fire on ranged weapons, accuracy determined partly by the players’ willingness to aim and their characters’ skill levels.  (This is excellent because cones of fire force you to think in terms of safety versus accuracy and also allow cover to work.  Many enemies are intelligent enough to use cover against you, too.)
  • A streamlined mechanism of Fallout’s classic critical hits system is in place, albeit heavily obscured behind the interface.  (The system may have been consolidated into a chance to inflict bonus damage, but the result is reasonably satisfying.)

If I did not have to replenish action points between uses, I’d probably use VATS exclusively, as it beats the rather standard first person shooter “Oblivion with guns” gameplay that occurs without.  At least shooting things is quicker and easier than melee combat in Oblivion is.  I particularly enjoy a certain vacuum-cleaner fabricated Big Gun (to avoid spoiling it) which you will probably learn how to build fairly early into the game.

Post nuclear adventure at its best

For the rest of the game, the star would be the story and the environment.  Where Oblivion was just yet-another-Fantasy-themed-game, Fallout 3 takes place in a post-apocalyptic world.

The Washington D.C. wasteland is a fascinating place to explore, and your departure from Vault 101 drops you right in the middle of it.  Between the various capitol buildings, city, and surrounding countryside, little detail has been spared from Bethesda’s crack team of world builders.  There’s been quite a few jaw-dropping “wow” moments.  The initial vault character generation sequence in particular is genius, and the game does not particularly let up in terms of that level of attention to immersion.

The Fallout universe is interesting in that it skirts the fine line between gritty realism and entertaining gameplay.  On the gritty realism side, everyone is involved in desperate survival in a a post apocalyptic world.   However, the rest of the story involves a wide variety of crazy circumstances: mad scientists, wierd mutants, and even the would-be government officials in world without need for governments.

This is hammered home with the radio stations, playable on your handy Pipboy wrist device, which are unfortunately much shorter than the Grand Theft Auto series’ radio stations, but nonetheless add volumes to the immersion.

A Potential For Future Improvements

This is promising – that there’s a “data files” button on the launcher means that we could be seeing our very own Post Nuclear Construction Set soon.

Fallout 3 Launch Screen Exerpt

The Launcher Screen Excerpt In Question, Quickly MsPainted

Either that, or it’ll solely be used for expansions and downloadable content.

If we do see a construction set, it means that picky guys like me can start noodling with the stats and releasing plugins that address things that they think they can do better.

Bottom Line

Despite the Oblivion-related meddling, Fallout 3 is ultimately an excellent futuristic/realistic first person shooter RPG that finds a niche in my heart shared by the likes of Vampire: Bloodlines and Deus Ex. I’m only taking a pause now to write this review in the same spirit one would want to rant about anything they’re excited about.

Most people won’t will be eagerly looking forward to Fallout 4 without a care in the world about how heavily it has come to resemble Oblivion, and who can blame them?  This game is good.

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