Joystiq impressions: Fallout 3

In a dark yet comfortable mini-theatre, Bethesda executive producer Todd Howard guided us through the first 45 minutes or so of Fallout 3, played on an Xbox 360. Though a lot of what was shown and discussed was already revealed at their pre-E3 presentation late last month, but we did manage to glean new details on the title and its direction.

The atmosphere of the game (and its soundtrack) is very akin to the 1950s look of the first two Fallout titles, yet as Ron Perlman explains, the nuclear destruction happens in 2077. According to Howard, we're dealing with the future as envisioned from the past ... and the future had nuclear-powered cars and apparently never changed their taste in music. (Not that we mind at all.)

Comparisons to Oblivion are inevitable, so let's get those out of the way. As previously known, it does use an improved version of the Elder Scrolls game's engine, and you can really tell (for better and worse) with the animation "You can think of Oblivion as our freshman effort on next-gen platforms," said Howard. The movement was much more fluid, thanks likely to their new in-house motion capture capabilities coupled with the Havok physics engine. As many

However, in this build, the facial animations (and, as later pointed out by Pete Hines, the gestures) are not at this point realistic, though the lip syncing is accurate. According to Hines, much of the development time between now and its Fall 2008 release date will be spent tweaking such things, and hopefully we'll get some moving eyebrows. Say no to avatar botox!
The draw distance was fantastic, as the entire demo had us moving away from one town that we could still see once we reached our destination (and, spoiler alert, watched it explode).

NPCs are much fewer, but many of the same voice actors we heard from Oblivion are also in here, and we noticed at least one time where the same voice actors was obviously used twice. However, the character's voicing also seems more expressive, which helps differentiate them in a way Oblivion never did. Liam Neeson's voice work for your character's father was already in place, and worked well. Since your dad does portray many of your chosen characteristics, however, we're not sure how his voice might mesh should someone try to create a radically un-Neeson protagonist.

The game's introductory hour are designed to give you the feeling that have lived for a long while in the vault. It also serves as a way to assign your stats. At age one, for example, you are given a book by your dad that tells you how special you are, whereby you then choose your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. (strength, perception, endurance, charisma, intelligence, agility, luck) attributes.

The game world will be approximately the same size as Oblivion, according to Hines, with 25% of that world being the Washington, D.C. area.

There will be fewer "quests," but unlike Oblivion each one has their own set of good / evil morals. We say quests with reservation, because Hines was very adamant about not referring to them as such. These, er, "ventures" will not pop up on the screen this time, but Hines said that they will be logged somewhere for later viewing.

The violence and humor are still very much a part of the Fallout universe. The game's atmosphere is best described as gritty, and we admit that it was surprising at first to hear a character curse and later see a sign outside of the vault that read "Let us in motherf**kers" (asterisks added by us). The headshots and limb shots are very gruesome, and with a laser gun you actually cut their head off instead of causing it to explode. Though the Fallout universe may precede it by a while, we can't help but be reminded by Gears of War. Highlight of the event: a friendly Vault robot, who turns bitter and obnoxious once you turn your back on it.

Water reflection and refraction were subtle but welcomed additions, as was the much-discussed decay of the environment. Howard talked up all the dead bodies often, but the number of skeletons that remained that was saw were minimal. We guess they must've already turned to dust.

Some details for the true Fallout fanatics:
  • The two-headed Brahmins make a return, and Pete Hines told us after the demo that Rad Scorpions are also coming back.
  • The toughest weapon in the game will likely be the Fat Man, a portable launcher that lobs nuclear grenades.
  • We've seen Super Mutants; as to the existence of the more folky mutants from previous games, Hines would not comment.
  • Random encounters are making a return, but Bethesda isn't ready to say how.
  • Action points, used for the turn-based combat mode V.A.T.S., are being designed to regenerate fast enough so that gamers can use it almost exclusively for fighting.
  • Speech options and convincing utilizing the Speech are still there, noted by the [ Speech 29% ] tag besides a talking option.
  • Computer security will be done via a game best described as akin to Mastermind, where you have a list of words (embedded amongst gibberish "code") and you will be told how many letters you have right.
  • "We spent what I refer to as an obscene amount of time on [the PIP boy menu screen]." said Howard. More pixel shaders used on it than all of Oblivion, apparently.
  • You can zoom the third-person view out to give it the camera view akin to the previous Fallout title.
As a fan of the original franchise, we're impressed by Bethesda's ability to retain the core elements of the franchise and improve upon mechanics. They still have over a year to develop it, but the outlook is so far great. War never changes, but the way you play it can certainly be improved.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.