Fallout 3 hands-on: Four hours in the Wasteland

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A mere 27 days from now, many of you will – as we've had a chance to – be taking your first steps outside of Vault 101 and into the Wasteland. As your eyes adjust to the unfamiliar, natural daylight, you'll be greeted by a sweeping vista of ... utter ruin.

We spent just over four hours utterly absorbed in the spectacularly bleak world of Fallout 3, sticking purely to side-quests and generally getting a lay of the land; its people, places, and many irradiated things. What you're about to read is our account of what we saw, shot at, and ran screaming from during our (all-too-brief) time with the near-completed game.

For the purposes of this play session, Bethesda set us up with a pre-made character, fresh out of the game's childhood phase where its creation aspects come into play. We were told that this was in order to get us playing around in the Wasteland faster; we suspect that it was simply a way to steer us clear of any potential plot bombshells (literally and figuratively).

With a flip of a switch, the Vault's nigh-impenetrable door noisily maneuvered open, allowing us to step from the antiseptic confines of our character's youth into the blistering expanse of (what seemed like) nothingness outside. We proceeded cautiously, cresting a hill and gazing out on what looked to be the remains of a once pleasant little burg below. We'd discovered Springvale, an on-screen prompt informed us.

Before setting off to investigate the ruins, we had our first chance to assign skill points and pick our inaugural perk. (We went with "Gun Nut," which gave us an edge in handling and repairing all manner of firearms.)

"The only 'life' was a floating 'eyebot' blaring a recorded message of hope from someone calling himself 'the president.' Whatever. We shot it."

Springvale was, well, a ghost town. The only "life" was a floating "eyebot" blaring a recorded message of hope from someone calling himself "the president." Whatever. We shot it.

The sun began to set as we left Springvale and headed toward another rise. It turned out that just beyond it was Megaton, the first populated town players will encounter. After a chat with a clothing merchant named Crow and a greeting from the robotic Deputy Weld, we ventured inside.

We'd seen this place before in a previous hands-on session. Megaton is built around an unexploded nuke that has given rise to a cult who worship it like a god. We heard them out (weirdos!) and chatted with some of the other denizens of Megaton, including Sherriff Simms, who asked us if we wouldn't mind disarming the thing. Unfortunately, our requisite skills weren't high enough yet or we'd have gladly obliged. We did decide on this playthrough, however, not to listen to the dastardly Burke in the town saloon and set the damn thing off.

When we asked how doing so would change the game (if at all), Bethesda's Pete Hines said that it would make things tougher on us, since Megaton is an early one-stop outpost for reliable food, supplies, and rest. We didn't want to muck with that, even if we only had a couple of hours to play.

"It's not on the same level as Mass Effect's, but the dialog system does its job well."

Conversing with NPCs was fairly basic stuff; we could ask them about the Wasteland, the town, themselves, and, in some cases, missions they had. It's not on the same level as Mass Effect's, but the dialog system does its job well.

A young lady in the saloon, who asked us to deliver a letter to her folks in a town called Arefu, gave our first task to us. It turns out that Arefu was actually built on top of what remained of an old freeway overpass, but that hadn't protected it from the many Raiders wandering the Wasteland. We ran into a few of them while en route (along with some mutated dogs and other radioactive beasts) which we took down using the V.A.T.S. (Vault-tec Assisted Targeting System).

One of the combat highlights from our play session was using the V.A.T.S.' ability to pinpoint-target specific body parts to shoot the pistol out of a Raider's hand, then watching him try to run for cover as we capped him in the legs. (Ouch.)
Exploring the tiny settlement of Arefu gave us a chance to learn more about one of the game's factions, The Family. After some spoiler-ific events, we were essentially begged to track them down and take them out. This was an excuse for more exploration, which led us to a sprawling underground complex crawling with giant radscorpions. Fighting our way past them proved worth it, though, as we acquired more weapons and loot in the process.

Unfortunately, the encounter left us in more dire condition than we'd realized. Thankfully, our PIP-Boy computer displayed all the damage for us, and even let us warp back to Megaton for some healing. It's at that point we met a young female gadget enthusiast who provided us with our final quest of the day: helping her research her Wasteland Survival Guide.

"We could easily imagine getting lost in it for days without even really scratching its surface."

In doing so, we were able to explore a Super-Duper Mart (which was, of course, crawling with Raiders) and stumble upon a nifty laser pistol, which we traded in every last bit of junk we had to get repaired. We had a chance to blast a gang of chain gun-wielding mutants with it just before our time was up. They disintegrated nicely, leaving their lovely weapon behind for the taking.

Sadly, just as we had it assigned to a hotkey slot and had set off to find The Family in an abandoned rail station, the "time's up!" call came and our playtime was over.

As our screen went dark, we were jarred by a strong sense of disconnection from something that had seemed eerily real and, all told, was hugely engrossing. We wondered how a game world consisting of, well, a giant wasteland could be so interesting; thinking back, it might have looked empty at first, but there were so many areas to explore – and things to kill – that we could easily imagine getting lost in it for days without even really scratching its surface. Thankfully, the world ends in just under a month and our real, uninterrupted excursion into Fallout 3 will begin.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.