There was a point -- maybe three hours in -- when we were half convinced that Fallout 3 was intentionally trying to make us not like it. Here we were, in what is probably one of the most stunningly realized game worlds ever designed, feeling like we'd been duped.
The pace was plodding, the voice acting was dreadful, and we actually preferred engaging in face-to-face dialog with the ghouls than most of the human characters, who were, in a way, more ghoulish in appearance. Someone had us running fetch quests and the whole experience seemed nothing like the deeply engrossing adventure we'd imagined.
Then something changed. We don't know if it was the uncommon premise of one of the quests, a new location that had us floored, or simply the sight of an enemy's head fleeing its body in slow-mo during V.A.T.S. combat. Actually, thinking back, it was most likely a combination of everything we just mentioned, on top of being genuinely intrigued by where the main plot was heading.
So we went with it, sticking to the main quest ... and, before too long, it was over. The ending was all right. Mostly, we were left with a feeling of "That's it?" There was so much of the world map unexplored, so many quests unfulfilled. So many perks gone untested. We loaded a save we'd made just prior to the ending and set out to see what the Wasteland was hiding.
We picked a random destination and just hoofed it. It wasn't long before Fallout 3's true nature was exposed. This isn't a linear RPG; this is a world. Every ruin contains a mystery, and around every bend is a new (and often surprising) situation. It's meant to be lived in and combed for every last bit of the experience it has to offer. It's a role-playing game in the truest sense; when you're a hundred or so hours in, you feel as if you're leading another (far more exciting) life, one that you've carved out of civilization's remains.
There are so many things you'll miss if you don't get out and explore. We'd never have gathered up parts and made a railway rifle that pinned enemies to walls, or a flaming sword from a lawnmower blade. Or become obsessed with tracking down every last Vault Boy bobblehead, pre-war book, human finger ... or any of the myriad items that seem pointless, yet have a purpose.
Much like Fable II, this is a game to lose yourself in. To really inhabit the character you've chosen to be. And, like Fable II, to not want the experience to end (and be elated when you learn that there's more to come).
Despite spots of questionable presentation, downright ridiculous bugs that see enemies dropping out of the sky (or sailing off into it), and even the inability to earn certain Achievements if you don't perform a task just right, Fallout 3 is unquestionably one of the most engrossing, rewarding games you'll ever play. Its spot among Joystiq's top 10 games of 2008 was far from a given in those early hours, but is ultimately well deserved.
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