PAX 2008: One hour with full version of Fallout 3

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We were given one hour with Fallout 3 at this year's PAX, and we don't mean some pared down, nerfed, demo-ized level; this was the full version. Not only that, but the Bethesda folks showed it to us in the tricked out Fallout 3 Airstream Trailer, complete with a nuclear family peering in.

Lead designer Emil Pagliarulo started us out roughly an hour into the game, when you exit the vault for the very first time. We missed the whole "growing up" phase in order to rush right into the action. We didn't mind. but what of our first 18 or so years? Maybe you start out on the cellular level, and fight your way out in a glorious Spore/Fallout hybrid. Your guess is as good as ours.

After exiting Vault 101, we headed to Megaton, considered by Pagliarulo to be one of the smaller cities, with Rivet City being the biggest. Immediately I was struck with the fact that "Hey. this ain't Oblivion." Now, it's true that Oblivion has tons of fans, but it just never got its hooks into me.

The VATS targeting system makes it fun (and addictive) to jump into combat. I tried to stop fighting everyone and just follow the quest portion of the game, but it is very, very hard not to pull that (right) trigger. Luckily, holding X will put your weapon away. Not only does that curtail the killing fever, but it also makes you move faster.

The rest of our time was much like what we've seen since as far back as E3 2007. In a nutshell: We can disarm the nuclear bomb stuck in the middle of the city or we can blow it up. This time we destroyed it. In fact, we were quite evil the entire time, killing enough civilians pre-bomb that our Pip-Boy deemed us "Evil." No children, however, as they'll run away while every nearby adult friendly to them will come after you.
That said, you don't have to kill anything to beat the game. Almost. Said Pagliarulo, "I don't want to make a blanket statement and say entire game, but a good part of it, several portions." He said one tester beat the game by killing only the rat roach at the beginning. Protip: If you go this route, raise your sneak and science skills -- let other people fight for you and hire mercenaries.

Some other notes from our talk with Pagliarulo:

  • The team went back and forth on the concept of karma (i.e. the measure of good vs. evil), ultimately deciding to consider it a universal force, meaning no one has to see you be evil to affect your karma. You can still commit crimes without getting caught, however.

  • We were able to try picking locks using a bobby pin and a screwdriver. Unlike Oblivion, you can't pick every lock with a low-skilled character. According to Pagliarulo, a higher skill level is required for some of the necessary tools.

  • While you can wear any clothes you find in the game, they will not serve as disguises (i.e. no one will confuse you for a doctor while dressed in a lab coat). Pagliarulo explained there would be too much extra dialogue to record.

  • Kudos for the indulgent use of Vault Boy when and wherever possible, especially with the item icons and perks.

  • You can choose your characters' race (i.e. African-American, Asian, Caucasion, Spanish, etc.); it will have no effect on the skill set.

  • In addition to Liam Neeson and Ron Perlman, you can expect to enjoy Malcolm MacDowell's voice as the President. Not including written text, there are over 40,000 lines of dialogue.

  • On the topic of sex. "We haven't pushed the limits with sex," said Pagliarulo. "We found that the whole adult content thing, we knew we'd have crazy over-the-top violence and have kids in the game, and dealing with attacking them." Pagliarulo cited Mass Effect as a game where it was important to the story. In Fallout 3, he said, he didn't want to make sex "a joke and cheesy," much like excessive profanity (a lot was cut out, apparently). "The closest you come to any of that is renting a room and [a woman] sleeps next to you. It's implication." That happens for either gender.

  • There are characters you can infer are gay. "We don't make a big deal out of it," he said. "To us, they're people."

  • Here's an SAT analogy. Computers : Fallout 3 :: Books : Oblivion.

  • For more, check out our interview with Executive Producer Todd Howard.

Fallout 3 is coming the last week of October. Not soon enough, we say.

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Kevin Kelly contributed hands-on impressions for this feature.