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Joystiq review: Fallout 3

Justin McElroy
Justin McElroy|October 28, 2008 12:55 PM

As an Oblivion fan, I was ready for Fallout 3 to completely blow me out of the irradiated water. I had the shiny "Game of the Year" trophy all polished and ready, and all I was waiting for was a couple of hours of play time before I made the trip to the engravers.

Before I talk about those hours though, let me tell you fellow Oblivion fans what you need to hear: All the good stuff is here. There's still a giant world to explore, with tons of diversions if you don't mind chasing them down. It may not be as pretty as Tamriel, but it's a lot more dense, teeming with treasures to dig up and people to meet/kill.

You still have countless different ways to customize your character, who could be anything from an evil medical genius who's got a way with rocket launchers to an angelic scientist that can decapitate a mutant with a single hammer swing.

Those battles feel surprisingly satisfying too, thanks to the addition of Fallout's V.A.T.S. system which lets you stop time and to choose which body parts to target, usually resulting in a decapitation or ... de-arm-itation. Each shot uses a number of action points, and you have to wait for them to refill before you can get any more aiming assistance. It works so well that I hope something similar is implemented in the next Elder Scrolls title.
It's still, I should note, not a first-person shooter though. I was a lot happier once I started responding to a lack of action points with hiding instead of trying to target manually. Don't play it like Call of Duty and you'll be much happier.

"You could be anything from an evil medical genius who's got a way with rocket launchers to an angelic scientist that can decapitate a mutant with a single hammer swing."

Considering my satisfaction with the new combat and beautifully detailed wasteland, imagine my surprise to find that (despite a completely ingenious opening half-hour) the first few hours of the post-apocalyptic adventure left me just the slightest bit cold.

It's not a result, as you may suspect, of trying to stretch the Fallout skin over the Oblivion skeleton. By lifting some of Fallout's core systems and aesthetic cues, this current-gen entry does an admirable job of capturing the spirit of the series. Honestly, if you're still wishing for an isometric, third-person view by the end, you're just being contrary.

No, the problems didn't come in the merging of setting and engine, they're the problems that Oblivion already had and the baggage that Fallout 3 is still saddled with.

Physics glitches are still there, with plates and the like occasionally catapulting across rooms with the slightest provocation. There's also some of Oblivion's trademark AI weirdness, with characters able to act somewhat human within only narrowly defined parameters. Try to get clever at all and they almost certainly won't know how to react. They're not huge game breakers, but they were often enough to take me out of the experience.

I think hoping that issues like this would be non-existent was my problem with the early hours of Fallout 3, and I didn't have much trouble getting past them. I mention them because if problems like that put you off of Oblivion, they're still present, though reduced.

But that's the trade-off you're going to make here. Once I realized that, like in Oblivion, I needed to bring a little something to the table, a little imagination, a little forgiveness, I was able to enjoy Fallout 3 for what it is: A gorgeous, terrifying, utterly engrossing world to explore. I really hope that you can do the same.

Second Opinion (Ross Miller)

Two characters and 20 hours in, I feel that the game is not "Oblivion with guns" so much as it is Fallout with Bethesda's game creation blueprint. The game is expansive, and certainly more colorful and vibrant than previous Elder Scrolls titles, but there's a feeling of soullessness. Environments are aesthetically pleasing, but not what I'd call interactive. The character's voices are much better and more varied, but in a post-apocalyptic world everyone's faces have been injected with an overdose of Botox. It's a little unfair to the title at hand, but after seeing Fable 2's brilliant use of a canine companion, I'm hoping a stronger relation with Dogmeat is explored in future DLC or a sequel. But despite those flaws, it's everything I wanted: Another Fallout game that stays very true to the series.