Fallout 3 is the joke answer to the question “what is the best Fallout game”, given its complete inability to do anything better than any other game in the franchise, be they the older classic games or even the newer ones:
Creating an atmosphere of dread and loneliness? Fallout 1 did it better. Discovering communities of unique characters to interact with? Fallout 2 did it better. Presenting unique and diverse solutions to quests that have consequences? Fallout New Vegas did it better. Enthusing the player with the thrill of discovery and rewarding in-depth exploration? Fallout 4 did it better. The result is a game that is, while not outright objectively awful, is pretty generic as far as action RPG’s go.
You play as the Lone Wanderer and your quest is an unoriginal one that is almost entirely derived from the main quests of Fallout 1 and 2. This is because the main objective is provide clean water to wasteland survivors who are being hounded by gangs of Super Mutants (Fallout 1’s Plot), and eventually completing this goal by acquiring the G.E.C.K and stopping the Enclave from poisoning the water in order to wipe all radiated creatures from the entire wasteland, including wasteland humans (Fallout 2’s plot, except in that game they wanted to poison the air).
I find it particularly ironic that Fallout 2 was able to introduce so many new ideas to the series despite being a direct sequel to and sharing some of the same world space as Fallout 1, than a game set on the other side of the country with no pre-established lore before release. If you were looking for something new in this game that you hadn’t seen before, then you’d best look elsewhere. Everything from Robobrains, to Mister Handy bots and Super Mutants are abundant with very few changes. Even the option to become a slaver had been previously done in Fallout 2.
The Enclave are not unique at all. They are a carbon copy of how they appeared in Fallout 2, except they live underground instead of on an oil rig. Even the Brotherhood of Steel, despite having developed a moral compass, are conceptually the same in that they are dismissive to outsiders (even those who use a nuclear bomb to destroy Super Mutant behemoths), and that they have big guns, armour and don’t get involved with helping against the antagonist until the final act of the game, and even then you have to push them in the right direction a little.
Because of this it’s hard for me to tell you what this game feels like from a worldbuilding and narrative perspective, because it just seems like the inbred child of the previous games, completely lacking in it’s own sense of self. I mean this it the game that took an easter-egg in Fallout 1, wherein you found an alien blaster pistol, and turned it into an entire DLC called Mothership Zeta where you take control of an alien mothership. In this case, the only part of the original Fallout games that was successfully replicated was the part of Fallout 2 I criticised the most harshly: The absolutely unexplainable tonal inconsistency, where nonsense like this simultaneously exists in a world of adult themes of pain and suffering; One minute you’re listening to a genuinely well written and performed emotional recording of a family fearing for their lives as nuclear bombs drop around them, and the next you’re fighting little green spacemen.
In terms of gameplay… There’s a lot to be desired. This is a first person shooter that doesn’t let you aim down sights, has bullet spread so unpredictable that all skill is drained from combat, and the battle AI so dumb that they’ll walk into a hail of bullets no matter how many of their allies they see fall before them, rather than take cover. Simply put, if you’re not using VATS then you’re not having fun in this game because you’ll either be missing 95% of your shots without it at long range, or having a laughably easy time obliterating everything that aimlessly runs towards you at close range.
VATS is an adaptation of the aimed shot system from Fallout 1 and 2, wherein you pause time to target an enemy’s body part and have a percentage chance to hit based on your perception and proficiency with your weapon of choice. In my opinion this is a very good adaptation of aimed shot, and I do enjoy being able to shoot an enemy’s weapon out of their hands. However, the fact that using VATS in any and all scenarios is not only the most viable, but also the least annoying way to play the game is what lets it down. I mention in my Fallout 2 review that I didn’t like how that game punished playstyles that deviated from the most optimal one, and the same is true in Fallout 3 because of how it punishes you for not using VATS. It’s one thing to encourage player’s to use your new gameplay mechanic, but another thing entirely to force them into it because of how lacklustre the other mechanics surrounding it are.
Now, I know true gamers don’t judge a games by their graphics but I need you to hear me out: There is a difference between my trying to discern how the pixels of InXile’s Wasteland (1988) somehow form a farming community and eventually piecing it together in my head, and knowing that Bethesda’s Fallout 3 IS showing me one, but still wondering why it looks like overcooked bacon. Graphically speaking, Fallout 3 might be the worst thing I have ever laid eyes on, especially considering that Left 4 Dead, Call of Duty World at War and GTA IV all released in the same year as its release. And while those games are hardly the pinnacle of graphical technology, they are games that still hold up relatively well, with some variation. By comparison, Fallout 3 looks as though it released five years earlier than it actually did and suffers for it. What makes this such a shame is that, from a stylistic stand point, the game looks unique. The architecture and 3D realisations of classic Fallout’s iconography is designed brilliantly, and yet is let down by this game’s lack of graphical competency. I know I’ve dragged this out for a while, but it might be one of the only games that puts me off playing it based on graphics alone. Luckily there is a remedy to the blight on my eyes that this game is: Mods.
But now it’s time to be fair and point out some positives about this game:
- The design of Super Mutant Centaurs is genuinely more terrifying and intimidating than in the original games.
- The Wasteland Survival Guide, Tranquillity Lane and Oasis are rare examples of quests that have pretty inspired premises and solutions, which I only wish there were more of.
- While I despise the fact this game introduced quest markers to the series, I do have to credit the game for not giving you one if you destroy the town of Megaton before finding a lead for the main quest. This leaves you entirely on your own with nothing left to get you to the next stage of the story but your own intuition.
- The radio is fun to listen to.
- Landmines are extremely fun to use.
- Although it did make sense in the classic games, I’m glad Bethesda gave each Vault a unique layout instead of conforming them all to one singular design. It made exploring each one feel like a new experience, and I also enjoyed being able to interact with the experiments that took place within them.
My conclusion? Fallout 3 was so focussed on trying to live up to the standards of the previous games, through it’s far too familiar story ideas and iconography, that it forgot to be its own unique experience. The result is a game that is, while not terrible, is certainly pretty bad. Lacking in a unique identity, Fallout 3 goes down in my book as the one that looked like crap, played the worst and irritated me the most to play. But always remember this: While I never have and never will recommend anyone play Fallout 3, there are several thousand avid fans of this game who would do the opposite.