So as many of you know, but most don’t, I’m currently on disability leave for nerve pain throughout my head and face. I can’t do much, especially with the medications that attempt to deaden the nerves and cut out the pain. It does a moderate job at best, but more than anything just puts me in a sluggish and wobbly disposition. With this in mind, I’ve been playing A LOT of video games. It’s a nice mental reprieve and one of these recent play-throughs was more remarkable to me than the others. My experience with Fallout 3.
Ninety hours of my life have been spent (briefly) in the “safety” of Vault 101 with the occasional RAD Roach somehow getting into our utopian corridors. Governed justly by a Vaultech Overseer, I spent my childhood there. I learned to walk, developed my personality, and early in my life I realized that I have the power of choice and freedom, or so I was lead to believe. The ability of choice was limited to a few pre-selected options given to me, although what I thought was freedom was actually just a small selection of things I could say or actions I could take or be passive toward. I am in a Vault, forged with friendships and rivalries, I wake up to chaos and learn that my father “made” the decision to leave the safety of the vault.
With my Vault 101 jumpsuit as my armor and a baseball bat as my defense, I start my own journey and regardless of the options of speech or actions I take, it all leads me to the same conclusion; I must leave the safety of the vault I was born in and take on the dangers of the wastelands to find my father… whether I wanted to or not.
The sun is bright and hot as it hits my face for the very first time and I see the wasteland, perceptively huge and endless. Vastness aside, the guided tour of this “choose your own adventure” novel continues and leads me to my first stop; a community in ruins and I take in the destruction, the desolation, the loneliness… the poorly textured models and pixelated rubble. NO, no, no, no! I shall suspend disbelief because this is ME in the Wastelands of DC. It’s my personality, my persona, my chosen hair style. I’m not playing a game – I am a vault dweller looking for my dad, who is poorly voiced by the great Liam Neeson.
With a few Nuka Colas and stimpaks, armed with a 10mm pistol and a time stopping Pipboy, I come to find my first town. Surely the inhabitants are ruthless scum, villainous miscreants, mutated monsters that want to rape my skull and steal my shoes! I gird my loins and I enter Megaton prepared for battle… what in the holy hell? Dude, these people are like, totally cool and super nice! Well that’s a little disappointing, but that’s good because within the vault, my personality developed to be goodhearted, charming and a person of peace gifted with speech and just a hint of stealthiness. Not only that, but a young man interested in science and technology just like dear old (Liam Neeson) Dad.
I holster my gun and begin to chit chat with the provided options apropos to my benevolent personality. I come across a girl who is concerned about her family in another town, but she is too scared to face the dangers outside Megaton’s fortified walls? Well, doggonnit, I’ll go it check myself, because I’m just that kind of guy. Six progressive fetch quests later, I run back to Megaton after battling countless Mole Rats, RAD Scorpions, Mirelurks, and raiders to let her know her whole family is dead and her brother killed them! LEVEL UP! YAY!
And so the story goes for an additional 20 hours just like my encounter with the fearful damsel. To progress in my quest to find dear old daddy – did I mention that dad sounds an awful like like a bored Liam Neeson? – I have to do something for someone. Fetch an item, fix a thing, kill some Super Mutants, push a button, join a cult, talk to this one person who has the same face and voice as someone else from the other town. STOP ANALYZING AND BE THE VAULT DWELLER GODDAMMIT!
Finally, FINALLY after 50 stimpaks, 20 quests completed, and 9 level ups, I find Dad and get to speak to him, but the pre-selected speech choices are nothing I want to say! Well shit. But wait! Galdernit, I’m a good guy, a forget and forgive sort of fella, so I give Liam – I mean Dad – a great big hug and repress the myriad of questions and hurt he caused by leaving the safety of our home, almost getting me killed and getting our friends and neighbors killed. No biggie, let’s just move on. Now Daddam Neeson and I can team up and save the world, even though he’s basing all his “decisions” on speculation, but yeah whatevs. Sure, let’s go pops. Yippee!
The repetitive nature of how my 30-40 hour journey plays out is not worth mentioning in detail and even the events of the story itself aren’t worth detailing. Plus no spoilers, right? I’ll just say that this guided tour, fetch questing, and escort missioned narrative, masked with freedom and choice leads to nothing. Truly nothing, regardless of the choices you make, good, bad or indifferent (In Ron Perlman’s rich deep voice) “the ending… the ending never changes” and was indignant at the end of it all. I was a good guy and I did everything to be helpful and not lose Karma. I was constantly broke because finding 2 to 6 bottle caps in metal boxes, first aid kits and dead ghouls does not pay the bills. All that running around? All that fetching?! It was all for naught!
A quick aside to fetchiness, I love that Fallout 4 gives you a (poorly textured) dog companion to do the fetching for you so you feel less like the Fido of the Wastelands. The truth is that you are everyone’s bitch. You sit, and lay down and shake paws on anyone’s command to get through the story, even though you don’t want to do any of it. Bethesda claims “total freedom” and no game with a set narrative can ever accomplish that. So go get the ball! That’s a good doggie.
In a nutshell, that was my experience drudging through Fallout 3’s narrative. I had never played this game and based on the hype of the trailer of Fallout 4 and everyone’s undying love of this series within social media, I figured I’d give this game a fair shot and even with the added benefits of VATS mode, it was still a huge miss for me until…
I said “FUCK IT” and went to a previous save point and decided to go off the intended rails that Bethesda set before me. I made the choice to explore the wastelands and take in the sites and my god, the first time I encountered a Death Claw I just about shit my pants! By George, I think I’m having fun! Too early to say, let’s keep going!
Exploring, side questing and killing more Protecter Bots, it was at a wedding in Rivet City that I realized I’m not beholden to my “good guy” status. Just as the preacher pronounces the couple man and wife, I decided to give them my wedding gift; a frag grenade, and laughed harder at this moment than I had in a very long time. Something changed in me watching the happy couple fly in slow motion, limbs torn asunder. No longer was I to be the savior of the wastelands. It was my time of reckoning and I decided to kill everyone I knew or encountered. exploration and decimation were my new friends. I’d find groups of people just to destroy/loot, more interesting locales within DC, and battles that were more enjoyable when I decided to give the narrative of Fallout 3 the double bird. I chose actual freedom to roam, kill, level up and amass more wealth than I could ever use.
A word of advice though: Don’t kill all the merchants, because this style of play will make you run out of things like stimpaks and ammo, and will also wear down your weapons and armor faster. So, without merchants to purchase wares and repair your items, you’re kind of hosed. However, it is incredibly satisfying collecting over a thousand bottlecaps from one person.
After deciding to do my own thing, I spent an additional 60-70 hours just roaming the wastelands. Some of the more memorable moments were exploring the other vaults, discovering a desolate town which contained a note that explained their demise, and figuring out a good strategy for going toe to toe with a location filled with Death Claws.
That was when Fallout 3 was at its best, but these moments were few and literally far between. So much time I spent in this game was just walking to find POIs (Points of Interest) and the entirety of the landscape was bland, repetitive and ugly. Not ugly because of the destruction, but as previously mentioned, the textures were bad and the character models were recycled from just a few varieties and truthfully looked like plastic textureless mannequins, especially against the grit and pixelated texture mapping of the corridors and landscapes. I can understand the limitations with so many NPCs, but it broke the immersion listening to 2 people with the same voice saying the same thing at the same time as I passed them. The game was also buggy, but only a few times to the point of freezing. This mostly occurred when bad guys would sink into the ground or get stuck in hilarious animation cycles, along with many not recognizing that I was actually shooting them.
So with all this in mind, what can I say about my experience with Fallout 3? It was both terrible and great for different reasons. I saw every ending and that was my biggest gripe. The narrative of the story itself removed the element or illusion of choice and regardless of what you did, it all ended in the same extremely dissatisfying ending, just with slight variations. Well ok, there was one ending that actually made me go “Oh damn!” but I won’t spoil that for you.
The gameplay itself was a very basic FPS style and felt clunky and jerky but there were some intense battles and fun ways to troll Super Mutants. Having combat be active, unlike Bethesda’s previous passive, turn based, chance style, was a lot more engaging and fun. The VATS combat system was also a great touch to keep to the RPG roots. I always went for the head shot, but as I played I realized I could have fun and cripple legs, or – this is my favorite thing to do – shoot the weapon right out of the Raiders hand. They stand there frozen for a moment, trying to figure what to do and this always gave me a good laugh. So there was a lot of freedom in Combat. Tactics, weaponry, VATS decisions, I felt like I could tinker with the system and that was great. Fallout 3 may have not been total freedom, but I felt the wiggle room once I went off the beaten path and that was what made the game more fun and interesting to me.
The music… same and sparse as it ever was.
The over all aesthetic design and art deco style hasn’t changed really since Fallout 1. It was befitting the series, but even seeing the trailer for 4 felt, to me, that some sprucing up would have been a nice change of pace. Again, it makes sense that it’s all the same, but I guess I just found it a bit tired and overdone. The environments that you spent most of your time in, rubble filled forests and deserts, were dull, and felt like a facade. Like a set of an old western movie, everything felt hollow. There were clipping issues, pixelation and elemental pop ups that reminded me of original Playstation games. The visuals were not an appealing part of the experience, inside locales all looked the same just as the outside, although eventually you’d run into something a bit more unique, but the amount of running to find the POIs without a guide was a grind.
Although for me, and in my (in real life) medical condition, I didn’t mind the grind so much while in my hazy state. Even with fast travel, prepare to walk, a lot. I mean a whole hell of a lot, but my (IRL) medical issues were pleasantly distracted discovering POIs, making the endless hikes worthwhile. I didn’t discover every single POI, but after 90 hours, along with the repetitive nature of the game, I feel that I got the entire Fallout 3 experience. So no rating, no scoring this game. For various reasons Fallout 3 would scale very low and very high. If you have enjoyed Bethseda’s previous games, you will enjoy Fallout 3. The addition of active combat made it both more fulfilling and at times, frustrating. This is also a manic depressive adventure, so if you can deal with the ups and downs like your weird cousin Fred, and if you’re the type that can overlook technical failures (bored Liam, clipping, so much walking) than you’re going to have a blast. If not, then perhaps don’t spend any time in the DC wastelands and stick with the far superior Borderlands or Metro series instead.
Thanks for reading my tirade of undecided love or hate, the pendulum swings wide for this particular title. It’d be cool if Skyrim had missile launchers and assault rifles… Sorry, medication thought rabbit trail.
Feel free to leave us comments on Facebook or Twitter and let us know what you think of Fallout 3.
You can also check out my reviews and fun gamerdad videos with my daughter Riley and son Gio also here on Gaming Rebellion!
RetroInactive Gamer OUT!