Fallout 3 Updated Impressions: Totally Rad

By Nick Breckon, Aug 29, 2008 3:48pm PDT The moonlight was giving the skeletal buildings a ghostly quality when the Super Mutants charged.

I was way off the beaten path this time, on my own out in the cold, dark wasteland. Screw the main quests. Forget the map. The real way to experience the world of a Fallout game is to get lost in it. And the moment I did, I became irreversibly excited for October 28.

The hulking armor-clad humanoids were accompanied by a blubbering beast called a Centaur, which slowly slimed its way toward me. After using the slow-motion VATS system to blow off its slimey head, I was momentarily victorious--until I noticed a Super Mutant holding a minigun in the background, lumbering out of a ruined church.

The thing about the VATS system--the slow motion approximation of Fallout's tactical limb targeting system--is that, while it at first seems to function more like a bullet time system, it fundamentally works on the same level of Fallout's original system. There's that same decision between a sure shot or a low-percentage attempt, and that same glorious anticipation before a 99%, skull-exploding, point-blank blast to the eye.

Case in point, the minigun-wielding giant I faced. With only a handgun to take him down, I switched over to grenades for saving throw. Using the VATS, I targeted him with three throws and let them go. I watched the lifespan of each grenade, heard the pin pop and saw the pineapple land right at the feet of the giant mutant, resting there for a moment before dutifully shredding the monster's legs.

After dispatching the mutants, I noticed a tied-up human in the church they were guarding. I wasn't given this quest--this was simply a building I found out in the middle of nowhere. After choosing to untie the poor sap, he thanked me, then offered me his supplies. I had the choice of taking them, or acknowledging that he needed them more. I took them. Screw being nice.

Later on, heading way out into the wasteland, I encountered a slaver town called Paradise Falls. I got a little angry with the town guard after being denied entry. He said I didn't seem enough like a slaver. I called him an asshole, and then called him out to fight. He said that sounded more like a slaver, and gave me a quest to enslave a few notable people from other towns to earn my entrance.

But I wasn't interested in getting bogged down in quests. I wanted to see as much of the landscape as possible--to get a feel for the world of Fallout 3, and how much was really there.

I headed north, past endless crops of bombed-out buildings. At night, the mood of Fallout 3 turns dark. In the daytime you feel alone in a giant desert--but when the sun goes down, you're alone on another planet. The atmosphere is spot on, with an appropriately sparse placement of enemies and notable features. STALKER-esque, for sure.

The world may seem barren at times, but I feel this was clearly necessary to punctuate the events that you do encounter. For instance, when I rounded the corner of another mound of rubble and found a group of mutants fighting eachother, it didn't feel like something I'd seen before. When one of them started incinerating the others with a flamethrower, it felt like something unique I had stumbled across, rather than something common.

Not that the mutant kept his flamer for long. I had a chance to mess around with the hunting rifle, the minigun, and the flamer--all were incredibly entertaining in their own way. The flamer especially was a treat, one of the more punchy flamethrowers I've used in a game.

Heading far into civilization, I ran into a National Guard Depot, a giant "Enlist Today" sign above it. Outside, numerous robots guarded the doors, all very reminiscent of Fallout 1 and 2 machines. The "Robobrain" was like an irate version of the Lost in Space robot, all tube-like arms and powered by a human brain encased in liquid. Shooting the brain was the quickest way to kill it.

I didn't get to explore much further. I did note a few aspects of the interface I had missed before. Tick marks on the minimap indicate the direction of close-by areas that are ripe for exploration; red marks do the same for nearby enemies.

See more of the walkthrough at Shackvideo and watch the HD Stream.

I didn't mess around in Pipboy as much, but I did learn to apply Stimpak health items to specific body parts. Stimpaks applied to the body mostly replenish your hitpoints, only boosting the health of each limb a minor amount. As your vision will become hazy with a head wound, spending a Stimpak to heal your face can become necessary.

My impression of Fallout 3 is now one of rabid anticipation. Though the game's main storyline is still being mostly kept from our eyes, the experience of simply exploring the world and finding side-quests was captivating enough to push my post-apocalyptic buttons. Screw skepticism.

Check back later for an interview with the folks from Bethesda, in which we go over DLC plans, their design philosophy, and whether they're tired of comparisons to Oblivion.

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  • It looks like Bethesda has captured the Fallout "feel" about as well as can be expected with the transition to non-isometric 3D. But I'm worried because, in order to make a great Fallout game in this style, there's so much more that has to be accomplished. Most of my criticisms are the criticisms I had of Oblivion - they have nothing to do with the world / setting and everything to do with believability / immersion.

    My biggest misgiving stems from the terrible voice acting / conversations I experienced in Oblivion (which seems largely unchanged). The Fallouts used very limited voice acting to emphasize important characters. While it wasn't perfect, none of it was terrible (IMO) and some of it was very good (Michael Dorn [Worf] as Marcus in Fallout 2 comes to mind). But it wasn't the main method of conveying information. In both Oblivion and Fallout 3, it seems as though they've taken the little voice acting talent they had available and stretched it over WAY too many characters. And what for? To save the player from literally a few lines of reading at a time...? I'm trying not to go off on a rant here... but I really don't believe that the average gamer is so retarded / lazy that the wouldn't have played the game because it made them read for a few minutes. And semi-intelligent gamers (such as myself) would actually appreciate the difference because we'd get to imagine the inflections rather than have them crudely forced on us (dammit kids, reading is good - go do it!)

    Plus Bethesda (unfortunately) sucks at animating characters and weapons, which pulled me out of the Oblivion experience and looks to do the same for Fallout 3. It pains me a bit to say this because, being a software engineer, I have some inkling of the enormous amount of work they've put into the game, but I just can't escape that feeling. Counter-Strike (made by essentially 1 college student 10 years ago) had better weapon animations. The choppiness and general stupidity of character movements gives me Oblivion flashbacks, where enemies would run into me (or walls) and continue to run in place. Nothing reminds me I'm playing a video game faster... If you want to base your combat around primarily real-time interactions and you want people to LOVE your game (instead of like or tolerate it), you HAVE to get these things right.

    I think these two complaints are largely what people mean when they call Fallout 3 "Oblivion with Guns". It's not that they've taken a fantasy game and put a Fallout skin on it -- they've clearly done much more than that. It's simply that they've built the game on the same mediocre technology and it has the same fundamental properties that held Oblivion back.

  • Basically, going from isometric to full-3D is a huge risk with a franchise like Fallout, but if there is one developer that can do it, it is Bethesda.

    Despite the huge system reqs of Oblivion (which I now play in complete modded graphical glory) this game should stil be a feast for the eyes even on minimum settings, which I expect to be a 6800 at least, and at least a basic AMD dual core. If you don't have that kind of machine even now, then don't complain. You have no right to moan about PC requirements. If you do, then buy the console version and be happy with the watered down dumb version you end up with.

    It may sound harsh, but fuck it. PC users get the best versions of games, no matter how late. Deal with it.