Fallout 3 is a fusion of two wildly popular game franchises, in much the same way that Taco Ice Cream would be a fusion of two wildly popular foods. It takes the gameplay of Oblivion, and splices it with the setting of Fallout. There are other gameplay elements they’ve introduced to act as adhesive between the two disparate systems, which both add and detract from the whole in equal measure. In order to help confuse both players and (more importantly) reviewers, Fallout 3 has better gameplay than Oblivion, but a worse story than Fallout. So figuring out if the game is good or bad depends a lot on which axis you’re traveling on – which of its progenitors you’re using as a standard.
The name “Fallout” carries expectations with it that I can’t just dismiss with a hand-wave. The fact that Fallout 3 is good doesn’t change those expectations.
In case you missed it, I just admitted that Fallout 3 is good. And now I’ve said it twice. It was no less painful the second time, and I hope you’ll not ask me to do it again. It is entertaining. Inasmuch as that’s what we want from games, it is a success. Despite all my Fallout-based disappointments, this game has merit, and – amazingly enough – manages to hit a few home runs. Let’s go over a few of them:
- The music is excellent. Any game that has Bing Crosby in the soundtrack can’t be all bad. This song in particular has been stuck in my head for days. That man was an even, undiluted mixture of talent and class.
- The capital wasteland is wonderfully realized. It’s reportedly smaller than Oblivion’s Tamriel in total square footage, but with a greater variety of interiors and a more diverse landscape, which makes it feel larger in the end.
- I still pine for the turn-based combat of Fallout. It was good, and now it’s gone. But its loss does not change the fact that the combat in Fallout 3 is pretty fun. The VATS system – where you can pause the game and take an aimed shot at an enemy based purely on the numbers that drive your character – is about as good a compromise between the new and the old as you could hope to conceive. I can’t come up with a system that would deliver the turn-based fun I crave without alienating the FPS gamers this game is courting. (Aside from cutting down on the use of slo-mo. Sweet Jambi, the constant slo-mo became a form of ocular torture after a few hours.)
- I haven’t seen anyone else talking about this, but I think the Fallout 3 lockpicking system is the best portrayal of the activity in a videogame, ever. It’s a thoroughly tactile experience, and getting that click at the end is deeply satisfying, even before the game surrenders the loot and XP.
- The voice acting is tremendous. Liam Neeson, Malcolm McDowell, Ron Perlman. All of them give great performances. (Most readers will naturally and unconsciously append “Duh” to the end of the preceding sentence, which is why I didn’t put one there myself.) The Bethesda regulars are here again, playing the various small-time NPCs in the game. A few new actors have been added to the mix, so it doesn’t feel like a world of clones the way Oblivion did.
It’s a good game, (ouch again) and I can fully endorse it. This is important to say this up front, because in the next few posts I’m going to hammer away at the egregious failures of the game and I don’t want you to walk away with the wrong impression. This game contains greatness, but it also contains idiocy, and the idiocy is all the more lamentable for the fact that most of it would have been easy to avoid. Most reviewers would just mention these things in passing, but if you’ve been reading for any length of time then you know that obsessive, in-depth pedantic nitpickery is my eternal mandate, and I will fulfill that in the coming posts.
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