Fallout 3:
The Good Parts

By Shamus Posted Monday Dec 15, 2008

Filed under: Game Reviews 87 comments

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.)
  4. 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.
  5. 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.


From The Archives:

87 thoughts on “Fallout 3:
The Good Parts

  1. Studoku says:

    It sounds good. I never played any of the first 2 Fallout games, but I was tempted by Fallout 3. Unfortunately, it arrived during the November barrage of new games.

  2. Kel'Thuzad says:

    Taco Ice cream? Eww.

    Can’t wait to hear you tear the game to pieces.
    I considered getting it for Christmas, but with no demo, I have no idea whether it would work on my computer or not.

  3. Nathon says:

    I’m going to go get a choco-taco from the ice cream machine now.

  4. krontekag says:

    I love it. I think VATS is a great compromise between fps and the turn based regime of Fallouts past. Having said that, I hardly use VATS at all now, revelling instead in the challenge of popping a mutant’s head with my trusty sniper rifle in full fps mode.

  5. Jeremiah says:

    I rented Fallout 3 a few weeks ago and overall I really enjoyed it. Once I get some room on my gaming plate, I fully intend to buy it. And here’s the coolest part: my wife actually enjoyed, to some extent, watching me play. There’s been very few games I ever play that she really cares about beyond, “ooh, that’s pretty” (mostly RPGs). But, when I was playing Fallout she was actually starting to get invested and would ask me what was going on if she missed something. That alone is almost enough for me to want to buy it. On top of that I had a genuinely good time playing it.

  6. Shinjin says:

    Thank you for not including any spoilers in this first installment. I’m probably one of the few Fallout fans that hasn’t picked this up. It’s just not financially in the cards right now. And with your heads-up I now know to be careful about reading your next few articles.

  7. Kevin says:

    I am a turn-based guy, having never developed the nerves or the brains for twitchy real-time combat. (You should see me drive.) VATS sounds like something I might be able to handle though, and enjoy. As long as I can pause, I should be happy.

  8. Factoid says:

    Technically this is not a taco-flavored icecream treat…but rather ice cream in the shape of a taco.

    Still…Choco Tacos are delicious.


  9. Neil says:

    Shamus, I think it might be best to repost this after you are finished tearing Fallout 3 a new one in the way you do so well, just so we keep our perspective. Sort of a compliment sandwich.

  10. scarbunny says:

    Jeremiah: I had a similar experience with Fallout, my missus loved it and would point me towards things I might of missed, towards the end game we bought the guide and she sat with the big book of knowlegde while I played. It was very………..odd. Odd in a good way like finding out she has a thing for her very attractive friend, not odd like Taco Ice Cream.

    As for the game I loved it, apart from the VATS slow-mo bit that got annoying.

  11. Vegedus says:

    I agree very much so far. What I probably won’t agree with is that any of the failings of the game are “egregious”.

  12. Pi says:

    [email protected]: VATS knocks off about 80-85% of the twitchiness. You still have to be out in the ‘real’ world to recharge AP, and that’ll involve either (a) a lot of hiding behind things, (b) running away, or (c) having been effectively stealthed in the first place. I’ve been playing FPSes since I got over my motion sickness from Wolfenstein (the original one), but I only engage in realtime combat in Fallout3 when circumstances absolutely necessitate it.

    Shamus: It’s good that you got the ‘hey, it’s good! I liked it!’ out of the way before the flawpicking. It IS a good game. I can name several ‘ugh’s offhandedly, though, so I’m looking forward to seeing the Vennlike overlap of issues.

  13. unitled says:

    I enjoyed it at first… then got completely bored. It just felt like the Fallout elements had been scattered over the top of Oblivion without any thought as to what made Fallout Fallout.

    You’re probably going to go over everything I didn’t like about the game, but I can sum up my feelings/disappointments in one word: Bobblehead.

  14. Dave says:

    I’m with Krontekag, VATS is there to help you transition your Fallout expectations from turn-based to FPS. After 100 hours or so you may find that, at least sometimes, it’s more satisfying to take them out in real time. Particular sniping raiders from afar, or a sneak attack.

    And this game lends itself to character-based play styles more so than any other Fallout, for the creative types. I’ve played a do-gooder obsessed with finding her father, and a surly cretin that completely forgot about dear old Dad as soon as he made his first kill and donned the raider armor. I’m currently playing a cowardly drunkard.

    I know it borders on heresy, but having played FO1, 2, and even Tactics, I have had a blast with FO3 and suspect that going back to FO1 at this point would be a bit tedious.

  15. qrter says:

    That’s Bob Crosby, Shamus, a younger brother of Bing Crosby. I don’t believe there are any Bing Crosby songs in the game, there are a few more of Bob’s, I believe.

    I agree, though – that’s my favourite of the Fallout 3 songs too, especially if you see how poignant the lyrics are.

  16. Joe says:

    I haven’t played this game yet (it’s definitely on my list, at least as a console rental), but your mention of the lockpicking makes me wonder if you’ve played the splinter cell games? I recall thinking that the lockpicking in those was really pretty good. It seemed reasonably realistic, insofar as it can be in a video game (I actually have tried some lockpicking IRL… as an aside, I’ve often thought that it would make a good compromise to keep a set of picks under the doormat. If I lock myself out, I can get back in, but it only helps a crook who a) comes to my house to rob it, b) looks under the mat, c) knows how to use lockpicks, and d) forgot to bring his own.)

    Of course, in that game it was offset by the “hacking” mini-game, which was strange and completely unrelated to anything computer-hacking-like. It was a fun part of the game, but distinctly separate from reality.

  17. Sir Digby Chicken Caesar says:

    It seems that this article was a fusion of two wildly popular foods as well; boiled crow and humble pie.

  18. Stephen says:

    And this game lends itself to character-based play styles more so than any other Fallout, for the creative types.

    No, it doesn’t. Fallout gave you more options than just killing everything you see. Fallout 3 does not. You could get through Fallout 1/2 without killing anything if you wanted to, which is obviously not an option in F3.

    And I can’t believe all the complimentary stuff about VATS in these comments (and the original post). VATS is freaking awful. It’s like turning the game to super easy mode, if only because the percentages are way too high. And it’s not a good compromise for the original games’ turn-based combat, because in turn-based combat, the enemy gets a turn, too. In VATS, you’re the only one with the ability to freeze time.

    Also, Bethesda apparently didn’t notice that people’s limbs don’t get blown off every time you pull a trigger in Fallout 1/2. They lack moderation in pretty much every respect, actually, from that to the ten thousand nuclear explosions in the game. Fallout 3 is designed around what a 12-year-old would think is cool.

  19. Tim Skirvin says:

    I’ve been trying to gather my thoughts about Fallout 3 for the last few days, ever since I hit the Level 20 cap and… stopped. I haven’t finished the game, nor do I have any particular interest in doing so.

    I *loved* the game for those 10 days that I was playing it. Now, looking back, I recognize the infatuation, and I know that it could never last; the game is wonderful, and broad and expressive and everything that I was looking for, but it is not *deep*. And I can point at specific flaws and be angry enough to stop… but I cannot hate this game, no way, no how.

  20. Craig says:

    Damn, other people beat me to the choco-taco point. But seriously, those things are delicious. I find myself desperately needing one now.

  21. Rats says:

    I havent played Fallout 1/2, and picked up FO3 recently after playing a friends copy. It is a wonderful game, even if parts do disappoint. Several of the parts i love, my friend hates, and vice versa. I look forward to hearing your particular brand of objective slating Shamus.

  22. Ryan says:

    So, as one of the few people who really enjoyed Fallout: Tactics (I still play it to this day), I’d like to know how you’d rank all of the games, and what the magnitude of difference between each would be.

    (Not including Fallout:PoS BoS, of course.)

  23. krellen says:

    I’ve replayed Fallout/2 many times each.

    I do not foresee replaying Fallout 3 a third time. I’m not even sure I’ll ever finish the second. Non-spoiler: the ending sucks.

    It’s too bad Mass Effect is in that category of DRM-laden games you can’t support, Shamus. Having recently gotten a 360, I’ve been enjoying the heck out of it. It reminds me why I’ve always wanted BioWare to make the next Fallout, instead of Bethesda. In my opinion, Bethesda has yet to make a good RPG – but then again, I haven’t played Daggerfall.

    Oh, and let me add that Mass Effect is the first game whose graphics have ever impressed me. There’s a certain couple on Citadel Station especially that clicks it, but a lot of the alien worlds are just awe-inspiring.

  24. Illiterate says:

    fallout 3 is on my list of things to get, despite all the complaints. it sounds like a lot of fun, even if it isn’t fallout.

  25. Alex says:

    Great, now I’M obsessed with that song.

    Now I’m gonna be thinking about “crustied pars”, “nappiest days” and “stingiest bees” in my sleep. I’m sure that won’t lead to weird-ass dreams, no sir. >.<

  26. Magnus says:

    I’ll be getting a copy as a gift, but otherwise I wouldn’t have bothered.

    Having played through oblivion, I can just feel the disappointment coming, every step for bethesda has been sideways or backwards since daggerfall.

    Morrowind at least had a reasonable story and gameplay, despite its lack of complexity compared to daggerfall, but oblivion seemed to be neutered somewhat, and I can’t bear that happening to fallout.

    Since I still enjoy the original pair of fallout games, I’d actually have preferred it if they’d just made their own name/background story instead and left Fallout well alone.

  27. JT says:

    In VATS, you're the only one with the ability to freeze time.

    How can you be sure? Maybe in the instant before Arkansas hit you with his sniper rifle while you were dodging landmines, he was in his own VATS mode, having frozen time leaving you completely unaware (which you would be, if someone froze time on you). ;-)

    Disclaimer: playing on 360, where I am absolutely rubbish at aiming with my thumbs, so I appreciate having VATS along so that as my character’s Small Guns skill goes up, my hit/miss ratio also goes up, ’cause it’s obvious (after getting completely stymied on Gears of War in Act freaking 3 (of 5, never finished it), barely making it through Halo/Halo 2 (played purely as a new-to-console thumbstick-aiming FPS tutorial), and having a little easier time with Mass Effect (’cause I could pause/aim/unpause/shoot) and Bioshock (’cause I could freeze people in place)) that my thumb-aiming skills aren’t getting any better.

    Disclaimer: played all those on 360 ’cause I can’t afford bling-mapping video cards anymore – 2 kids, dontchaknow

  28. ydant says:

    VATS does have the trade-off in that it (supposedly) damages your gun more quickly.

    The slo-mo gets old, but I only use VATS some of the time, so I’m not too worried about it.

    The story is definitely shallower than I’d like. I’ve hit the point where I’ve just about put enough hours into the game and don’t feel like finishing it. I probably will – just to see the (supposedly bad) ending.

  29. Robyrt says:

    Seconded on VATS being a great compromise between turn-based and real-time combat. If I wanted to test my aiming skills, I’d play Gears of War, so thankfully Fallout allows me to play an RPG where I have to run away briefly every 15 seconds.

  30. Pi says:

    [email protected]: Ditto on the 360 shooting. Pretending you’re playing a ‘shooter’ with thumbsticks feels too much like being back to ‘keyboard control only’ with the original shooters. The basic interface shouldn’t get in the way of playing the damn game, and thumbstick instead of mouse is just a user-harassing load of crap.

    I extend that to the point that I won’t play things I consider FPSes on 360 (and having 2 stepkids means I’m out of the hardware race on PCs, too). I caved and 360’ed BioShock because I really wanted to get to play it, and knew I wasn’t ever going to otherwise.

  31. Jock says:

    I have a question for the people who whine, over and over again it seems, that “it’s not fallout”: What makes a game a fallout game? Please be as specific as possible.
    Is it the setting?
    Is it the turn based combat?
    Is it the SPECIAL system?
    Is it the isometric viewpoint?
    Is it the ability to have followers?
    Is it the lack of bugs?
    Is it the black humor?
    Is it the multiple valid ways to solve a quest or progress the plot?

    Please enlighten me.

  32. krellen says:

    Fallout 3 isn’t Fallout because it’s too much Fallout. Fallout 3 tries far too hard to convince you that it is, in fact, in a Fallout setting, and in doing so completely fails to do so. It’s hard to really define why it’s off; it’s just “off”.

    The setting is the big thing, and Fallout 3 just somehow fails to grasp the setting right, despite throwing in entirely too many references to things in previous games to prove it is Fallout. Maybe it’s because the people seem too wooden, or the wastes seem too littered, or because the settlements seem too isolated, but it just doesn’t feel like Fallout.

    The Super Mutants are all wrong. Surprisingly, the Brotherhood seems not too bad, though the complete lack of an ability to solve their problems or delve more into their history is bad.

    And, most importantly, not one single person mentions the Vault Dweller. The Brotherhood elder should have at least had one single throwaway line about the Vault Dweller.

  33. Kilmor says:

    Well into my second playthrough right now, and mods have really made this a game actually worth playing a second time.
    Slowing down the leveling rate is a must if you want to explore anything. Once you hit 20th level, well, you feel kind of like “ok thats it, I guess i’ll finish the main quest now”.

    Also, I only discovered how to “zoom” in with the sniper rifle in my second game. Totally different game now that I know how to snipe stuff.

  34. Magnus says:


    all of the above, except change “lack of bugs” to “plenty of bugs, I’m looking at you, unpatched Fallout 2”

    A little more seriously, to add to Krellen’s post, was there really a need to import almost every group or theme from the previous two games, when this is supposed to be set on the other side of the country?

    Or could bethesda not think of anything good enough?

  35. Zaghadka says:

    Can’t wait for the nitpickery.

    I don’t see this as a “good” game though. It’s merely competently produced. This is a game with nice art direction and good voice acting, which is countered by terrible software design and rules design choices and bad, tedious “writing.”

    In RPG, design and writing trump everything else. It’s about time they took the budget for Hollywood actors and graphic artists and put it into design and writing. It’s all that makes an RPG game any good.

    The rest is icing on the cake, not the cake itself. I see Fallout 3 as a big plateful of icing.

  36. Tycho says:

    You really believe Neeson gave a good performance? I would have thought that by know doing his clichéd father/mentor character would’ve rendered him the best FO3 had to offer, alas I found his voice monotonous and lacking in heartfelt delivery. Ron “teh man” Perlman was as good as always, Mr. cLOCKWORK oRANGE was goood and sweeeet as well, but I have to give full kudos to Three Dog’s voice actor. All the rest of the voice acting in rather mediocre.

    You forgot some major home-runs like keeping SPECIAL and the overall atmosphere and feel… now the game is good as you say… it just appalls me how many and how big its flaws are.

  37. Shamus says:

    krellen: Did you find Harold?

    And I thought him being in FO2 was really pushing it!

  38. krellen says:

    Yeah, I found Harold. He wasn’t the worst thing, but he didn’t seem “Harold-y” enough. Not enough wheezing and too much defeatism.

  39. Jock says:

    @Magnus: Yeah, I threw that one in as a red herring ;) And in that case, the only items on that list that I can think of that WEREN’T in FO3 to one extent or another is the isometricism and the turn based combat (and even that’s debateable).

    @Zaghadka: No, it’s all that MADE RPG’s any good. Now I’m not saying that they’re not still important (and as far as design goes I think they actually did a fairly competent job), but we’ve long passed the point where all we had were a few fairly static sprites, some text, and our imaginations to fill out the game world.

    @Krellen: It’s not Fallout because it… tries to be Fallout? Huh? (I know that’s simplifying your argument, but it’s funnier my way)

  40. Jock says:

    @Krellen: On more sober reflection, I shouldn’t have been so flip. You brought up some points that deserve to be addressed. I’ll go down them in order:
    Wooden-ness: Really? You come off of FO1/2 where the NPC’s have maybe a dozen positions total, only a handful even have a face, and even them not particularly expressive ones and you want to talk wooden?
    The Cleanliness of the Wastes: To be fair, you skipped over the wastes entirely in the previous two installments. It’s called the World Map. Even if you didn’t, the East Coast has always been a lot denser in terms of development than the West Coast, especially in the deserts that seem to be the permanent setting of the previous two games.
    Isolated settlements: You mean the 5 shack villages that we see everywhere? They strike me as just so many Republics of Dave, too small to have any sort of connection. The bigger towns, your Megaton’s and Rivet City’s, do seem to have at least open lines of communication (hindered by the fact that Megaton seems to lack any kind of government at all). The problem is that the whole game takes place in what would be (in a world mapped game) about 9 squares centered around DC. We already have hints of other cities elsewhere on the East Coast (eg the Commonwealth), that could in future installments have bigger connections than we’ve seen.
    The super mutants: That’s because these aren’t the Master’s super mutants. You complain about the game for stealing too much, yet you also complain about it when they try to put their own spin on it?
    The vault dweller: Copy-paste rhetorical question.

  41. Illiterate says:

    @Jock — do or do not, there is no try!

  42. Shamus says:

    I think I understand where Krellen is coming from with the “it’s trying to hard to be Fallout”.

    Imagine if they made a sequel to the Princess Bride. Only, instead of using Cary Elwes for Westley, they decided to go for star power and hired Arnold Schwartzenbargle.

    Then, to make up for the fact that “Westley” looks nothing like himself, they try to remind you he’s Westley by CONSTANTLY AND FOR NO REASON having Arnold repeat all the old Westley one-liners from the original movie. It would make the whole thing even MORE painful and forced, instead of easing us into the “new” Westley.

    You zeem a dezent fallow. I hcate to die. Moo.”

    Oh make the bad man stop.

    I really should delete this comment before anyone in Hollywood reads it.

  43. GamerDarling says:

    When you fuse tacos and ice cream it is known as the Choco Taco, aka pure deliciousness.


  44. Bryan says:

    My biggest problem with games like this is the gore factor. It’s bad enough that the jerky, twitchy movements give me motion sickness, but then I have to see spewing blood and flying body parts too? Give me World of Goo any day.

  45. krellen says:

    On the Choco Taco:

    That is an ice cream taco. Shamus talked about taco ice cream. There’s a difference.

    On Fallout:

    Rivet City is the only real major settlement in the DC wastes, especially if you take the better-reward approach and nuke Megaton (living in Tenpenny Tower is just so much nicer than Megaton, and no annoying groupie harassing you every time you enter). The caravans try to exist as some method of connecting Rivet City, Megaton, Canterbury Commons and Paradise Falls, but given the game’s pathing problems and the propensity of said caravans to run afoul of random critters (especially as you level up and the random critters get tougher) they really don’t manage that very well. Other than the “mayor” of Canterbury Commons, there doesn’t seem to be any effort for anyone to communicate with other people in the wastes, and more importantly, no one seems to be able to tell you where anything is; you have to discover them all on your own. Especially given the maze of the DC metro areas, this is a needless pain in the ass. So I have to disagree with your assessment that the communities seem connected.

    One major problem with the feel is that virtually every area is a self-contained unit with little relation to others. The only exception to this I can think of is Arefu and the Meresti station.

    And as for the Wastes in previous games: you could stop anywhere on the world map and go to (an admittedly generic) local map, almost all of which were empty. The DC Wastes feels too cramped, crowded, and crawling with life to be Fallout.

    And Super Mutants: The Super Mutants not being the Master’s mutants is a single throwaway discovery, with a throwaway dialogue option. If it was really Fallout, there would have been more to the discovery than just telling Maxson and being done with it.

    Oh, and radiation is far too deadly (and far too overused) in Fallout 3. Radiation was used as an excuse in Fallout/2, not a hazard.

  46. Hanov3r says:

    For those who haven’t played FO1 and FO2, don’t forget that you can get them at Good Ol’ Games – http://www.gog.com

    (Not affiliated with them, just a fan [as is Shamus, IIRC])

  47. Evangel says:

    @Jock, the characters are wooden because they barely move when they talk, they have trouble showing emotion on their faces and their lines are badly written.

    Compare this with Vampire: TM: Bloodlines and you’ll see how a talented voice actor, character animator and writer come together to bring a character to life. The downside of the increase in technology, is it requires more work (animation and voice acting) to bring a character to life. If you don’t put in that extra work, then your character seems wooden. Whereas all it took in older games, was a few well written lines to bring a character to life.

  48. krellen says:

    And the voice actors (and the lines they were given to deliver) in Fallout/2 were actually good.

    There is nothing in Fallout Myth to compare to “Quite pleased to make your acquaintance actually… for now. Let’s get the other bit of politeness taken care of, shall we? What the bloody, bloody, bloody hell are you doing here!”

  49. Scott says:

    I like this ‘praise before punishment’ format. It might be good to reference back to this post when slamming it though, in case people missed it and think you’re just bashing on it.

  50. Jock says:

    Re:Ahnold Schwarzenwezley-I guess I see it more like a kid brother trying to be accepted in his older sibling’s circle of friends, which he does by acting as much like him as possible. I suppose the end result is the same (the friends aka us are annoyed by the pandering, especially as we can easily see differences), but that doesn’t mean that deep down it’s not related.

    So I think it’s fair to say “It’s not Fallout 1,” because it’s not and nothing could be (Fallout 2 was really just a feature length expansion pack). To take that to the next step and say “It’s not a Fallout Game” is unfair, however, especially given my proposed list of a Fallout Game’s characteristics. If you can provide a different list that contradicts that conclusion, please do so, as I would be very interested in seeing it.

    PS I’m not defending the writing, but I think that at worst that failing makes it “A Badly Written Fallout Game.”

  51. krellen says:

    To put it shortly: Nuka-Cola and VaultTec do not make a game Fallout.

  52. MuonDecay says:

    My huge problem with VATS, and with their combat system as a whole:

    Remember in the original games where you could cripple someone’s limb and it had a tangible effect?

    Notice how in Fallout 3 when you cripple someone’s arm it disarms them for all of 30 seconds while they pick the gun back up? Yes, that’s right, if you horribly cripple both of someone’s arms the only effect is it disarms them twice. They can still pick up their f***ing minigun and wield it perfectly.

    In fact, the ONLY crippled status that has any tangible effect whatsoever is crippled legs.

    You can cripple head, arms, torso… and they don’t really do anything. It’s like having a car with an airbag that can’t be deployed. Why the hell do you install the feature if it doesn’t do anything.

  53. Jock says:

    @krellen: Agreed, it obviously takes more than being in the Fallout setting to make a Fallout game. That is why my list did not contain a single item (The Setting) when asking what made a Fallout game, but instead a plethora of them that when taken in aggregate do so.

    @MuonDecay: Leaving aside questions of accuracy degredation from crippled limbs (ie sure they pick up the gun, but how do you know they’re as accurate with it as they were before), I have to ask if limbs that stay crippled is what makes a fallout game, or even an essential part of one? I ask with the caveat that if you’re just giving a critique to a design choice that annoys you (like how some games only let you save at checkpoints), then I withdraw the question to let you rant in peace :)

  54. empty_other says:

    Well, i for one, welcome the soon arriving and much anticipated GECK (the editor). That is what is going to make this game AWE-SOME.
    What they can do to do this game better:
    1. Add some more music (what they really should have done was to add a mp3 radio channel).
    2. Add some more stuff to the relatively boring underground. Quests and stuff.
    3. More items! Including an old-school power-armor.
    4. Remove the level cap.

    And for the record, i found the main-storyline awesome until the end. The only bad thing was the lack of choices and alternative routes, like the old games had. A thing which is mirrored trough the whole game in general.
    Gone is the difference in my conversation-options and their replies based on my abilities. That was a big letdown.

  55. Jock says:

    Well, old school power armor is actually already in there. It’s at the end of the ‘Shoot them in the head’ quest, and though it doesn’t give you any strength bonuses it is (I believe) the only 100% condition armor you will find.

    Also they do have different dialogue choices depending on your abilities (thoughfully called out with a [Science] or whatever at the beginning of the line to let you know WHICH ability is allowing you to squeeze your quest giver for more caps), though if you meant dialogue choices that lead to substantially different dialogue trees, you’re right they were kind of light on those.

  56. Derek K. says:

    I think you hit it for me, Shamus – I enjoy FO3 a lot. I don’t even complain that it’s not Fallouty enough. But there’s a bit of something that doesn’t click for me.

    But it’s not enough that I don’t get pissed when people slam the game, because it really is a good game, and it tries to be Fallout. It just misses some times. Course, there are some glorious, perfect moments as well.

    And if you’re playing FO3 on console, you’re missing a lot. There are already enough mods out there to change the game to a much better level. And I don’t care about you who say “It should be good w/o mods.” It is. It’s better with them. Just like vanilla ice cream is good, and you don’t fault the people that made it, but it’s better with chocolate syrup.

  57. ehlijen says:

    What made fallout fallout?

    For the original it was the fact that a person from the optimistic, ‘manifest destiny’ following, american 50s style era get’s dumped in an over-the-top trashy, pulp fiction style world filled with the worst humanity has to offer. The whole thing with the vault and the nuke war is just an excuse to make that happen. It’s the constant clashing between “we can achieve anything” and “yo, gimme my beep money!”
    Sure, not everyone was evil or mean, but everyone who wasn’t was usually being threatened by someone who was.

    The story would have worked just as well if the main character had been a time traveller who lands in a future dark age.

    Fallout 2 lost out a bit on that as the main character was truly of the world he was travelling through, but it still sort of had that comparison, only in reverse:
    There were plenty of ‘goodish’ towns while the remnants of the old world were suddenly to worst possible thing to happen to anyone. Sort of a satire on what the manifest destiny means to all those who happen to find themselves in its way.

    Fallout tactics: Erm, well. It wasn’t really a fallout game. It was a turn based tactics game in a nuclear wasteland. It still tried to have some hopeful vs live for now theme going, but the hopeful people were just too outnumbered to have an actual conflict.

    Fallout 3:
    The clash isn’t really there. You live in a vault with selfish control freaks. You escape into a world full of selfish people and isolationist people. The way the past was isn’t really built up as something different from the way the present is and the game tries to cover for that by just throwing in fallout brand names as if that could conjure up the clash necessary to become a fallout game.

    It doesn’t fail completely, there a few moments of brilliance such as tranquility lane. But overall it fails to develop the ‘hope’ vs ‘greed’ clash by not showing the factions as something believable. In the left corner you have the enclave computer with a chronic will to live shortage and in the right corner there’s the brotherhood that for some reason has abandoned all past motivations in favour of ‘lawful good’.
    You end up with an average RPG that replaces orcs with super mutants and paladins with…erm paladins and then fails to deliver a story worthy of the hero that the main character is supposed to be and the player wants to play.

    It’s good otherwise, but it lacks that spark that made fallout new and different.

  58. Jock says:

    See, now was that so hard? :)

  59. Jim says:

    Thank you for writing this up Shamus, I’m really looking forward to the future posts. I enjoyed the FO3 Stolen Pixels, but I was afraid your busy year-end schedule would kill any chance you’d have to delve into further commentary.

    The first time “Butcher Pete” came over my Pip-Boy I think I did a spit take. Hearing it convinced me that the songs were composed for the game and then were recorded to make them sound like they were from the 50’s. I was floored when I found out the that wasn’t the case.

    Fallout 3 has displaced GTA: San Andreas as my all-time favorite sandbox game. As that’s become my genre of choice as I’ve gotten older matured thats not a claim I make lightly.

  60. crazedcucco says:

    I noticed the lockpicking system as being very accurate as well, and actually managed to pick a (simple) lock with a bobby pin and screwdriver. So, yes, very accurate.

  61. Flying Dutchman says:

    Surprised to find some praise!

    I myself love FPS shooters like Halo (yeah, HALO) and I also love Morrowind and Oblivion, “RPGs” how some might call them. I thought I would love a combination of these two most enjoyable themes. I did not.

    To me, Fallout 3 tries to be both and ends up being neither…

    I can’t really tell why I feel this way about it (hence me not being a reviewer), and I’m hoping your future posts will shed some light on this. The only thing I know for sure is that I believe characters are too shallow; there’s not enough to do around the world, and there’s not enough challenging combat to qualify as a good FPS.

    That’s my take on the game. The whole “is it really Fallout-Fallout?”-topic not included, since the discussion is not for me. Never played the other games.

  62. James Block says:

    Joe (#16): Actually, I thought the hacking minigame was rather nicely done. Searching through a memory dump for candidate passwords/keys is an actual technique that is commonly used to recover passwords and encryption keys from an otherwise-secure system. You’d be surprised what kind of junk programs, even cryptographic ones, leave lying around in their memory image.

    Tycho (#36): I agree with everything you said about the voice acting. Three Dog’s voice actor, especially, was a pleasant surprise.

    As for Fallout 3 in general… I’m going to start by confessing my sins and saying that I’ve never played the originals. I really need to go back and do that, but there are so many other games on my list that it’ll probably be a while. I also really enjoyed both Morrowind and Oblivion despite their (especially Oblivion’s) many sins.

    Fallout 3 starts out great. The atmosphere, in particular, is excellent. This is an amazing world design, and it shows. In particular, I think choosing to set the game in DC was an inspired choice, bringing together suburban and urban areas, and combining both with internationally famous sites and iconography. It really works. The story, too, starts out strong: your father has escaped the Vault, and you’re suspected as an accomplice, so you’ve got to escape or risk punishment. Everything moves along decently until you eventually meet up with your father again…

    …and then the main quest goes to hell. Upon reuniting with your father after an amazing little quest, you are treated to one of the shittiest dialog trees I’ve seen in a modern RPG. You basically get to ask your father “What are you doing?”, and then are given two options: unconditionally accept everything he’s done and wave it off, or be furious at him and hate his guts. No middle ground, no ability to ask for background information, no “Why?” allowed. This was the point when I just gave up on the main quest and said “Fuck it, I’m spoiling this game”. Pretty much the entire storyline after this point is also cliched garbage, and the ending… the ending is terrible. Absolutely, completely, unforgivably terrible.

    I think the most annoying thing to me is that what kind of character you choose to play has no effect whatsoever on the main quest. Suffice it to say that your father was a scientist and was working on a Big Mad Science-y Project. At no point after you make contact with him does your character’s Science skill (or any other, for that matter) factor in: my Science skill of 80 unlocked not a single additional dialog option in the main quest, and even if you have a Science and Repair skill of 100 by the end of the main quest, you still [rot13]pna’g cerirag gur jngre chevsvre sebz oybjvat hc (qhr gb “cerffher ohvyqhc”) naq xvyyvat rirelbar hayrff lbh ghea vg ba vzzrqvngryl, ng gur pbfg bs lbhe bja yvsr[/rot13].

    That really pissed me off.

    Throw out the main quest, and Fallout 3 is an awesome game. Include it, and you have yet another goddamn cliched, one-dimensional story. Why can’t game companies hire an actual writer or two? It’s a recession, writers are cheap! Hire some!

  63. MaxEd says:

    Well, combat killed Fallout 3 for me. HATE HATE HATE real-time combat. Also, dungeon crawling (should we say “subway crawling”?). Also first-person view, which makes navigating world much harder for me and dark places much scarier. And texts. The only thing I really liked about this game was graphic and exploration element. If it wasn’t for all those pesky monsters who jump on me and make ME jump in my chair, I’d probably say this game is good. Why I like turn-based combat? Because nobody can SUDDENLY jump on you in turn-based mode.

  64. Evangel says:

    Flying Dutchman, try Deus Ex, System Shock 2 or Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines for examples of FPSRPG type games done well.

  65. Avilan the Grey says:

    I have not gone that far on the main quest yet (have not even been to Rivet City) and I am lvl 13.
    Personally I love this game, and I can’t see why a lvl cap of 20 would make me feel “done”. To me (no matter what RPG I am playing) it has never been about what Level I am. I am building a competent character, I admit (next run might be a more silly build) but I won’t be disappointed when I can’t “grow” anymore.

    As for “too cramped, too much litter, too much radiation…”
    This all takes place in the greater DC area, an area directly hit by nuclear weapons (and for those who claim the city should have been leveled: A) Many nuclear weapons are set to blow up before actually impacting, because it spreads the damage around more than a direct impact (the crater protects the surroundings) B) How much fun would that be. Fallout (all versions) are guided to a large extent on the Rule of Cool, after all)

    I love VATS, I have a VATS-optimized build. I have played this for 20 hours so far and I LOVE the slomo. The zooming in when Murphy gets a perfect hit, and knows it, when an evil smile / smirk spreads on her lips as she pulls the trigger, then follow the bullet (hopefully) through the head of whatever looser she kills… Mmmmmm Brainzzz

    Oh and what disturbs me about the negative points (especially on NMA obviously) is the eerie feeling that somehow, this game has actually insulted a persons religious beliefs. That is what is so… uncomfortable with a lot of the Anti-FO3 fanatics. You suddenly realize how religious wars starts, since a whole forum is nothing but quasi-religious hatred of the “infidels” who likes the game.

  66. Flying Dutchman says:

    Hey thanks Evangel! I’ll take a look at those titles when I’ve got the time and funds.

  67. Josh says:

    As some have said, I can’t wait for you to tear this game to pieces. I feel we all deserve it.

  68. Avilan the Grey says:

    Well yes, I will as always truly enjoy Shamus review.

  69. Krellen says:

    Avilan (@65):

    A direct nuclear strike does not excuse the way radiation is treated in Fallout Myth. In Fallout, you are sent to an underground military bunker that was a direct target of a nuclear strike called “The Glow” by the residents of the waste. You run around the exposed, irradiated first level for several minutes until you find what you’re looking for, and you come out no worse for the wear.

    Considering how much “radiation” is used as a hazard to enforce alternate paths and plot points, I strongly suspect Bethesda simply doesn’t get what “radiation” is supposed to mean in Fallout.

  70. Jock says:

    [geekery] Remember though, that with prevailing winds we would actually expect the East Coast to have to deal with radiation due to, ehem, fallout more than the West Coast. The jet stream blows from west to east, so that’s where the irradiated particulate matter will head. That’s why Chernobyl only really affected the USSR, and not Western Europe. [/geekery]

    [fanboyery] And what the heck do you mean “what radiation is supposed to mean in fallout”? Do you really think that the creators devoted more than a moment’s thought to ‘what is the significance and purpose of radiation in the Fallout universe?’ More likely they just put it where they felt there should be radiation, as did Bethesda. [/fanboyery]

  71. Derek K. says:

    Let me be a bit cynical and ask if there *any* RPGs out there with a good main storyline? I play games for the sidequests and the interactions. The main story is almost always annoying.

    I’m also amused that a game can fail to be Fallout when even Fallout 2 failed in many opinions.

    If you want to go that route, why not criticize Fallout for not being Wastelandy enough?

  72. krellen says:

    Jock: Yes, yes I do.

    It’s important to note how unrealistic the effects of radiation are in Fallout/2. How radiation is used as a justification for all sorts of strange things, from ghouls to radscorpions. How walking in radioactive sludge makes you grow another, fully-functional, toe. These are things we though radiation would do in the 50s, which is the central point of Fallout; it is the future of the 50s, with all the assumptions and misconceptions of the 50s in place. In the 50s, we though radiation was a good excuse to grant super-powers, thus the swath of radiation-empowered superheroes from the time period.

    Radiation doesn’t make you sick and die in Fallout. It changes you.

  73. ehlijen says:

    Rpgs with a good main plot: I liked Kotor and BG2 for their main plots.

  74. Alex says:

    “Let me be a bit cynical and ask if there *any* RPGs out there with a good main storyline?… The main story is almost always annoying.”

    I wish I could comment on the state of storytelling in any of the Fallout games, but my computer can barely run MS Paint as it is, so I won’t be playing them any time soon.

    Nonetheless, and as much as I get what you’re saying, I can think of two RPG’s off-hand with good “main storylines”.

    Final Fantasy IX has a story about several characters trying desperately to be one specific thing in life(an indecisive woman trying to be a respectable, responsible ruler, a damaged young man trying desperately to be the dashing hero, a living doll made for war trying to cope with the parameters of his own existence, etc.). None of them succeed. They all have to face the crippling reality that they are not suited for the roles they’ve chosen in life, and that this poor judgment may very well come at the cost of the well-being of their friends and their world. This is all a part of the main story, and not side-quest material. It is wonderfully written.

    Final Fantasy X is a story of rejection of the tyranny associated with organized religion, the hypocrisy it wields against the public as a sword of righteousness, and the fear of death that it uses to cripple the world. It is told through the point of view of a man who has a lot more going on in his thoughts than he seems able to communicate to a culture and civilization that is alien to him. It is also about his conflicting feelings for a woman who has condemned herself to a depressing fate for the temporary good of the people around her. It’s about what they want to say, and what they decide not to.

    OK, the big twist at the end with the main character is stupid, but for the most part it’s a commendable story.

    I do agree that a lot of video game stories are atrocities. But I believe the RPG(that oh-so nebulous term) is the foremost genre for storytelling in video games, if the people working with that genre are willing to put in the effort. It’s starting to sound a lot like Bethesda did not put in that effort. I don’t know. Couldn’t say.

    But I think if there’s any aspect of Fallout 3 character interaction and plot development that leaves something to be desired, perhaps it’s more the fault of the FPS side of things?

    (Great, I’ve just done the same thing that the person I’m responding to has done: made a blanket-statement assumption about an entire genre of games. The very thing I set out to disprove with this comment. I haven’t even played Half-Life for crying out loud. Who am I to talk about stupid stories in First Person Shooters?)

  75. Namfoodle says:

    Krellen: Although I agree with your characterization of radiation in Fallout getting a “campy” 50’s treatment, you’re wrong about the Glow. There is an effect from the massive radiation

    If you don’t take enough anti-radiation meds before you go into the Glow, you will die, no save.

    “I went to the Glow, and then I died for no reason after I left, what happened?” is a question that you often see on message boards.

    The fact that it is possible to completely protect yourself from radation with a few pills is silly, but if you don’t take them, you fry.

  76. R4byde says:

    Just a quick note to Krellen and anyone else who sees F3 the same way: I suggest you take a look over at NMA (No Mutants Allowed) they’ve got a compilation mod in beta and it trumps vanilla F3 by a huge margin. It’s not 100% lore friendly -I personally think some of the weapons are out of place.- and their are currently some CTD bugs, but over all the gameplay is fantastically better. The combat especially is much improved and is about as close as I can see F3 getting to the originals.

  77. Alex says:

    …So, is there a reason why a comment I submitted hours ago doesn’t appear to exist, or is even acknowledged by the comment-count? This was around when ehlijen most recently commented. Hitting submit with the same comment again directs me to what looks like an fancy error message saying I’ve already posted it, but I don’t even see an “awaiting moderation” preview. It’s usually instantaneous either way. It was a longer comment than most, but not even close to the most wordy featured here so far. If it was rejected or something, I’m fine with that, I’m just really confused right now.

    Your website ate my opinions, Shamus. ='(

    …Which actually sounds pretty cool. Oh well. No biggie.

  78. Evangel says:

    Krellen, radiation in Fallout makes you sick and die. FEV from the direct nuclear strike on West-Tek (now The Glow) caused the radscorpions, deathclaws and all the other wonderful creatures.

    And you don’t walk through radioactive sludge, you walk through toxic sludge, bit of a difference. It’s why you take damage from it burning but you don’t get irradiated.

  79. krellen says:

    FEV did not cause everything, Evangel. Early versions of the Fallout Bible (which is not canon) falsely claims it does. Later versions (version 9, specifically) verify that anything not directly attributable to the Master (which is only Super Mutants, Centaurs and Floaters (and Harold)) is, in fact, created by radiation.

    The idea that any sort of virus, synthetic or not, could survive a direct nuclear blast is ridiculous. Not even 1950s science believed that.

  80. Vegedus says:

    A confusing part of the Fallout 3 debate is differentiating the critique it garners for not being Fallout enough, and the critique of standard game design faults. For instance, some find the voice acting lacking. But the original Fallouts didn’t have much dialogue at all, so that would arguably be more a general design problem. A good story is important in most RPGs (and plays some role in most games), so does the supposedly bad ending detract from the Fallout of Fallout 3? If we assume Fallout 1 and 2 were good games and 3 a bad one, in general, would that make it a bad Fallout or “just” a bad game?

    Of course, if you ask an old school Fallout fanboy, something I am loath to do, anything is fair game to use as a weapon to tell that they can’t truly enjoy the evil Fallout 3.

  81. felblood says:


    When you’re talking about how a game failed to achieve a particular feel or scratch a particular itch, technical failings are always going to be fair game.

    Technical flaws in features that did not exist in the emulated product are going to be the most disruptive thing that could possibly exist.

    In complaining about them, the “fanboys” are effectively saying, “I would have suffered gladly or even enjoyed this change had it been implemented smoothly or skillfully, but it was not and I will not.”

    I never played any Fallout games, but I know the pain of the disappointed fan. You’re looking for another taste of what got you hooked, and when somebody offers you that, he had better deliver, by Blood, or somebody is going to hear about it.

  82. Evangel says:

    Vegedus, Fallout 1 and 2 had tonnes of dialogue. They also had about a dozen talking heads (voice acted) characters.

  83. ehlijen says:

    That fact that fallout 3 doesn’t feel like fallout is not what makes me dislike it. It’s the fact that while it has plenty of good things and potential for more, we instead get it’s ‘main plot’.

    Like oblivion, it’s a game that could have been better, but they chose not to make it so.

    Bethesda deserves praise for attempting to live up to the fallout fame (which at least in part owes it’s size to the fact that the original fallout had almost no competition) and not failing completely (fanboys are difficult to cater to at the best of times), but they do also deserve a smack on the head for once again not living up to their promises.

    AUD$100 for a game that they gave up on halfway through (or so the dialog leads me to believe) is just not fair.

  84. Jansolo says:

    I love hacking computers mini-game too.

  85. Jeff says:

    Fallout 3 is a good game.

    Fallout 3 would be a GREAT game if they actually had writers.

    Reportedly, they said they didn’t have anyone doing dialog specifically, because “they didn’t want to do the dialog game”. That’s… wonderful. Which is why, much like Oblivion, we have this breathtaking gameworld populated by cardboard cutouts with a tape recorder attached to them. The same tape, mind you.

    Also, endings. Would it have killed them? What they did with it isn’t much more than the slideshow at the end of FO1&2, except considerably LESS. Yes, turn based may be out now, but if you’re just going to do the same thing as before, do it BETTER. Fully rendered or MORE endings would be a step forward. Their ending was a step back.

    Seriously. Writers. Not a secondary thing but one of the primaries.

    That said, VATS with a missile launcher is great to watch.

  86. Fean says:

    I have to disagree on several counts.

    VATS. As an FPS fan, I detested the clunky real time combat. It’s second rate at best. As a turn based strategy/rpg fan, I hated the half-assed “turn based without any actual tactics” VATS mode. The game is balanced with VATS in mind, so playing it without is both hard and unrewarding(see above). Using VATS really began to annoy me around level 10.

    It was amusing seeing a head fly off someone’s shoulders the first time. Even the 20th time. Heads rolling and bodies exploding is awesome… until said rollings and explodings happen so often you just wish you could skip that part and play the damn game. Bethesda managed to make me bored with exploding heads.

    I also thought the lockpicking game, while probably the best one I’d played, was still a cakewalk. If it weren’t for the stat requirements on locks, I could have (once again) picked everything in sight. At least they added stat checks to it and an option to auto-pick it.

    The voice acting has gotten a lot better but what’s the point if the dialogue sucks the big one?

    Atrocities commited against mankind and the Fallout universe aside, FO3 was decently entertaining and probably Bethesda’s best game ever. It’s even pretty good most of the time. But I doubt I’ll ever reinstall it again. I’ve probably booted up FO1 and FO2 a dozen times each. This game has no lasting appeal, it’s $50 amusement ride; once it’s over, you step off and that’s that.

    Derek: Planescape Torment is a fairly boring game with a story that could have been a “Grade A+++ would read again” novel.

  87. I’ve enjoyed FO3’s immersiveness. In a lot of ways, I find it better than Fallout 1 and 2. I loved Arcanum, for example, but the idea of randomly searching the world map until you encounter something seems much less immersive than, y’know, EXPLORING, jumping up and down. I felt a real sense of accomplishment very time I came across a power planet.

    @ Krellen: I personally found radiation to be almost a non-issue. With the massive stock of RadAway, I was chowing down on NukaColas even if I had hundreds of Stimpacks just for bottlecaps. If anything, I’d want radiation to be MORE severe. The few times radiation was an issue, of course, it was just too blatant.

    The main plot has a few wallbanger quests and elements, but overall I liked the idea of saving the water of the Wasteland.

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