“Bethesda’s fall from grace is as depressing as this game’s setting.”
I once said that I would never review Fallout 3, but with a lack of games to review at the moment (I need to buy more!) I’ve had to dip into my collection a bit and pick something to review. Fallout 3, a game that I’m not afraid to express my dislike for, stood out over quite a few other games. So now here I am, ready to review a game that an overwhelmingly large portion of gamers like. This is going to be good!
Before its release, I didn’t really pay much attention to Fallout 3. I had played Fallout 2 and couldn’t get into it at all, mostly because the combat system felt far too dated for my tastes. That dislike for Fallout 2, along with the “wasteland” setting that the series is set in, was all that I had to go on with Fallout 3. The fact that Bethesda, the developer of the Elder Scrolls series which I have a love-hate relationship with, was in charge of the new Fallout was enough for me to ignore what I knew about the series from Fallout 2 and focus on this brave new installment in the popular franchise.
A lot of people pegged Fallout 3 as “Oblivion with guns” before it was released, a view that the diehard Fallout fans did not appreciate to hear. I was in the “Oblivion with guns” camp, which is interesting since I wasn’t a huge lover of Oblivion. I still looked past my feelings for Oblivion though, because Fallout was very different overall from the Elder Scrolls, so I assumed that the game would play very differently overall. Boy, was I ever wrong.
When I picked up Fallout 3, I was actually very impressed with the opening sequence for the main menu. The subdued music, coupled with the projector slide-like presentation, had me sold. It gave me a great feeling for this game, as I felt that Fallout 3’s main menu was the coolest I’ve ever seen in a Bethesda game.
Unfortunately, once I got to the character creation process, I was already starting to feel cautious. Everything felt like it was copied and pasted straight from Oblivion. The faces, sliders, and options all reeked of Oblivion. I also realized that like Oblivion, it was extremely challenging to create a decent looking girl or guy. Actually Fallout 3 makes it even harder, since you have to view your character on this ridiculous looking ingame computer screen which lacks everything from proper clarity to adequate contrast. Your character’s face in the computer screen looks much different from how they actually end up, which is simply because the visibility on the screen is so terrible. I’ve never seen anybody make such a crucial mistake with character creation, and it’s pretty shocking that Bethesda messed it up so much after the high quality of their character creation processes in the latest Elder Scrolls games.
I won’t even get into the part where you play as a baby, but I realized very quickly from playing through Vault 101 that Fallout 3 suffered from many of the problems which made me feel lukewarm towards Oblivion.
In Oblivion, facial animations were absolutely terrible and the voice work was cringe-worthy. I remember feeling upset over how poor the lip syncing was, and how the tone of the characters’ voices never matched their expressions. It was a little odd to see a character scream at me angrily while keeping a completely calm, straight face. Fallout 3 did not improve upon any of these and, in some cases, I actually felt that Bethesda took a step backwards and made these issues more prominent. Fallout 3 also copies Oblivions poor body animations and terrible physics, making the game’s characters behave and move like psychotic freaks on very wild trips.
While the game was overall fairly decent looking, at least outside in the Wasteland, a lot of problems with model animations and such really hurt the visual presentation of the game and if you ignore the game world and just focus on the models themselves, the game as a whole looks like a very amateurish experimental game.
The immersion is destroyed even further by the dull music in the game. I’m not sure who composed the tunes for Fallout 3, but it wasn’t even close to the high quality that I typically expect of music from Bethesda. Why didn’t they utilize Jeremy Soule, the composer of the awesome tunes in Morrowind and Oblivion? Those games were immersive from their music alone! Fallout 3’s music is boring, quiet, and lacks the depth needed to connect to me as a player.
The Wasteland, which is the wilderness you traverse through, is pretty decent looking. Unfortunately, it suffers from the same problems that Oblivion’s neverending forest was plagued with. The Wasteland, while cool looking at first, quickly grows fairly boring as a lot of things simply look the same, and like Oblivion, I found myself feeling a lot of deja vu frequently due to a nagging feeling that Bethesda used copying and pasting to an extreme level. The interior areas, such as the Vaults and city buildings, are extraordinarily boring. Maybe that fits the whole post-apocalyptic setting, but then perhaps Bethesda should have made that very setting more visually appealing. Even Oblivion had more interesting looking interiors.
The combat. Oh, how I hated the combat! Fighting baddies in this game was the most boring experience I have ever had to endure. The VATs system, which I hear was supposed to simulate the turn based battle system of the original games, made Fallout 3 an annoying trial of my patience. All VATs did was serve as a way to slow combat down drastically just so that we could get a few glimpses of body parts exploding. Yeah, no thanks.
The menu system in Fallout 3 is beyond horrible. The Pipboy interface, while somewhat cool looking, was just an awful mess. Having to scroll through so many different menus, all which did their damndest to keep themselves from being user friendly, was an absolute chore. There’s far too much clicking, scrolling, and navigating for the menus in Fallout 3 to be at all efficient.
There’s little that I wish to say about the story, other than the “searching for dear old dad” story has been done to death and, in many cases, has been done far better than what Bethesda has managed in Fallout 3. I never felt compelled to do anything in this game. The writing is dull and every character I met had the personality of a mattress. I didn’t want to help any of those people, and I didn’t really care about finding my father, either. Why should I have? Why should anyone have wanted to find him? Bethesda forced us to care about a character that we only knew for a few minutes, and then based the opening portion of the game around finding him. When you do find him, it’s not even any bit overwhelming. I couldn’t have cared less. Bethesda dropped the ball somewhere with the story here, and I couldn’t connect with it at all. Morrowind had a fantastic story and Oblivion, while being a pain in the ass in terms of gameplay, had a good story too. Fallout 3 does not.
I know that many people like Fallout 3, so I can’t say “don’t play this game” nor can I not recommend it. I’m in the minority, and I’ll acknowledge that few others share my opinions. Fallout 3 is a mainstream game with hugely mainstream appeal. If you feel confident that you will like Fallout 3, then give it a go.