I am old enough to have played the original game when it first came out in 1997. I was a great fan of the series that followed and, thus, was very eager to get my hands on this latest installment. In a short sentence: Fallout 3 is a dream come true.
It is a cRPG game in which the player can alternate between the First and Third person perspective roaming a world comparable in size with Oblivion. The action has moved from Vault 13 and Southern California to Vault 101 and Washington, D.C. and the story brakes away from the previous bloodlines. However, the atmosphere of the original has been maintained and its scents sharpened: veterans will find it fitting like and old glove - whereas the new gamers are in store for a bag of pleasant surprises.
The graphics are wonderful, the guns detailed and the environments highly interactive. Short of a screenshot, imagine what would HalfLife-2 would look if released today. And similar to HL2, Fallout 3 does not require an...übercomputer to run smoothly. Once you see a NPC move though, you understand where the corners were cut.
Character customization is carried out in great style using the new and improved PIP-BOY at the beginning. You exit the vault and the harsh reality of a world that barely survived annihilation slaps you on the face. Adapt or perish.
The main storyline is there to be followed but Fallout 3 offers the greatest number of alternative choices I have ever encountered in a game! There is always a great number of paths to follow in order to achieve any goal - but every choice comes with a consequences tag. This is common feature of most classic cRPGs but in Fallout 3 I saw it implemented like never before. If nothing else, this sends replayability through the roof.
Side-quests offer little besides distraction and experience points (XP) to be spend on character improvement. XP are gained solely by completing quests, emerging victorious from fights, finding locations, picking locks and hacking terminals - and they are not limited by the action they were earned. Levelling up is based on 7 basic attributes [Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility & Luck - acronym?;)] that, in turn, affect your (13) specific skills. Since levellingup is capped at Level-20, the game designers wanted to encourage replaying the game. On the other hand, it also means that your character will never realize its full potential (in case you are wondering why I withheld a star from fun, that's the second half of it).
The game is violent and gory but well within tasteful limits. Not so with the language - but it is tradeoff with realism. In a radioactive world, Sunday-school niceties are bound to go out the window.
What deserves a special mention is V.A.T.S. (:Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System) which opens new vistas in cRPG design. It is an ingenious system which lets you pause the game and target specific body parts of your opponents. The success of your attack still depends on your skills but the end effect is cinematic and amazing (remember the movie Swordfish?).
After the nuclear summer of 2008 (with all the LimitedInstallation-defective EA releases), this seems like a postapocalyptic dawn indeed! Bethesda decided to listen to the gaming community and did not cripple this beautiful game with any idiotic DRM scheme. Inputting a serial number and a DVD-check is more than reasonable.
The publishers of Fallout 3 understand that there is a fine balance between "protecting the product" and..."insulting your own customers". And they obviously view respect as the two way street that it is - and for this they deserve our support: buy this game, today.
Voting with our wallets is the only argument the gaming industry cannot afford to ignore. And it is about time to cast some well deserved positive votes.