Fallout is a long and well respected AAA series in the industry, no two ways around that. Even back in the 00’s, its budget was north of a million dollars. However, nobody really talked about it after Van Buren got cancelled… until Bethesda acquired the license and turned the series around, that is. Set for release in 2008 with a trailer that turned heads, it hit gamers, snagging many GOTY awards and forever cementing itself in the “best game evarrr” list for many a gamer not just that year, but forever.
Fallout 3 is really like Oblivion with guns. Well, not exactly. People all look more like angry generic 20-somethings from an American action flick, and all the girls have square jaws to make Guile from Street Fighter cry in shame. It’s also a bit more structured and less free-form. What I mean is, there’s no roleplaying by feeding everyone the conversation pie and making your character literally every NPC’s bestest friend. The general feel is a lot more grounded, although radiation makes for a powerful magic substitute. Still plenty of crabmen, Hulk-ripoffs and raiders to kill.
The first thing that jumps at you is how the world is made. Everything is empty. The last remains of what was once civilization now stand in your way, with debris and destroyed buildings littering the land and making it almost maze-like. As much as Fallout 3 recycles maps, most obviously in sewers and metro stations, the general overworld still feels, for the most part, handcrafted. There’s a few unsurmountable chest high walls and the like, but for the most part Fallout 3 doesn’t break character.
About characters, Liam Neeson plays the role of your variable race-and-face dad. Pre huge fame, so don’t expect any intense and menacing phone speeches. Or much of a tough guy act, really. He’s just a stern, too good for this sinful Earth dad, and then he inevitably dies.
The story touches on very simple, straight-to-the-point plot developments. You are late-teens vault dweller, with a multiple choice past AND job. Son of Mr Goodiepants the resident doctor, and a dead mom (who according to game files, was an elderly black woman – cue the apache blood jokes). Your job is to live and die in the vault, which is fairly uneventful. However, after eating some birthday cake, your dad decides to escape the vault. Without you. How this will strain your relationships with the distrustful vault dwellers apparently flew over the very intelligent man’s head.
This kickstarts the tale of Fumbuck, Esq. survivor extraordinaire, who will walk out into the wasteland and grind its face under their heel until everyone’s enslaved or happy. One or the other. Game has a karma meter and there’s really no middle grounds: You can be Skeletor’s more serious cousin who sells slaves, makes children cry and is casually racist towards zombie people. Or on the other hand, you can be Savior McMessiah, a being of holy grace and compassion that gives clean water to the thirsty, makes children laugh with silly jokes, frees slaves and generally doesn’t stop helping anyone even if they don’t want him to.
In either case, you do a LOT of drugs. And gameplay doesn’t change much. Upon the sliding scale of Action with RPG elements, and Action RPG, Fallout 3 sits very much within the first category. While there’s some support abilities that can help you during a shootout, in general you can stick to bashing things with blunt objects for the most part… then pick up a gatling laser and use it expertly with no prior training. You’ll do more damage the higher your skill is. It is, however, very easy to finish up with a character who has perfect scores in every skill. With some preparation, the Lone Wanderer might even have perfect S.P.E.C.I.A.L stats, making them a rarity among Fallout protagonists. The V.A.T.S system making them invincible also helps.
It’s kind of funny, but Fallout 3, Oblivion and even New Vegas manage to have very adult themes in them with nothing but an implication. Oblivion featured that hidden mechanic wherein chatting up a barfly would end with them at your inn room. Fallout 3 has a shy, teenager walking into the real world and finding prostitutes and drugs. New Vegas kinda jumped the shark with the whole robo-pimping business, but still managed to capture a sense of sleaze and degeneracy to a post-apocalyptic land. Hell, the best customers of Degenerate Hotel are the members of the most civilized society.
In contrast, Fallout 4 still has drugs in it, but every companion will give you stern words of concern every time you shoot up in front of them. It’s almost as if the devs are telling concerned parents how sorry they are. Well, then there’s the tripping ghoul cosplaying John Hancock, but he can easily be written off as a psycho induced hallucination anyway.
The easily relatable story, the fluffy dog, the interesting yet not overtly wordy companions made for a very absorbing game. It’s easy to build a character, it’s fast to level them up, and you don’t need a highly specialized build to beat the game at hardest. Just good aim and a little sense when dealing with threats. Even the bigger threats like Deathclaws can be brought to their knees by a simple dart gun. For everyone else, the game is not shy about its fun energy weapons and explosives, which got nerfed for balancing reasons for the sequel.
Everyone is hammy and over the top, but this makes them memorable. To this day, Three Dog is quoted and known. Every sidequest is largely unrelated, but still manages to be its own thing. Many little pieces make up one big adventure, instead of the larger scale conflict of New Vegas. Not holding back the fun stuff, like power armor and gatling guns, is a great choice. There are many reasons why Fallout 3 scored big with the public, and to this day, if you can get it running, is an incredibly solid game that promises a lot of fun.