Wednesday, January 14, 2009

thoughts on Fallout 3

If I ever give Fallout 3 a full, structured review, it will probably be many months from now. It's a big game and there are too many others to play, too many other things to do. But here are some random impressions.

I've been focusing on exploration and side quests. I've only recently blown up the town of Megaton and haven't yet been to downtown DC.

First off, this is not a game for quick and casual consumption. Sure, you might boot it up every once in a while just to make someone's head explode like a watermelon, but the game really shines after you've played it a long while. In fact, I'd say odds are that the more you play it, the more you'll enjoy it. That's how it's been with me. When I first got the game, I wasn't very excited by it. Now, after what probably amounts to somewhere over 40 hours of play, I can't wait to continue my game.

And I can't wait to start new characters! The perk system is really impressive. Every time you level up, you choose another perk. And the order in which you choose perks has almost as great an effect on your game experience as which perks you choose.

For example, I only started applying skill points and perks for Science at level 16, so I've only been able to a few of the many computer terminals I've run across. I also put off the Sandman perk until now, which lets me kill NPCs in their sleep for great xp. On the other hand, I've devoted many skill points and perks to Small Guns (conventional weapons -- rifle, handgun, uzi, shotgun, etc), so combat has gone much smoother than it probably would have otherwise. Early on, I chose a perk which lets me scavenge more ammo than usual, making ammo less of a factor in gameplay.

My character also has low charisma and no perks for Speech or Barter. Only rarely have I been given a special speech option during dialog. The next character I'm going to try will focus on charisma and unarmed combat. In a world full of people with guns, that should be interesting.

The game seems to have a ton of replayability. Playing through familiar quests is never as fun as the first time, but many quests in Fallout 3 have consequences for dialog choices that go far beyond NPCs merely liking you or disliking you, positive and negative reactions. For example, I stole money from a vendor's safe yesterday, as I had stolen from countless other vendors. None of the others said a word about it. This one not only complained about the theft, but closed up shop and left the settlement! It was only after I had stolen from her that I realized she would leave and that she's the only vendor who sells room decorations for my apartment. Players must also choose whether or not to blow up Megaton, whether or not to help the ghouls (people distorted by radiation), whether to help the slaves or the slavers... and also more subtle decisions like which vendors to aid, who to believe, and how blunt or polite to be in conversations.

The need to repair weapons seems more annoying than immersive. The limited ammo encourages players to explore different weapons, so repair isn't needed for that aim. I had a good amount of strength and have always carried many weapons, so perhaps repair matters more when you carry only a few. But I'm not convinced the Repair skill improves gameplay significantly. That said, it's not a big deal.

I run across bugs from time to time. Bugs are to be expected in PC games, since PCs vary so much from person to person, but they're a bigger problem in console games. I play the game on the 360. My Sneak status occasionally gets stuck as "Caution" (meaning someone's aware I'm around and is searching for me) when nothing is near. The more common, and more annoying, bug is a graphical glitch that stretches a surface or pixel across the screen when I turn. Oblivion has a similarly huge world and has never given me that problem. In fact, no other 360 game has.

Some of the voice-acting is superb, but most of it is mediocre or worse. For a game with so much dialogue, this is a big problem. After playing Oblivion, I quickly learned to ignore it.

The world design is impressive. The bleak landscape wears thin after a while. The limited color palette fits the setting, but it certainly hurts the replayability and freshness of each play-session. The Alaska DLC will be a very welcome addition. Still, the gameworld feels carefully crafted and arranged. If I could take screenshots on my 360 version, I would be doing it all the time. I've been using my map a lot this time through, but it would probably be more immersive to just use the compass and landmarks. Despite the many broken bridges, destroyed homes and such, I rarely confuse one place with another. The variety of creatures seems small for so large a world, but they are well-designed.

Overall, I'm loving Fallout 3. I didn't in the beginning, but it's steadily growing on me.

1 comment:

  1. I just picked up Fallout 3 a few days ago. Undecided about it so far, but I'm not far along yet. I've been to Megaton and gotten the quests, then went to the little shanty town on the bridge to deliver the letter to the West family. I think I'm only like... level 2 or 3? Seems I need to level more to continue but no idea what to do in order to level...

    Ironically, picking up Fallout 3 somehow got me playing GTA4 which I got at launch and never really stuck with me. I just finished Chapter 1 yesterday and the first mission in Chapter 2. I still despise the driving mechanics/physics though.


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