Thursday, November 20, 2008

Fallout 3 (PC) Impressions

Fearless Leader recently mentioned that We, the Staff (TM) were playing through the PC version of Fallout 3. We dutifully promised that We would post our impressions of the game, followed by a full review once we had completed a full playthrough of the game. Fallout 3 is a Bethesda Softworks product, very much in the vein of their Elder Scrolls series of games, most specifically 2006’s The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.

We, the Staff (TM) did not play through the original Fallout or Fallout 2, which were released in 1997 and 1998, respectively, and published by the now-defunct Interplay. With the exception of a very brief exposure to 2000’s Fallout Tactics, Fallout 3 counts as Our first exposure to the Fallout universe. Anyway, Bethesda obtained the rights to the franchise, and have now delivered us a proper sequel to the Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and PC platforms. Since we are currently without our X360 in the UK, and have only our laptop available to us, We thus invested in the PC version of Fallout 3.

Fallout 3 can easily be described as Oblivion with Guns. Bethesda, as usual, have produced a very deep, expansive game world to explore. Fallout 3 takes place in the post-apocalyptic vicinity of Washington, DC. It follows well and truly in the spirit of the franchise’s blend of post-apocalyptica with 1950’s societal values. That is, while you are exploring the nuclear-ravaged landscape, you see constant remnants of the society that existed at the time of the universe’s nuclear holocaust (circa 2077). The norms of 2077 are strangely similar to those of the ‘50s, and the events of the game take place some two hundred years later, in 2277.

You begin the game in Vault 101. The Vaults are vast, underground facilities that were established as a means of preserving 2077 society. Your character perceives the story from the moment of their birth, and the story fast-forwards through your childhood until you are 19 years old. At this point, your father mysteriously leaves Vault 101, and you set off to find him. Thus you are exposed to the vast, external, nuclear-ravaged world.

Once out in the world of the DC Wasteland, as it is referred to in the game, you are pretty much free to do whatever you please, whether you set off immediately for Dear Old Dad or go off and explore with no particular direction. This is typical of Bethesda’s previous game worlds – you can either pursue the seemingly crucial main story/quest, or promptly give all that the virtual finger and go wherever you want.

Setting up your character is guided by the Fallout universe’s seemingly proprietary S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system. That is, Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility and Luck. You select your particular attributes at a very early stage and go off to explore the world.

Gameplay wise, Fallout 3 is most enjoyable in a very similar way to Oblivion. You gradually progress from level 1 through to level 20 (the Fallout series has always instituted a level cap at 20, unlike some other RPGs such as Oblivion). Our character is currently at level 8. Like Oblivion, enemies have a tendency to level up with you, so combat remains a challenge throughout. Fallout 3 also introduces the VATS (Vault-Tec Assisted Target System). It allows you to temporarily shift the dynamics of the game’s combat system from real-time to semi-turn based, and target specific areas (head, torso, limbs) of an enemy. Theoretically, this is supposed to result in a “bullet-time” style, graphic depiction of your enemy’s end. This sounds fine on paper, but thus far, even though Our character is at level 8, this system fails miserably more often than not. We usually just wind up blasting (or slicing/pounding in the case of melee weapons) excessively until Our enemies are no more.

Visually, Fallout 3 certainly succeeds in portraying a very realistic post-apocalyptic environment. It was quite an experience when our character first emerged from Vault 101 into the DC Wasteland. Clouds of dust swirl, ruined buildings can be seen on the horizon, and no vegetation save for stunted grass and dead trees permeate the landscape. PC system requirements are not terribly steep, but a current system is needed to properly take advantage of the higher settings.

Aurally, Fallout 3 casts a mood similar to Oblivion. Whilst you are exploring the wide-open wasteland, ethereal and exploratory music sets in. Once you encounter some enemies, the music changes accordingly. Sound effects are very capably produced, and help with the immersion.

Aside from the development work that has gone into the game, We, the Staff (TM) have noticed one annoying setback with the game’s integration with the Games for Windows label. The game has achievements, like any X360 title, but logging these achievements are dependent upon the installation and proper operation of the Games for Windows Live application. We, the Staff (TM) had a peculiar bug where once we patched the game outside of Live’s auto-update feature, it lost all connectivity to Live. Thus, no achievements were logged until we resolved this issue by reinstalling the entire game and patched it through Live. We do not fault Bethesda for this bug, but Live (i.e. Microsoft) itself.

We have thus far logged sixteen hours of play time with our first character in Fallout 3, and will post a complete review once We’ve finished our first playthrough.

-The Staff

1 comment:

Juxtapose said...

Nice impressions. I'm very much looking forward to this one.