** Forewarning - MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT ** ** Forewarning - MASSIVE WALLS OF TEXT ** I'm a fan of Fallout and I have an opinion. However, what I am going to attempt is an analysis/review of Fallout 3 without being partial to either side of the coin. I prepared myself for Fallout 3 by playing the older Fallout games. Played through Fallout 1, 2, and Tactics a few times, and even stomached a few hours playing the console abomination Brotherhood of Steel. I remember playing Oblivion long ago, but honestly other than remembering the intro and red oval gates I don't recall much of its gameplay. Bethesda claims it's a Fallout game as best as they could make it, so I prepared myself accordingly to judge it by its past incarnations more than its peers and code genetic relatives. The goal of this first week [took longer than a week -Ed] of playing was determining whether or not Fallout 3 was indeed a Fallout game, in the sense that it not only retained key features that made Fallout the memorable (and still fun to play) game it is, but also that the translation to a new developer and presentation medium didn't dilute the core feeling, story telling, and exploratory freedom I expect from a Fallout game. My no-compromise criteria for the new Fallout game was meeting or exceeding what I consider to be the hallmarks of the Fallout intellectual property: Moral ambiguity, dark humor, unique and iconic visuals, and ultra-violence. After that, I wanted to see Bethesda make effort to uphold deeper Fallout values within the IP: No BOS-esque careless abandonment from canon, a storyline that draws you in but does not strangle you, survivalist options, and a wide variety of ways to accomplish a single task both in intention and execution. To clarify, the list is not ordered singularly in priority, more like it must have all of Column A and it must contain elements of each or all of Column B. I wasn't expecting a game similar to Fallout 1/2/Tactics, but hell if I was going to lower my standards. Now to help you understand my slant, lemmie tell you what kind of Fallout fan I am. As much as I am a fan of the Fallout 1/2/Tactics games, I am a slightly bigger fan of the Fallout setting/lore. That is to say, I enjoy the factions, environment, and history of Fallout slightly more than the actual gameplay mechanics and RPG system. Best comparesion would be a Star Wars fan who enjoys the technical universe, canon, and lore more than professional interpretations of the Star Wars intellectual property. Products get me interested, but the depth of the intellectual property gets me hooked. When reviewing a media product release such as a video game, there are pretty much three factors you have to take into account: What is a production critique, what is an implementation critique, and what is a hindsight critique. Production critique is analyzing what the creators conscious intent was, such as art design, lore, story, and anything decided before "pen hits paper". Implementation critique is the (in the case of video games) analysis of gameplay mechanics, map design, structure, and overall translation of pre-production into the product itself. Hindsight critique is the reactive opinion of the delivery of the product, taking into account little or big things that perhaps the creators could not see but consumers can. Any blame will land squarely on the creators, but it's instead a gage of how much the creators are going to hell for based on the type of critique. With the preface out of the way, let's begin with my final summarized opinion of the product, which is Fallout 3 is the best fan-made Fallout FPS we could have hoped for. Interpret that as you may. The introduction is on par with prior Fallout games, save actual animation within the "slideshow". No real risk taken, it's safe, but it's part of the iconic visuals of the Fallout franchise. Once that's done, we come to the tutorial portion of the game, which in itself is a new interpretation and presentation of character creation that some RPGs have done, as opposed to PnP sheet stating up front. It's a story vehicle with avatar creation elements, plain and simple. Part of what strikes me in the first sequences is the absences of little touches that could have really emotionally tied you to characters introduced. For example, as a baby you're pretty much yanked out and put on a trolley left to squirm while Daddy dotes over you and Mom dies. I'm fairly disconnected from Mom's death, something that could have been solved by a simple camera and animation event to place me right next to Mom so I can briefly see her, hear her heart beat begin to stagger, and then be yanked away as Dad tries in vain to save her. Additionally, as a one year old, walking over to Daddy is nice, but I sure am fast as a baby. A simple head view wobble and slower speed could have completely sold me. The infant cries and baby "Dadda" coos were nice touches, but ultimately in hindsight using the "E" button for that little egg is ultimately secondary to intrinsic gamer WASD behavior. The birthday and GOAT do a better job of introducing gameplay elements than the Temple of Trials in Fallout 2, plus that what you do in the tutorial means more in the long run than just a simple "pathed sandbox time waster" later on. The zoom-in talking head mechanic isn't a terribly jarring one, it fits the the mold to keep gameplay within the same world, as opposed to a different screen for every action you take, much like lockpicking and hacking. Another hindsight complaint is not taking advantage of the Overseer's post "Ha-HA! Now I can kill you!" dialogue where if you hide your weapons and don't have any on you, he runs for the nearest weapon (most likely your container) to pick up a gun and try to kill you. I put a police baton inside the cell in the hopes of tricking him and locking him in the cell. Or even perhaps a tangent of you getting locked in that cell (and Amata busting you out later). Turns out that day you can't lock people in the cell, and the Overseer just chases you till you get to the vault door map. Just another alternative non-violent path overlooked. Tutorial behind us now, and the option to save the game before you hit the "Make Any Changes Now" checkpoint to skip the tutorial in later replays, we hit the road. Megaton: One of the most toted good/evil landmarks of game from marketing hype. It's a production decision of putting one of the largest choice/consequence elements in the beginning, as opposed to traditional smaller more benign offerings to start with. It's not a bad idea conceptually to introduce that decision, the real fault is what rides on that decision, and how soon the element can be resolved. Defusing the bomb or arming the bomb can be pretty much solved immediately upon entering Megaton, and the caveat to the event is basically either one of two places where you'll have a safe place to stash your loot. I wouldn't advocate simple/complex buffer material such as gaining town trust and whatnot to lock off resolution, but the established release pacing of this event is jarring. Nothing stands out in my mind as to a "correct" way to do this other than upping the skill requirements to defuse/arm the bomb. If anything this event should act more as a supplement to your character's behavior rather than one of the more defining aspects of your exploits outside of the main quest. Hell even Dad calls you on it, and while yes it was a big event, it seemed so long ago that I felt I had done better things with my time than just be judged on that one event. Outside of Megaton (or any major "town" for that matter) is where the spirit of Fallout lies. The DC-Metro area is beautifully and breath-takingly realized, from the languished suburban outskirts to the interior urban devastation. It's a simple production premise: take the square area of what would be about nine squares around a town location approximate to Fallout 1/2/Tactic's maps, and exfoliate. The translation of Metro stations into "dungeons" works, an enclosed town/village feels somewhat same unless you start poking sore spots and evil buttons, you could use local land marks to navigate, pretty much every place I set my foot down in feels different from another place. Compared to current contemporaries in the game market, using the various shades of brown and grey no less, this is an impressive feat. Vaults look and feel like vaults, the destroyed housing looked like war had ravished them, and Capitol Hill certainly looked the part of a post-apocalyptic world (though I would smack whoever was in charge of Chinese/Russian nuke targeting, I wanted to see a dustbowl crater in the Mall). Course, wandering around outside in a Fallout setting begs for some mutated monstrosity to try and murderize your Vault pure genetics. Again I have to give the art production team some kudos for translating a lot of Fallout's "staple" critters into the 3D world, and injecting some of their own creations equally as well. The Deathclaws are what they should be, the Super Mutants made the transition with good results, Feral Ghouls still give me a spook from time to time, and the Mirelurks (the crab forms, I have issue with that creature from the black lagoon, bad BethSoft) look like a crab fisherman's nightmare. Fallout 3 deviates from the prior titles in that most critters do not want you to escape, and are proactive about it, where as in previous titles you could get to the edge of the map and forget the whole thing happened. I can honestly welcome that kind of behavior, because it's a good thing that the game can stand up for itself and call bullshit on the player's shenanigans if you're poking the bear so to speak, and requires more pacifistic players to take into account timing and a certain amount of luck. However, I do have a complaint, and that is it seems too much was brought over from Fallout 1/2. Radscorpions in DC, or molerats for that matter? The Yogi Bears and Crabs were nice local flavors, but it felt like BethSoft wanted to make us feel right at home to a fault. Where are the mutated deer that try to run into the grill of my car late at night, or giant rabbits that keep eating my blueberry bushes when I try to grow'em. Additionally, I can understand the need to make the Raiders look like "free to kill" target practice, and I subscribe to the "people are goofy" school of deviant behavior, but seriously: Why does it seem every goddamn raider huddlehole look like it was decorated by Leatherface? Yes we killed Raiders all the time in Fallout 1/2/Tactics because they'd shoot first, but I'm sure not every Raider likes to turn their living space into a macabre art exhibit. That was a poor design choice in my opinion. Not everything in the Wasteland that has a heartbeat wants to instinctively kill you the minute they see your denim Vault jumpsuit, some take the right amount of (anti)social encouragement, and we are of course talking about the NPCs. Design-wise I like the look of them, they have a nice worn look to them both in their apparel and modeling. Beyond that, there are either glaring issues or nothing to make up for them. The Radiant AI makes another appearance, but in the long run is sometimes indistinguishable from standard hard scripted events in regards to "daily life" cycles. The facial animations, while not horrible, convey the same amount of empathy as a stop-motion Mr. Potato Head. The arm animations when NPCs talk, as well as the FPP weapons shoot/reload animations are nicely done, but the walk/run cycles are pretty stiff. BethSoft doesn't deliver roses on the animation front, and while it doesn't seem like a terrible thing to provide just enough, judged against past and present products the difference is becoming more noticable and less acceptable. Five years ago these animations would have been welcome, but in this day and age they're behind the curve. They really need to reevaluate their character animation branch before developing their next title. Interaction with these NPCs typically take place in dialogue, and therein lies one of BethSoft's big hiccups. As a product on its own, the quality of the writing is adequate, and there are places where the dialogue is great, but in between those moments is a sea of bland, easily forgettable interactions. There is a lot of dialogue towards you between characters that is redundant, and topic choices with unique characters feels like I'm just trying to hear everything a person has to say much like Mass Effect did, rather than while being a NPC exsisting for a purpose he/she does has a life of its own. Conversely, the audio notes and terminal entries are VERY well done and perform their function so well I went out of my way to find as many of them as I could, and looked forward to each gem more than talking to any NPC. The Vault 92 entries/holotapes in particular stand out in my mind. I am not going to say the dialogue writing was dumbed down for console releases, but I will say BethSoft missed the mark by a fair margin when it comes to engaging dialogue. They feel more like a question and answer session than a conversation between two people. But I'm going off on a tangent, this is an RPG, right? Technically, it is an RPG, but only in the comparative sense that current Zelda games are RPGs. In fact, it feels more like a JRPG than a western RPG, because the RPG system in Fallout 3 allows players to typically come to the same end no matter the path taken, with no "fork-in-the-road" consequence for neglecting certain elements. The SPECIAL system BethSoft converted for Fallout 3 pretty much allows players to specialize in skills they want to, and be a jack of all trades with the other skills, barring the occasional "You must be this tall to ride" skill checks for lockpicking/traps/hacking. The game is simply heaving with stat/attribute boosting items, and you can literally improve all your skills by 60 points in this 100 point max system with books/bobbleheads if you explore enough, not taking into account other skill modifying items and attributes. The altered perks system doesn't feel like I'm missing something by choosing one over the other no matter the playstyle I'm currently doing. While it's nice to see skills play a part in dialogue options more than previous Fallout games, the overall jist I feel from the system seems that BethSoft wanted to make a "safe" RPG: A RPG where every player can have the same enjoyable experience others can without feeling like they're missing out on something someone else would do. While this may work for a separate game on its own merits, it is not RPG system that reflects the strength of the Fallout series, and it castrates its heritage in this regard. Speaking of interpretations of Fallout gameplay elements, we turn our attention to BethSoft's answer for turn-based combat in a FPS setting: VATS, as it was a major advertised feature, so it will receive an equal amount of attention. VATS is fun, plain and simple, especially coupled with Bloody Mess and Mysterious Stranger, and it seems its development was centered around those two perks. Design and implementation of VATS, from Action Points, body part targeting percentage based on the actual realtime position of the critter, to the slow motion radical camera angles, was done exceedingly well and surprised me as to what could be done in a Gamebryo engine product. While these are nice things, VATS and the combat system it exsists in take a lot out of the tactical elements of combat, especially later in the game when your two options in VATS boil down to either disarm, "disarm", or kill. While it is a slight suspense of disbelief that shooting off a limb will instantly kill a critter, we are admittedly far off from a FPS game system where incapacitating a critter allows more options as to what to do with them, although the Sierra SWAT games did have this element to an extent at a primitive level. We as gamers have been trained to kill things and kill them until they are dead, but someday we'll have the added moral choices of disabling someone and leaving them to die, or injuring them just to scare them off. But that's a topic of discussion for another time. Which leads us to our last point before returning from exploring everything but the main quest, the Karma system. What BethSoft has engineered is a fairly black and white good/bad system that doesn't allow a lot of grey interpretation, except if you're consciously trying to cut back on the amount of one side you have. Self interpretation of justifying acts of vengence or preservation aren't available because the game does have a certain predetermined color-by-numbers application of who/what is "good" and who is "bad". I can understand that stealing in universally considered "evil" and should call players on their actions as such, no matter if you were seen or not, because that's how Karma is supposed to work: the omniscient eye of God calling a spade a spade. However, there are hiccups in this black and white system. While I'm not saying you should be able to kill Agatha in cold blood and then think you did the "right thing", but an example that stand out in my mind is the Tenpenny Tower quest where you either help the purist humans, the purist ghouls, or decide to mediate a coexsistence between the two. Later on if you chose the coexsistence option, the ghouls simply kill every smoothskin off. I don't mind the fact they do that, but what irks me is that you cannot come back as angry Jesus and make them pay for their sins, because according to the Karma system they're still "good", thus you'll get negative karma for punishing their treachery. Without going into a long theological discussion of what constitutes a good or evil act, this is a bad oversight by BethSoft wanting nearly every moral decision to have a karmatic consequence as good or evil. Now that we've explored most of the interesting parts of the game, we return to the main story, the reason why you've been forced out of the Vault. Considering RPG games of the past are just as guilty of threading their storyline across multiple new locations in the world they exsist in, it is somewhat nice to see that some previously established locations in Fallout 3 are reused as opposed to abandoned in favor of a "NEW!" place, however it does have its share of temporary "NEW!" locations which don't have anything to offer but plot chapter exposition (like Raven Rock for example). The DC Metro area itself is fairly rife with isolated communities that by and large you don't have much of an effect on if you do things right, and fairly obvious if you just kill'em all. While I like the idea that not every action and decision you make will have epic and long lasting ramifications at the epilogue, mainly because Fallout 3 is the equivalent of one town in Fallout 1/2/Tactics as stated above and there is a concurrent version of the results via Three Dog's radio announcements of your actions, it feels like the amount of isolation between communities is almost superficially designed with no wiggle room. With the amount of publicity Three Dog gives you, you'd think someone outside of Megaton might recognize you, or know of something you did. The main story itself strikes me as more of your Father's story, rather than your story. This itself is not a bad idea, in fact a good one, but the lack of depth and buildup between you and your Father, as well as a lack of tales of his accomplishments outside his Project Purity failure leads that element to be rather shallow. Liam Neelson does all he can to make the player connected to Dad, and it works solely because of his voice acting work, but the amount of screen time he gets after the Vault and his subsequent death cuts him off in a emotionally detached way far more than his inital abandoning you in the Vault. While I understand the intent to allow evil characters to differentiate themselves from the Save-the-World Dad, time and distance does not do that, interaction and reflection does (this writer knows that despite the effort he's gone to distance himself from his father, he knows he is more like his father than sometimes he cares to admit). Along the path through the main quest, there are support characters to assist or resist your progression. Some are distinct and rememberable, however many are easily forgettable and bothersome for a variety of reasons. It doesn't have to do with the sheer amount of voice-acted characters in comparison to past Fallout titles, but rather most are presented in such a shallow manner and exsist for primarily a single purpose. NPCs like Three Dog, Agatha, President Eden, Moira, Father, and Scribe Rothchild are characters I will remember beyond the day I stop playing Fallout 3 because while they are a part of my travels, they are designed in such a way that I intrinsically know that short of murdering them they will continue their lives without the need of my presence and interaction to validate their exsistence. However, characters like Ian West, Lucas Simms, Sarah Lyons, Vance, Burke, Colonel Autumn, and Pinkerton are characters that honestly cease to exsist when I don't see them, and even when I do are more akin to a familiar looking car in a traffic jam on the highway. Some possibly forgotten characters do have their moments, such as Doctor Li's exasperated shouting at Lyons through the intercom after things go bad at the Jefferson Memorial, Officer Gomez's reflection of your father if you revisited Vault 101 after Dad died, and Sydney's inital response to hearing her deceased father's apology for abandoning her. These examples are however more credited to the voice performance than the writing, but you can't have one aspect without the other. Harold's guest appearance I believe was well done, but the follow through felt somewhat hallow after doing what he asked and receiving thanks via proxy. A muffled mortal and relieved "Thank you" echoing through the caves would have done more for me than hearing the resolution from the crotchety head gardener of Oasis. Also, I don't care who you are, but considering the advertisement and build up over the course of the game, the fate of President Eden was a massive letdown for me, to the point I can fume about it later if I think too much. Malcolm Motherfucking McDowell, the Admiral Tolywen I grew up loving to hate, deserves a better death than three dialogue sentences within the span of a minute, he died a more dignified death in the HBO soft porn movie Poison Ivy. I don't mind the fact he was a computer all along, but considering he was one of the better developed characters in Fallout 3, a certain amount of extended interaction beyond his only request of you that feels just as superficial as Burke asking you to blow up Megaton would have made the sequence far better than the wonky head scratching disappointment it currently is. That right there is outright and blatant poor writing and design. Unfortunately, the execution of the End Game leaves just as much to be desired. It is evident that BethSoft took a cue from Valve's Half-Life style of storytelling and injected it into Fallout 3. That is not terrible design choice when it is done right, like for example seeing the Enclave invasion of the Jefferson Memorial from the window of a broken pipe. However, the railroaded sequence of Liberty Prime's march to the monument does feel like it's an extended version of the Dog vs. Strider scripted segment from Half-Life 2 where you can hold the "W" key to no fault, and the game was in such a hurry to show it off that it abandoned the RPG aspect of being able to reach a similar conclusion by different methods. The game really rushes to finish itself once you escape from Raven Rock, and despite the the 60+ hours I put into it, Fallout 3 resolves itself in under 20 minutes from deployment from the Citadel to the purification chamber decision. The self-sacrificing decision isn't without symbolism if that's of any comfort, the statue Thomas Jefferson, the father of our country the good ol' USA, looking upon you with pride and dignity at your sacrifice while you quickly melt into a glowing pool of irradiated goo, just as your real father would. That moment would have been a nice place to put in a hallucination of Dad telling you himself he's proud of you as you both lay side by side on the ground, or perhaps a surreal death induced reuniting with your father and at long last your mother in the world they hoped to restore for a narrative full circle, if only to draw out the death and maybe give a better sense of satisfaction. Sadly, the game ends adruptly with almost no warning, and the epilogue slideshow speaks only of your main quest exploits, and shows little more. But endings are just you finishing the game, and all games technically have to come to an end, and the reason we keep playing the games is because there's so much we can do before we reach the end again. The RPG elements of past Fallout games illustrated this best, hence why it is such a beloved property and still played and compared to even today. Fallout 3, on the otherhand, falls short of this ability with the way the game caters to a casual gaming audience. The extent of what BethSoft encourages you to replay their game is to find every nook and cranny of the world to see what they stashed there for either a chuckle or a "oh that's neat" reaction, and to play as the opposite karma alignment you previously played. Beyond that, because the RPG mechanics do not force you to adopt a playstyle in order to simply survive, but rather intentionally provides crutches and training wheels to keep you from feeling like the game punishes you in some way for making a detrimental character design choice, this game holds about the same replay value as a game like Mass Effect or Bioshock. It almost feels like Oblivion had more replayability than Fallout 3. DLC is promised, but the best advantage BethSoft has in this area is the truly MASSIVE amount of third party generated content and modifications from the community. To this end the computer release of the game will enjoy extend shelf life and playtime further into the future than on its own merits. As we start to wind down now, I echo my conclusion I stated earlier that Fallout 3 is the best fan-made Fallout FPS we could have hoped for. The love BethSoft had of the Fallout property is very apparent, between the posted Developer Diaries to the interviews to the aspects of the product itself, and part of me feels genuinely sorry for BethSoft for missing the mark on what was the one RPG within the last few years I was genuinely looking forward to. It tries so hard to be accepted, but in reality it is not what I expected and I can't help but tell it to go away in the nicest way I can muster. I look at the Todd Howard quote about games needing innovation to remain fresh. "I saw Richard Garriott reinvent [the Ultima series] each time, from the interface to the combat to everything else. If any game is going to have the same impact it had years before, it must use new ways of doing it, because time changes not just the technology, but most importantly, the person viewing it." Part of me knows he's right, but the rest knows that not all change is improvement. Ultima-tly (*snerk*), Garriot's various incarnations of his legacy game series proved to be sucesses because despite all that changed he did not deviate from the one core thing that made his games special: The RPG itself. As a Fallout fan judging it's entrance into the heavenly gates, it earns its pass, but barely. Dark humor, unique and iconic visuals, and ultra-violence are there, but it mucks up moral ambiguity. Canon is treated with a great amount of respect and expanded within the limits of the original vision (which is surprising considering it's a different developer and publisher), and the open world exploration does feel like you're exercising survivalist options, but the roleplay elements do not vary much and arrive at only one of two possible outcomes, and the storyline strangles you in the end. As for the sequel "3" title, for every one time I give it to Fallout 3, it does two things that make me take the "3" back. Thus is falls to the same level everyone views Fallout: Tactics with: At worst a spinoff, at best a supplement. Even now as I look between the different Vault Boy icons of Fallout 1/2/3/Tactics on my desktop, I find myself slowly moving the cursor away from Fallout 3, and onto Tactics. Between Fallout 1/2/Tactics, I would again move my cursor to Tactics, but that's because I'm a weird Fallout fan and feel other than the Fallout canon muck ups Tactics is an improvement over the first two, and would have surpassed them if the plot was less linear. In conclusion, if I was forced to give this game a grade, it would be three-fold. As a current release it's a 5/5, as a game it's a 4/5. and as a RPG its a 3/5. A great product, decent game, and a mediocre RPG.