Fallout 3 is an open-world action game, so our second play through the area that we saw during E3 was completely different from our first. Given that our first visit to Washington, DC was spent taking in the postapocalyptic scenery, we raced to the nearest town to experience dialogue and side quests the second time around. The one hour of playtime that we had still felt way too short to completely satisfy us, but we also had time to explore an abandoned subway and come across a local trader. If you're new to this game or the Fallout series in general, then we recommend reading some of our earlier previews to cover the basics, but for now, this is what we did in our most recent play-through.
We started the demo at exactly the same point as we did at E3, emerging from the vault in which our character had spent his short life. You come out of the darkness blinded by the sunlight, but once the blur dissipates you're left with a crisp vision of the devastated landscape. We were playing the Xbox 360 version, so we pressed the B button to call up the Pip Boy, the in-game computer that shows your inventory and map. The map is blurry and featureless at the beginning, so it's difficult to figure out where to go, but we headed east to what we thought would be a settlement. Bethesda says that if you can see something in the distance in Fallout 3 you can go there, but you'll have to explore the landscape on foot before you can press a button to automatically transport between locations.
Delving into the Pip Boy, we found some more cool options to play around with. There are two radio stations, Enclave and Galaxy News, which have opposing political stances and mixes of music. Enclave is very serious and patriotic, playing famous American anthems to encourage patriotism while assuring its listeners that they'll help to rebuild the country's schools. Galaxy is a more laid-back and personal station, with tales about survivors punctuated by soulful tunes. The radio-station idea may have been pioneered by other open-world games, but hearing Billie Holiday while exploring this decimated city is a chilling experience.
As we entered the first town that we could find, we came across a small boy named Bryan Wilks who was trying to find his father. Fallout 3 uses a dialogue system that's based around morality, so you can choose to be sympathetic or dismissive when you come across individuals. We're not usually that friendly toward strangers, but in the interest of seeing some of the side missions, we decided to play nice with the kid and help him find the father. As he went and took refuge in a nearby diner, we pushed on through the town to have a look around.
The town was overrun with fire ants: huge, mutated insects that spewed fire at us if we got too close. The sound that these creatures made--a sticky but squeaky noise that sounded like plastic rubbing together--echoed through our headphones for most of our playtime, and they were tough enemies to kill. The standard combat system works with the left trigger to zoom and the right to fire, but our low experience level and low-powered rifles made it difficult to kill them. The best thing to do was use the VATS mode, which lets you pause the action and target individual parts of the enemies' bodies. You can do this only a limited number of times before you run out of power, but it's by far the best way of killing enemies, or least incapacitating them by taking out a limb.
In addition to using VATS, it helps to talk to people to get advice on how to kill enemies. We headed over to the diner to talk to the boy about the fire ants, and he relayed something that his dad had told him: always aim for their antennae. We also found that you can turn the ants against each other by running around so that they spew fire at each other. It's worth noting just how adult this game is; even the young boy repeated the "F" word without batting an eyelid. He called the enemies in question the "f***in' ants," something that we've not really ever heard said by a minor in a video game before. Thankfully, the voice acting in Fallout 3 is pretty good, at least with the few characters that we came across.
After searching around, we came across the boy's father, who was unfortunately lying dead on the floor of his house after being attacked by the ants that his son had been so recently been expressing his disapproval of. Sad as it was, the world of Fallout is harshly low on resources, so we had to scavenge what we could from the body and the rest of the house. Although it was obviously of little help to him, he'd stashed plenty of ammunition and a Chinese assault rifle, which was a much better weapon for taking out the remaining fire ants than our standard sidearm. Stocked up, we returned to meet the boy and give him the bad news. We had three responses to choose from: "Bryan, I'm sorry, but your father is dead," "Your father's dead," or "Sorry kid. Your old man is ant food." We decided to switch from good cop to bad cop and go for the last option, which was met with a response of, "You're an a**hole."
After taking this short side quest, we went and explored as much as we could of the world. We headed down into the Marigold Station subway, and it seems as if the same expansive design philosophy applies as much underground as above it. We didn't wander around too far because we wanted to see more above ground, but it looks like you'll be able to walk through the tubes to get from station to station. The only downside is that there are even more ants below ground than there are above, and this can get slightly annoying when you're in a confined space with a limited amount of ammo.
Above ground once again, we started to head out of town and toward downtown Washington, DC. We knew that we wouldn't make it there in the short time period that we had, but we figured it was a good direction to head in. We started to come across some new enemies such as the feral ghouls, which are humanoid characters that had obviously been affected by radiation. We also encountered a trader with a hut full of goodies and a couple of dogs, although considering that we didn't have any money, we couldn't buy any of the items that he was offering. We had a quick look through the catalogue to find the usual guns and ammo sitting alongside boutique items such as cameras and, somewhat strangely, washing detergent. We couldn't resist trying to steal a camera and then shoot one of the dogs, but we certainly didn't make it far once we did. We were low on ammo and health by this point, and the other dog chased us down while the trader himself fired at us from afar, eventually killing us and forcing us to reload the game.
As night fell in-game, the last place we made it to was the Capitol Wasteland. The wasteland was populated by what appeared to be other scavengers whose weapons made them even tougher to fight than the previous town's ants. Locked in our own little world with headphones blocking our hearing, we didn't notice the Bethesda PR man until he'd sat down right next to us. We tried to get some more time, but having already taken nearly double our allotted half hour, we had to vacate the console.
There's no doubt that Fallout 3 is an incredibly promising game and, some minor combat annoyances aside, it completely immerses you in its ruined world. Bethesda has gone on record to say that the planned downloadable content will be for the PC and Xbox 360 only, and unfortunately there'll be no multiplayer in the game. The huge scale of the game also makes a demo impossible, according to the publisher. But it's not all bad news; with a planned Q4 release, the team is pretty much finished on the story and is now just applying the finishing touches. We've been promised another look at the game at Leipzig, and Bethesda will be making another trip to the UK before release, so keep your Pip Boys ready for more on Fallout 3 soon.