Fallout 3 revived my faith in Bethesda and is indeed a sequel to two of the most influential RPG's in existence.
Call me crazy but Fallout 3 ends up like a child of Fallout 1's and Morrowind's sexual encounters with just a few shortcomings in the end. What the final product turned out to be is a beautiful nuclear wasteland ripe for exploring, boiling over with hazards, and full of interesting sidequests and topped with bloody combat.
Many people complain right off the bat that Fallout 3's combat isn't on par with a First Person Shooter's and that's simply because this is an RPG at heart. Due to the ragged condition most guns are in when they are first found, the lack of skill, traits and perks a character has when they first start, the majority of weapons will feel ineffective and weak. It isn't until around level 8 and using a combat focused character when the pay off starts to emerge and by level 20 the majority of all the inadequacies should be long gone. Unfortunately there lies one of my biggest gripes about the game; the level 20 cap.
Sure it took me about 35 hours to reach this level cap but I still had things to do; quests to complete, Super Mutant Behemoths to hunt and bobbleheads to find. However, the absence of the feeling of progression really hindered my enjoyment to the point where I felt I might as well save those for a second play through. After level 20 I felt like I was playing a FPS with RPG elements which was the total opposite of what I felt the game was like in the beginning.
Other than that complaint, combat, like stated earlier is a combination of different stats and states of weapons which gives the majority of Fallout 3 an evenly balanced feel. A character with a focus in hand guns with a scoped Magnum .44 and a few tricked out perks up their sleeve is just as effective as someone with big guns carrying a mini-gun. VATS, the semi turn based combat system also uses certain stats like how good the character is with a weapon, the size of the weapon and the character's agility to determine how many shots and how successful the character will be with their attacks.
This balance and the looks of combat make the majority of combat interesting throughout the game. Toss in the fact that you can plant mines, use stealth, lure enemies into traps or other types of enemies and have companions fighting along side and with combat alone there are many ways one can approach the game.
Equally as varied would be the ways one can handle the quests given to them. There have been times I went in guns blazing, snuck around to plant evidence or hack terminals and times I've talked my way out of situations or flat out lied to get what I wanted. There are really no right or wrong ways to handle quests but usually there are good and bad ways.
The quests are unbelievably creative seeing as the makers of this game also made Oblivion and range from blowing up towns to quelling racial uprisings. There are only twenty or so large quests but often times there are smaller little tasks that are given to the character by notes or tapes that can be equally as fun and rewarding.
The AI mixed with the fact that the game is full of character with ranged weapons fixes a lot of the issues Morrowind and Oblivion had in combat. It was easy in those games, when one was outnumbered to just find a rock or building that the enemy AI couldn't reach and hide up there for a break or fire down arrows/spells until the foe was gone. That's impossible to do here. Also the AI does seem a bit more tweaked and smarter than Oblivion's with such things as trading going on where a shop will have dwindling supplies until a caravan and some traders come along.
There are still some scripting that has plagued both the Elder Scroll titles and the previous Fallouts that rears its head here. Sometimes dialogue options that the character shouldn't know about are available right off the bat or the fact that some finished quests have no effect on the NPC's. There was one side quests that involved finding a runaway child and even after I watched the child go into town, everyone still acted like the child was missing. In a game this large there's bound to be mistakes and errors in logic so it wasn't that big of a deal.
Another left over from the Oblivion pet peeves is that Raiders, Slavers and Mutants, some of the most prevalent enemies in the game are almost always aggressive to the main character. In Fallout 1 or 2 a lot of combat could be avoided by using conversation skills even in the face of enemies, this is sorely missing from Fallout 3 where anytime these enemies are on screen, bullets are soon to follow.
The quality of dialogue seems to land somewhere in between Morrowind's and Fallout 1's. Most people forget that Fallout 1 wasn't chock full of jokes and had a very dry sense of humor and Fallout 3 is no different however some of the dialogue options and responses aren't as creative or original as those found in Fallout 1, they are however much better than the writing you'll find in Morrowind and Oblivion.
I don't know if it was finally the PC God's smiling down upon me but my experience with Fallout 3 was mostly bug free. The game ran smoothly and beautifully with only my character getting stuck in a rock once or twice with a speedy use of the quick travel being the solution. Other than that the game is mostly gorgeous and fittingly desolate. The animations of human character could use a little help but they're not horrible to any degree.
The design of Fallout 3 is top quality from environment to character design. The majority of NPC's look a little more attractive than their Oblivion counterparts and they still have that 1950's style. Ghouls actually look ghoulish, raider's and slaver's outfits look like they're fashioned from scraps of things and everything generally has a retro feel to it. There are only a few new instances of original creatures to Fallout 3 and what they did create are pretty interesting. The Mirelurks are wonderfully detailed and look like huge humanoid crabs. To see their blue shells glisten in the light of a subterranean tunnel is one of the best little touches in this game.
I was surprised to see Bethesda use a little inventiveness when utilizing skills. Repair is a skill that is of the utmost importance now and barter, medical, sneak, lock picking and science are all very handy skills to spend points on. I single out repair because it is really a surprisingly valuable skill that will help repair weapons and armor along with assisting on some quests and the creation of a few weapons.
It seems Bethesda spent a little more in the sound department this time around and it seems to have improved some of the flaws of Oblivion's lack of distinct voices this time around. Although the majority of ghouls sound alike and there is still instance of characters whose voices change because of dialogue options, this problem isn't as rampant as their last title. Music on the other hand is filled with grooves from around the 50's era and talk radio abounds to add to the atmosphere immensely.
In the end my last disappointment came from the ending itself. Throughout the game I was expecting that all the decisions I made during my play through would be played back with far reaching consequences but I was sorely mistaken. Only a scant few things actually mattered and in one instance it was a decision I made 20 seconds before the end of the game that had one the biggest consequences. The developers state that there are over 200 endings and I just don't see it.
So to me the game starts off beautifully through the character creation and the tutorial to get one accustomed to the game, the first view of the outside world is one of the best sights in gaming and it kicks off an introduction to a wonderful world full of trials and tribulations. Too bad the game peaks way before the end in the form of a level cap and a letdown of an ending. Simply put Fallout 3 revived my faith in Bethesda and is indeed a sequel to two of the most influential RPG's in existence.