Life in post-apocalyptic society has never been so fun.
You'll realize how immersive Fallout 3 is as soon as the game begins. You'll commence your journey with your character's birth, where you'll get to choose your gender and customize your looks. After which, you'll fast forward to your toddler years in Vault 101 - one of many underground shelters designed to protect citizens from the brutal, desolate wasteland. As a little tyke, you'll teeter-totter around your room, playing with toys and reading books, the latter of which will determine your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. skills, or the general starting point for your character's stats. As you level up, you'll be able to pick perks and specialize your character in categories such as small guns, explosives, energy weapons, repair, lock pick, and more.
After playing for a bit as a toddler, the game will fast forward again to your tenth birthday party, your 16th birthday, etc. in a similar fashion. Through these snapshots of your early life, you'll get a good indication of life in the Vault - a good comparison to the bloody and brutal life you'll face in the "wastes." Life in the Vault is fine for your character until the day your father mysteriously disappears, apparently fleeing the Vault, leaving you a target of the Overseer, the power-hungry leader of the Vault, and jump-starting Fallout 3's main story line. It is then that you set out into the Wasteland, criss-crossing around the map in search of your father and the secrets of your family's mysterious life inside the Vault. In your quest, you'll meet many interesting characters and explore the deep, dark secrets of "post-apocaylptia."
The Wasteland itself is a work of art. As you set out into the "wastes," you'll see the charred ruins of a society before the nuclear apocalypse of 2077; you'll see broken segments of highway overpasses, billboards, bombed out subdivisions, and even real-life landmarks such as the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. Though the color palette is predominately brown and gray, if you explore enough, you'll find places that offer a nice change in scenery, such as the secluded settlement of "Oasis," far enough away from the epicenter of the bombs to leave a serene forest for you to explore.
Also, if you choose to purchase any of the three downloadable content packs Bethesda has to offer, you'll be greeted with a variety of settings unlike what's offered in the main game. Operation Anchorage takes you into a simulation in pre-apocalyptic Alaska, repelling the Chinese invasion of valued oil fields. The Pitt takes you to a highly industrialized, raider controlled settlement in none other than Pittsburgh, and Broken Steel extends the level cap while introducing Enclave strongholds such as a derelict air-force base on the west side of the map.
But, point being, Bethesda has done an amazing job creating post-apocalyptic Washington DC. Even the smallest bit of music or the subtle sound-effect convey the emptiness of the Wasteland. You'll hear a quiet breeze sweeping across the landscape, somber music, and often gunshots or people yelling in the distance. Bethesda's keen attention to detail make the Wasteland stand out among other free-roam game worlds, including that of The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion. Though smaller, the Capital Wasteland is littered with places to explore and things to do, more-so than Bethesda's previous attempts.
Not only is the Wasteland a work of art, but you'll spend countless hours questing and discovering its many secrets. Through your exploration, you'll encounter mutants, raiders, slavers, and wastelanders just trying to make ends meet. Again, Bethesda's attention to detail shines in depicting the hostility and desperation of survival in this blood-thirsty society. On your journey you'll see Wastelanders fighting over food or water, raiders hunting game, and even kids wandering the rubble searching for protection. The only downside to exploring this open-world is that it can be frustrating to navigate the rubble filled downtown Washington DC. You'll often have to dip underground through the subway systems to navigate around rubble heaps blocking your progression, and it's extremely easy to get lost . Nevertheless, through these events and more you'll have to experience for yourself, you'll feel completely immersed in the cut-throat society known as the Wasteland.
As you explore and quest in Fallout 3, you'll be utilizing Fallout 3's equivalent of Fallout 1 and 2's action-points system, known as V.A.T.S. Through the innovative system of V.A.T.S., you can pause the game and target certain body parts of your enemy depending on the combat situation presented. If you're facing an enemy who has a close-range weapon and will try to run at you, you can activate V.A.T.S. and target his or her legs, after which he or she will limp and move subsequently slower. Choosing other body parts has a similar effect - choose an arm, and your enemy's accuracy will be thrown off. Shoot his or her head, and your enemy will become disoriented. You can even shoot your enemy's weapon out of his or her hands if you're enough of a sharp-shooter.
Along with V.A.T.S., you'll have an arsenal of weapons at your disposal to reap carnage across the Wasteland, if you so choose. However, like real weapons, your arsenal's quality will degrade and you'll be forced to repair individual weapons to keep them in working order. Unfortunately, it seems that in-game weapons degrade unnecessarily quick, so be prepared to shell out some caps (the Wasteland's currency) to get them repaired, or alternatively, to allot enough points into your character's repair skill tree.
If you choose to use your weapons for evil, be prepared to take a karma hit as well; the same goes for stealing and looting. Alternately, using your weapons for good and donating money or goods will raise your karma. Be warned - karma affects your image across the Wasteland. If your karma is low, you'll hear people talk about your antics behind your back, and some wastelanders will refuse to aid you in your journey; the opposite is true if you have good karma.
Perhaps Fallout's best aspect is its versatility when approaching different situations, whether in a quest or just normal exploration. Instead of one linear path to complete a mission, you'll be able to approach it from two, three, or even more than three aspects. For example, you'll be presented with a quest in which you'll need to complete tasks for a woman to make a "Survival Guide to the Wasteland." You can complete the task the way it was intended, and get the subsequent reward, or if you're the lazy type and have a high enough speech skill, you can try to lie about doing the quest and still get the same reward; the same is true with other skills, including medicine, perception, and intelligence. Are you the violent type? Use V.A.T.S. to kill the task-giver and loot her for the reward.
Virtually all situations give you this array of choices - some more than others. Because of this, you'll get a greater sense of realism when playing Fallout 3 than other role-playing games. Minigames for lock-picking and hacking computers also enhance the experience. You can even own your own Wasteland house, for which you can buy themes, items, a robotic butler, and store extra items. The downside is that you can only have one house per game out of a possible two, limiting the chance for customization and expansion in that regard.
Fallout 3 is a deep and immersive role-playing game with an unprecedented amount of detail put into the setting of post-apocalyptic Washington DC. With the V.A.T.S. system and your handy Pip-Boy 3000, you'll spend countless hours exploring the wastes and the secrets it holds. This is one gem of a videogame that no gamer can afford to miss.