The wastes are your oyster as you explore this, the third installment in the Fallout universe.
The basic premise is that the world has had its butt handed to it through the liberal use of nuclear weaponry. Children cried, parents cursed the world, and Mother Nature took a leave of absence. Luckily for you, as a born resident of one of Vault-Tech's vaults, you managed to survive the ordeal and grew up knowing nothing but the inside of that very vault.
The game starts off at your birth, and through some new-fangled equipment your father has, you are able to see what you'll look like when you're all grown up. This is where you get to make your character look as normal or abnormal as you please. Facial features and the like can all be tweaked to your liking, and there is a surprisingly large list of facial hair for you to choose from. Whether you want to look like Hitler or Hulk Hogan, there's a moustache and beard for everyone.
Once you've got your mug shot nailed down, you're tasked with some basic control sequences to get your bearings through the use of some clever little sequences. Then, in the blink of an eye, you've grown up and ready to take the G.O.A.T. The G.O.A.T is a basic test that all vault residents have to take when they've become of age. You'll be asked a series of questions, most of which are quite humorous, and based on your answers you are assigned a career in the vault. This is just where you get to mess around with your starting statistics, and you can change them if your results don't seem to line up quite the way you hoped they would by talking to the teacher after the test. Shortly thereafter, you're thrown into a scene where you've been woken up by a friend. You're father has escaped the fault, and now the baddies are on the way to take their frustration out on you. Obviously the next move is to escape the vault and go looking for pops, simultaneously saving your own behind – and so you do just that.
You step out of the vault for the first time in your life, seeing the sun for the first time as well. As you would expect, you're eyes do back flips as they try and take all that light in. Once the glare dies down, you get to see the wasteland in all its glory…if you want to call it that. For as far as the eye can see (or console/pc will allow, anyway) the wasteland is just that – a wasteland. Debris and rubble from fallen buildings and blown over trees are everywhere. Dust blows across the land almost constantly without much to stop it. Demolished cars and road signs sit where they were right before the bombs went off, some of them miles from where they stood originally. All sappy, descriptive language aside, Fallout 3 is a pretty bland looking game. That's not to say the graphics are not technically impressive, because they are. However, you can only look at so much wasteland before you start zoning out on your travels instead of being in awe of your surroundings. From a design standpoint, it was obviously necessary, but that doesn't mean you'll notice it any less.
The PC is the obvious champion in terms of graphics, as it usually is. With Fallout though, it seems to be a bit more noticeable than usual. The caveat amongst the three platforms here, outside of aliasing and draw distance, is the lighting. The PC has the highest brightness, although to be fair it can look too bright some times. The 360 is somewhere in the middle, but in some cave instances you'll be hard pressed to find some things. The PS3 is just a black hole from what I've seen. Whether or not it was the TV set up or not, the whole game was considerably darker than the other two platforms. It didn't render it unplayable, but it obviously could be annoying when looking for things in some areas.
In other graphical news, Fallout 3 is a pretty generic looking game. Many people have given the game the nickname "Oblivion with guns," and they're not far off the mark. Bethesda has used the same engine that was used in Oblivion, and tweaked it for better performance. The running gag with the 50's sty1e posters and setting are all well done, but the character models are far from super distinguishable. Apparently the eating habits of post-nuclear war survivors allows for absolutely no obesity. Score one for skinny people! The texturing and all things related are great, and the bland palette looks about as good as you'd hope it could, but damn are the animations ugly! I for one was hoping that during the transition from Oblivion, Bethesda would actually go out and look at how people run. Fallout also suffers from Oblivion's horrendous AI path finding, although you could say it's marginally improved. All around, Fallout is as graphically impressive as brown, white, and black can look, with some problems scattered throughout.
For as bland as the world looks, you'd hope you would have some sort of music to fall back on to kill the monotony. You won't find much support though, just a very limited selection of 50's music playing on one of the available radio stations still operating, and another that doesn't provide much either. Turn the radio off, and all you have to keep you company in the wastes is the sound of blowing dust…huzzah!
Once you're done staring out into the wasteland for the first time, you begin the search for pops, and that's pretty much what the first portion of the game is all about. Without going into much detail, you'll be involved in some heavy political battles, meet up with some super cool personalities and some not so cool ones, and find your way throughout the game's story line at your leisure. Fallout has quite a large number of available side quests, and although some of them are dependent on where you are in the main story line, most of them can be done whenever you happen upon them. As with almost every game these days, Fallout has the whole good and evil mechanic tied into most all of your actions. Every action has a consequence, yada yada yada – you know the deal. This system isn't any different than the hordes of other RPGs that have adopted this mechanic, so no real explanation is necessary.
When you're not worrying about the wrath of an undetonated atomic bomb that may or may not be watching your moral actions, you'll be blasting fools and foolbots with all manner of weaponry. Fallout's world is populated with the remains of the weapons that were kicking around pre-war. That means that you'll be doing a lot of repairing, or paying someone else to do it for you. You can also build your own weapons too when you pick up some schematics. Building your own gear can lead to some pretty random, but awesome, weaponry and so picking up some of the seemingly random objects you'll come across in your travels may be worth picking up. Once you have your weapon of choice, you can then choose how you want to take baddies out with it. You've got two options: kick it FPS sty1e, or use the V.A.T.S (Vault-tech assisted targeting system). Your Pip-boy (super high tech inventory controlling wrist watch of the future) controls V.A.T.S, and is useable when you have points built up to use it. The system allows you to pause the game and pick a limb, or limbs, of your enemy to shoot at. Based on your skills which we'll get to shortly, and your distance from the baddy, you'll have a certain percentage chance to hit your target. Generally speaking, V.A.T.S is the way to go when it comes to battling in Fallout. Unfortunately, the system can make the game way too easy after a while. Even so, this is forgivable thanks to the Bloody Mess perk.
Your skills and what perks you choose effect your experience throughout the game in numerous ways. Your basic stats you chose when you took the G.O.A.T provide your starting skill levels. Once you level, you'll have points to allocate to a bunch of different skills depending on how you want to play the game. Perks on the other hand, add a twist to just about everything in the game. You can choose one perk per level, and each has its own characteristics. Some will let you boost your stats further than you would normally per level, while others like the aforementioned Bloody Mess perk add a unique twist to many a situation. Some of these perks have multiple levels, but most of them are a one shot deal. These perks definitely add a special something to the game and are a highlight of the game play.
Fallout 3 will last about 12 to 20 hours for your first play through depending on how much you make use of the fast travel option and how many side quests you undertake along the way. Stick to the main story alone and you'll be able to blast through it pretty quickly. However, the world of Fallout 3 is made much less dry by exploring and doing these side quests. Thanks to the new expansion, Operation Anchorage, Fallout's play time has been extended. I can't speak to the expansion too much, but based on what I've seen it would be worth picking up if you enjoy your stay in Fallout's original world and need a reason to dive back in.
As a whole, Fallout 3 is a great game. It provides some great moments and exciting game play even though they may be few and far between. It's a solid entry to a series that has some of the most die-hard fans around, and even if you haven't played the previous Fallout games, you'll more than likely get a good understanding as to what all the fuss is about. If you can get around its bland visuals, however technically impressive, and don't mind the constant sound of blowing dust, Fallout 3 will deliver up a hot slice of western RPG goodness.