Review: Fallout 3

Bethesda Game Studios have earned themselves a reputation for creating dynamic, gripping, and absorbing RPGs, with their fantasy RPG - Oblivion - being the most recent of them. Whilst there were some minor doubts about whether Bethesda would be the right direction for the Fallout series, the game has been well received nevertheless.

Fallout 3 scores well in almost every aspect, offering all the elements that made Oblivion shine, and more. While the game could be considered as 'Oblivion with a new face', there have been many improvements on the story, game play, and the role-playing element of the game. Fallout 3 is certainly worth picking up if you are looking for hours of interesting, well finished game play, which is sure to please even casual gamers.

It's only been out since October 30th, yet already it's received glowing reviews and plenty of positive feedback from the gaming community. It was released on the three main platforms: PC, PS3, and the Xbox 360, and available worldwide, both through retail stores and through Steam content delivery. The game was made available worldwide in two versions: the Standard edition, featuring nothing more than a disc and manual, and the Collector's Edition, which includes a Vault 'lunch-box', a "Making Of" DVD, and the concept artwork. The standard edition is available for $49.99 from Steam, and a little more in retail stores, with the Collector's Edition costing up to $30 more in some places, but fans will appreciate the extras. Two other editions were also released: Survivor Edition and Limited Editon, however these aren't available worldwide.

The game has an absorbing start, where you begin your life as a child, in one of the Vaults set up to provide protection from the nuclear war. This start provides the player with a chance to get used to the controls and interface, although for those who have played Oblivion or Morrowind, the controls and interface will be highly familiar. Fortunately, no knowledge of previous Fallout games is assumed, meaning you don't have to travel years back in gaming history just to understand the plot. It is in the beginning of the game that you decide on your character's appearance, skills and attributes, as would be expected. However, and this is what is meant by improved, unlike most RPG's seen recently, Fallout 3 prompts you to 'design' your character subtly, through clever design, rather than Oblivion, which shoves these decisions into your face before you've even had a chance to move.

After the Vault, the story begins to unfold as you enter the dirty, desolate wasteland that much of the game will continue in. Here is where things truly start to take place, as you have the ability freely to roam around the environment, although most players will go to Megaton first, an entire city (although realistically it's closer to being a town) built around a bomb, which you later have the choice of disarming, or activating. From here on, the plot depends on which quests you take, and how you approach them.

The decisions you make throughout the game have a much greater effect on your future in the game than in most RPG's. A Karma scale is used to judge what sort of character you are, but the right and wrong decisions aren't always as clear as, perhaps, Mass Effect's were. What makes this interesting is that the Karma system plays an important part in how you continue throughout the game. If you've played many RPG's before, you're probably more than aware that your decisions typically have a short term effect. This is not the case with Fallout 3, as many characters and quests are available only if your Karma meets the required level.

The inventory, statistics, and information are all made available through the 'Pip-boy', a little device that straps onto your arm, given to you on your 10th birthday. It provides you with all the health information you could need, such as the current health condition of your body parts and your radiation level. In the 'Data' category you will find the map, radio (although it's nothing special normally), and quests. The interface is quite clean and simple, although some would argue that the Pip-boy is over-crowded with information, and not many people would guess that the torch is switched on by holding down the same key used to open the Pip-boy.

Unlike Oblivion, in Fallout 3 your character advances levels based on experience points. Your attributes (such as Small Guns, Big Guns, Medicine etc.) can be improved by using points you gain after level up. Also, after doing this you can choose a perk. Typically these further increase specific attributes, and become more useful as the levels increase. There is a level cap of 20, which is slightly limiting, although it does mean you spend less time hunting around in monster filled areas, and more time playing through the quests. As your character rises through the levels, your abilities do too. Some of these abilities are useful, such as creating higher quality guns, others less useful. Overall though, the level system provides functionality, but not so much that the game becomes dependant on it.

The entire game is built using the Gamebyro engine, as was Oblivion. This means that players can expect long distance views, and varying terrains. Some of the less significant textures are a little unsatisfying, but overall it provides a good balance between large scale and high quality. The facial textures are much better than Oblivion, where every person looked of similar shaped face, and lighting has been significantly improved too. This comes at a cost of performance, naturally, but it's nowhere near as demanding as Crysis; if you can play Oblivion in reasonable settings you can rest assured Fallout 3 will play well.

Performance is overall smooth and there's a good balance between little stuttering in game and short loading times. Occasionally performance does drop when there's a lot on screen, often in cities, but those with multi-core processors and most recent graphics cards should be able to play the game in most, if not all its glory. Don't expect beautiful textures, mind, often the textures become blurry when you get close, but overall it's not much to complain about. When you consider that Oblivion was released in 2006, the graphics in Fallout 3 aren't anything to write home about, but they fulfil their role well enough to create the atmosphere needed, and there are still some moments where you'll be left amazed by the view. The audio in the game is ample, although it should be noted that, unlike Oblivion, every main character has a different voice.

This review was written based on the PC version, but there haven't been many differences between the versions. The rig consisted of an Intel Quad Core Q6600 (Overclocked to 3.0 GHz), with 2GB DDR2 RAM, and one Nvidia GeForce 8800GT 512Mb. When run in maximum settings, the game rarely dropped below 60, even in cities, which was impressive. Some jittering was noticed with the screen, but it's unclear what the cause of that is. For those running on less powerful machines, the game should scale well with a little adjustment of settings, although it should be noted that the minimum requirements are moderate. The game doesn't have many options for tweaking the graphics through the menu, but a little peak inside the configuration files reveals that there will undoubtedly be tweaks available for those desperate to play the game regardless of graphics.

In conclusion, Fallout 3 is definitely worth a look at; the game appeals to both the casual and hardcore gamers. Whilst it is debatably Oblivion for 2008, there really wasn't much to work on in Oblivion, and what there was has been noted and improved. Fallout 3 has all it takes to be a mainstream, yet special RPG, that appeals to a wide audience. Even those who have not played many RPGs before, or even none at all, will feel comfortable playing what could only be described as one of this year's most remarkable games. The price may be a little high for the special editions, but it's worth every penny when you consider that this is at the top end of video games.

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