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Critical Reception: Bethesda's  Fallout 3
Critical Reception: Bethesda's Fallout 3
October 29, 2008 | By Danny Cowan

October 29, 2008 | By Danny Cowan
More: Console/PC, Columns

This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to the post-apocalyptic RPG sequel Fallout 3, which reviews describe as "a thrilling, all-consuming experience that will absorb you for weeks."

Boasting a large and active fanbase that persists more than a decade since its last true sequel, the Fallout series is praised among followers of computer role-playing games as one of the genre's best.

Few games could hope to rival the depth and complexity of Fallout and Fallout 2 in the 1990s, and fans argue that many modern releases seem shallow in comparison.

The series has since seen tactics-oriented sequels in Fallout: Tactics and Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel, but both titles earned a mixed reception due to their departures from series-standard gameplay and aesthetics. Anticipation runs high for this week's release of Fallout 3, which debuts to a Metacritic-averaged score of 92 out of 100.

Eurogamer's Kristan Reed rates Fallout 3 at 10 out of 10. "Fallout 3 is such an embarrassment of riches, it's hard to know where to begin," he writes. "The news is definitely good though, because whichever way you stack it up it qualifies as a landmark game."

Reed is especially impressed with Fallout 3's detailed post-war setting. "The bedrock, as you would hope, is the game's immensely well-realised and beautiful openworld," he asserts. "Arty, varied and epic, it's crafted with attention to detail, housing secrets, lies, hopeless ambition and revenge. The Capital Wasteland has a palpable sense of place, where even the more obscure backwaters hide pleasing diversions, intriguing characters and curious sub-plots."

Fallout 3 is equally impressive in other areas, according to Reed. "It makes the fiddly micromanagement of weapons, apparel and health a relative joy with a slick, intuitive interface," he praises. "It rewards and encourages progress with a transparent and logical levelling system. It delights with countless improvements to the Oblivion engine, physics and animation. Even the script and voice acting are pretty decent, and there are reams of detailed text logs to discover."

In all, Reed finds that Fallout 3 succeeds in delivering accessible gameplay to newcomers while also providing a satisfying experience for series fans. "Despite so many worries, Fallout 3 almost effortlessly succeeds in its central aim of reviving a much-loved brand to appeal to the vast majority of players," he concludes. "It's a thrilling, all-consuming experience that will absorb you for weeks, whether you're attracted by the action, the adventure, or the role-playing, as you fall in love with the relentless excitement, incredible atmosphere, sense of place and sheer choice."

Andy Eddy at Team Xbox gives Fallout 3 a score of 9.4 out of 10, explaining that its depth creates exceptional value for the price. "With many $60 video-game releases these days, you’re lucky if you get about 15 to 20 hours of gameplay out of it," he begins. "However, I don’t mind telling you that I’m about 20 hours into Fallout 3, and I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface. Bethesda created an epic RPG with The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion about 2-1/2 years ago, and it looks like the latest in the Fallout series will do much the same thing. And the story seems all the more immersive and enjoyable than its predecessor."

Eddy finds that Fallout 3's combat system is especially involving and enjoyable, thanks to the in-game Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System. "Without a doubt, V.A.T.S. is helpful and fun," he writes. "The latter because targeting some shots and putting it into motion takes you to one of a variety of perspectives, like sports coverage with handheld cams, for slow-motion playback of the V.A.T.S. result. For an RPG, the action is heavily highlighted…and ultimately rewarding as hell when you’re successful against difficult adversaries."

Eddy assures that Fallout 3's RPG elements do not suffer as a result of this focused action, however. "Yes, the action does get fast paced when you’re in battle, but without question Fallout 3 is an RPG at its core," he explains. "As you level up, you get access to more different Perks, so, depending on how you allocate the points you earn, you can grow your character in many different ways."

"All told, Fallout 3 is a great game," Eddy notes. "When people talk about deep, immersive video games, Fallout 3 can stand as a reference."

Wired blogger Earnest Cavalli scores Fallout 3 at 8 out of 10, claiming that the title is vastly different from its series predecessors. "Fallout 3 is not the game that hard-core, longtime Fallout fans are hoping for," he writes. "Gone is the series' trademark dark humor, elegant interface and turn-based combat. These have been replaced by a decidedly more serious tone, an unnecessarily complex menu system and combat that resembles a curious mutation of that found in Bethesda Game Studios' The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion."

"But despite the changes grafted onto the game in its jump to three dimensions," Cavalli continues, "Fallout 3 is an incredibly deep, engrossing title that easily ranks as one of the best role-playing games in recent memory."

Cavalli notes that Fallout 3 features better pacing than its free-roaming RPG predecessor Oblivion. "Where Oblivion often felt sparse and desolate, Fallout 3's world is teeming with the sort of mangled life you'd expect from a post-apocalyptic wasteland," he says. "Even when roaming the barren wastelands outside major cities, you're never more than a few meters from a burned-out car or a knife-wielding raider. Yes, it's something we should expect from these open-world role-playing titles — yet it's done so well in Fallout 3 that it feels novel and immersive."

Fallout 3's experience system also sees an upgrade from Oblivion's, according to Cavalli. "Everything -- from how you gain experience to how you mold your character -- is pure, vintage Fallout," he writes. "As in past Fallout titles, the experience and attribute system is classic Dungeons & Dragons stuff, but what really sets the series apart is the addition of 'perks.'"

"Not only do the perks offer players new ways to improve their virtual lives, they also offer a huge amount of character customization," Cavalli praises. "Want to play as an evil contract killer? There's a perk for that. Want to be a smooth-talking charmer? Yup, there's one for that, too."

Despite noting issues with Fallout 3's combat and menu system, Cavalli is satisfied overall with Bethesda's take on the series. "The biggest complaint I can level at Fallout 3 is that it isn't by the original developer, Interplay," he concludes. "But since we'll never see that game, Bethesda's take on the series is a very acceptable substitute."

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Stephen Panagiotis
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I'll admit off the bat that I've only the play the game for about 3 hours since getting it, but so far I can say the game is a gem. The beginning was a real surprise and a nice tutorial but a little slow if you take the time to read everything (which I for some odd reason did). But after getting the Pip-Boy the games complexity and depth really start to open up.

Once you get out into the waste land, 'wow' was my expression. It really did seem like a post-nuclear war had happened, and it was kind of scary to think of that actually happening. The world was populated just enough to keep my interest between destroyed buildings, raiders, and giant red ants. I know I have my work cut out for me as this game has a lot to offer.

My only complaint...why not use the start button and not the B button to bring up the Pip-boy -.- I hit that start button EVERY time I try to bring it up ;).

Qian He
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I really agree with Stephen, the tutorial is rather great and amazing from the childhood, I like that wonderful idea.

The battle system is much more interesting than I thought before, you could play it as FPS or just follow the way of RPG's. But, one point that I'm not so satisfied, the effect and feedback in the way of fighting as RPG is a little slow and it couldn't be skipped, though the performance is exciting.

It actually plays like another new game rather than the old FOs, I mean, FO 1&2. But Bethesda did a great job in extending the game content.

Daniel Camozzato
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It is too soon to speak anything concrete about this game, but it lacks something the other games had. It has things the others didn't have, too. It is a very different game.

One thing I notced: since most descriptions were given by text in FO1 and FO2, the game managed to convey its mood more clearly. It's like seeing a movie based on a book - you get the "wow" factor because you can actually see things, but something is lost in the process. Also, it has exchanged tactical combat for action/FPS combat.

The game is fun. Much more "Oblivion with guns" than Fallout 3, which my "Fallout devotee side" complains about, but fun nonetheless.

Mark Buzby
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Here's for a winded comment,

I will start with what I think is a downer for the game and then go on to say what I think makes it stand out.

Not that I've played Fallout 3 for an exceptional length of time, but the only perceived complaint that I can think of is that the game contains a lot of VATS exclusive perks. Being a big fan of the original Fallout games I can understand the desire to make it true to the originals, however I have no real desire to play it using VATS. I would have liked to have seen those specific perks to add some other feature to people not wanting to use VATS.

Now that that's out of the way I will say that Fallout 3 exceeded my expectations. Having played all of the Elder Scrolls games, including Battlespire, I find Fallout 3 to be much different. For me this is a good thing as the stat system for TES games drives me nuts, I always feeling like I'm making a negative space character... pick the skills that don't define your character as the primary ones. The worlds have no real direction and the sandbox style play is not engrossing enough to keep me interested for more than 10-20 hours. Fallout 3 on the other hand give the player many engrossing opportunities to explore the world how they want and see a very rich, object strewn and detailed, environment while they are at it. The NPCs have way more attitude and character then anything out of Oblivion.

The setting is perfect, detailed and the experience magical in a nostalgic sort of way. Thank you Bethesda, I had almost given up on your games.