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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
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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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