The third instalment of the Fallout franchise is nothing short of epic. The game takes place in the Capital Wasteland of Washington DC, a huge, desolate environment which houses relentless depression and danger. The post-apocalyptic landscape is littered with the remnants of human society, devastated by nuclear attack. Now, some 30 years after the events of Fallout 2 and 200 years since the atomic bombs fell, humanity appears no closer to rebuilding a safe and productive future.
We are introduced to the game’s protagonist as a newborn in Vault 101. Here we get to pick what our character will look like via hundreds of different facial manipulation options (which, no matter how hard you tweak, invariably results in something reptilian and ugly). The game then accelerates through the first 19 years of your life before ousting you from the claustrophobic (yet relatively safe) confines of the vault and into the expansive and unforgiving wasteland outside. The reason for such disruption in your unassuming life? Your father has inexplicably escaped the vault, and it’s up to you to adventure out to find him.
Upon exiting the vault, you may have already made decisions that affect just how notorious your character will be out in the wastes. The Karma system sees everything, from theft of other people’s property, to stealthy executions and all out massacres of fellow wasteland survivors. Whether you decide to be a hero or a villain builds you a reputation which other people then react to across the map. Your karma can also be altered by your actions during ‘quests’, in which there are often open-ended ways of completing the task at hand. If you decide to help, hinder or euthanise your way through other people’s problems, expect to take the karma hits and the resulting bounty hunters that object to your way of life.
Life on the planes is a harsh affair, with mutated insects, beasts and super mutants all wanting to put an end to your miserable existence. The one thing that prevents you gawping at the marvellous ‘lived in’ scenery is the fact that everything around you is trying to kill you. If you go out into the wasteland unprepared, be sure to expect a rapid demise. Your armour and weapons decrease in efficiency with use, so maintaining them is a must. There’s nothing worse than your gun destroying itself in the heat of a firefight. As well as the numerous bad guys strolling the landscape, there are also various friendlies around who often help you out by trading and occassionally even lend a hand in a firefight if their own life is put in danger.
Once you’re outside, how you live your life is entirely up to you. Whether you want to follow in your fathers footsteps, or completely ignore his existence and write yourself into apocalyptic folklore elsewhere is a choice for you to make. There are scores of side quests to attempt, that often result in some handy hardware and much-needed levelling up opportunities. Upon your emergence from Vault 101, you are almost entirely useless with every weapon at your disposal, so experience is a must and with it brings confidence to explore further into the heart of the Wasteland area.
The game is not without faults, however. On particularly infuriating bug sees your character get stuck in the scenery (under a stair well or in a tiny rock divot for example) and thus, multiple saves - or dabbling with noclipping - is recommended. Another fair criticism of the game is that it lacks enemy variety - each enemy type is generally encountered within the first couple of hours of gameplay - although I have found it difficult to become bored of the encounters in spite of this. Occasionally your mission parameters do not update to the dynamic gameplay of the wasteland - for example, if your mission is to find a gentleman that you have already blown away, then the quest may not always recognise this, leaving you with the option to ignore the task forever, or finish it off with shotgun diplomacy by killing everyone involved. This isn’t always ideal when you are trying to lead a heroic life!
Finally, although on the grand scale the graphics are impressive, closer inspection reveals areas of extremely repetitive texture use and lazy rounded edges. Then again, the strong point of Fallout 3 is the gameplay and anybody looking for crystal-clear realism should probably be playing Crysis: Warhead by now anyway.
All in all, a game this epic doesn’t come around very often, and should be played by as many gamers as possible because of its pure ambition. Even the bugs are relatively easy to overlook and an enjoyable gaming experience awaits anyone willing to give it a chance. Although the primary quest is relatively short, there is well over fifty hours of gameplay locked away in the rest of the Wasteland and an obvious attraction would be to replay it again as an evil/good player (depending on how you went about things first time around).