Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Xbox 360 review: Fallout 3

I'm not particularly familiar with the other entries into the Fallout series, but I am familiar with Bethesda's work on the Elder Scrolls series. In Elder Scrolls, players were allowed to choose their race and class, and then follow a series of quests relevant to the main story as well as a number of other optional side quests, and the basic formula is carried over to Fallout 3. The major differences, though, are the amount of freedoms in play style granted in Fallout 3, as well as the genuine development of the Lone Wanderer, the game's main character. For an American style RPG, Fallout 3 is surprisingly involved and the story quite engaging.

The Lone Wanderer (as he/she will later come to be known) is the character players assume control of, and begin the game by customizing their looks and attributes. While no two Lone Wanderers will look quite the same, their intended outcome in the story will carry only slight variation. Growing up in Vault 101, the Lone Wanderer is constantly told that life outside the vault is impossible. When the character's father escapes the Vault, the overseer's daughter suspects that her father may not have been entirely honest with Vault 101's inhabitants and aids the Lone Wanderer in his escape. What lies outside in the remains of Washington D.C. is a struggle for power, and players will encounter the many people caught up in it as they travel through makeshift towns and across the Capital Wasteland in search of their father for answers on why Vault 101 was isolated and - more importantly - why he left so suddenly. With all of that in mind, this is still an American style RPG, and the characters that players encounter will be more fleshed out and interesting than the Lone Wanderer, regardless of what path players choose to take from beginning to end.

Interacting with as many individuals as possible is the best way for players to open up new side quests. Some side quests will require players to interact with characters in a positive or negative tone, which can affect the Lone Wanderer's karma. Ultimately these side quests can earn players small rewards, such as new armor and weaponry, or more valuable rewards, such as the ability to enlist the aid of a partner in combat.

Players are given some freedom in how they wish to take to combat. The option of real-time traditional gun-wielding requires players to aim manually, but (assuming they can hit the broad side of a barn) will almost guarantee a direct hit on an enemy AI. VATS mode freezes the game temporarily and allows players to target specific body parts of enemies. While in this mode, players can see the chance they have of hitting said body part from their current range and the damage already dealt to the body part. This mode has a limited numbers of subsequent uses, and players must wait for it to recharge before using it on the next enemy. VATS mode also generally deals less damage to an enemy, unless a certain body part has reached critical state. This keeps players from becoming too reliant on the system, though when facing down hordes of mutated wildlife in the Capital Wasteland - many of which come charging at players full speed - the usage limit can be a minor annoyance.
Even if players choose not to utilize this system frequently for combat, it can still be a helpful tool for scoping out enemies before they spot you.

Combat is not the only way that players are able to earn experience points. Conversations with the Capital Wasteland's populous and completion of side quests can net players experience points, as can picking locks and hacking terminals. Upon leveling up, players are allowed to choose whichever skills and attributes they wish to improve, as well as a perk they can add to their repertoire. If a player started out with one primary character type in mind but decided later on that they wanted to change their character to better fit a different role, it's no problem. That said, as with any RPG, leveling up takes time and players cannot simply switch their character's strengths and weaknesses back and forth at a moment's notice.

There are some minor inconsistencies in the difficulty setting of Fallout 3. For the most part, the game seems a little too easy on the 'normal' setting, as missions are quite straightforward and players will find they have ample supplies. A few scenarios may require a trial-and-error process from players, but there are almost always loopholes to be found when facing down small groups of enemies. However, on a handful of occasions while travelling the Capital Wasteland from one mission point to the next, players will come across enemies that are either too strong or in too great of numbers to allow them to advance. Players can either temporarily dumb down the difficulty setting and deal with the issue immediately, or they can scour the Capital Wasteland in search of side quests in order to level up. This drastic shift in difficulty is only present a handful of times during the main game, but it stands out enough to cause a bit of an annoyance. In some instances, players will receive aid from the Brotherhood of Steel or partner characters in the Capital Wasteland. In these situations, players can more or less allow the AI to do most of the heavy combat if they so choose, though it will be at the cost of gaining fewer experience points.

Graphically, the game is quite impressive. As much of a decaying city as Washington D.C. has become, colorful advertisements reminiscent of the 1950s plastered over a drab post-apocalyptic world carry a great deal of aesthetic appeal. The attention to detail is impressive - any building that players can enter and explore does not look recycled from any earlier area, and subway tunnels are comprised of varying layouts. Even the rubble and random junk lying around Washington D.C. is varied from one location to the next. The soundtrack is a mixture of licensed and original pieces; the former complimenting the more colorful and amusing elements of the Fallout world, and the latter conveying the epic scale and dire circumstances of the situation at hand.

Despite an overall play style that seems to aim more for a shooter-based RPG experience, there is plenty of variety to be found in Fallout 3. While there are some minor inconsistencies in the main game, the side quests generally allows players more freedom and range from relatively simple to rather demanding, and the rewards tend to reflect this. While the main game's story is very well-executed, it ends all too quickly and Bethesda could have devoted some more time to this aspect. Still, there's rarely a dull moment throughout and RPG fans will find plenty of replay value in scouring every nook and cranny of the vast Capital Wasteland.

My rating: 8.5 (out of 10)

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