Fallout 3


Fallout 3 is… how best to describe this sprawling behemoth? Fallout 3 is a bit like GTA IV, but with fewer prostitutes and more radiation poisoning. Or like Mad Max, but with no road races and more buildings. Doesn’t sound a very appealing description? To be honest I’m having trouble being enthusiastic about the game.

The game starts1 in Vault 101 in 2277, 200 years after a brief nuclear war. You and your father, Liam Neeson, live a relatively normal life until one day your father leaves the vault with no explanation. You leave the vault to find him. This is where the game starts to go wrong. I’d known my father for all of two minutes and couldn’t give a crap about him. I decided to go find some loot.

I’ve been trying to like Fallout 3 but it’s difficult. Mostly because Fallout 3 isn’t difficult. When you initially emerge from the safety of the vault in your pyjamas, with the vast wasteland before you to explore and only with only a pistol and three points of health for company, some caution is required. Once you’ve acquired some sweet perks, a companion and a decent weapon, the difficulty drops off sharply. I turned it up to maximum, and fired my companions2 in order to find a challenge but even soloing packs of suped-up super mutants or deathclaws lacked danger. I should give Bethesda some credit for having an adjustable difficulty in-game, but the potency of your skills combined with VATS, quicksaves and the ability to pause the game mid-combat to heal or change weapons means that there is always an easy out to any situation.

I guess I’d been hoping for a game more about struggling to survive in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The NPCs are constantly complaining about how hard their life is but I’ve found the wasteland to be so jam-packed with drugs, ammo, food and caps that I quickly stockpiled enough gear to take over a small African nation. Perhaps I’m too diligent an explorer. Given such a large detailed open world, my initial reaction is to pick up everything that’s fused to the ground by an atmoic blast and sell it, quickly earning enough money to buy the entire wasteland. Fortunately the merchants’ lack of cash and my limited inventory size prevented me wasting time picking up every single bent tin can out there and selling it for half a cap,3 but as it was I always had too much money and nothing to spend it on.

I like the size of the world, but it can take a long long time to walk across, especially at the start when you’re forced to take detours through the subway. I really wanted to be able to buy a motorbike or a vertibird, not only for a quick way to travel but to use up my mountain of cash. It wasn’t a big deal, as you can automatically travel to any location already discovered and there’s an autowalk button to save your fingers but everytime I saw a broken car or bike, I though how nice it would be to use my repair skill on a form of transport. While the game generally rewarded exploration, invisible walls prevented scaling the piles of rubble and when I managed to climb onto certain balconies, I found heavily locked doors with a brick wall behind them. Also I understand the need for some doors and containers to be unable to be unlocked for game reasons but it frustrates me when the game has a skill for unpicking locks and a mini-game that’s both realistic and fun to play.4

I could go on like this for many more paragraphs. There’s much I like about the game, but I keep wishing it were slightly different. I enjoyed getting new perks every level, until I hit the level cap. The trip wire and bear traps are hard to find and satisfying when spotted but land mines have big fat flashing lights on top.5 I like scavenging parts and collecting schematics for new weapons but the weapons themselves are underwhelming. I was initially disappointed that children can’t be killed, but being able to steal from them, lie to them and enslave them makes up for that. I like the use of radio stations but can’t work out why the pointless ham radios exist. The awareness of the NPCs is very good and they will react to anything within their line of sight, so I have to loiter suspiciously until their back is turned before looting their shop, but when they turn around and find all their stuff gone they don’t react. Or I can walk up to someone at the back of a crowd and plant a live grenade in their pocket. After the explosion, everyone turns around, see me heavily armed next to the exploded body and do nothing. Self-explosion must be common in the wasteland.

Radiation could have been an interesting game mechanic but as it can be prevented or completely removed with drugs, (with which I am amply supplied) I can stroll through the mostly highly radiated areas with no concern. I was told to avoid the entrance to one vault due to the radiation caused by an atomic blast. Rather than take the long route through the caves into the vault, I donned an anti-radiation suit, put Rad-Away on hotkey and walked up to the front door. The radiation level peaked about 3000 rads, requiring 4 rad-aways per second, at the door which was marked ‘inaccessible’. Fuck, I thought. Lazy level designers stopping me skipping quests. Then the gulping sound effect of consuming my anti-radiation medicine changed to a clicking sound. Fuck, I’ve run out of Rad-Away, I thought, as I succumbed to the radiation. I’ll have to go the long way round.

The quests, as a whole were interesting and I actually felt bad when I goaded a small boy into running away from his mother, so I found him and brought him back, even though I knew that as a child he was unable to be killed. The NPCs went about their daily lives convincingly but were let down by their limited amount of dialogue and conversation options. The first time two NPCs hold a conversation about a poisoned traveller is convincing. The fiftieth time you see it is disillusioning. Still, when you’re in a dingy bar in Rivet City chatting getting a girl drunk to find out her secret, watching the priest burst in, berate everyone for partaking in the devil’s drink, and get kicked out by security is cool.

VATS, which stands for Violent Automated Trajectories in Slowmotion, reminds me of the slow motion in FEAR. It makes combat far too easy but the slow motion and physics makes it compelling viewing. When I got the perk Grim Reaper’s Sprint which recharges all action points when you kill someone in VATS, the challenge became to sneak into the middle of a group of raiders and headshot them all with my sniper rifle before they could draw their weapons. Since you don’t need to aim in VATS, sniper rifles are excellent at close range. I regretted taking the Bloody Mess perk, because when I shot people in the head, their legs and arms would fly off, as if they had acute osteoporosis in their knees and elbows. It detracted from the enjoyment of slow motion killing.

So with all these small constant annoyances, I’d been finding it difficult to get into Fallout 3 and enjoy myself. And then I found vault 106. Ugh, I thought to myself, another extensive building to search for minimal gain.

I stroll disinterestedly into a ransacked room. There are three guys loitering here. Are they friendly? Mousing over them reveals them to be insane survivors, so probably not. They see me and turn, yelling. Old Trusty, my combat shotgun, hits one from long range, and then breaks. I switch to my inventory to find a spare shotgun to repair it with but I’ve run out. Two and a half metres is a little close for tactical nuke, and I’ve got no sniper bullets left, so I guess I’ll try out Vampire’s Edge, a sword given to me by my cannibal friends. I haven’t used it yet because a firearm is always easier in the wasteland. I repair it with the other less expensive swords I’ve got in my backpack, brush aside the thought of how unrealistic repairing weaponry mid-battle is, and trigger VATS. I swing my sword at the first guy and, in slow motion, I chop off his arm. A shiver of excitement goes down my spine as, blood spurting, he drops to the floor. The second guy panics and flees down the corridor; the third guy runs down the stairwell. I whip out a pistol and shoot the second guy in the back of the head. As his body falls, I draw my sword and I jump down the stairs after the last guy.

On the floor below, I see him head left at the end of a short corridor, right at the next corner, left again, across a small room and down more stairs. There’s no time for a shot even with VATS. There are two guys in this small room. Possibly startled by the fleeing survivor, they haven’t drawn their weapons and are dismembered on my way past. Down the stairs, one flight, two flights, slice up another insane survivor, jump down the third flight and see my man at the end of a caved-in tunnel, crouching in fear. I stride towards him; someone jumps at me from the right and I lash out with my sword. My vision blurs — it’s either an hallucination or I need to get off the drugs. I slash at my enemies, real and imaginary, and they disappear. The air to my left shimmers and in one motion I decapitate the invisible soldier and hit my cowering enemy on his head with such force that it explodes, spraying parts of his brain and his eyeballs across the room. As the blood lust fades, I turn and look at the trail of bodies and severed limbs leading across the floor and up the stairs. I’m covered in blood, alone, lost deep underground surrounded by corpses. I do like this game.

  1. After a brief tuturial / backstory.
  2. In a kiln.
  3. I was reminded of Harvest Moon in which I forced my farmer to work 22 hour days gathering wheat to sell. Within the first year, I had filled the barn with cows and bought all the best farm equipment and had nothing to do for the next nineteen years.
  4. The hacking game is also good but I’m disappointed by the lack of a fishing mini-game.
  5. Though it is funny when you fail to diffuse a mine and a picture comes up showing that your arms have been crippled by the explosion.

5 Responses to “Fallout 3”

  1. I’m glad you liked it in the end. It has its flaws, but overall I really enjoyed it. Some of your minor niggles say more about you than the game, I feel. If one doesn’t play like the obsessive compulsive capitalist you describe in the fourth paragraph, then I find you are actually scrounging. I grabbed a plasma rifle from an Enclave soldier early on, and as you don’t meet many more of them for some time, I kept on using all my cash up on repairs and medpacks. I’m too lazy to pissfart about trying to climb random rubble piles so I didn’t run into the same problem as you there.

    VATS is a little easy. Still, I found it more interesting than just shooting. I’m not sure what the solution is. When I exploded someone via reverse pickpocketing, the entire community started shooting at me, if it makes you feel better. I found companions added to the difficulty, in that the challenge became keeping them alive. Which I miserably failed at, almost consistently. I did manage to get killed by Deathclaws on a few occasions.

    I don’t think I ever got killed by a Mirelurk, but I feel like I did because they’re so fucking scary. That may just be me.

    Have you picked up the teddy bear in the abandoned train? How did you get all those dead bodies in your house? How could you not like Liam Neeson? I liked the idea of following someone through the wasteland, especially since you didn’t find him immediately.

  2. VATS would have been fine, if the game was harder. As a combat system in an RPG, it’s quite flexible and slow motion decapitations are full of goodness.

    Dogmeat and Charon are good companions because they’re tough, and Charon has a shotgun, so he does a lot damage. Dogmeat died a couple of times because he would run off and attack deathclaws or radscorpions by himself. Charon was also good as a pack mule.

    Mirelurks look scary, especially when they jump out of the water snapping their claws, and they have a high damage resistance but they don’t deal much damage. The mirelurk hunters can be dangerous, if you’re in a confined area. Outside they were much like the other wasteland creatures. They would charge and I would walk backwards keeping them just within shotgun range.

    I did die to a Mirelurk early in the game. I found a Mirelurk cave when I was level three and curious what a Mirelurk was, I had a look inside. I used up all my shotgun bullets on the first one and was killed by the second. I returned at level 20 and had my revenge.

    Charon was killed when we were ambushed by a pack of Mirelurks while walking next to the river. I killed the mirelurk king, but Charon was surrounded by the hunter and other mirlurks and I couldn’t save him. I reloaded the game and nuked the mirelurks.

    I haven’t found a teddy bear in an abandoned train. I shot someone outside my house, and then went inside. All the guards and the sheriff followed me inside. I decapitated them and put their heads on my shelves. I liked my father more when I decided that he was actually Liam Neeson, rather than a character voiced by Liam. I did look for him at Megaton and the radio station before deciding that I’d done my duty as a son and losing interest.

  3. I never picked up Charon. I was too nervous about Dogmeat dying so I just told him to wait at home.

    I picked up some girl while looking for the declaration of independence. She seemed nice. She’d booby trapped an entire room with mines. Despite the flashing lights, when we came through that same area later, she managed to walk over one of her own traps. It wasn’t for some time that I realised she’d actually died there and wasn’t following me any more.

    I had the big kind super mutant, but he wandered off by himself and picked a fight with a Mr Gutsy (or whatever the nastiest floating robots are called) one day. I suddenly realised that there was the faint sound of gunfire in the distance, and that he wasn’t with me. I ran around a building just in time to see him have his shit blown up. Tragic.

    Paladin Cross managed to survive the whole game, though I was tempted to kill her myself many times as she insisted on spoiling any sneaking I was engaged in.

  4. Sydney is technically a quest NPC rather than a companion. The companions will heal themselves after a fight but Sydney won’t you have to give her stimpaks when she is injured. Some of the companions are sneakier than others but they do usually blow your cover. Charon opened a door that I had shut so I could loot without anyone seeing me, exposing my crimes to everyone in the Underworld.

  5. I found an old woman alone in a shack. I attempted to steal her stuff, but she caught me and attacked me. As she was unarmed, shooting her in the face with my new unique combat shotgun wouldn’t be sporting, so I put away my weapon and engaged her in fisticuffs. We trade blows, one-two, when the mysterious stranger shows up and shoots the old lady in the back. No manners that guy.