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Fallout 3 - the nth opinion
Information - posted by Elwro on Thu 11 December 2008, 10:02:32Tags: Bethesda Softworks; Fallout 3
Read Elwro's opinion on the Bethesda's new "ambitious" FPS, with surprisingly bad shooter elements and surprisingly good RPG-related features.
As the game has been out for some time now, everyone has read a review or two, and quite a few people have played it themselves, this article will be less a description of the title and more a deliberately selective assessment of its high and low points from the point of view of a fan of the original series.
I grind my coffee using a manual grinder, because that's the proper way to do it. I am also firmly convinced traditional skiing is in every relevant way superior to snowboarding. But, while I loved the original Fallout games (I think that as the years passed I finished the first one 10 times or more), I never thought the simple TB combat and the isometric view point were essential to them. Sure, it was nice to have these features, but of course a real-time FPP title could be a proper sequel, a true continuation of the series, provided it met a few conditions. What would these conditions be? Well, for starters, the game should follow the lore of the previous titles. It should be well-written, so that an educated person could play it with pleasure and involvement, making him think "now that was a fine phrase" from time to time. It should be clever, including many options you'd discover only on your nth playthrough, or when reading about an option of tackling a quest you'd never think about. Brain usage during combat should be required, too. And while the game would definitely have to include humorous bits, the risk of childishness should be avoided.
That said, Fallout 3 is a game for all Fallout fans. This is, of course, because any true fan of the original series would have had their expectations sink so low that any good feature of the new game would have to be seen as a positive surprise. Any Tim Cain disciple knows that Fallout 3 shouldn't be played as if it attempted to be a proper sequel to the previous games (as outlined in the previous paragraph); doing so, knowing Bethesda's history, would be plainly retarded. Still, if anyone's still wondering: no, Fallout 3, despite being called "Fallout" and bearing a suggestive number, is not a Fallout game. Not if from Fallout games you expect the things I wrote about above.
You may have seen the following quote from Bethesda's PR performer Pete Hines: "We're not going to suddenly do a top-down isometric Baldur's Gate-style game, because that's not what we do well." Thankfully, employing that line of thinking was just an isolated incident on part of the team. On the contrary, the developers have included MANY things they "do not do well". But it is precisely these elements which save the game and light glimmers of hope for the series.
For starters, there are heaps of stat-checks in dialogues. It warms the heart of a hardcore roleplayer to experience an occasion in which 3 of 6 dialogue options are available due to high levels of skills or attributes and wouldn't have been there were the levels lower. Some lines are only available if you have the proper perk, like "Ladykiller". It seems the devs wanted to put a stat-connected dialogue line almost in every conversation. You might even notice lines made available by high levels of Explosive or Medicine skills. A high level of Speech will make your life definitely easier; also, I wondered many times when playing other games why I was never given the choice to LIE about having completed a quest to the quest giver. I am offered such an option in Fallout 3 a few times, which is a plus. That being said, the number of "optional" ines is simply too high for all the lines to actually matter and have unique consequences. Also, sometimes a dialogue option appearing because of your high Intelligence level stands out from the rest not because it's particularly smart, but because the rest are unbelievably stupid. Still, given their past record Bethesda are definitely on the right track here and hopefully the next games will contain better thought-out skill checks.
Another good concept, slightly botched in implementation: the radio. Having an amateur radio station trying to fill the voids of irradiated ether with news concerning nearby settlements, with various news items appearing as you complete different quests, is a great idea in my opinion. But, unfortunately, Bethesda managed to write the actual broadcasts in a very irritating way. Including one of the worst fart jokes in history of flatulence humor. Still, it's interesting they took care to ensure the announcer was killable; and after he's dead, an unexperienced person takes his place in front of the mic. You wouldn't expect this after Oblivion, in which seemingly every NPC tied to some minuscule side quest was tagged as immortal. Also, other audio bits which may appear on your PipBoy are a lot better.
It was nice to notice the Repair skill actually mattered. You're given a choice between selling the spare guns you find for cash, and using them to improve your continuously deteriorating tools of destruction. For me it was a meaningful choice, because I didn't have the "I'm swimmin' in cash" experience I've read about here and there. And paying for repairs was damn expensive. So putting lots of skill points into the skill was a viable choice. But still, there's one thing here which keeps this feature short of perfection. There are tons of junk everywhere. Why can't I use it to repair my stuff even after maxing out the skill? Yes, I know, it's useful for something else. But I should be able to utilise it to repair my equipment, perhaps less effectively than other copies of said equipment.
I was also thrilled to see that after I hacked into a computer of an important member of a certain community, I managed to gain quite a few compromising bits of information concerning some members of said community. One person had a drug habit (but I knew that from elsewhere), the other tried to rape a woman, yet another never told anyone that he was a slaver before coming to that particular town. But guess what? I couldn't do anything with this info. It's impossible to confront anyone with it, save for the druggie, but you can do this without the info from the computer, too. So you cannot use the information in any meaningful way like e.g. blackmailing. Just like it is with a few other elements of the game, it's nice that this bit of information about the world is there, but Bethesda should've gone at least one step further and implement ways of actually utilizing it.
So these were some of the "good, but flawed" features of the game. Some other features, like perks being uninteresting and available after every level up or the "omg his head fell off" movies playing EVERY fucking time I kill someone are plainly bad. But there are times Fallout 3 delivers a kind of experience the previous games couldn't, and I mean this in a good way.
When I first crossed the Potomac river (the sun was setting) and carefully explored the surroundings of an entrance to a metro station, suddenly a raider ambushed me. He almost killed me, but I managed to run and hide behind a wall. Peeking from behind it I saw a dog running towards the raider and attacking him, followed by his master, a scavenger who happened to be crossing nearby. The dog was soon killed but the scavenger managed to finish the raider. I though I'd be safe, so I came out and walked towards the raider. After a few seconds rounds started to fly past us, killing the scavenger and bringing me yet closer to death. It occurred that two supermutants with miniguns reached the other bank of the river. I ran. And then, uh, I pressed a key and teleported right back to my cosy house in Megaton.
Some other times you can really get the feeling of loneliness, when you're traversing the rubble-filled remains of the city, climb the ruins of a bridge and see a lonely humanoid silhouette in the far distance (you should set all drawing distances to "as far as possible", it doesn't slow the game much but drastically improves the visuals).
I believe these things were worth writing about because in my opinion "immersion" is a word which unfairly suffers from a bad reputation, while in fact it can be extremely beneficial for a cRPG, especially if the given game doesn't excel in other aspects.
But let's mount the nag of negativity again! I have to mention the combat, since there's so much (too much) of it. The biggest problem with it is that either VATS is a cheatmode, or the "normal" FPS mode is drastically underpowered. If you hit a mutant in the head twice using a Chinese Rifle, it dies... when you're using the VATS. If you're not, it may take four or more headshots. I'm being told it changes later in the game, but it should work properly right from the start! The game seems also to be completely in the dark when determining the "to hit" percentages in the VATS mode, seemingly including a pretty big random element. I even took some perks which were supposed to improve my accuracy, but I observed no difference.
I'm coming to my biggest gripe about the game. To properly explore any work of fiction, you have to suspend your disbelief. It's as true in case of video games as when it comes to movies or books. So let's take Fallout 3. Gigantic flies and fire-spitting ants roam the ruins, while crickets happily chirp among the concrete blocks of a destroyed city? Ahaha, that's the outcome of a nuclear war for you, right? Some mutations have to occur, move along. You decide to help a poor girl and deliver a message from her to a far-off settlement in which her family (which she's obviously very concerned about) may or may not be alive, encounter an apparently murderous clique of blood-drinkers who have a certain relationship with the family in question, deal with the whole situation (which can be done in a few ways, btw), but come back only to hear a „kthxbye” line from her? Well, hehehe, she obviously tricked you and wasn't actually concerned about anyone, it's your fault for assuming too much. Every second raider hideout looks like Butcher's place from Diablo, with contorted bodies impaled on any protruding thingamajig available. But, uh, after an atomic holocaust some people are bound to get a little twisted, ain't they?
The problem is that the more you play, the higher you suspend your disbelief. Eventually it's suspended so high it gets frightened and screams in terror. And then it hits you. It's supposed to be 200 years after the war. And to cut a long story short, the game world is designed as if a lot, lot less time has passed since the apocalypse. Why the hell are all those wooden buildings standing in such a state 200 years after the war? How on earth are all those computers running? Why didn't anybody loot all the first-aid boxes and vending machines? Why are all the food items still edible? To borrow a phrase from one of our forum posters, shouldn't the game be "post-post-apocalyptic" if it's to be set two centuries after the war ended?
I'll leave this question unanswered and move to other things. I hate it when new games are labeled as "classics". A game can only attain such a status after a long time has passed. And without help from modders, I don't see much cult following of Fallout 3 in the future. If all locations were crafted with so much care and attention to detail as the Museum of Technology, and if the development team had at least one person capable of at least occasionally writing something on par with the dialogue from Bloodlines, things would be different. But as it is, Bethesda has left the task of transforming an enjoyable game into a true gem for the modders. Right now, I dare say the game is quite forgettable.
I am long past the age in which I built towns from coloured wooden blocks. The days of eagerly building little dams and canals out of mud and stones are far behind me. But I still play computer games. I'd be so bold to state I am more mature now than in 1997. I would like my favourite hobby to mature with me. Sadly, this doesn't seem to be the case. Back in late nineties, the Fallouts, with all their bugs and occasional silliness, were enjoyable for people who also liked a good book or movie. Such people will grind their teeth to dust while playing Fallout 3. The parts of the game's content which have truly high quality are few and far between. At the same time, a significant faction in the game is the True Force of Good, the post-apocalyptically retextured paladins, whose parting saying ("Steel be with you") has to one of the most retarded lines ever to grace a Bethesda game, doubly so as hardened battle veterans are supposed to be saying it with a straight face. The main quest even includes a scene in which the Evil is strong and dangerous, while the dumb and weak forces of Good are saved due to a lucky coincidence. Yes, just like in all formulaic, forgettable Hollywood action movies. So, if you're continuing your gaming habit even though you've meanwhile finished your studies and got a job, Fallout 3 may be just what it takes to make you realise what a waste of time your hobby has become.
At this moment I'd like to thank an anonymous referee for pointing out that in the previous paragraph I was showing the signs of suffering from "going through mid-life crisis at an early age". I won't finish this opinion in that vein - because, in fact, I'm quite happy with the way the game turned out, taking into account my very low expectations. When after Morrowind we got the dumbed-down and dull Oblivion, I thought Bethesda consciously decided to board the one-way train to the realms of retard-friendly, children-oriented h&s games with linear, unoriginal quests and primarily cut'n'paste content. Fallout 3, with all the attempts at putting meaningful stat-checks in dialogues, providing quests with various outcomes and ways of finishing them, a few locations designed with inspiration, and some small - yet important - very good features like the quest-related audio bits definitely shows promise. I'm glad Bethesda didn't think "we won't introduce stat checks into dialogue, because that's not what we do well". Yes, they don't do it very well, yet. But they tried, and I'm sure they learned something in the process. Some parts of the game show that with more practice, Bethesda should be capable of delivering a fully-fledged cRPG experience. I'm quite optimistic regarding the Commonwealth Fallout 3 expansion.