Fallout 3 Hands-on Preview

Written by Joe Martin

August 4, 2008 | 14:23

Tags: #fallout #fallout-3 #hands-on #hands-on-preview #morrowind #mutant #nuke #oblivion #post-apocalyptic #zombie

Companies: #bethesda #interplay

Getting Specific

Aside from the technical details, feature lists and kitten-laden examples designed to provoke cynical, arching eyebrows and quiet little ‘awww’ sounds in the back of your throat, what is it like to actually play the game?

It sounds stupid and difficult to summarize, but it’s important. I know a good number of people who lapped up the details and features of Oblivion only to find the game bland, pointless and samey when they actually sat down to play it. A lot of that was due to the world-leveling that kept even lowly bandits in step with your rapidly expanding powers.

So, here’s my experience with the game – the diary of my exploits in the burned-out DC.

Curtain up and there’s a brief glimpse of steel consoles with fancy space-age designs that’d be immediately familiar to any Fallout fan. Lots of concave steel pillars holding old-fashioned CRTs with luminous green fonts striking out from black backgrounds, like The Matrix code if it was more realistic and wasn’t struggling awfully for credibility.

Fallout 3 Hands-on Preview Fallout 3 Hands-on Preview - Exploration

I’m out of the vault and the experience must have been pretty rewarding for my avatar, who I’ve taken to calling Alvin Simon Theodore for reasons that are deeply buried childhood memory, because I’ve just reached Level Two. Time to choose a perk. The Pip-Boy swings up into view and I scan the list, which is mostly the same as the one from previous Fallout games. Each skill is matched by a percentage and higher is always better. I divide my fifteen points between Small Guns and Speech, to keep all bases covered.

I pull my gun up and look over the surroundings. The landscape looks like a bomb went off. Ha.

A surprising amount of Fallout 3 is focused on learning how to find your way around the environment and traverse the piled up tumbleweed car wrecks and gutted cement skeletons to get to your destination. If you get tired of it then you can fast-travel, but only to places you’ve already been, so the first journeys are always a strange cross between a parkour assault course and the orienteering course from hell.

Exploration is central to Fallout 3s appeal though and it’s clear that Bethesda has learned lessons from the endless forests of Oblivion and vast expanses of Morrowind. With a ruined cityscape to play in and the constant threat of ambush or reward of salvage, there’s more incentive to look around and you’re no longer limited to identi-kit dungeons, castles and farmsteads. This hammered home quickly in our playtime.

Out of the vault, I wandered down into the emaciated shell of Spring Vale. It was eerily quiet so I bought up my Pip-Boy and tuned the inbuilt radio into a nearby radio station. There’s hundreds of hours of music and broadcast to listen to in Fallout 3 – some of it coming from the paramilitary Brotherhood of Steel or rival Enclave, some from ramshackle towns like Megaton where pirate radio is easy entertainment. Other transmissions are quest-related or stuck on loop since before the bombs fell.

Fallout 3 Hands-on Preview Fallout 3 Hands-on Preview - Exploration

I worked my way down the street to the tune of some late 50’s jazz, searching mailboxes and sifting through clutter. A house catches my eye which is in better state than the others, so I enter and have a conversation with the owner. She’s been having trouble with a local pimp and drug-runner and though the chance to turn her over to him or help her on her way is tempting I’m aware my time is limited. I need rewards that are immediate and her armour looks better than mine. I promise to help, slip into VATS mode and queue up a series of point-blank headshots. She goes down, clattering to the floor like a bag of bolts.

Later, I’m roving the mashed up cityscapes. I’ve gotten better armour and more weapons now thanks to a drawn-out raid on the local school, which had been infested with bandits. I’m also beefed up to Level Four thanks to some completed quests in nearby Megaton – all spoileriffic stuff I’m not really allowed to mention.

At Level Four, I’m feeling more capable. I have more guns, meds and armour than I think I’ll need, so I roam wide and far. Funnily, I end up outside Bethesda’s DC office and running from some bandit snipers I take cover in the building. Buildings in Fallout 3 are similar to dungeons in Oblivion and that similarity is enough to make me feel over-confident. I charge in, confident the world is going to have leveled with me.

It doesn’t end well. An automated turret pins me down while I’m flanked by a flamethrower-wielding raider and suddenly the world drifts into painful oblivion. In front of my peers, I scream and curse and they turn around in time to see my shameful re-loading. I should be embarrassed or bitter, pissed that the game took me down in an obviously unfair fight, but I’m not and I’ll tell you why.
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