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Edward R Murrow's Dissertation on Fallout 3

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Edward R Murrow's Dissertation on Fallout 3

Review - posted by DarkUnderlord on Fri 21 November 2008, 01:58:52

Tags: Bethesda Softworks; Fallout 3

What, just one review for the most widely anticipated Codex game in years? Not bloodly likely. Here now, gentle readers, is Edward R Murrow's Critical Dissertation on Fallout 3: Islands of Good Awash in a Sea of Mediocre, Time-Wasting Drivel:

Generally, it was pretty much what I suspected it would be, with a few pleasant surprises, and a few "How could they be that thick?" moments. It's a Bethesda game through and through, with all of their trademark flaws and few of Fallout's strengths preserved. Fallout 3 basically plays much like a post-apocalyptic Oblivion with guns and a few tweaks, despite what some might say. Bethesda did not stray far from their formula, for better or for worse. It does some things right, and it does a whole heap-load of things wrong. I wasn't exactly pleased with it, but it could have been a lot worse.​
How could it have been worse? Read on...

About eleven years ago, the first Fallout game was released, pretty much revolutionizing the RPG genre, taking them out of the fantasy (Wasteland and Buck Rogers aside), out of the dungeons, and out of the tedium of endless combat. When I found it a few years after release, hearing about it from playing another Interplay-published game, Baldur's Gate, and gave it a try, I was hooked. When I first played, it pushed all the right buttons. My character felt unique, and actually played close to how I envisioned they would. In most games, you'd start out, and make your character with all sorts of ideas about how they could be a gambling rogue, or a dashing mercenary with a lot of finesse and charm, but ultimately have all your ideas dashed by dungeon-minded design, or the fact that most RPGs pretty much only cared about killing things and getting around the world to kill said things. Fallout was different, it's gameplay helped to make my character concept "work" by actually making use of the skills and stats I had picked to change the experience and make it feel like my own. It made the player feel like they were in control of the story, that it was theirs to interact with and be the main character of. And above all, it didn't waste my time; it brought the good stuff like quests with choices, character interaction, and exploration right up front and avoided the RPG trope of killing lots of monsters in countless dull dungeons.

Not only that, but it brought with it interesting writing, a nifty setting, some great aesthetic design, and an overall better feel than your typical RPG back then which usually boiled down to some quest to kill a big foozle in the name of some goofy fantasy crap. It still stands as one of the scant few games I've ever been so impressed with, that after completing it once, I just had to give it another go immediately.

Later, I decided to give the sequel Fallout 2 a go, as I figured it should be pretty good. In the end, I was satisfied, but in the beginning I was pretty doubtful, seeing as the first few locations are terribly done, and your character has little to no freedom in how to do things (at least compared to the first) until you hit the Den. Fallout 2 was definitely rushed, and lost a lot of Fallout's polish and care. It was still fun as can be, just not as great. Later I found out it was an entirely different group leading the team, and it definitely showed.

Tactics....was okay, and PoS (the name Fallout fans have for the console spinoff) doesn't need to be mentioned. Neither of them were the Fallout 3 I wanted, nor what most of the fans wanted. I was anticipating the real Fallout 3 by Black Isle, and was kind of sick of the spin-offs instead of it. Unfortunately, that just was not fated to be, as Interplay went under and brought Black Isle with it [Editor's Note: Interplay is still around doing it's best Night of the Living Dead zombie impersonation]. The license was sold off to Bethesda and here our story gets a little closer to the point.

When I first heard the news, I wasn't sure what to think. Bethesda to me were the people that made Daggerfall, that really empty game with the amazing character system, and Morrowind, the game that butchered the really amazing character system but made the world a lot better. It could have gone anywhere in my mind....at least at this point. Then they released Oblivion, which pretty much was a terrible RPG, and started releasing some really...bad information about their take on Fallout 3. Suffice to say, I never had much confidence in the game from this point on, and in fact, had doubts I'd ever play it. However, after release, along with all the sycophantic mainstream reviews, some trustworthy, credible sources actually complemented it on a lot of things. It then got relegated to the "play when bargain bin" list. Opportunity knocked, and I was able to get a copy for the 360 without having to fork over $60, so I decided to give it a go and see if I can have some fun with it [Editor's Note: Edward assures us that nothing was physically removed from an inventory].

Generally, it was pretty much what I suspected it would be, with a few pleasant surprises, and a few "How could they be that thick?" moments. It's a Bethesda game through and through, with all of their trademark flaws and few of Fallout's strengths preserved. Fallout 3 basically plays much like a post-apocalyptic Oblivion with guns and a few tweaks, despite what some might say. Bethesda did not stray far from their formula, for better or for worse. It does some things right, and it does a whole heap-load of things wrong. I wasn't exactly pleased with it, but it could have been a lot worse.

Seeing as it's a sequel to one of the best role-playing games ever made, the RPG elements are probably a decent place to start off. They are definitely an improvement on Oblivion, or anything Bethesda has done for that matter. Skill and stat checks exist in dialogue and come out in force. Generally any quest-related dialogue will have a skill check involved. By this, it sounds like Fallout 3 is definitely off to a good start, but skill checks being all over the place does not a good RPG make. KOTOR had oodles of skill checks, it's just none of them ever really did anything special, or opened up any real doors. Fallout 3 is like this with most of the skill checks. A majority of the checks are merely speech checks to milk more money out of people as a reward, a la KOTOR, and hardly add anything. And by majority, I mean the majority. Most skill checks are "gimme more money" speech checks, there were scant few other checks. I ran across maybe three science checks, one repair check, and a medicine check or two and that was it. And most stat checks are intelligence checks that sound anything but intelligent, and that would be much more fitting with a [Captain Obvious] tag beside them. I suppose this is a marked improvement for Bethesda, but they're still 10 years behind the curve on this, and I don't rightly see any point in going easy on them.

And outside of dialogue, skills are rather poorly handled. One of the most glaring flaws is how they handled lockpicking and hacking. First off, to hack or pick something, skills only count for sort of an "entrance fee". What determines your success is a minigame. The lockpicking minigame is rather painless, which is a wonderful change from Oblivion, but the hacking is often frustrating and is overall not very fun. Even worse is how they handled the minimum skill requirements for both skills, in that only multiples of 25 matter as they are where all the baseline requirements lie. It kind of makes points in the skill feel rather worthless individually, whereas other skills get immediate marginal benefits upon increases, an additional investment in science or lockpicking very often confers no marginal benefit, even if you blow all your skill points for the level on it. I feel like that isn't a good way to design things, especially when pretty much every other skill confers some sort of immediate benefit on increase. And lockpicking and hacking hardly add anything to gameplay. Lockpicking rarely allows one to avoid fights or get to interesting places, it just gets you more loot, which is already far too abundant that more rarely matters (more on this later). Hacking lets you avoid some lockpicking checks, disable/reprogram a few turrets, and get worthless robots to possibly fight for you, but more than likely not due to the miracles of radiant AI screwups making it walk into a wall instead of fight enemies. And it's also the skill most related to getting background information from terminals in dungeons.

Other skills have little use outside of the combat sphere. Repair is all about weapon and armor maintenance and building the radically useless schematic weaponry. To be fair however, weapon degradation is completely ridiculous, so it does see a lot of use. But the secondary ability, schematic weaponry is pretty useless. Schematics come into play mid-way through the game due to their nature as mid-level quest rewards, and by the time you can make them, they're mostly obsolete being underpowered, and made useless by the abundance of ammunition for conventional weaponry. I don't know about the shishkebob however, it could be the premier melee weapon, or at least a good holdover until you can get a super mace....I mean sledge. Medicine makes stims and rad-away more effective. Problem is, you're swimming in both of them even in the higher difficulties, if you have any idea what you're doing, making this skill useless in the face of a rather bountiful wasteland. Same problem with barter. My barter skill never passed 30, yet I found everything, sans house upgrades, cheap as can be. You get way too many caps and too much loot for the skill to have any meaning.

Sneaking is handled poorly, there are very few stealth opportunities, and most quest NPCs seemed to have some sort of magic anti-pickpocketing field about them. Not to mention, the new Stealth Boys basically make points in this skill mostly obsolete unless you really want to sneak all the time, because you get quite a few Stealth Boy consumables that give you +100 to the sneak skill temporarily, and a bonus stealth field, allowing you essentially "sneak in a bottle". The ultimate problem about stealth however is that it isn't very fun, nor very reliable. When I tried to sneak through one of the myriad Metro tunnels in downtown DC I would often be at the mercy of enemy placement, as one narrow part with an enemy smack-dab in the middle would sink my dreams of being Sam Fischer/Solid Snake in a post apocalyptic wasteland as there was little to nothing I could do, even with the addition of a Stealth Boy. Plus, stealth is tedious and doesn't bring any rewards of fun. Bethesda could have gone a long way to making stealth more fun by implementing some sort of stealth kill system (outside of one high level perk to disable robots) like Bloodlines did. It makes things much more interactive, differentiates gameplay between characters, and gives the player a reward for sneaking beyond just a free critical hit or avoiding Bethesda's mounds of enemies. I thought Emil being a lead on one of the Thief games would make stealth worthwhile, but apparently not.

Explosives is an odd one. The skill involves disarming traps, throwing grenades, and the damage your explosives do. Disarming traps works well enough, however it's totally dependent on the player seeing the traps. There's nothing given to characters with high perception, or high explosives to aid them in seeing these traps, and my 35 in explosives was sufficient to disarm any trap I came across. Mines never worked for me though. They always seemed to not detonate on the enemies, possibly due to Bethesda's poor implementation of physics, and were generally not needed in any situation because combat was already a breeze.

Weapon skills function well enough, though I still don't like that they determine damage output instead of just accuracy, but it comes with the first-person/real-time territory I suppose. I mean, games like Deus Ex and Vampire: Bloodlines, where skills determined accuracy must not exist in Bethesda's dream world. Sure, it's jarring when you shoot at someone's center mass at point blank and miss in real time, but that doesn't mean a foolish system like the one in Fallout 3 should exist. Stuff like a nuclear catapult that fires mini-nukes dealing double damage because your big guns skill doubled is silly as can be. And emptying tons of hot plasma into something's head with a plasma rifle, but not fazing it because your energy weapons skill is crap is perfectly justified to Bethesda under the same “it's gameplay; don't think too much about it” that would justify the other way around. It's just Bethesda thinks, like a lot of game developers, that missing with weapons due to a lack of skill is some gaming sin. Oh, by the way, melee and unarmed are taken straight out of Oblivion, meaning they inherit all the clunky mechanics, and as icing on the cake, they can't target body parts in VATS because Bethesda was too lazy to animate it, making them pretty much play with the same block, strike, strike ad nauseum gameplay as Oblivion.

Stats are essentially gutted, providing very little to differentiate characters from one another. No longer are there crippling side effects of lowering a stat below 4, and no longer do you feel any real benefit to raising most stats to high numbers like 9 or 10. Basically, stats matter very little except for intelligence. See, intelligence stands head and shoulders above the other stats in the benefits each point gives you. Lets break it down, shall we?

Strength: 10 points of additional carrying capacity per point on top of the base 150 plus some melee damage.
Perception: Better radar and minor skill ups
Endurance: More HP and more rad resistance, plus minor skill ups
Charisma: A scant few checks and minor skill ups (the dump stat)
Intelligence: 40 additional skill points, plus minor skill ups and the most dialogue checks
Agility: minor increase in action points (65 plus 2 times agility) plus minor skill ups
Luck: critical chance goes up and minor skill ups

Obviously Intelligence is leaps and bounds the best here, because it gives you a massive pool of skill points to work with, and skill points are what matter in Fallout 3. And this is where the character system really breaks down. Maxing intelligence allows you to gain a huge amount of skill points easily. Throw in bobbleheads, perks, abundant skill books, and you can easily max 5-7 skills with ease. And seeing as 5 of the 13 skills are combat related, and two of them are arguably useless, it's very possible to become a jack of all trades character straight out of the Elder Scrolls style. My character had science, speech, small guns, and lockpicking maxed by level 14, and thanks to the mounds of experience you gain (at least on very hard) it was relatively early in my journey. Thus my character had no restrictions. You don't get that Fallout feeling of a defined role that you are playing. It goes a long way in making a lot of the skill checks feel pretty empty and hollow and the broken character system tears down many of the advancements Bethesda made in the role-playing department.

Quests are a very mixed bag. They run the gamut from peaks of almost brilliance to nadirs of idiocy but often end up in the state of great idea, horrible execution. Take for instance "The Replicated Man". It's an amazing quest. It's dialogue and exploration, there's no "dungeon" per-se, and you never have somebody actively drop the quest on you. It's very open-ended and presents a lot of choices in going about it. It even has good enough writing to boot, the only problem being how much android ethics a la Blade Runner seems silly in what is supposedly a gritty wasteland. The only thing it's missing is a set of good consequences beyond what shiny piece of loot you get or what perk you get. "You Gotta Shoot Em In The Head" is another example of a great quest. It starts as someone asking you to kill some people, but if you use your dialogue skills to do some snooping, it turns out to be a hunt for something very valuable crossed with an old vendetta. You can either do the assassinations and get some caps, or dig a little deeper and find out what the "special things" are for and maybe get the "treasure" for yourself, one that's sure to put a smile on any Fallout fan's face. Every assassination target brought you to an interesting place and had at least two additional ways of "handling" instead of killing. These were pretty much the best quests in the game. "Tenpenny Tower" was okay. It offered three ways to complete the quest, but two of them were killfests, and the speech option was...lacking. They attempt some sort of “consequence” for this quest if you use the speech option, but I never would have known about it because there never was a reason for me to ever travel back to Tenpenny Tower.

Some quests are in-between, like the “Oasis” quest. It has an interesting premise, sets up a moral dilemma, and has multiple solutions. Unfortunately, the moral dilemma is killed by awful writing, and all solutions but one involve going through a dungeon filled with radcrabs. And all but that one non-dungeon solution have very little difference, only the loot gained differs. Everyone just kind of nonchalantly agrees to disagree or flat out agrees with what you did including the people who saw their life and home gravely threatened, people who saw an opportunity for the wastes perhaps dashed, and the “person” who wanted you to kill itself to avoid an eternity of pain will just shrug and essentially say “Well, guess I was being selfish. You did the right thing I suppose”. It's that sort of lack of payoff and flawed execution that plagues most quests in Fallout 3.

From here though, it just got worse. Most other quests devolved into dungeon crawls. Take the "Stealing Independence" quest. Go into the National Archives and grab the Declaration of Independence. Seems like it should be fun enough, and offer some cool science and stealth options. Nope. Go through a bunch of DC metro tunnels while killing raiders and ghouls, then fight through 2 floors of mutants, and a floor of robots to be able to use a speech check to get out of a fight with a low level robot with a little personality. Wonderful. And the idiocy keeps going like this, where quests devolve into boring monster hacks with a usually useless speech check at the end. They have all this potential, and then throw it away on dungeon crawling nonsense. They even brought back an Oblivion fan favorite quest, except instead of collecting X amounts of Magic Wine you collect X amount of Nuka Cola Quantum. Obviously this quest is not an artificial time lengthener that exists just to drop you in more dungeons. Even worse, quests have almost no consequences. Even blowing up Megaton doesn't close out the big quests there, as the quest giver conveniently becomes a ghoul and still offers the quest to you from a different location. Working with Paradise Falls didn't seem to stop me from helping some escaped slaves in another quest, and I bet it would likely be the same vice versa, even though Three Dog is blasting everything you do across the Wasteland. Karma is the only consequence of quests and is pretty much useless except for the companions who cast Detect Good/Evil on you. Both good and evil characters get mercenaries on their tail, and I found trying to play a neutral character near impossible, as contrary to what Todd said, there are no rewards for neutral characters. Plus karma is pretty broken seeing as your robot butler can essentially give you infinite pure water to give to beggars for Karma ++ and you can always donate caps to churches for Karma ++ because it's not like Fallout ever had some sort of key anti-establishment tone in it or this is some tired RPG cliche that needs to be put to bed. And evil unspeakable is only stealing a whole house full of crap away, or perhaps killing some generic Megaton citizens who will respawn in the two days it takes to forget your crimes. So essentially, they neutered the only real consequences in their game.

The main quest is rubbish, pure and simple. Most every quest devolves into killing, and the only virtue of it is that you can skip most of it. It suffers also from another flaw of Oblivion, the player character is not the main character. Just like in Oblivion, how Martin was the true "protagonist" and you were more a glorified errand boy, you basically play this same role to daddy Liam and his pet project. Now, it's not being a “Chosen One” who must stop the ancient evil, which could be seen as a progress of sorts. Unfortunately, it's a case of being thrown out of the frying pan into the fire as you are the Chosen One's sidekick, who fights the mildly venerable evil. Also like Oblivion, it ends with you watching a big thing fight other big things instead of doing some ass kicking yourself. If I'm going to play a game riddled with combat, at least let me feel badass about it instead of cock-blocking me. Even in Bloodlines, when it devolved into a hackfest, my character was killing tons of stuff and wrecking house. I get to demolish the big players who had previously pushed me around, if I so chose to, not watch Smiling Jack fight them in his Mecha Battle Sarcophagus. But to make the climax something the player watches rather than participates in? What the hell, this isn't a jRPG you twats. Oh, and the ending is pure idiocy and to add insult to injury, they didn't even bring back the ending slides. Over 200 permutations my ass. It's more like one based on karma, one based on one choice at the very end, and one based on another choice at the very end.

And thus quests are basically where Fallout 3 again falls flat as an RPG. There are too few good ones, and the rest are buried in mounds of Bethesda's awful dungeon-crawling and terrible combat.

Exploration outside of quests is mostly pointless in my view, because the majority of locales are simple dungeon-crawls with maybe a log or a diary to put a little bit of backstory into what is likely a boring dungeon-hack with only loot and monsters. Any place with potential typically falls flat on it's face. Vault 106 was lauded for being an exercise in great scripting and immersion. It turns out it's a dungeon hack where you hallucinate a couple of times, and one of which you solve by walking forward and the other by shooting the hallucinations. Real clever Bethesda. Nice job throwing away a perfectly good opportunity. Why couldn't they really mess with the player? Like perhaps by making the Pip-Boy not function properly, make the map change, make a lot of hallucinations the player can talk with and creative stuff like this. The Dunwich Building is just a dark office loaded with feral ghouls and Lovecraft references delivered through audio logs and terminals. Whoop-dee-doo. I even found the base of the Outcast faction of the Brotherhood. I was excited about this, maybe I could get a quest to assassinate Lyons and let them take over, maybe be a diplomat between the two and negotiate a truce. Nope. I get a "quest" to bring any power armor or energy weapons to them for caps, ammo, or stims. Great job blowing some serious potential Bethesda. I even came across a huge raider settlement. I was really excited here, so I donned some raider armor and went in, expecting to blend in, and maybe get some quests, dialogue, and lore. Guess what happened though? They still went hostile. So Bethesda makes an entire settlement, unique art assets for a lot of it, and all for what? A glorified kill-fest. This type of half-assed work plagues pretty much every non-quest exploration locale. I remember one review I had read prior to release comparing the locations you could find in a favorable way to some of the better ones in Vampire: Bloodlines and all I can say is what were they thinking? Nothing like the haunted hotel, the hospital ruins, or the Escher-inspired manor exists to be found in this game. If anything, Bethesda's locales remind me more of the bad parts of Bloodlines, like the sewers, the Palace of Infinite Ninja Vampires, and the Hallowbrook Hotel; boring hackfests. Sure, places like Andale and the ComSat towers are well done, as they have some real interactivity, stuff to explore, or something unique to offer, but they are islands of good awash in a sea of mediocre, time-wasting drivel.

You've probably heard me drone on and on about "dungeon-crawling" this and that, and may be thinking to yourself "What a minute; dungeon crawling can be fun". And yes, a good dungeon crawl can be fun. But it needs two things; good dungeons, which Bethesda does not make, and good combat. And Fallout 3 does not do well in the combat department. What most detracts from the combat is the awful animations, making enemies, allies, and everything else move in jerky, erratic patterns. Now these jerky, erratic patterns make things hard to shoot, and take away from the flow of the action, fundamentally weakening the game. VATS, essentially the aimed shot mode to placate turn-based fans, is screwy as well. I don't quite understand the allure of taking all the action out of an action game by letting the computer shoot for you. It doesn't even add that much of a tactical edge either. It just seems like a cheap compromise. Enemy design is weak as well, with little interesting ideas. As much as I may have hated the idea of ghouls with "curative fluids", stuff like that would have gone a long way in spicing up Fallout 3's boring cast of enemy chumps. Because essentially, all enemies do is either follow the suicidal melee charge AI routine, or shoot stuff at you and attempt (and usually fail) to take cover of some sort. There are no group tactics, there are no advanced maneuvers. Bethesda hasn't picked up any of the tricks shooters have been doing with their enemies for the past six or so years. And essentially, these two routines only require two responses. If it's a melee enemy, go into VATS and unload on the legs, run back shooting while VATS recharges, and repeat as necessary. For ranged enemies, shoot the weapon or the arm, in VATS, to disable them and go in for the kill. You don't really need tactics though, because Bethesda has stuffed the Wasteland with enough loot that any character who hasn't been purposely gimped should have no fear, even on higher difficulties, as they can just item spam right on through. Throw in hilariously bad AI goofs, like enemies getting stuck on cover, or cowering in front of you at low damage, and combat becomes more of a tedious joke.

Bethesda could have made combat a lot better. Get enemies with interesting abilities. This is a 50's SCIENCE! setting, use some creativity. They already butchered the canon; they might as well add in quirky and interesting enemies even if they don't quite fit. Get some enemy diversity through any means. Besides models and damage, most enemies are incredibly similar. Molerats, mirelurks, yao guai, deathclaws, and feral ghouls all have the same mode of operation; charge forward and lunge at you. And those take care of almost half the encounters you end up in. It's just boring to fight one track enemies over and over again. No enemies have depth, and there aren't enough variations to make up for that. Or maybe they could also tone back on the hand-holding. Make ammo actually have weight, so conserving shots is important and you can't merely carry one weapon for each ammo type and never have to worry about running out or having a weapon break. System Shock 2 made combat a tense affair by giving you a very small amount of resources, making those 5 bullets you blew on a monkey something to possibly think about. And I think it's still kind of funny that I was more well supplied in a game about surviving in a wasteland after a nuclear holocaust, than in one where I was on a new space-ship, full of technology and supplies. They could possibly work on updating AI, and not making this play like a 90's FPS with a goofy super-shot gimmick.

Back on that canon thing; I don't really want to get into this that much. Basically, I could go on and on if I wanted to, but then it would just be a glorified fanboy rant, and nobody wants that. Suffice to say, anyone who played the past Fallout games may have a few “How did they get here?”, “Why are they like that now?” and “Godamnit I killed every last one of them in Fallout 2 and now they're back, and even stronger?!” in regards to matters of setting consistency. What really bugs me however, and what should at least register as a bad thing in the eyes of most, is how inconsistent the game is with itself. One moment you're talking to a ghoul who is upset people think they're “zombies” and how he explains it's untrue and people need to understand things beyond myth, ignorance, and superstition, and the next moment you're talking to actual vampire people who actually need bloodpacks to survive. One moment you're being told (or in the main quest; shown) the constant danger and serious of radiation, then the next moment the Sarah Palin of the wastes is telling you to go get severely irradiated for her, and that everything will be okay. One moment you're told how valuable pre-war energy weapons are. The next moment, you find one in a mailbox, or buy one for 7 caps, or find one in a shoebox, or have some ammo fall from the sky on you. I'm serious. Any atmosphere Bethesda builds up is torn down by idiocy that they couldn't cut out. Oh, and lots of things are left completely unexplained...and not little things, like why a light is on, or a computer terminal working, or why every grocery store is filled with drugs and mini-nukes, but big things, like why someone wants to blow up an entire settlement, or where the Behemoths came from.

Aesthetics aren't even that impressive, making you wonder what exactly it is this game does well. Sure, the wasteland looks very pretty from a technical point of view, but the logic behind it doesn't make sense. Some buildings will be destroyed outright, with others in near pristine condition right next to them. There's also the cut and paste wooden houses with identical decay and destruction in the same areas breaking any sense of immersion. It just doesn't look like a nuclear war happened 200 years ago and it doesn't seem like Bethesda put any thought into things. Characters look better than Oblivion, but there's a new problem in town; many characters are markedly similar to one another. It seems Bethesda made a few good faces, and then used them as much as possible. I distinctly remember seeing a good deal of Amata clones, and generally felt a lot of deja vu. Nobody had any distinctive feel, though that is a symptom of FaceGen I suppose. Voice over work is pretty terrible, most of the casting again following the Oblivion approach and having a small group of people voice many characters, with star power playing a few big roles. To top it off, animations for voice over are poor and unexpressive, with characters saying something with a lot of emotion accompanied by a very passive set of gestures. Both Mass Effect, a game released a year ago, and Vampire Bloodlines, a game released four years ago destroy Bethesda's feeble attempts in terms of making convincing digital actors with solid animations and voicework. I guess Bethesda delivers the same thing aesthetically they always do, some nice environments that you need to turn your brain off to enjoy hiking around.

Fallout 3 also happens to be one of the buggiest, most broken games I've seen. It's crashed more than Arcanum or Bloodlines ever did, I encountered a few quest-breaking bugs that made me reload from a much earlier save, and physics glitches killed two of my companions when entering a new cell. Worst of all, I'm playing on a 360....a console, and according to Todd Howard, the primary development platform. This is inexcusable, that a multi-million dollar game, from a huge development studio, on a console, is this buggy. Bugs come from two sources primarily; shoddy code and testing, and the programmer's inability to be able to predict everyone's system specs. Except, on a console, everyone has pretty much the same specs. Good one Bethesda. You made a game as buggy as Arcanum and Bloodlines (maybe buggier) that still isn't as good an RPG, and on a console to boot. That's worth an Xbox Achievement methinks.

Outside of gameplay, Bethesda butchers the Fallout canon, delivers a terrible story where your character is pushed around, writes mediocre dialogue, and generally just doesn't deliver much of anything but a sandbox game full of mildly amusing timesinks to explore and a lot of wasted potential. What it is to you depends mostly on how much mental blocks you can set up, or where your priorities lie. You need to block out that it abandons Fallout's setting, and much of it's core gameplay. You have to block out the horrendous writing and dialogue. You have to block out all the bugs and design flaws. And most of all, you have to pretend that calling something a “sandbox RPG” magically throws standards of quality out the window, and makes a game good if it just has lots of dull dungeons. That's what this game needs to be good, and it seems a little too much for my tastes.

I'm left wondering what happened with this game. They had an existing engine, an existing IP, a multi-million dollar budget, and a large pool of human resources, but nothing, save a few nuggets of greatness in the quest department, in Fallout 3 stands out as anything higher than passable.

Ultimately, Fallout 3 is more Bethesda mediocrity in the vein of Morrowind or Oblivion. If those games tickled your fancy, you're bound to love this game, it's everything they do, but better. Or maybe you can look past the flaws and have a blast with it. I can't say I didn't enjoy parts of it, but I also can't say I wasn't almost always disappointed by Bethesda's general half-assedness. It's a mildly amusing timesink; but that's not saying much. Ultimately, it just doesn't work for me. It flies in the face of most everything I felt Fallout 1 did so well. Closing things off, Fallout 3 is a lot like a wasteland; you're searching through it looking for a little something good, something to keep you going, but to do that you have to go through a whole lot of bad and it just might not be worth it and you might not want to go on.

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