As you step out of your shelter – a home you can never return to – your eyes burn as you behold the sun for the first time. You gaze at a barren wasteland, bits of civilization jut out of the sun-bleached landscape, littered remients of a society that you never knew. The world, bleak and desolate as it is, unfolds, unending in front of you.
Fallout 3 is art. It’s a study in isolation and man’s reaction to it. Wandering the seemingly endless waste, taking in what remains of Washington DC after a nuclear war, you can’t help but feel a little alone – and a lot frightened. Pockets of humanity exist, but these societies are as bleak as the landscape. If they aren’t trying to kill you outright, they are trying to use you to further their own ends. That is, if they haven’t given up and fallen into despair already. It’s also worth noting that while many of the world’s human inhabitants want you dead, they aren’t the only beings that stalk the wasteland.
Survival is everything in Fallout 3. Scavenging and resource management is essential for survival. Dead foes are great sources of ammo and supplies. Or meat. Morality can become something of a liability when the shotgun needs repairs and radiation sickness sets in. Allies are few and far between. It’s a dog eat dog world, literally.
Despite the bleakness, Fallout 3 is incredibly compelling and is truly a role-playing game in every sense. Even if one were to simply focus on the main quest, the game would take 20 plus hours to complete. Most players will likely wander off the beaten path and explore the vast wasteland that Bethesda Game Studios has created, stumbling across the world’s strange and colourful inhabitants, most of which are hostile.
Combat, which will occur frequently, can be tackled in a more conventional turn-based RPG style where enemies can be bested by precision strikes to specific body parts via the Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System (VATS), or like a standard first person shooter. Foes react realistically and will use tactics to finish you off. Battles can be lengthy and rather satisfying.
There is a rich skill and perks system that allows for a ridiculous amount of customization (the ‘bloody mess’ perk must be seen to be believed), and the character creation and stat generation that takes place in the introductory portion of the game is without peer.
Despite its relentlessly bleak nature, Fallout 3 has a coal black sense of humour and an engaging and colourful cast of memorable characters. Plus, there are few games that reward exploration quite like Fallout 3 does. While the main storyline is reasonably absorbing, hours can be lost just wandering the map and discovering new towns, landmarks and interesting inhabitants.