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Fallout 3 7-Years Later Review



In the Introduction I mentioned that there are two things that come to mind when I think about Bethesda RPGs. The first was mods and the second is unmarked quests. To be more specific, as there is another completely valid interpretation of unmarked quests in this and other Bethesda games, I am referring to the design decision that the initiators for some quests are not marked. This means that it is entirely possible you will miss a quest just because you did not talk to that one person standing in the corner. Personally, I do not like this design, but I do respect it. It is well done, and does mimic life in that you do not know where that next opportunity is. Just be ready to talk to a lot of people when you play if you want all of the side quests.

Since I briefly mentioned them, I should also talk about the other meaning for unmarked quests. There are a number of open-ended quests in Fallout 3, sending you to collect things like pre-war books, blood packs, Nuka-Cola Quantums, and so on. These quests are not listed amongst your other quests, so if you forget where to take the stuff, you will have to hunt the Wasteland or the Internet to figure out where to go. While I can understand not wanting to crowd the quest list or map with markers, I do feel that there should be an in-game record for these quests somewhere.

Fallout 3 can be played in first person (Editor's Note: third-person, too), and you do shoot things in it, but it should not be considered a first-person shooter. That genre is in part known for fast action, and while there can be a lot going on in a Fallout 3 battle, I would not describe it as fast-action. You do not have the running, use of cover, or even the bullet control of an FPS. Your normal movement speed is running, with walking being a key press or toggle. The closest thing to a cover system is crouching behind a short wall, but there is no guarantee you are safely behind it. If you fire a gun and watch the bullets fly away, you can see that some of them will go off in directions that seem to be impossible. Battles feel a bit more methodical to me, as you have try to move behind walls when you need a pause to heal or reload, but otherwise you are trying to hit your enemy and get in a situation to be better able to hit them, i.e. closer. Only when you have better gear and have developed your skills can any of it feel boring. Outside of those instances, combat can be repetitive, sure, but not boring (at least to me).


Of course I cannot leave combat without talking about the V.A.T.S. system. With a single key press you enter a mode that allows you to select the enemies you want to attack and select what parts of their body you want to hit. Your shots are not guaranteed hits and you are shown the percentage chance of hitting them, but this is still a very powerful tool. You can use it to efficiently attack enemies around you with probably a better chance of hitting them than if you aimed manually, and you can use it to find your enemies. Sometimes you will not spot where your enemies are, but with a quick key press, the camera will be moved over to them, one at a time, and let you either attack through V.A.T.S., or point you in the right direction to attack on your own. It is a very significant mechanic and one you will find useful.

Going back a couple paragraphs, I want to say that I do not think the combat would work as well without V.A.T.S. It does not give the speed necessary for the feeling of an FPS, but it does give you great control. Without it, I cannot imagine the combat would be much fun with how long delays between shots and reloading can be, and the damage not always being enough to make body shots worth it.

One final thing to mention about combat is that switching weapons requires entering your inventory (Editor's Note: hotkeys exist), so if the weapon you have equipped is not the one you want, it will take some time to switch. Entering your inventory does pause the game, so you are safe, but it is a pause in the action. Similarly healing can require pausing the action.



Movement is very important in Fallout 3, because how else will you explore the map? The thing is that even running feels slow, and your normal movement speed is running. Some kind of sprint mechanic, vehicles, or mounts would have been very appreciated by me. Of course, you do have a very good fast-travel system, so it is not like you have to run everywhere all the time. You just have to run there once to unlock the marker. Once you have, you are freely able to fast travel to the market from any place you can see the sky from. If you are inside a building, fast travel is disabled, but some areas, like Megaton, are open to the sky, so you can travel out of them. Time does pass when you fast travel, so the amount of daylight will change.

You can lose the ability to fast travel, run, and jump if you become over-encumbered with the various goodies you have picked up. Ammo, money, and some medical supplies do not weigh anything, but just about everything else does, and it can seem to add up quickly. Fortunately, there are a few ways to overcome this issue while out exploring. You can take the Buffout drug, which temporarily increases your strength and thereby your weight limit. You can also put some stuff into the various containers you find, including ammo boxes, trash cans, filing cabinets, and more. Obviously using Buffout is the better of these two, as you do not have to return to collect anything left behind. The third option is to repair your gear using other gear. If two items are identical or very similar, you can use one to repair the other, removing it from the inventory and thus dropping the amount of weight you are carrying.


The repair system is useful, but I wish it had some more depth, like the ability to use scrap metal to repair metal items, such as weapons and some pieces of armor. If this were the case, it would have opened up the crafting system to me more, as then I would have been carrying around more of the random crafting supplies, instead of just carrying around the weapons and armor I need for restoring my gear's condition. Honestly, a lot of the craftable weapons are more curiosities than really useful, compared to some special weapons you can find. The Rock-It Launcher, for example, will fire miscellaneous items at enemies, and while it may be pretty fun to kill a super mutant with a teddy bear to the face, the ammo has weight to it and not everything can be used as ammo either. This limitation and cost makes it a weapon I choose not to use. Other crafted weapons are similarly special in design, like the Railway Rifle that does great damage to limbs and the Dart Gun that cripples an enemy's legs and applies a DOT. Personally I prefer the weapons that will kill quickly over those with special effects like these. To each their own.

All of the items you can craft are weapons, by the way. Also there are no special requirements to use any weapons. Skills improve their effectiveness, but a level one character can wield the same weapons as a level 30. Armor is similar, but Power Armors do require a special perk to equip.


The leveling and stat system for Fallout 3 is fairly interesting and deep. First, you have the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats, which stand for Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, and Luck. Each of these can influence some of your skills, which are Barter, Big Guns, Energy Weapons, Explosives, Lockpick, Medicine, Melee Weapons, Repair, Science, Small Guns, Sneak, Speech, and Unarmed. You can probably guess the impacts of many of these skills from their names, like Medicine improving the effectiveness of medical drugs and Speech making it easier to talk someone into something. All skills can be raised up to 100 by leveling up and finding various items that impart upgrades, like special books and bobbleheads.

Finally, we have the many perks that have more interesting impacts on the character. Some will improve stats and skills, but others add new things like the Mysterious Stranger perk. With this perk there is a chance for a stranger to appear and kill a target in V.A.T.S. if you did not kill them. Perks do have requirements, including level and stat requirements, but nothing too severe. There is a maximum character level, so you can only get so many perks in a playthrough.



Next up is the DLC, which I forgot to record separate times for. I played all of these, except Broken Steel, prior to completing the base game. Playing any of them is as simple as travelling to the spots given on your map, which can be highlighted by activating the associated quest markers. Each gives you a new and separate campaign from the base game, except Broken Steel as that takes place after the base campaign. The length of the DLCs do vary, as does their design. Operation Anchorage, The Pitt, and Mothership Zeta have a more linear feel to them, or at least they did for me, while Point Lookout felt more like entering a smaller version of Fallout 3. In that way I found Point Lookout to be more enjoyable, but really they are all pretty fun, especially Mothership Zeta that has you fighting aliens.

Sadly these DLCs do have some serious bugs. In Mothership Zeta I had to use console commands to open a door because the NPC that was supposed to simply would not go to the door. Operation Anchorage killed my companion Dogmeat on an elevator ride and even after using commands to resurrect the pet, its AI would not enable. This left me no choice to but cheat a level up so I could get the perk that would produce new Dogmeats, as the original's puppies, outside of Vault 101. Dogmeat's death can be avoided by making Dogmeat stay somewhere or sending it back to Vault 101, but I could not find any guaranteed way to avoid the door bug and the only fix is to turn to console commands.


As I said, Broken Steel takes place after the main campaign and sets you on the path of defeating the Enclave, one of the major forces in the Capital Wasteland, and not really one of the positive forces. It does a pretty good job adding onto the game and wrapping up loose ends.

As I enjoyed all of the DLC, and the GOTY is something on sale with regularity, if you wish to get Fallout 3 I recommend getting it with all of the DLC. They add a good amount of fun to the game, so why not get the complete version?

In total it took me 60 hours and 36 minutes, according to the save file, to complete the game and all of the DLC, to the best of my knowledge. There may be some stray missions I missed because I never encountered them. Fortunately, the game tracks completed quests, and it says I did 55. There is some replayability here, if you want to try for different morality decisions, but for me, that is not quite enough. I have no interest in seeing the opposite outcomes for decisions I made, but you may feel differently. Besides, 60+ hours is a pretty good length as is.


Before I forget, Fallout 3 does use a quick and auto save system, but you only get one of each, and as many regular saves as you make. I mention this so you know that each quick save replaces the previous, as do the auto saves, which is something I became quite familiar with when I experienced those DLC issues mentioned earlier.

Altogether, the gameplay of Fallout 3 is definitely fun and entertaining, and I can see many people enjoying it. The unmarked quest initiators mechanic is significant enough for me to limit my enjoyment. There are definitely aspects of the game I enjoyed, but that is a real detractor for me. That is completely a personal-taste issue, so you should not hold it against the game based on my opinion, but instead ask yourself what you think about it.

  1. Fallout 3 Review - Introduction
  2. Fallout 3 Review - Graphics
  3. Fallout 3 Review - Story
  4. Fallout 3 Review - Gameplay
  5. Fallout 3 Review - Additional Gameplay Media
  6. Fallout 3 Review - Conclusion
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