No Main Character Constraints
I really like it when there is freedom in a video game. The funny thing is that I have never been a huge fan of making a character that looks like me; usually, I go with whatever the default is (lazy me) and call it good enough.
Even if I never take it, it is great to see the option to be a Hispanic female or an Asian male. I do think it's important to try not to exclude anyone, especially because more people than just straight-white-males play video games. Many of my gamer friends were female and to see them limited to mostly male characters in video games (even though I am one) didn't quite seem right. So when Portal decided that we were to play as a brown-skinned female, I was down to ride. When Fallout said, 'Be what you will', I was quite happy.
Customizing Your Character
The game literally starts with your birth and from there you pick everything. They let you be male or female, they have a few skin types to choose from, you can customize the face a good bit, and you have stats to play with too.
You can also use a preset or randomize your appearance (for lazy players like myself). In addition to the physical side of your character, they let you be whatever type of person you want. I like it when I am free to be an evil a$$#*!e or a giving saint, and Fallout presents that option countless times throughout a single playthrough.
You are free to pick your stats how you will, you can visually customize your character in many ways, not to mention all of the apparel in the game, and you determine your personality; I don’t think it gets freer than that.
Fallout 3 gave us a pretty big wasteland to explore. When you first step out of the vault, you can get a fairly decent idea of the scale of this world. For me, the first thing I did was to test the makeup of the game world. I came out of the vault and just started walking until I found a pretty good high spot. What I saw was incredible; mountains way out in the distance, several towns here and there, broken up roads and busted out bridges hanging over horribly irradiated water. I saw a tower out in the distance, and this became my mark. I pointed my cursor at the tower and started walking, doubting I would ever reach it. To my astonishment, I arrived at the tower and was greeted by a pretty pissed off guard. I decided to head to the mountains next and after a few deaths and some reloading, I actually made it.
This game is amazing; just walking from one extreme of the map to the other is one hell of a journey. If you happen to have all of the add-on content, you'll have several maps to explore too.
At one point, you can board a ferry to another place full of all kinds of crazy. There is a pretty awesome raid on the Enclave that has you off the usual map. Once you complete everything in the game and run out of stuff to do, you can simply walk from one side of the map to the other and something is bound to happen.
Nice and creepy, just the way I like it. I'll never forget the first time I stepped out of the vault; the sky was dreary and sunless, the mountains stripped of all things living, burned out trees standing lifeless. I stood there soaking in the first sight of the wasteland, and thanks to bloom (I think), I was sold on the effect of my eyes adjusting to the light. I didn't move from that spot for probably a solid minute. I had to let it sink in just a bit, after seeing houses blown apart and barely standing, crumbling roads broken apart from one another, totaled vehicles everywhere. The first thing I had to do was find higher ground to get a better view and a better view is certainly what I got.
It was insane to see all of the desolation and complete lack of natural growth. It really looked like (what I'd expect anyway) a nuclear wasteland. There are towns setup using what's left of buildings around, a cluster of old houses surrounded by makeshift barriers.
I followed the road only for it to lead me to a bridge out over the water. Greeted by a nervous old man with a gun, I find a town set up on an old interstate bridge.
Eventually, I make my way across the bridge and get a better view than before. All of the infrastructure and all of the roads, bridges with broken off with segments fallen to the ground. Rabid irradiated dogs lurking around, Raiders hunting you for your stuff, Super Mutants hunting you for your body parts, it's rough.
There is a point in the game where you are called back to your vault (sort of). Some crazy stuff goes down, and you eventually leave again.
By the time I reached this point, I had gotten a radio station back up and operational for the DJ Three Dog. After a bunch of killing and fighting to get back into the vault, when I stepped back out of the vault again, I laughed. I came back out to the wasteland with all of its depressing glory, only to have Bob Crosby serenading me wanting to go way back home. He is singing about the beauty of the birds and the sun, the moon and the fields, the people, the fruit and flowers, all while I am staring at living death in the form of Post-Apocalyptica.
This could double for a point towards atmosphere; the juxtaposition of roaming around a burned-out wasteland commonly referred to as Post-Apocalyptica, while listening to the Andrews Sisters or the Ink Spots. All of this happy music while I'm surrounded by misery and depression really makes me scarily happy.
I had stumbled across a mini-nuke launcher and was having the time of my life (while jamming out to Danny Kaye) when I saw a group of super mutants coming for me. As soon as I saw them, I lined up my sights, aimed high, and let it roll. After the explosion (and its respective mushroom cloud) settled, my world was back to Danny and the Andrews Sisters, sending me into a psychotic laughing fit; that is a great use of music.
Freedom of Choice
Just like character creation where you are whatever you want, the world is truly open and you can do whatever you want. What you do differently plays out in front of you (for the most part).
A huge part of the charm of this game is the freedom to explore possibilities. If a person comes running up to you for help and you don’t get that explosive collar off of them, you’ll see them explode all over your face. However, if your explosives skill is high enough, you can gain karma for removing explosive slave collars from people.
You have the option to help the town of Megaton by disarming the bomb in the middle of town, you can detonate the bomb and make Megaton a memory, you can ignore the bomb entirely, or you can even go on a rampage killing everyone in town (not recommended). If you help Megaton you can get a house there, if you destroy Megaton you can get a suite at Tenpenny Tower, and Tenpenny Tower has a few choices you have to make as well.
I appreciate a game giving me every chance to be good and decent while maintaining the option to go evil all over the place. The very first time I played Fallout 3, I was a little do-gooder that just had to help everyone I encountered. At the end of the game, I was given praise for being a good person and making my dear old dad quite proud. I wanted to know what it would have been like to be a prick to everyone my second time around. The narrator really doesn’t like you very much if you’re a butt face to the wasteland.
The next time I played the game, I started evil and went good at the end and discovered another ending specifically for that. Different items are available depending on whether you take the high road or not, different characters will follow you depending on your good and bad karma. Everything pretty well relies on your actions and interactions with the wasteland.
Guns, Guns, Some Guns, and More Guns
Oh my wow. Seriously, this game had more guns than I even cared to try keeping track of. I usually decide to stick to a select few but end up having the hardest time on which ones to go with.
I came across a Silenced 10mm Pistol and found it to be great for stealth infiltration. Thanks to a good Sniper Rifle, I have taken down a lot of Super Mutants which has me with more Hunting Rifles than I’ll ever need.
As much as I like the Sawed-Off Shotgun (perfect for Rad-Roaches), the Combat Shotgun is perfect for clearing rooms and buildings (especially against Raiders). The Sniper Rifle never lets me down but the Missile launcher is a fun alternative (not as much fun as the Fat Man).
The guns rely heavily on both your stats and their own condition. You absolutely must maintain and repair your guns to avoid problems. Your weapons wear out with use and the best way to keep them up is to find other weapons of the same type (for parts basically) and get to fixing. There are even a couple of people you can talk to that do good repair work so that you don’t have to (you’ll need caps).
In addition to repairing production weapons, you can build your own out of what you find lying around (pretty much). One great example is the Lunchbox Mine; you need a lunchbox, some bottle caps (for shrapnel), and a couple of other things, with a few seconds at a workbench.
Some of the Best RPG Elements
In addition to fixing your weapons, you have to maintain and repair your armor and clothes. The more you roll around Post-Apocalyptica, the more different factions you’ll discover and the more types of people you’ll encounter. As you interact with enough people you’ll see that everyone is different, some people are harder to bargain with, some people are easily offended, some people are easily aggravated.
Much of how people are with you comes from how you are and how your stats are. If you get your Barter skill high enough, you can get better deals for doing jobs for people, usually getting more caps too. Every element of the leveling system makes a huge difference in the way the game feels too.
If you can fix a weapon to 100% condition but your stats for small arms remains low then it won’t do any good to have that perfect 10mm pistol on your side. Just like not having your sneak ability up but deciding to infiltrate a Raider outpost.
I found myself playing the game to level up and make the game more playable, I enjoyed every second of it (even when I was swearing and yelling). The funny thing to me is how that was the fun; leveling up. Thanks, Fallout, now I’m that guy: ‘I can’t, ma. I’m almost a level 12 and I can’t stop right now!’.
Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System: When I first got the introduction to V.A.T.S., I was a little put-off. It seemed like the game was being handed over to me with a gag in its mouth. It seemed a bit too easy to just press a button, click the mouse, and watch my enemies fall.
After playing the game for a while and seeing how they limit you from completely abusing the setup, I fell in love with it. You have to spend action points to be used in V.A.T.S. so it isn’t like you can just V.A.T.S. your way from one side of the map to the other, you do still have to put in some work. It isn’t quite as simple as point and click but it does only get easier as you level up and progress, especially with the perks. The most efficient way for me to use it is like reflex mode from the latest Metal Gear games. The first time I saw Reflex Mode in a demonstration for Metal Gear Ground Zeroes, I instantly thought back to V.A.T.S. from Fallout 3.
It is a habit for me to smack the V.A.T.S. button every single time an enemy rushes at me unexpectedly. Even if I don’t use the targeting system, it still gives me a second to react but it gets very cool when you do use the targeting system.
Fallout 3 doesn’t really have a huge cinematic quality, and I appreciate that sentiment; just give me a game. V.A.T.S. is the cinematic quality of the game. The camera shifts to one of many possible views (kind of like the replays in Driver) showing various angles of your automated carnage. Fallout does something that Burnout does really well; slow motion.
A good V.A.T.S. experience for me is one that uses the camera that follows the bullet from the gun to the (usually) head being fired at. There are no words to describe what it is like to follow a bullet in super-slow motion all the way to an exploding head on a Raider.