The much-anticipated Fallout 3 is to be a first (or third if you choose)-person role playing game set in a post-apocalyptic, alternate-history Earth.
For those who aren’t aware of the original games, they were a much-loved franchise developed by Interplay’s now-defunct Black Isle Studio. The series gained a cult-like fanbase when they were released, the first being back in ‘97, and became a popular title amongst critics and fans alike.
The first two titles helped achieve their status by mixing the authors’ highly attuned approach to humor with a distinctive post-apocalyptic, 50s-influenced setting. The result was a geek-pleasing, stats-heavy, turn-based RPG that made a huge impact in gaming communities.
The games were filled with references to various elements of pop culture; Monty Python, 50s sci-fi, comic books and post-apocalyptic films were all in there. The developers’ approach to style and setting was synonymous with that of the retro-futurist, alternate fiction explosion that the late eighties and early nineties had seen.
With this in mind, we move forward to 2004, and Bethesda Softworks, creators of the much-loved Elder Scrolls series, has acquired the license to the Fallout Franchise.
This, when it was made public, was big news to RPG fans, even those who hadn’t played the previous Fallouts, as any project Bethesda had taken on in recent years had been, to put it lightly, rather well-received across the board. Bethesda recently brought us the highly-praised fantasy epic Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, a huge 3D, swash-buckling, magic-toting horsey RPG. This release did some very big things for what was once seen as a relatively niche genre amongst western developers.
Fallout 3 began development in 2004, but the team didn’t begin the work proper until Oblivion and all it’s DLC had been finished this year.
“We started work in late 2004 with a few people. We only had about 10 people on it until Oblivion wrapped, but most of our staff is on it now” Todd Howard, Fallout 3’s executive producer told Official Xbox Magazine.
Despite the fact the game is set in the same universe as Fallout 1 and 2, Fallout: Tactics and Brotherhood of Steel are not being taken into account, "I ignore Tactics and Brotherhood like I ignore Alien 3 and 4," said Howard at a demo showing in Bethesda’s studio.
This latest addition to the series lands the player in an underground vault, something very familiar to Fallout fans. This time we’re in Washington DC, far away from the West Coast setting of the original two games. In another relatively small step away from the original two, the writers have decided against creating a direct sequel to the second of the series, instead basing the game 30 years after its release.
The year is 2277, and it’s exactly 200 years after the Great War, an event that culminated in a massive nuclear missile exchange between every nuclear capable country on the planet (though you’ll mainly hear about damage caused by China, the US and the USSR). This was the pivotal moment that caused massive devastation to the planet and created the distinct setting of Fallout’s post-apocalyptic USA.
In terms of humor and tone, Bethesda have taken a step back from the fourth-wall breaking, Monty Python-referencing ethos of Fallout 2, attempting to bring something a little more immersive. The team wanted to make a game that that was in keeping with the more subtle humor present in the first release. Howard said he wanted to attempt to make Fallout 3 feel adult, but without “being cheesy”.
In a move to hammer home said immersion, at least so far as character goes, the game begins with your own birth, deep inside (no) one of Fallout’s fabled vaults. The subsequent sections allow you to play at the tender young age of one, learning to take your first steps as a ten-year old at your birthday party, then at 16, dealing with the typical kind of teenage stuff 16-year-olds (in nuclear bunkers) have to deal with.
Whilst effectively growing up in-game, you’re able to assign characteristics in a Freudian sort of manner, your first few years defining what kind of person you’ll later become.
The main quest begins when the character hits 19, at which point his or her father has left the vault. No inhabitant, in this lifetime, has ever stepped outside before, so the news is obviously rather shocking to your fellow vault-dwellers. From hereon begins your main objective: find your father.
With concern to mechanics, Bethesda have been using a modified version of the Oblivion engine to create Fallout 3, a move that could make fans of the original a little wary but will most certainly please those that enjoyed the complexity of the recent Elder Scrolls games (providing they’re into the idea of a not-quite-so-mystical setting).
Grinding is a little different than in Oblivion, it’s a fairly complex situation with regards to the way that creatures level up, with each area assigning itself a level for the monsters upon the player’s arrival. Once that level has been assigned to a particular species however, it will stay the same throughout the game.
This allows players to come back to a location to fight the creatures that may once have been impossible with the appropriate level of ease (or hardship). This is a very deliberate attempt to create a sense of achievement, something often lacking in games where creatures will continually level up with the player.
Speech is a huge part of Fallout 3, and voice-acting has certainly been given a lot of attention. Liam Neeson is cast as your father and there are a notably smaller amount of NPCs than in Oblivion, each being carefully-crafted and completely individual. This makes interaction a more refined affair. Indeed, attention-to-detail and refinement seems to have been a massive part of Bethesda’s approach to Fallout 3. The team have deliberately made the world much smaller and more detailed than that of Oblivion’s in an attempt to deliver a set of somewhat more convincing environments.
The Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System, or VATS, as it’s more commonly referred to, was developed specifically for Fallout 3. It’s an attempt at blurring the boundaries between first-person and turn-based gaming. VATS pauses the in-game action and allows the player to choose a body part to aim at. The likelihood of hitting the chosen section on-target will be displayed onscreen, and of course will be affected by a series of stats. These statistics, as you’d expect, are determined by the player’s choices throughout the story.
It’s at this point where the turn-based history shines through, as Action Points are an important factor; only a certain amount of shots can be queued before the action is unfrozen . Again, in true RPG style, the amount of AP a player has will be determined by their previous decisions, equipment, armor bonuses and so on.
VATS is handy for those less advantaged in the way of first person shooting, and will perhaps put those at rest who might not have enjoyed that particular element of FPS games. A fun bonus of VATS is that after queuing your shots up you’re treated to a slow-motion depiction of the resulting carnage.
Gore is a major feature in this game, and most certainly one where Bethesda isn’t sidestepping from the mature leanings of the previous releases. The slow-motion of VATS is a great way to show off the game’s physics; body parts can explode or tear off and bounce around the war-torn landscape, entrails can be seen when people are split in half, that kind of thing. It can be extremely satisfying to watch, and all comes in the form of glorious and rather impressive real-time cinematics.
Gaining weapons is obviously key to wasteland survival, but so is maintenance. It’s unlikely you’re going to find any kind of brand-spanking new item in a post-apocalyptic DC, so you must find duplicate weapons to help repair and restore your inventory.
There’s a lot to be said for the tactics of choice in this game, with huge decisions available to the player at various points throughout. Sow the wrong seeds though and you’ll, well yeah, you’ll reap them…
It’s possible to blow up an entire location named Megaton (an amazing claptrap town built literally from scrap), right from the beginnings of the game. If the player makes the decision, they’ll gain the benefits being offered by a mysterious man, but each of the quests that were available exclusively in the location might well disappear.
Decisions, such as blowing up a town for money, will, unsurprisingly, affect the way people will view you through the game. This is a little like Oblivion’s morality system, but with a few tweaks for the sake of (relative) realism. No longer is a player either simply good or bad, the middle-road, more neutral approach to life is now an option, and NPCs will react to this accordingly. The resultant effects of moral decisions are more region-based, meaning stealing bottle caps (Fallout’s iconic currency) on one side of the wasteland won’t necessarily mean somebody on the other will, for instance, refuse to give you a quest.
The ending of the game will also be affected by player choice and subsequently there are, at this stage, nine different outcomes to the main quest.
There are companions to be gained, but their appearances are reportedly quite brief, and can only be brought about either through payment, or their choice to support you on your quest.
A returning item that couldn’t really be missed out from the Fallouts of old is that of the Pip-Boy; a wrist-strapped mini-computer that houses your inventory, stats, map and so on. A nifty addition to the device is the radio, a surprisingly useful tool that goes beyond being a simply aesthetic extra. Though this will provide you with the old-time swing and jazz Fallout fans have come to expect, you’ll also hear news reports referencing your very self (think GTA), and more importantly, it’ll provide you with key snippets of information for quests.