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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (416)

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Soulcalibur VI 4.5/5
Owlboy 3/5
Battletech 3/5
Bloodstained: Ritual of... 3/5
The Legend of Zelda: A ... 4/5
Hob 3/5
Assassin's Creed Odyssey 4.5/5
Ittle Dew 2 4.5/5
Luigi's Mansion 3 4/5
Xuan-Yuan Sword: The Ga... 3/5
Star Trek: Bridge Crew 3.5/5
King's Quest: The Compl... 3/5
Strange Brigade 4/5
Metro Exodus 3.5/5
Evoland Legendary Editi... 4.5/5
Evoland 2 4.5/5
Burokku Girls 2/5
Finding Paradise 4.5/5
To the Moon 4/5
Marvel: Ultimate Allian... 2.5/5
Valley 4/5
Satellite Reign 3/5
The Fall of Gods 3.5/5
Even the Ocean 3.5/5
Asterix & Obelix XXL 2:... 3/5

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Fallout 3   PC (Steam) 

‘Fallout’ Never Changes… Except When It Does.    4/5 stars

One of the most quotable quotes from the ‘Fallout’ franchise is, “War… War never changes.” This quote opened the introductory movies of both “Fallout” and “Fallout 2.” And much like War, “Fallout 3” didn’t change, and opens with the same line. However, with the death of Interplay and the destruction of Black Isle Studios, the ‘Fallout’ IP now belongs to Bethesda Softworks, a company most well known for its ‘Elder Scrolls’ series of Fantasy Action Sandbox games. It seemed to me that nothing about “Fallout 3” would be the same as the first two games, and the general gaming public’s description of “Fallout 3” as ‘“Oblivion” with Guns’ had me seriously worried about the franchise’s transition from Turn-Based RPG to Sandbox Shooter. But someone at Bethesda worked hard to keep “Fallout 3” as ‘Fallout’-y as possible, despite the transition to a new game engine – Because ‘Fallout’ never changes.

“Fallout 3” is built on the same Havok Engine as “The Elder Scrolls 5: Oblivion.” Because of this, I was expecting to encounter some seriously hideous people who all look the same in a vibrant, open environment filled with lovely architecture. What I got, however, was more or less the opposite. The first thing I noticed about “Fallout 3” is that it takes the obsession with the ‘brown & gray’ color pallet from the first two ‘Fallout’ games and amplifies it even further, removing most of those icky, colorful browns and leaving even more room for gray. In fact, as my character entered the Wasteland for the first time, I thought that maybe – just maybe – the rest of the game would be in black & white… there was just that much gray.

Fortunately, the brown & grayness doesn’t really do anything harmful to the player’s ability to see and interact with items in-game. There is some creative use of lighting, and some objects actually have an innate glow. Yes, the Wasteland consists of mostly concrete rubble, dirt, and dead plants, but the interiors of buildings and recognizable real-world locations still have a lot of personality.

Character models look surprisingly good when compared side-by-side with ‘The Elder Scrolls’ and that series’ horrible, samey occupants. There are plenty of different looking folks, ranging from ugly to surprisingly attractive. Even the Ghouls, ‘Fallout’s’ mutated holocaust survivors, have fairly unique faces (what’s left of them, anyway) that allow them to stand apart from each other.

“Fallout 3’s” soundtrack is a bland series of ambient noise, featuring sub-sonic pulses and the groanings of old buildings on the verge of collapse… except for the fact that “Fallout 3” embraces the series’ love of old 1940s era pop music and runs with it. In addition to a tune that plays during the opening movie (which seems to have been intentionally rendered with obsolete modelling tech to make it look more like the intro movies in the first two ‘Fallout’ games), it is possible to listen to an in-game radio station while playing that has a surprisingly impressive collection of pleasant, catchy, theme appropriate, and juxtapositive tunes that bring a little ray of sunshine (or melancholy) into the desolate game world. I still have these songs stuck in my head, and even downloaded a few to add to my music collection I enjoyed them so much. This, dear readers, it the proper way to use licensed commercial music in a game soundtrack!

The voiceacting is, as is traditional for both ‘Fallout’ and ‘Elder Scrolls’ games, a mix of big name actors and relative unknowns. Unlike “Oblivion,” there are more unique voices for important characters (and generally fewer important characters that need unique voices)… though there are still a number of shared voice roles.

Technically, “Fallout 3” is pretty solid… for a Bethesda game. Sure, it crashed on me randomly a bunch of times, but it never hard-locked my PC. Sure, the camera is a bit jittery in third-person mode, but I never ran into any game-breaking glitches that needed to be fixed with the Command Console. Most of the glitches I ran into were cosmetic and of the humorous variety. If only other Bethesda games were this solid!

Like both “Fallout 2” and “Oblivion,” “Fallout 3” opens with a long-winded tutorial. This tutorial, however, is rather unique in that it begins with the player’s custom-created character’s birth and fast forwards to certain formative moments throughout their childhood. Upon catching up to the present day, the real narrative finally kicks into action.

Taking place 200 years after the nuclear war between the United States and China that devastated the entire world and transformed the Unites States into a blasted Wasteland, our protagonist and their father are living as happily as possible in Vault 101 just outside of Washington, D.C. Things go awry in the Vault, and our protagonist’s father, a scientist named James, leaves for the outside world without the Vault Overseer’s permission. Our protagonist follows and soon finds themselves alone in the Capitol Wasteland without a clue as to dear old Dad’s whereabouts.

The vast majority of the game’s main story, which is not timed (as in “Fallout”) revolves around tracking down James and, upon finding him, helping him with the huge, world-improving research project he had been working on before our protagonist’s birth. Like “Fallout” and “Oblivion,” this main story arc is fairly compact, but provides a number of interesting twists throughout its reasonable length. In the process of tracking down James, it is entirely possible (and highly recommended) to assist the Capitol Wasteland’s self-appointed watchdog, a strange disc-jockey who goes by the name of ‘Three Dog,’ with boosting his Galaxy News Radio signal to the point where it penetrates the entire Wasteland and can compete with the propaganda radio station being run by the Enclave – the remnants of the United States Government. Galaxy News Radio not only provides the fantastic soundtrack I mentioned earlier, but between songs, Three Dog provides color commentary on the player’s – dubbed ‘The Lone Wanderer’ – actions, which really adds a sense that the game world’s residents are aware of the player and either appreciate or hate them (depending on whether the player decides to fall on the side of ‘Good Karma’ or ‘Evil Karma’ with their actions).

Because “Fallout 3” is a Bethesda game, and because “Fallout 2” demonstrated a marked desire by the original developers to make the franchise increasingly Sandboxy, “Fallout 3” does have a large number of side missions and other optional distractions. I feel like I managed to do and see everything important in the game, including the DLC content included in the Game of the Year Edition, which brought my total play time to a rather pleasant 100 hours. “Fallout 3” doesn’t drag on with the overwhelming amount of nonsense found in “Oblivion,” but it also doesn’t feel too short or too linear for those who insist on openness in their games.

Speaking of DLC, “Fallout 3” has five expansion packs, each of which adds about 5 hours worth of content. Four of the expansion DLCs, “Point Lookout,” “Mothership Zeta,” “The Pitt,” and “Operation Anchorage” add separate landmasses (and missions) disconnected from the Capitol Wasteland, while “Broken Steel” adds a nice bit of an epilogue that allows the player to mop up the remnants of the main antagonist group from the main mission.

Between the bulk of the core game and the contents of the expansions, “Fallout 3” does a fantastic job of fleshing out the alternate history world of the franchise where the ideals of the post-WWII 1950s never ended, despite the widespread adoption of nuclear energy and incredible advances in technology that we still haven’t equaled in reality. The inclusion of readable advertisements and a huge number of computer logs and holotape recordings present the game world’s lore and history better than any previous ‘Fallout’ game, and it is obvious that the folks at Bethesda who inherited this project from Black Isle really cared about staying true to core material.

That said, there are some immersion-breaking flaws in the way the world is setup. I noticed an almost 100% lack of any emergency response vehicles and personnel in the D.C. ruins, which seems completely out-of-touch with the high amount of security one would expect in the seat of the Federal Government. I didn’t see a single firetruck and only counted the corpses of two police officers! Likewise, the fact that everything in the Capitol Wasteland seems completely untouched by nature, weather, etc. after 200 years left me incredulous.

I was also quite disappointed in the number of NPC companions that can join the The Lone Wanderer in their travels. While “Fallout” was rather short on allies, “Fallout 2” had them in spades. “Fallout 3” has a handful, but I never managed to find the dog companion that features so prominently in promotional media for the game, and most of the other companions will not join up with a ‘Good’ character, which is the way I always play these Sandbox games. Fortunately, my goodness was not completely punished, as near the end of the game I was presented the option of teaming up with a ‘defective’ Super Mutant named Fawkes (who will ONLY join a Good character). He proved to be a valuable companion, both for the damage output of his Gatling Laser and for his ability to carry heavy stuff.

“Oblivion” with guns! “Oblivion” with GUUUUNNNNSS! It’s all I heard from every angle regarding “Fallout 3’s” gameplay. It worried me a bit, since I really don’t care for the combat mechanics of ‘The Elder Scrolls’ franchise, and found the ranged archery/magical combat to be completely lacking. Beyond that, the leveling system, enemy scaling, and constant weapon repair in “Oblivion” are generally terrible mechanics that held that game back from being far better than it turned out. I was not looking forward to having any of these questionable things shoe-horned into ‘Fallout’ just for the sake of re-using the Havok Engine. The other major declaration I always heard about “Fallout 3” is that it is still totally an RPG, despite looking like a FPS in every meaningful way.

With all of these preconceptions in mind, I decided to tackle “Fallout 3” with a normal controller instead of my shooter-disability-mitigating Razer Hydra, and started off by setting the combat difficulty to Easy instead of Normal, since I needed to do that in “Oblivion” to get past the scaling enemies that overwhelmed my highly-diplomatic and sneaky character’s sub-par combat abilities. What I discovered upon actually completing “Fallout 3” is that nobody else has a single fracking clue what they are talking about.

“Fallout 3” is less ‘“Oblivion” with Guns’ and more ‘“Fallout” as a FPS with Hints of “Oblivion.”’ The leveling system is 100% classic ‘Fallout,’ with the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats, skills, and perks any ‘Fallout’ veteran would recognize. Instead of getting a perk every three levels, “Fallout 3” characters get a perk every level, and the perks are just as potent as they have always been. Character skills don’t level up though use, but through distributing skill points on each level-up (and reading skill books). “Fallout 3” has a level cap of 20, but the Game of the Year Edition’s included DLC raises that cap to 30 (and includes a few really interesting high-level perk options).

Other annoying aspects from “Oblivion” have been watered down in “Fallout 3,” making them less tedious. Enemy scaling, for example, no longer results in the player initially encountering numerous enemies named ‘Raider’ who are armed with terrible Hunting Rifles and Baseball Bats, and then later encountering nothing but enemies named ‘Raider’ armed with Plasma Rifles and Power Armor. Enemies are what they are. There are, however, variants for certain enemies with increasingly powerful sounding names, such as the Albino Radscorpions that replace the Giant Radscorpions that replace the regular Radscorpions as the player increases in power. Super Mutants also come in tiered varieties, starting with regular Super Mutants, then moving to Super Mutant Brutes, Super Mutant Masters, and Super Mutant Overlords in that order. But it’s always possible to predict an enemy’s power based on their appearance and name, and weak enemies stick around despite the player’s character level.

The only annoyances from “Oblivion” that made it into “Fallout 3” untouched are the lock-picking mini-game and the fact that weapons and armor fall apart through normal use. I hated the fact that my “Oblivion” character had to carry around a bag of hammers to fix his sword all the time, and “Fallout 3” manages to make the annoyance of weapon repairs even more annoying through the need to repair weapons by dismantling other weapons of the same general type. Thus, instead of dragging around a bag of hammers, characters in “Fallout 3” need to drag around a bag of Assault Rifles to fix their Assault Rifle, a bag of Laser Pistols to fix their Laser Pistol, and so on. Armor deteriorates in the same way, as do hats and facial equipment (things like glasses and masks). The need to break-down another gun of the same type really limits the amount of use certain rare guns can get in “Fallout 3.” Sure, it’s possible to pay merchant characters to repair gear, but this is both expensive and not a very good solution since most NPCs have a horribly low Repair skill ranking.

And then there’s the combat. While “Fallout” and “Fallout 2” were nice turn-based RPGs, “Fallout 3” is not. It is a First-Person Shooter, and nothing anyone says will change that (well, it is possible to change to third-person mode, but then the game is just a Third-Person Shooter). I found it incredibly difficult to play using a dual-analog controller, but struggled through anyway, only setting up a Hydra configuration as a post-mortem test to see if the horrendous shooting would be any better with a shooter-specific controller... it was... slightly. Yes, putting more skill points into a character’s Small Guns, Big Guns, and Energy Weapons skills increases weapon performance slightly and gets rid of the annoying sway when looking through a scope (not that there are many scopes guns in the game, anyway), but the lion’s share of combat performance depends solely upon the player’s ability to do things like aim, lead targets, and compensate for recoil. I can do these things with a Hydra… but not with an Xbox controller.

The V.A.T.S. targeting system from the original ‘Fallout’ games (which I didn’t really touch on in my reviews of those games because it is a situational feature that is only useful in the very late game when characters have nearly maxed their weapon-related skills) returns in “Fallout 3.” Whereas in the old ‘Fallout’ RPGs, the V.A.T.S. system was used to strategically cripple enemies’ limbs or one-shot them via a bullet through the eyeball, in “Fallout 3” V.A.T.S. is more or less a limited form of auto-aim that still allows the player to go into Bullet Time and target certain enemy body parts, but with little in the way of strategic reward outside ‘gory, explosive death’ or knocking an enemy’s weapon out of their hands (which is great fun, despite leaving the weapon useless for anything but making repairs after the fact). Using V.A.T.S. in “Fallout 3” is the only time the Action Points of the older ‘Fallout’ games come into play, as they now serve as a form of regenerating ‘magic points’ for using the auto-aim system. Unfortunately, the implementation of V.A.T.S. in “Fallout 3” is completely borked, as many guns become LESS ACCURATE when using auto-aim than when manually pointed at a foe. Some guns will never land a hit in V.A.T.S., despite being fantastic weapons in general.

Of course, the accuracy issue in V.A.T.S. is not the only problem with the shooting in “Fallout 3.” Enemies, even on Easy, are super bullet sponges. I have no idea how anyone can survive getting hit in the head by a slug from a Gauss Rifle (a rail gun that launches depleted uranium slugs via electromagnetism) and flipping end-over-end, only to get up and return fire… multiple times! I ended up relying almost entirely upon a Laser Rifle variant from “The Pitt” DLC called the Metal Blaster to vaporize foes into piles of ash… but the Metal Blaster is one of the worst offenders in V.A.T.S. dysfunctionality. In general, though, weapons don’t like to fire precisely where they’re aimed (even with maxed weapon skill), and many weapons that seem like they should be powerful, like the Minigun gatling gun, are gimped (via a stupidly long spinup time), weak, and ineffective. Even moving around in combat is more difficult than it should be because the field of view the game uses is way too cramped (and non-adjustable), and something as simple as jumping can be unresponsive and finicky, leaving the character hung-up on obstacles or, occasionally, permanently stuck in the scenery.

The choice to use an Xbox controller (which is natively supported in “Fallout 3”) or another control scheme (Hydra) is an exercise in tradeoffs. While the native Xbox controller support may be nearly useless in combat, it is fantastic for navigating the menus. When Xbox support is disabled (which is necessary to use any form of mouse/Hydra aim), the game’s menus turn into PC Master Race central, with stupid (unchangeable) hotkeys, and an insistence on double-clicking and scrolling where the controller interface is much cleaner and focuses on button presses. The arrow keys do at least work in non-controller mode… in a finicky and unpolished way. Initially I was concerned that the lock-picking mini-game would be impossible with anything besides a dual-analog controller, but was pleasantly surprised to see that one area, at least, works identically regardless of control scheme.

Despite its transition from Turn-Based RPG to First/Third-Person Shooter and its change of hands from Black Isle to Bethesda, the ‘Fallout’ franchise’s staying power is still perfectly evident. The care and attention to detail the folks at Bethesda put into remaking a beloved RPG series for a modern shooter-obsessed audience is obvious, even though they could have done a better job with the actual shooting mechanics (perhaps implementing a more RPG-esque shooting combat system, such as the one seen in Sega’s “Valkyria Chronicles”). In the face of overwhelming change, “Fallout 3” still feels like “Fallout.” Because ‘Fallout’ never changes.

Presentation: 4.5/5
Story: 4/5
Shooting: 2/5
Everything Else: 4/5
Overall (not an average): 4/5



Recent Comments
Comment On Review

Nelson Schneider

Nelson Schneider- wrote on 08/16/15 at 06:03 PM CT


I liked Oblivion too, just not all of the mechanics... and the combat sucked... but the same goes for Fallout 3.

It's also not super-sandboxy. F3 has a reasonable amount of content compared to Elder Scrolls.

Chris Kavan

Chris Kavan- wrote on 08/11/15 at 07:35 PM CT


So glad you finally liked a sandbox game (and a shooter no less). Can't wait to see what you think of New Vegas.

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