Video Game Thoughts: Fallout 3

Fallout 3 was a 2008 role-playing game by Bethesda Game Studios that I played on the PC. Before release, a lot of people nicknamed it “Oblivion with guns”. This was because Bethesda’s previous game was The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, an epic fantasy role-playing game. Fallout 3 was also a role-playing game but its sci-fi setting allowed for guns. The assumption by players is that it was more of a slight tweak on Oblivion’s formula than a brand new game. This movement was started by fans of the older Fallout games, which were made by a different company that had gone out of business. The leader of Bethesda Game Studios was also a fan of those games. When the chance to buy the rights to make new games in this series appeared, he jumped at it.

The actual game turned out much better than expected. Fans of the previous games, of course, hoped it would sell poorly to verify their beliefs that it was a bad game. It wasn’t a perfect game, but it was clearly a high quality product. In fact, I consider it one of my favorite role-playing games of all time, even more than Oblivion. Oblivion had a lot of flaws, but they really worked on those for Fallout 3. The enemy scaling with the player character was limited. There were some areas that were too tough for the character until they gained some levels. Other areas were always a breeze for any low level character to explore. They also did a lot better with creating unique environments. While there was a large wasteland with not much in it, there were several totally unique areas in it with many quests and exciting things to see.

I loved the whole idea of it being in the U.S. capitol, Washington D.C. It got me to look up many of the places in real life to compare them to the game’s version. It was really confusing to navigate through the subway lines though. The interior of the subway areas didn’t really match the outside. Sometimes I would see on the map the area I wanted to go to was north. I’d go north in the subway but come out in a totally different area on the outside. The leveling system needed work as well. I got all the attributes and skills I wanted by level 15 or so. By the time I got to level 30, I had all the attributes and most of the skills maxed out. It was just too much for one character. A good leveling system forces the player to make hard decisions between available desired bonuses, but in Fallout 3 I could get everything I wanted.

Buying Fallout 3 was sort of an accident. I happened to open Steam one day to play a game and saw an ad for Fallout 3 with all of the downloadable content for only $25. At the time, the game was still very new. I would guess it was only 6 months old. It was unheard of to get that kind of deal so early for a game. Other people agreed because Steam actually ran out of game keys. I bought the game but couldn’t play until after the weekend, when Valve got Bethesda to create a bunch of new game keys for all of us waiting to play.

I installed Fallout 3 that night and was completely blown away. I probably stayed up until four in the morning that first night playing it. I’ll never forget first leaving the vault and seeing the blinding white sky for the first time, the huge unexploded bomb in Megaton, or all the scary monsters in the subways. Like my other favorite games, all day I would think about what I wanted to do in the evening. Unfortunately, because I got almost all the skills maxed with one character, there wasn’t much replay value in the game. I started another character to try the “evil” choices but ultimately got bored. I had pretty much tried all my favorite skills with the first character. Seeing the alternate sides of questlines wasn’t enough to keep me playing.

Being a better Catholic these days, I wouldn’t play Fallout 3 now. The combat in the game is very gory with body parts and blood flying everywhere. Characters regularly use the worst cuss words. There prostitutes that the player can pay for their services. There is no nudity in the game, but some of the female characters show too much skin. There’s just too many things I don’t like about it to ever play a game like this again.

Operation: Anchorage mini-expansion

This expansion had a cool intro story. Basically, a group of mercenaries found an old military research lab with a simulator. They were looking for a guinea pig to enter the simulator. That was the player. The simulator was a clever way of letting me playout a battle that happened earlier in the game’s timeline. It basically explained the beginnings of the long war that resulted in the nuclear wasteland that existed in the present time. That was Operation: Anchorage. Inside the simulator the gameplay turned into a first person shooter much like Medal of Honor. There was a nice twist at the end of the story plus a bunch of cool new items. The only downside is that some of these items trivialized the difficulty in the rest of the game. They were just so much better than many other items available.

The Pitt mini-expansion

The Pitt was my favorite expansion to the game. The old industrial district of Pittsburgh, since abandoned after the war, was now a series of steel mills. The atmosphere was clogged with pollution from the coal burning. There was a lot between the haves and the have-nots. Basically, the workers were slaves while the leaders profited from their labor. This wasn’t a traditional story though. Bethesda did a great job making it morally gray. Both sides did very bad things. By the end the player got to pick which side to fight for. This expansion focused on the story instead of the combat. The combat in Fallout 3 was okay, but the story was the real reason I kept playing.

Broken Steel expansion

Broken Steel is my second favorite expansion simply because it expanded the base game. The original game ended abruptly. The last quest had the player recovering some territory from the bad guys, but then it ended. The player never get a chance to finish the bad guys off. Broken Steel continued the ending, letting the player eventually find the bad guys base and put them out of business. The expansion also increased the level cap and added more high level monsters to challenge the player. It wasn’t enough overall to address how powerful the character could get but better than nothing.

Point Lookout mini-expansion

Point Lookout was in line with Shivering Isles in Oblivion. Bethesda created a whole new island to explore. The player could talk to a boater to get a ride to the island. It featured several new unique graphics, monsters, quests, and items. They did a great job with the items in this expansion. Unlike the other expansions, the items here did not make the character more powerful. They just added variety to the game. Better variety is almost always better than more power. It keeps the game interesting longer. The only problem with this new island is that there were too few quests. There was basically just one questline. Once I finished, there was little reason to go back, except occasionally to get parts to repair the new items added.

Mothership Zeta mini-expansion

This was my least favorite expansion. Bethesda kind of phoned it in. In Mothership Zeta the player got abducted by aliens. They then had to escape and get back to the wasteland. In the process they got to explore a flying saucer and zap aliens. Of all the expansions and even the base game, this one had the weakest story. The aliens didn’t really speak or anything. It was just enter a room, kill all aliens, and move on to the next room. The high-tech interior of the flying saucer was neat to look at but had no substance. There were no puzzles to solve, just the occasional switch to flip to open the next room. There were some other human survivors that had interesting personalities, but they didn’t factor much into the goal of escaping.

I also ran into a serious bug. I got to a point where a door was locked. Nothing I did could open it, leaving that character trapped on the ship forever. I tried loading earlier saves in the spaceship; they all ended with the same bug. Luckily, I found a small plugin someone made to fix this bug. Without that, I would have had to skip the expansion entirely. Mothership Zeta left the game on a bad note, but it wasn’t enough for me to remove Fallout 3 from my list of favorites. Everything else was superb.

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