An Embarrassment Of Choices
Choices. That’s what Fallout 3 is all about. It’s also about lost time spent playing this game.
So you are supposed to follow your dad. That’s the setup. He went off into the big bad world, leaving you locked inside an underground vault. He doesn’t want you to follow his footsteps, so be a good boy and stay indoors. As setups go, it’s not the most original one. But you trudge through the first 30 minutes or so — and these are surely the most boring minutes you will spend in Fallout 3 — to make it to the outside. And suddenly, everything clicks…
Fast forward about 47 hours and a thousand kills later: I find myself in a remote corner of the wasteland — this post-nuclear, post-apocalyptic, post-civilized world order. The rules are simple: shoot or die. It’s about choices.
I randomly pick a door and enter; to be greeted by a collector of Nuka Cola — the Coke of this world. Drinking it gives you a slight health boost but also irradiates your body — killing you over time. Choices. She would like me to collect 30 bottles of Nuka Cola Quantum — a unique variation. I agree and she promises to pay me good cash and give me a “secret prize you’re gonna love”. Using my high charisma, I find out that the secret is a schematic for making my own Nuka Grenade — a high-level explosive that also bathes my enemy in harmful radiation.
As I leave her home, I bump into her ‘protector’, who is incidentally looking for some lingerie I happened to be carrying (don’t ask, best that you find out for yourself). He tells me that he would like to do the ‘horizontal bop’ with her, and at one point even agrees to a threesome… but I digress. To impress her and thus get to the horizontal, he would like to give her the Quantum bottles instead. I ask him to double the price for each bottle, and he agrees. My choice is then: twice the money at the cost of losing the Nuka Grenade schematic. It’s all about choices.
That was just a small sampling of the kind of decisions you constantly face in Fallout 3. The choices range from the look of your character, to mass-murder for a few bottle caps — the game’s currency. And within this gamut of extremes fall the little choices — Strength or agility? Combat or charisma? Ranged combat or melee combat? When wounded, do you eat to heal — irradiating yourself — or do you risk it and head back home wounded, to recuperate in the safety of your own bed? While fighting do you bring enemies out (boring), or do you go in guns blazing (all right!)? Do you spend your skill points upgrading your gun skills, or do you throw it in repair instead?
The biggest choice however, is whether you want to even play the game forward. The world of Fallout 3 is so vast, so littered with a myriad of things to do, with places to see, and mutants to kill — that you might very well find yourself not giving a damn about the father you followed out of the vault. I know I didn’t. 60 hours in and all I have done is everything else except what I am supposed to be doing. Yeah, I’ll find him. Eventually.
Combat in Fallout 3 is best enjoyed using a setup called VATS. While you can play the game as a first-person shooter, you’d rather not. Under VATS, the gameplay is paused and you can target individual body parts of your enemies. Each part is awarded a chance-to-hit based on your skills and stats. You line up your shots and then watch as your choices turn to action — flying limbs and exploding heads, if you are playing right, or missed shots if you are unlucky or just plain stupid with how you have created your character. It’s all bloody good fun.
Under VATS, you get a quota of Action Points which determine how many shots you can line up while paused. Here too, there is an element of choice — do you build your character such that he/she gets lots of APs, or do you go for finesse instead — fewer shots but more critical hits? Aspects such as your character’s Endurance, Agility, and Luck affect how well you do in combat. These fall under the umbrella of S.P.E.C.I.A.L — strength, perception, endurance, charisma, agility, and luck — each stat defining you and ruling and affecting your world- and social-skills: speech, science, lock-picking, medicine, and so on.
The system is flexible enough to allow for some unique character builds: play as a silent ninja that specializes in unarmed combat and relies on stealth for kills, or as a strong brute that deals in rocket launchers and miniguns, or even as a charismatic chap that can talk his way out of most situations. You can even style yourself a cannibal, feeding off dead corpses to regain health. Hey, whatever it takes…
Fallout 3 isn’t Oblivion with guns. It’s Oblivion sans faults, then married with the setting of Fallout, and clothed in something S.P.E.C.I.A.L. It’s also a game you should not miss — Fallout fan, or otherwise.