"Holy hell. Fallout 3 has been out for 8 years?", I exclaimed immediately and mid-thought process. I finished that thought process with that title laid out, having to stop once again afterwards to fully take that in.
I've been trying to finish this darn game for 8 years.
So, any talk of me too quick to give up should cease and those responsible for such words slapped upside all four cheeks. I told myself many times that I was never going to come to any real stopping point within this monster of a title for any number of reasons (not limited to just how clunky the game is by the standards of most of this industry's years before release), but it's finally been done.
While said stopping point was far from a 100% completion, I don't think anyone would underestimate my allotted time of a whopping 70-80 hours. Several of the larger sidequests (including The Wasteland Survival Guide), every story quest (sans Broken Steel), the whole of The Pitt expansion (I got a little too into collecting those Ingots), and a plethora of exploration are to thank for that.
I now have so many words to say about it.
One would likely be quick to ask: "Why, exactly, did you keep pushing yourself through a game you clearly had a hard time finishing?". Predictable. But, hey, I won't hold it against you.
I can't really pin it to any specific reason. Rather, a general feeling. Something told me that I needed to be able to say that I finished it. That, after all this time and after so many attempts, I wasn't going to let it slip past me like irradiated water through my clenched fists. I desperately wanted to see it through, even if I knew there was no satisfying conclusion to be experienced. Even if I knew it meant so many more hours spent not playing games so patiently residing the Capital Wasteland that is my backlog.
At which point, perhaps that specific reason was my stubbornness.
In the long run, I had also hoped to once again capture those moments of genuine intrigue from my early runs of Fallout 3. Stepping out into the wasteland for the first time, those many many silent treks through the Super Duper Mart, Liam Neeson, and so forth. But, those were so long ago and I have changed quite a bit since.
The last time I tried completing Fallout 3 was near Fallout 4's release and the only difference between then and now was that my plan now was to finish the game rather than to have fun. Because, personally, trying to have fun in Fallout 3 can be rather difficult.
But, let's get this right out of the way: I still like Fallout 3. I enjoy the settings and the oppressive atmosphere. I even enjoy the brown, grey, and dirty green color scheme that permeates practically the entire package. It's also pretty impressive that despite how "barren" and truly apocalyptic the open world feels, I stumble upon several new locales or rich nooks in regions I've been to countless times.
I just don't like Fallout 3 as a game or even a story. At all. Much of anything that has to do with its character building, mechanics, writing, or just basic stability is that of those growing dinosaur capsules you got as a kid. I like the idea, but it only delivers on so little of what I was expecting.
I mean, I should expect a fully-grown and domesticated brontosaurus because that would be fucking awesome.
Breaking the 70-80 hour mark meant me living for those smaller, quirkier moments. Andy being relegated to Medical after the fiasco within my Vault 101, being chauffeured through a Nuka-Cola collection by a total Nuka addict, or Gallows breaking three awkward "..." silences with "... I'm glad we understand eachother.". My chosen character build also meant lots of monstrous explosions and people on fire. Melee + Heavy Weapons is definitely the way to go.
Much of the time, though, it was a bit of a trial.
What might come as a surprise to most is that despite my umbrage with the game's story and writing, I actually don't really mind the opening sequences. Funnily enough, they are the game's most compelling narrative moments to me. Watching Amata and the Tunnel Snakes grow alongside me over a short period of time, having a moment with Liam Neeson and my new BB gun, having more than 1 or 2 ways to tackle Butch or the Overseer's tomfoolery...
That last part is especially important to note. Ignoring the 2-dimensional writing and strangely bipolar attitudes of 95% of the game's characters, the game's general approach to choice and morality is astoundingly laughable.
Give it a chance and the above video goes over what I am about to myself and way better.
To summarize: Your choices are not only mere set dressing, but supremely vapid and lacking in depth. They almost always come to the same outcome or one of two black/white outcomes, usually either "You have been a right proper arse." or "You have been a good boy.". Even judged on it's own and ignoring that Fallout 1 or 2 ever happened, it is not the least bit engaging.
All your choices eventually coming to one unalterable outcome isn't necessarily bad, though. Just take The Walking Dead S1 for example. Lots of very tiny, compelling alterations to a story that is mostly the same each time isn't any less worthwhile to me than a story with many diverging paths and over a dozen endings. Sometimes that's just what you're after at the moment. Why do we still watch movies, am I right?
Fallout 3's writing is in such a way that, say, The Walking Dead S1 would, hypothetically, begin with finding Clementine and whether you responded in kind or like an asshole ultimately determined the outcome of the scene in which she (you) decides to shoot Lee or not. Only this asinine process is repeated probably well over a dozen times.
Even if this is the most logical outcome, I'm not seeing why. My actions feel hollow. All I'm left with feeling is "Well, that was stupid." or "... that was it?".
Consider the confrontation with President Eden towards the end of the main quest.
It's a wonderful string of moments. The actor's performance making delving into the history of The Enclave and Eden's growth as an AI so enthralling. I inquired about all I could just to hear him speak more. He's actually a pretty entertaining individual outside his white bread radio broadcasts.
But, once Eden has said his piece, you are given some "choices".
If you pass a quick SPEECH check, you're golden. Eden will destroy himself and the facility. Just like that. You can also simply comply with his demands. But, that would mean being a right proper arse.
You can also choose to do nothing, but the story will not advance. Nor will you be able to leave. So, bollocks to that.
The only other option is you simply pick the correct of (I believe) three choices during two separate instances if you have high enough Intelligence. From then on, you are only given one "choice" for another two or three instances until Eden concludes that he was mistaken and needs to explode.
To say that latter option felt like a half-measure would be an understatement. Bethesda concluded that two correct choices was enough, but couldn't concoct a believable conversation in which such a conclusion was possible with just two short statements. So, they opted to hold the player's hand through the rest of the way in order to circumvent any real effort.
If they wanted me to feel as if *I* talked someone down from their pedestal to essentially commit suicide, they failed tremendously.
The final mission in The Pitt? That super complicated scenario involving a cure for an infection turning people mad, withheld by a group of slavers and in mid-development thanks to the sensitivity of the cure residing within a newborn child?
If you don't immediately kidnap the child and put her within the hands of someone who is a seemingly much less capable person and who, for all I know, can barely work his way around a chemistry set, it is branded as "You have made the choice to completely fuck over the 'good guys' and now the 'bad guys' like you a lot.".
What the hell?
No time to think about my actions? No way of leaving the child in hopes of them crafting a more efficient cure to then later steal without harming anyone? No playing both sides to learn about the in's and out's of the slavers' operations? Nah. "Steal it now, you very good person, or never, you fucking monster.".
The AntAgonizer and her very serious mental instability being settled literally with "You're crazy. This is a comic character." and then "The AntAgonizer had a rather rough childhood."? After which, she is suddenly not crazy and regrets all that she has done?
I didn't even need to reference any of the important tidbits I acquired through pressing the local townsfolk for information about her. Screw rewarding being a resourceful player! Don't worry, you'll see everything! *pat, pat*
Even in regards to those SPEECH checks that you can just brute force with quick saves anyway, sometimes the game will mitigate all of that and just give you a 100% chance of success no matter what.
In the final leg of the Wasteland Survival Guide, you are asked to search around Rivet City and inquire about its history. Some will mislead or not talk to you, the jerkbags, but you'll eventually make your way to the bar on the lower level run by Belle. Who's also kind of a jerkbag.
When you pass her 100% SPEECH check, she'll tell you exactly where to go. If you choose not to use the SPEECH check for whatever reason, she will... still tell you exactly where to go.
What is even the flipping point?
One of the only "choices" you have in Fallout 3 that feels as if it actually means more than a bowl of soggy beans is the way you choose to complete the sidequest in Oasis.
Harold, the "Talking Tree", is revered as a god by a group of folk, hunkered within this Oasis, known as the Treeminds. The Treeminds presume the luscious greenery is a gift from Harold for their purity and loyalty. Once you get a chance to talk with Harold, however, he explains that the Treeminds never listen to him and he is actually just a regular Ghoul who probably could've used some company or at least a couple Lane Bryant catalogs all these 20+ years of being a boring old tree.
He begs you to destroy his heart so that he can finally pass on. However, the Treeminds give you a way to preserve the Oasis. Another way, to speed up the growth around Harold in hopes of"spreading the gift" and making the wastes just a bit less depressive. Either of the latter two options would mean keeping Harold alive, of course.
You consider how large a morale boost it'd be to those surviving on the outside to see such beauty return. You consider the worth of there being a place like Oasis at all amidst the horrors of the Capital Wasteland, that perhaps drawing attention to it would not be smart. You consider whether these solutions would even do as these somewhat deranged folk say. You consider that, in the middle of this, is someone who desperately does not want to live.
There is no clear right or wrong. Instead, it is what the player feels is best. That sort of nuance behind your choices isn't as prevalent as it should be.
But, enough about that nonsense. Let's talk about some entirely different nonsense: the gameplay.
As I've said, there is some mild entertainment to be had with Melee + Heavy Weapons builds as they provide some of the only satisfying feedback when it comes to weaponry (everything else sounds like smacking a water balloon against raw meat) and VATS can capture some of that extra needed gruesomeness, but it's mostly sort of a nuisance to stick with past the first several hours.
In fact, it's fails to captivate me on such a level that I don't even remember fighting as much as I remember trying to find something interesting to take part in or just explore. The only moments of combat I can vividly recall are the vaguely enticing tug of wars between me and a Super Mutant sporting a Missile Launcher, Mad Johnny Wes coming out of nowhere with his two turrets and Minigun, slaughtering everyone in the Vault 112 simulation, a large scale assault from half a dozen more Super Mutants, and killing Butch for a quick larf.
Keep in mind, this is across over 70 hours of playtime. The stilted movement and repetition didn't go well together. Honestly, I can barely muster to care for the final push towards the purifier alongside Liberty Prime despite how fucking awesome that should've probably felt.
The intricacies of the VATS system, such as targeting the legs or an enemy's weapon, aren't at all worth the risk unless you're playing on the very highest difficulty. Otherwise, you just go for the head or don't use VATS at all.
Nevermind how terribly clunky it feels outside VATS, at least on consoles. I swear, if you weren't able to as liberally and instantly heal with Stimpaks as you could here, some scenarios would be downright unplayable. Chugging Stimpaks like they're Pixy Stix was never not tedious.
On that note, as someone who loves his stealth builds in RPG's, it's a shame how poor the almost non-existent stealth systems are in Fallout 3. The Sneak stat is really only valuable to those who want a headstart on those few especially tough enemies or if you are interested in exploding pants (with shrapnel, I mean). There's no ghosting or even much consistency to rely on when just trying to be sneaky. You can allot 50-60+ Sneak, be several yards away from behind a normal Raider and be barely moving, and suddenly have your status jump to "DANGER" rather than the usual "CAUTION".
Conversely, I've had enemies walk straight towards me and within jibber distance who never notice that pretty Asian lady in the bright green dress.
Unless you obtain the Chinese Stealth Armor via the abhorrently mediocre Operation Anchorage DLC, don't expect to find much fulfillment in a Sneak build.
Do I even need to go over why the "Morality" system in Fallout 3 is so seriously out of whack? I think even the game's most vocal appraisers would say it's dump.
Fallout 4 had a pretty nice compromise, implementing a more diverse incarnation of the system, splicing it up between your dozen or so companions, and then having them react accordingly. You know, actual morality.
And, by the by, while we're on that subject...
I'm gonna say it: Fallout 4 was not only a way better game, but a way better RPG.
Fallout 3 definitely has more comprehensive character building, but what the heck's the point when you can't put those statistics to good use? The combat is thoroughly horrendous, the writing is generally dull and the choices you make are an absolute joke, the stealth systems are poor, about all there is to get out of your chosen build is extra loot and lore from accessing terminals and lockpicking doors with Science + Lockpick. Because those aren't bad little mini-games, eh?
Oh, and setting bastards on fire. That's fun.
Sure, you become rather powerful overtime in 4 and "builds" converge far quicker, but your SPECIAL stats and skill tree are actually worth a damn. The combat is solid enough, the writing (at least as far as I'm concerned) improved ten fold, there's a meatier crafting system, extensive base-building, etc.
Perhaps we were a little too hard on Fallout 4 for dropping certain aspects from 3 and learning only so much from New Vegas, because Bethesda did dramatically improve a lot of aspects from their previous attempt.
Of course, I say all of this without ever having even completed half of either Fallout 1 or 2. I, personally, found them to be very boring and needlessly obtuse. But, after my time with Fallout 3 and reading up more about what made the originals so great to so many people, I would love to give them another try.
If nothing else, I will be kicking out that New Vegas jam sooner or later.
Unfortunately, my time with Fallout 3 was, while fondly-remembered from those years long past, a horrid bore and nothing quite like what it could've been. Had the writing been up to snuff, the combat balanced out (I'm not even asking for it to actually feel great to use), and the choices fleshed out, it would be an A+ game. It has the world and lore, but nothing making said world or lore worth experiencing.
Though, it is easy to see how it is still a beloved classic: there simply aren't that many games like Fallout 3 or New Vegas out there. The originals' obtuse nature and isometric perspective aren't for everyone, so 3 and New Vegas scratch that open world, post-apocalyptic RPG-shooter itch. That likely played a bit into how I kept myself going those many hours. That while what I was playing was awfully ho-hum, it was at least unique.
I will give Fallout 3 this much. "Unique" is something it does still have going for it after 8 very very long years.