If there’s one company that has revolved around my gaming lifestyle, it’s Bethesda studios. I sworn six months of my life away to Oblivion and was looking forward to whatever they would throw at me next. To my surprise, when the the teaser for Fallout 3 came out, I was underwhelmed. There was a slight sense that from a mystical, colourful world we would go into a bland and generic setting. I guess it was my inner science geek that totally worshipped my opinion, given that when the nukes drop, nothing lives. What also pointed my interest in the right direction was the big giant ‘3’ on the end, which made me ponder if Bethesda had made the other two and I had missed out on surrendering another six months of my life to them. Upon more investigation, I began to play Black Isle’s Fallout, and found myself slightly over-encumbered (GOD DAMN OBLIVION) with the learning curve. To put it straight, I played it for ten minutes and gave up… then went back to Oblivion of course.
Problem is, I’m young and Fallout is old. It’s an old way of entertainment which succeeded in bringing immersion and breakthroughs back then, but today it feels like outdated chocolate. It was sweet at the time, but now it’s all mouldy and I’ll still eat it anyway because I’m cheap & British. To dive into Fallout 3, I figured I didn’t need the lore and mythos of the originals, I didn’t need to play them. I pre-ordered my Collectors Edition (as you do) for the PS3 and then sat back until October 31st. Closer to release I gathered that I might need a few details about the Fallout universe, and so began a journey into another universe. A friend of mine, who is a total PC gamer, visited me one day to sit me down and tell me what was wrong with Fallout 3. It went from birds eye view to FPS, from inventory management to simple mechanics and V.A.T.S to… V.A.T.S. He feared the story and Fallout lore would be lost in translation.
When the game came out, I didn’t see him for two weeks.
Fallout 3 can be described as a journey, a wander through the wastes. Oblivion can be described as just one giant Dora the Explorer simulator… except with magic spells and wolves. Fallout 3 isn’t strictly linear, but it feels more forced and down a narrow path. For instance, along the invisible walls/ borders, I was stopped by BIG GIANT BOULDER ROCK RIDGES WOW LOOK AT THE SIZE… but in Oblivion, my character ceased to stop moving and all I could do was look at the woodlands beyond. It gave a sense of mystery and more of a need to explore, but in Fallout 3 it was less so. I doubt Bethesda designed it to be more forced and scripted, there’s still that awesome sense of exploration. The whole sense of immersion is somewhat lost, but new feelings and emotions bleed through. Emptiness, moral compasses, a question of where to go and what to do. Fallout 3 isn’t Oblivion with guns, it’s Fallout 3. Heck if my PC friend is right, it’s not even Fallout, it’s just ‘3’. Actually that’s quite silly.
Replacing the sense of exploration and wildlife, is a cycle. A cycle that can never be broken. It’s the type of cycle that involves three stages. The first stage is loneliness: it’s just you and the road or the dead ground beneath your feet. The second stage is conflict: someone wants your stuff and you want theirs and the third stage is looking. Just looking. When the battle is done, your stimpacks are used, you look across the apocalyptic horizon and smile to yourself. The greenish hue of the sky lights up your smile, making it dance and shiver in the nuclear wonderland. Then you start wandering around the wastes, journeying. Alone. It’s probably the best designed cycle in the history of videogames. Yes I said that. But I mean that. It’s odd then that Fallout 3 doesn’t even come on my Kanye West branded ‘Best games of all time. Of all time.’, it’s because it’s… lacking.
I can talk to some of the most interesting characters conceived in gaming history, I can explore and journey for treasure for hours on end, I can restrict myself to not use fast-travel, I can play the DLC and yet I still feel restriction. I can’t swing a sword or cast a spell, all I can do is shoot or pause and shoot or throw grenades and hope for the best. I understand this is a world without magic or spells, or any mystical qualities, but it doesn’t feel like a real post-apocalyptic simulator. Being that, it would score highly on my Kanye West list. You can cure your radiation sickness by popping a few pills, you can drink water to replenish your health and you can even have a near invincible follower at your toes. Not that the final point is a bad thing, I thoroughly enjoyed Dogmeat and Charon (the ghoul follower) covering me from behind. What I’m trying to say is that Fallout 3 doesn’t feel post-apocalyptic, it’s not a battle of survival, it’s a battle for cycle. A beautiful cycle which I love and can repeat for hours on end, but once in a while, I’ll get bored. The dark visuals will lose their depressing charm and I’ll revert back to Cyrodiill for my kicks.
By no means did I not get absorbed by the Capital Wastes, I spent a good two months in the nuclear wonderland, but barely remember much of it. Problem is, everywhere you go is pretty much dead and dead feels pretty familiar after a few looks and tugs. I would’ve preffered a bigger emphasis on survival, and the dark side of it all. What would really sparkle my day would be an actual sequence in which you play through the falling of the bombs. No game has truly brought to life that sense of panic and desperation. Imagine in half-way through Grand Theft Auto IV, you switched perspectives to first, and your little Niko woke from his bed. The deafening chimes of the end of days, that loud horn. The bomb raid siren. Except you look out of your little apartment, seeing the giant crowds rushing, and into the horizon, a mushroom cloud.
I’d say that’d be a golden day for games.