The Doc Speaks: Was I too harsh on Fallout 3?

Bye, Megaton

For those who remember, a couple of my reviews have had somewhat subtle digs at Fallout 3, Bethesda’s reboot of the Fallout series.  This game helped to bring the series back into public eye with a different setting, an advancement of the timeline, and new mechanics to play with.  Instead of continuing plotlines taking place on the west coast United States, focus was shifted towards developments on the east coast, particularly the “Capital Wasteland.” But, as I’ve mentioned, I have been rather critical about parts of it. And for a while, I even hated the game. Admittedly, it’s on the bottom of my Fallout list (next to those spin-off games shoved into the strictly non-canon section.) However, after returning the the game, I can’t say I really hate it anymore. Of course, there’s much more to it than just that.

This title shifted the game from an isometric view RPG a la Baldur’s Gate and many others of the time to an action-roleplaying game with shooter mechanics. This transition already proved controversial among the fanbase but proved to win over a vast chunk of it. To be fair, the mechanical aspects are solid, easy to understand, and pretty fluid. A lot of the nuances (such as companions being more vulnerable than you (since they don’t seem to prepare to the extent you do, but that’s programming limitations for you,) really help to simulate a stark post-apocalyptic environment. Admittedly, I had to warm up to this new method of play. Now, some of the classic bits (especially the combat) transitioned over to the new game. And oddly enough, those were the bits that felt the most odd to me, mashed with Elder Scrolls-esque control and systems. The new targeting system meant to mimic the classic targeting felt more slow than anything. And this comes from someone who enjoys the turn based combat of the classic games. As said, the rest of the mechanics seem to be a cut and paste of Oblivion, but I wouldn’t expect any less from Bethesda. Though crunchy bits are not what made Fallout for me. To me, the interactions and world made all of it for me.

The universe of Fallout is one that has always captivated me; a retrofuturistic world that collapsed over global warfare, despite its pride and hope for a brighter tomorrow. (Sound familiar?) The juxtaposition of raygun gothic/googie aesthetics and the ruins of civilization has been an appealing one for me. Don’t ask me why, I can’t quite explain it. No matter, Fallout 3 did its best to carry that torch. The Capital Wasteland holds that retro science fiction double feature atmosphere of the classic games, with plenty of opportunities to discover super-science gone awry or the remains of collapsed civilizations. And of course, many of the staples from the past have returned as well, for better or worse. Though to be fair, if you take all of these elements out, you’re left with a generic post-apocalyptic shooter that’s true to the BethSoft formula.

Now, there’s a lot of criticisms I have with the world of 3 as well! The half life of the radioactive material (200+ years) seems a tad ridiculous, either the citizens are constantly thwarted in their plans to rebuild (on cartoon levels) or are wholly incompetent, your actions are practically meaningless in the end, the antagonists feel recycled wholesale from the 2nd game (without the proper motives and intrigue), the main antagonist is too insane to make any bit of sense, most of the characters seem emotionless and boring as whole and the list goes on and on.

Now, the endless handwaves and retcons themselves muddle and mess up lore in ways only more retcons can solve. For starters, Harold is suddenly a tree that planted roots after stumbling across the country for some reason. I don’t get it. It just doesn’t seem very “Harold” to me. Super Mutants have shifted from deranged former humans to being little more than Warhammer 40K’s Orks. To be fair, this makes the endless 40K Mods for Fallout 3 VERY appropriate.  Perhaps worse is taking the easter egg/inside joke of aliens and turning it into one of the plot points leading to the apocalypse.  Also, who thought making a faction of goodie-two shoes BoS paladins be the focus of the story was a good idea? If it wasn’t for mods that let me join the Enclave after brutally slaying this “BoS” faction, returning to the game would have been more of a chore… That or at the very least, allow for me to mess things up and go for a more “Yes Man”-esque route.

And of course, there’s the mile wide plot chasms (because plot holes are too small.)

  • No one bats an eye after you destroy Megaton (but god forbid you shoot the cow)
  • Despite your companions being supposedly immune to radiation, they will never step up to stop to help you in the end segment (of the main game).
  • What’s the point of your father’s modified GECK? Any basic knowledge of pre-war survival shows that earth can filter water of radioactive content.
  • No one can figure out what the Super Mutants in DC really want, not even they know (nor do the writers!).
  • How does Little Lamplight sustain itself?  Why hasn’t it been wiped out?  (Granted, I destroyed it myself.)
  • How a couple sentences can make the president commit suicide is beyond me (or the programmers)

There’s tons more to babble about, but it’s best not to get carried away. That’s not to say that everything in Fallout 3 is poorly written dreck, just a huge chunk of it… which is very unfortunate. At least doing a mostly Chaotic Evil run of 3 can be a satisfying method of spiting Bethesda’s lame railroaded story (filled with NPCs who are more important and interesting than you) and bland take on the world that’s a clusterfuck hodgepodge of the first two games. To be fair, the “Kill Everything” video series is what inspired my desire to replay with absolute destruction in mind.

To be honest, most of the stuff outside of the main plot proved to be most enjoyable. And as someone obsessed with story and whole, if the diversions prove more interesting than the main game, we have a problem. But, that isn’t to say you can’t derive some joy within the game. While most of the game was drenched in grimdark seriousness that tended to put me to sleep, as well as writing and dialogue crafted by a Freshman writing major (with a solid 1.5 GPA), there were moments that filled me with a genuine sense of joy.

Vault 108 was one of those things. Imagine a Vault where the greatest cloning technology was preserved, where one lucky vault dweller was selected for said experiment! Now, let’s say this experiment goes hilariously wrong and every clone gets progressively dumber and more violent toward anything not like itself. Eventually, the mad clones clear out the vault and take it over as the House of Gary. What makes this more wonderful is how the creepy run down vault isn’t filled with ghouls or other terrors, but a legion of babbling idiots who only say some variation of “GARY” over and over. As an experience, it proves to be both hilarious and disturbing at the same time. And that kind of dark humor is the stuff Fallout truly does best!

Speaking of wonderful weirdness, the story of the Ant-Agonizer and the Mechanist is another that fascinates me. Upon hearing this wild story from a local kid, it’s worth investigating. And just like a Saturday morning serial, these two lunatics are fighting it out. Plus, you have a fair bit of leeway for handling this one. You can thwart the villain and give the hero a chance to retire, stop the hero and let the villain get back to her mostly harmless mischief, talk them both into retirement, or just waste ’em both then and there! Personally, I want to do my part by putting an end to both of these lunatics, one way or another.

And of course, there’s the “pleasant” simulation operated by a Dr. Braum. Needless to say, this cheerful suburban cul’de’sac simulator is a hell hole of nightmares of glorious weirdness. Whether it’s being forced to kill of characters or witness absolute madness, this earlier portion of the game was truly delightful. A mix of pre-war society mixed with the grotesque made this one truly memorable for me.

Now, I hated the DLC for the most part, but Point Lookout was a fun experience. Hell, it handled horror better than Dead Money did (and I’m willing to admit that.) While Dead Money forces downright terrible attempts at survival horror, Point Lookout cuts you off in an isolated world that degenerated far before the apocalypse even happened! Now, the backwoods terror tropes are a bit overdone and belong firmly within the grindhouse schlock camp. But hey, when done right, are still potential for some Grade A Nightmare Fuel. To be fair, the whole region was gloriously deranged! Whether it was the expansion of the Lovecraftian lore found in the Dunwich mining building or the downright disturbing Swampfolk (who remind me all too well of the classic episode of the X-Files simply called “Home”), this pack is filled with tons of chills. And that’s before going into a decrepit old mansion where a sinister ghoul with a morbid past seems to lurk. All in all, a big highlight for me.

So, I’m unashamedly opinionated about the game.  There’s tons for me to enjoy about the game and even more for me to greatly dislike.  Now, if I play this, I’ll probably tinker with it for me to have fun.  That said, I feel the programmers have failed to create a game I enjoy via vanilla presentation (as well as most of the DLC.)  The requirement of mods for me to derive some enjoyment feels like a criticism I have of Bethesda in general.  But hey, someone has to shove awful introductions down your throat.  I mean, in order to enjoy the open world of skyrim, you need to earn it through lame exposition before being thrust into a ‘dragon fight’ with little to ready you for it.  But, I’m not here to just rag on Bethesda over and over gain.  I already did enough of that in my jabbering here.

So, my final question still stands… Am I too harsh on Fallout 3? I’d say that my past judgements on the game were a bit rash, aggressive, and negative. Sure, it’s a flawed game… A REALLY flawed game! But my current take on Fallout 3 is that it’s not a terrible video game.  It’s just a mediocre one with passable mechanics that allow for hours of fun and mindless gameplay.  To be honest, the best way to enjoy the game is also the best way to enjoy schlock like BioShock 2 and the like; have fun with the game and don’t pay attention the lame story and awful characters.  And if you can hack/mod/break the the story?  EVEN BETTER!  So, my nerd rage revolving 3 has simmered a little since it came out, but I still remain heavily critical of it. But hey, at least I’ve found out a way to veg out and just enjoy the Capital Wasteland somehow… if it wasn’t for the goddamn game crashing all the time!

Fallout 3 Crashing

DAMN YOU, BUGTHESDA! DAMN YOU ALL TO HELL!

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