Fallout 3: A Retrospective Review
by Ryan Black | published Oct. 21st, 2015
With Fallout 4 on the horizon, it might be worthwhile to revisit its now 7-year-old predecessor, Fallout 3.
I will be the first to admit that impatience for the next entry might have been my initial motivation, but I was also interested in seeing if the game was as good as I remembered or if nostalgia was clouding my judgement. In order to do so, I had to unearth my since shelved Xbox 360, as it was tucked away in a basement closet filled with other forgotten electronics and gadgets. While not buried like the VHS/DVD player or boxes of unopened board games, it was beginning to collect dust just the same.
The cynical part of me was surprised when the 10-year-old console actually booted up. Sure, it was making some "worrying" sounds, but I knew I probably would not be picking up either the game or the console after this; especially with backwards compatibility soon coming to the Xbox One. Being too concerned about it would be like bemoaning one more scratch on an already worn out car. As the game started up, I didn't abandon that train of thought and, to my surprise, it made what is already a sandbox feel even more open-ended.
Normally scrupulous about my character's decisions or good-standing karma, I played based purely on personal impulse or inclination. For instance, I decided to show the residents of Tenpenny Towers what would happen when a once noble wanderer abandons his morality on a whim — not that they didn't have it coming.
There certainly are other games, like Grand Theft Auto, which allow for unrestricted mayhem on a grander scale, but such games cleanly reset every time. When Mr. Tenpenny meets an unfortunate end, by way of a frag grenade being slipped into his pocket, there are both apparent and unseen consequences to my decision. I may have advanced my immediate goals, but any quest that required his aid or input were now gone, un-doable, or innately different because of his demise. It is a narrative structure that is more akin to the interactive drama of a Telltale or even Mass Effect game, but especially notable in an open world game on Fallout's scale. It is hindered somewhat by the presentation being very much of 2008 (yes, those jarring dialogue cutaways have not aged well), but it still makes the game's world seem more realized and malleable. Playing with the mentality I had made me see how different the game can be compared to my past, more altruistic playthroughs.
The systems of choice still hold up remarkably well, but Fallout 3 certainly shows its age visually and in its "moment to moment" gameplay. Some first time players might have difficulty getting past these failings, but if you ever consider revisiting the game — especially before Fallout 4 comes out — I would recommend it. For now, my 360 sits where it once did on my TV stand, with Fallout 3 in the disc tray ready to be booted up.
I may or may not play it some more, but at the very least it has gotten me inclined to mix it up and perhaps not play as a good Samaritan in Fallout 4. Whether or not there will be a measure of morality, it will be interesting to see the scope of choice available, as well as the extent one's decisions can impact the game's narrative and direction. Based on what has been shown so far and how fundamental such elements are to Fallout 3, I am incredibly hopeful.
For Fans Of: S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, Borderlands, Metro 2033.