And war, never changes....
RTFM. I am sure we all know what that means. In case you forgot it stands for read the chuffing manual. Although you can replace chuffing with a swear word beginning with the letter F.
That's basically what you need to know before even bothering with Fallout 3. If you don't RTFM then please, just don't waste your time.
In case you weren't aware Fallout 3 is an RPG. I think what caught some people off guard was looking at screen shots and thinking this was a FPS. Of course that would make the game nonsensical and do it an extreme injustice.
Picking up the manual is almost essential, unless of course you want to stumble a third of the way through the game before going “aaaaahhhhh” and realising where you had been going wrong. Of course this is what I did having never played either game before it (won't count tactics as that is a naughty word in the Fallout world) and had never even played an RPG before.
I fitted that category rather well I am afraid readers. Up until the point where I discovered Fallout 3 I had never ever played an RPG in my life. I am a complete adrenaline junky and thus, always went for racing games or games where you could take head shots and laugh aloud as brains hit the deck.
The thing was when Fallout 3 released I was at a complete loose end as us PC gamers were being starved of goodness and so I decided to give it a go. I had a couple of people to hold my hand and get me started but I was warned. Fallout 3 is to a new player as Wray and Nephew Over proof rum is to non drinkers. Over proof is an experience I had once. Once. I drank too much too quickly and ended up in hospital with alcohol poisoning. So how can I liken that to a game? Well, Fallout is a game to be sipped at first. It contains so much and does so much that you can easily completely miss the point it was intended for. Over proof is something for seasoned Jamaican men to sip on whilst playing dominoes and Fallout 3 is something for complete ignoramuses to play. Without taking it slow and first you will miss the boat completely.
The second rule of thumb before getting started is to know that you need serious patience with this game and MUST listen to and read the dialogue very carefully. This was the second mistake I made. There I was, sat with my 360 controller in hand going “yeah yeah yeah, blah blah-bloody blah”.
The stupidity of my impatience was rewarded by not knowing VATS even existed and that pretty much ruined my chances from the get go. What is VATS? Well, let's get onto that now, shall we?
How the game works.
You start out your life being born into a sterile vault. Many years ago the USA became involved in a bloody war with China and others and the end result was the unthinkable – all out annihilation. The only survivors were those lucky enough to make it to one of these vaults within the four minute warning time. Your life begins there and shortly after you will leave. You will learn the basics here, so be sure to pay attention.
This is not a simple game to play. It is incredibly diverse and complex. Sadly (and trust me people I am the fussiest gamer EVER. I will rip holes in any game released) this will cost you. There is just no way understandable by man to know how to play this game to the fullest on your first try. There are so many things to understand and hone your skills at that even on my first entire play through I missed completely. Now of course, it is possible to pick a single play style and roll with it but that means you are going to miss things. Things that if you do fall for this game you are going to regret.
The basic skills are as follows.
Your Pip-boy. This is your lifeline. It is a small device strapped to your wrist that interacts with everything you do. With this you must learn how to use it, and use it well.
I present the Pip-Boy 3000.
Pickpocketing. As it says on the tin. You can use your sneak skills to crawl up behind some one (noticed or unnoticed) and pinch their stuff. Now, as any one who has ever played this knows you run into a situation within thirty minutes of playing the game. The overseer goes ballistic and the only way is to shoot him right?. No, it isn't. You can go behind him, pickpocket the angry man and take off with his keys as he tries to shoot you in the back. There is no talking to him, no bringing him to his senses and nothing else. The only way to avoid bad karma is to steal his keys and run.
Killing. This part is self explanatory. You get a gun, or suitable other hand held weapons and splat anything that dares to cross your path. The skill points for this are cleverly spread over a spectrum of options. Energy weapons, hand combat weapons, small arms, big guns etc.
Speech. This one is marvellous, however, it will not be of much use early in the game. Thing of starting the game as a small child with hardly any brainpower (which you pretty much do).Speech is used to talk people around or talk them into something they may not be best pleased about.
Barter. This one comes in handy because it makes everything cheaper. The game is played out by trading in bottle caps as cash money has long since become defunct. It also allows you to sell your items for more money.
Lock picking. You take a bobby pin (hair pin to us Brits) and a screwdriver. From there you turn the pin one way and the screwdriver the other. There is a sweet spot in the lock and when things match up perfectly your lock will click open. The harder the lock? The more minute the sweet spot.
Hacking. No, not in the butcher bloodthirsty way, but in the computer variety. Again these range in difficulty like picking locks and the higher you have honed your points the more you will be able to access. Hacking is a simple matter of making a guess at a password and then matching the amount of letters you got right with another word. Higher the skill required the longer and more difficult the password is to match.
Quick note. With both the hacking and lock picking features you can have three goes before you either snap a bobby pin or lock yourself out of a computer. So use common sense and when you are on your last attempt press back, exit, and then simply try again.
Repair. Guns wear out, armour wears out, masks and hats and even glasses wear out. These are repaired by finding a like for like part and combining the two with some gaffer (duck) tape. The higher your repair skills the better you can fix things up. A new weapon, say (100%) will offer a much wider variety of hot death than a clapped out rusty old rifle.
The entire game is based on and revolves around skill points (XP). You will earn these as you lock pick, speak, hack and quest your way through the game. The more the merrier as when you hit a solid level you can then choose perks which will upgrade your ability.
I won't go too long into this as that is why you must RTFM, but perks involve adding skill, brains and speech powers. There are many to choose from and some will allow you to pull of certain tricks.
A quick look at the perk list in the Pip-Boy
This is the Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System. With the 360 controller you simply press the digital right shoulder button and the game will pause. At which point you can choose a specific body part to aim for and take out. You can also switch enemies to target. This is an excellent feature as you can take out, say, an arm or a leg rendering your opponent unable to attack more fiercely. Obviously aiming for the head is far more effective but early in the game you will not have a good enough aim or weapon power to take some one out first go. This system is based on AP (arm or aim points) You only get so many depending on the weapon you are using and once they're gone they need time to recharge. At this point you are at the mercy of aiming and shooting. This is extremely difficult early in the game as your aim skills are terrible. Most of your bullets will miss and you will constantly run short of ammo, leaving you with no other option than to try and run away with what is left of your menial life. As the game progresses so do your shooting and attacking skills and there are perks to make things better. As an example there is a perk that will (if you kill some one with a single set of Aps) reload your Aps allowing you to string together a pile of hot death. Awesome.
VATS in action.
Now we are talking, baby !. These come in all sorts of shapes and sizes with all areas covered. Pistols, machine guns, grenades, assault rifles.. The list is almost never ending. Not only is there a wealth of stock standard weapons but you also get to find souped up models of pretty much each weapon. Let's use the Chinese assault rifle as an example.. Look hard enough and you will encounter a weapon called a Xuanlong assault rifle. This is a hyped up CAR and does considerably more damage than the stock weapon. BE CAREFUL however, as it is possible to accidentally repair a broken CAR with the Xuanlong and there is only one in the entire game.
The best weapon of all of course is the Fat Man*. Named after the first atomic bomb it copies its namesake. It is a shoulder based launcher that fires mini nukes. These are immensely powerful so proceed with caution. Get too close and you will vaporise yourself as well as the enemy. Mini nukes are really hard to come by so save it for Super Mutant Behemoths and enemies of that stature.
The fabled 'Fat man' ; The gift that just keeps on giving.
*Yes yes, I know there is the Experimental M.I.R.V but that puppy sends off eight of your mini nukes at once. It is just way too frivolous to be considered a weapon of every day use and is best to sit in a locker, getting it out once in a while to laugh.
Best of all though are the custom weapons. These include a huge variety of ridiculous toys that you can create (with obtained blueprints) from old crap you find lying around the wasteland. These are absolutely hilarious to play with and cause huge smiles. My favourite (and the only one I will mention) is the dart gun. Concocted of a child's wooden toy car to feed the rubber tube, some surgical tubing (medical type you find on catapults), a paint gun (for the handle) and a Rad-scorpion poison gland. From here you find yourself a pack of darts (one hundred and eighty !) and dip the darts in the poison before sticking some one with them. The reason this is my favourite is because of the sheer cruelness of using it. Once hit enemies who don't offer a huge resistance will slowly die. You can sit back listening to them scream and all of a sudden you will hear the till bell ring and your XP will go up. A very sadistic toy.
I watch you die in screaming agony ; The dart gun.
The world around us...
Once exiting the vault you will be faced with, quite simply, one of the finest moments you will ever witness in gaming. Remember the time you played Mario 64 for the first time and constantly had to pinch yourself over just how amazing it was? Well take that feeling and stir up a few others and you have a rough idea of just what it is like to step out of the vault. It really is the definition of jaw dropping. Now you are all alone in the world and trust me, it's a big one. Fondly referred to as the wastes by Three Dog (don't worry that will all become clear) it can be very intimidating. This is, of course, another stark reminder of why you must read the manual, especially if you are new to this type of game style. Standing atop the lookout point once you leave the vault is just one of those moments you are likely never to forget, ever. As your eyes clear from the bright sunlight you will immediately gather a feeling of scale. Scale I have never witnessed before.
The mapping system is cleverly taken care of by your Pipboy and looks like this. Here is a shot of the world map under the Pip-Boy 3000, noting that areas shown are found and uncovered.
It is broken into two types. A main map (pictured) and a local map. Local maps are used when you close in on your destination and need a more accurate direction of travel and pinpoints what you are looking for exactly.
Navigating this enormous metropolis of broken burnt out buildings can be very daunting and it is incredibly easy to walk into a situation that is hard to get out of, so be warned, follow the directions given to you !.
The art of scavenging. Get used to it, look in every box and leave no stone unturned.
This is what Three Dog refers to when giving you subtle hints over G.N.R (Galaxy News Radio). Again, G.N.R can be a source of great information and provide you with critical information. Listen carefully to what Three Dog is going on about and you will do well. However, take note that he tends to call a spade a spade. If you are a naughty boy or girl you will be chastised for it, but equally, praised for your good actions. Karma is also very important in Fallout so make sure that you choose a path and adhere to it tightly, or things will get rocky really fast..
The hills are alive, with the sound of music...
Music plays a very important part in Fallout 3. The music itself is from the 'golden era' when people sang about just how happy they were. However, where the genius really enters into this is just how cleverly the music has been picked. Each song has its own meaning in the game, for example.
Mighty Mighty Man – Roy Brown. “I'm a mighty mighty man, young and I'm in my prime” tends to ring out of your Pip-boy at just the right moment, letting you know you have come of age.
Butcher Pete – Roy Brown. This song usually comes on when you have a good old punch up “He's hackin' and whackin' and smackin' he just chops, chops, chopping that meat” and so on.
Each song pays homage to the game incredibly well and just seems to 'fit'.
The character voices are excellent, and in there among others you will find Liam Neeson and Malcolm McDowell. But the real hero of the show for me is Three Dog and Herbert 'Daring' Dashwood.
Eye candy 4000.
Fallout is a stunning game. Not in a push the boundary kind of way but more in the way it has been cleverly designed. It's easy to tell that it is based on an older engine (Elder scrolls) but the way that it has been put together is just love making to the eyes. As you walk over burnt scorched brown landscapes you will suddenly feel the warm sun climbing over the landscape and hitting you in the face. At that point the roads seem to glow a lovely orange and things really don't seem as bad as they are. In the same token when you are wandering around in the dark shadows seem to fall and make shapes and remind you of just how scary things are. What is very clever is the size of the landscapes and the wastelands themselves and the distance you can see into. Apparently the trick to this was using DIVX movies to draw the landscapes in front of you.
The character animations are a bit stiff and do leave something to be desired but it just doesn't matter. Fallout is, I would say, the most beautiful game I have ever played. And that isn't down to fancy tessellation or techniques but rather down to passion. When Bethesda Softworks gained the licensing to this game you can just tell it was a complete labour of love, from start to finish.
We play, therefore we are players.
The game play in Fallout 3 is unsurpassed. In a way it is like no other, because it copies no other. Whilst it may share similarities with Elder scrolls it definitely doesn't act like it, or look like it. And whilst it may be a FPS and may be a RPG it does it in a way that I have never seen before.
The custom weapons are just a hoot and a holler and you will find yourself laughing with every shot from them. The weapons themselves are wonderfully rendered and look great.
But how long is this human life?
Fallout will last you ages. When I say ages? Well, as a complete RPG novice it took me around 200 hours with all of the DLC on my first ever play-through. Now I know that I was a complete novice then, but even by the time I had played it through for the third time it still took me 80 hours. And that was pretty much walking through it because I had memorised everything, knew all of the tricks and secrets and just kicked ass all the way through. For longevity? Well, depending on how hard this game grabs you it can literally last forever. Enemies will re-spawn over time and you can always just wander the wastes with a friend of animal friend.
And so, with a heavy heart we must bring this to a conclusion.
Fallout 3 is to gaming what Ferrari is to cars. It oozes passion love and a depth of involvement that is pretty much impossible to match. The last time a game grabbed me this hard was when I first loaded up my Japanese N64 two days after launch in Tokyo and feasted my eyes on Mario. And the thrill ride does not stop. Moments like these do not offer themselves very often to me, and it takes a game that has been gold plated and smeared in love juices to even make me sit up and pay attention these days. Most of the games I play now are all titled 'next' because within ten minutes of loading them up I realise it's a clone of a clone of a clone and nothing new. I then yell NEXT and load up Revo Uninstaller, never to bother with them again.
Sure, you cannot go online with Fallout and you cannot frag foo's asses in Fallout but that's the whole point. The game does not rely on man made mechanics to increase its scope or marvel, it is all there in the first place. What also adds to this strongly is the manner in which Fallout 3 changes every time you play it. As an example to this as you go through the game and have made the choice of who you want to be (good, bad, ugly) the game then crafts itself around you and throws obstacles into your path to suit. If you are bad you will end up with the Talon MERCS after you. If you are good? People will come out to greet you and give you gifts.
Once you have played Fallout 3 everything you have played before (and most probably after) immediately seem vapid.