Revisiting Fallout 3

This past week I found myself in a conundrum. I had just completed Mafia II and had nothing else new on the near horizon until NHL 11 arrives on September 7. I had a couple of weeks with nothing to play – would I go back to Modern Warfare 2? Play Madden online? Mafia II was such a great experience I decided to do something different – an entirely solo, single-player game. I started a new game in Fallout 3.

I finished Fallout 3 a couple of years ago, and in fact, it was one of the first reviews I ever wrote when I started this site. I loved it because of the quest variation, the overall atmosphere, and I felt that the gameplay itself was fine-tuned.

But most games don’t hold up to time. They don’t hold up to replays because, well, we’ve experienced it before, right?

I started Fallout 3 again because it offered something tangible – I thought Fallout 3 could provide a totally different experience the second time around. And I was right.

Initially, when I started playing anew, Fallout 3 felt the same. I struggled to get through the first few hours. Once again the world felt too big (that familiar feeling from your first steps outside of the Vault that you called home, the blinding sun, the lack of any indication on where to go), and I felt as though I didn’t have the time to explore. As a reviewer and writer I’ve learned to power through games and unfortunately, the idea of a huge world that takes close to 100 hours to explore in good detail was intimidating beyond belief. I was going to take my time.

The first steps I took were to Megaton. I followed through with Moriarty’s request to track down Silver, a woman who had fled town. He asks you to kill her and bring the caps to him and he will tell you where your father went. Rather than killing her, though, I let her go free for nothing.  I received good karma and I had to find other ways to make money. I was lost, though. Where to make money as a lowly wanderer?

I didn’t find myself interested in the game again until I began conducting research for Moira’s book, The Wasteland Survival Guide. This very long quest is all but essential for leveling up early in the game. It slowly acclimates players to the world of Fallout 3. You begin doing simple things like getting yourself irradiated, breaking a limb and injuring yourself critically, hunting mole rats, and checking out grocery stores. You then become involved in more dangerous missions like traveling to an old, abandoned robot factory that becomes swarming with activated robots. These missions give you a purpose and intentionally send you to important areas of the game. You discover Arlington and The Citadel, Rivet City, and explore the wild expanses.

The places that The Wasteland Survival Guide quest sends you to are important places throughout the game world. You uncover other missions like “Those!” were a young boy asks you to help him with a dangerous ant infestation in his town, “The Android” where you must find an Android that has run from its master, and you first encounter enemies like Super Mutants. It’s a wonderful entry into the game and should have been required. Then again, with the huge expanse of the Wasteland in front of you, Megaton is a frequent returning place, a safe haven when the world seems far too huge and far too dangerous to explore freely. So, everyone should stumble upon Moira early and find The Wasteland Survival Guide. But man is it a perfect introduction.

Beyond that, I’m so impressed, again, with how beautifully crafted this world is. Yes, the dialogue can be cheesy, and yes, the character models are awful. And heck, it isn’t the prettiest game out there, but there isn’t a game this generation that rivals it in depth, scope, and options.

This is a world that is highly dangerous. Remember Oblivion? Remember feeling pretty much free to explore everywhere without risk of dying? Initially, the Wasteland feels absolutely terrifying. You are a low-level wanderer, just out of the Vault, and beasts and mutants and Raiders are everywhere. There aren’t any leveling up baddies here. Just dangerous pockets you need to avoid.

Fallout 3 is immersive, it’s gorgeous, it’s fun, and it’s utterly replayable because it’s nearly unthinkable that, in your first run-through, you would come across everything there is to see and do in the world. In other words, it is simply great.

It makes me all the more excited for Fallout: New Vegas and confirms to me that Fallout 3 is a timeless game.