So, after years of waiting Fallout 3 is finally here. I took half the day off work yesterday and only missed delivery of my box by about 40 minutes which wasn't too bad. I installed it immediately and got to playing (mostly nonstop the rest of the day).
So, how good is it?
- Atmosphere. Yes, it's no isometric Fallout 2 but I felt like Bethesda got the Fallout "feel" about right. You get to experience a little bit of the life in a vault as part of character creation and when you first step out and your eyes adjust to the light, you're immediately offered a pretty breathtaking vista. On your right, a broken and crumbled bridge with only the supports left intact. To your left, a winding path down the hill and the burned out ruins of some buildings. Looking far, far ahead you can see many more ruins of buildings big and small and you immediately get the feeling of "Yeah, so, this is definitely a wasteland".
- S.P.E.C.I.A.L. The traditional Fallout character progression system is pretty well preserved. It didn't survive in its completeness, but it's very close. You get the same attributes, you earn EXP to level up (no more cheesy Oblivion-like system), distribute skill points among the traditional skills, pick perks. One notable thing is the exclusion of traits. In the old Fallouts, on character creation you could pick two traits that are with you from the beginning. These don't exist in FO3. Also, you get to pick a perk with each level rather than every so often. There are new perks added and a bunch of them have several ranks. Some of the skills also have a bit of a different functionality. For example, in the Fallouts the Doctor/First Aid skills increased your chances to self heal. Self healing like that isn't possible in FO3, and the Medicine skill (combined Doctor/First Aid) increases the amount of hp you gain from stim packs, for example.
- Voice acting. When the first Megaton trailer hit, there was a lot of complaining about recycled voice actors. So far, most of the characters I encountered could be talked to with various dialogue trees and they've all had unique voices. In some games, it's pretty easy to tell that the voice overs aren't very enthusiastic. Not so in Fallout 3. You hear patronizing voices, condescending, hateful.. Hell, one girl you meet actually has a pretty believable emo tone when she talks about cutting her wrists in the moonlight surrounded by candles wearing her pretty black dress (long story..). These characters feel like they have actual personality. One rather excited store owner you meet can best be described as "bouncy". She always talks in a very upbeat, cheery voice that really gives you a feel for her personality. Now, it has been ages since I played Oblivion so I can't honestly say how many actors were re-used, but just playing FO3 I would say the voice acting in general is superb.
- Combat (VATS). So, VATS is the new combat system and it's pretty damned ingenious. It basically tries to bridge real time and the turn based combat of the previous games. When you hit the VATS key, action pauses. You can scroll through available targets and select body parts to shoot. You then queue attacks (each gun uses some number of action points to shoot in VATS, and you can only queue as much as you have APs for) and execute. You can queue however you like. You can do 3 shots to one target's head, or a shot to each of 3 targets' heads. The awesome part of VATS is that how you see the enemy counts. For example, a super mutant with a minigun holds it in his right arm, with the left supporting. When you're staring at one, the left arm is in front of the body and covers up the right arm - so in VATS, you have a much higher chance to hit the left arm than the right. Another example is those crab things we saw from the videos. They have a "face" protected by the shell. Sometimes, they lower their head so their outer shell blocks your vision of the face which means you can't even target the face in VATS. It's a great system, and once you start using it it's hard to stop. You can shoot in real-time without it of course, but VATS is just too much fun.
- Humor. Yep, there's plenty of it. From the emo girl to the bouncy store owner writing a book on how to survive the "basic" wasteland dangers of finding food, medicine, and not getting blown up by land mines, to an exam questionaire during your stay in the vault that asks such questions as "Your grandmother hands you a gun and tells you to kill another Vault citizen. What do you do?" and having one of the available responses "Ask for a minigun, after all you don't want to miss". A lot of characters have their own little bits of humorous conversation or tones.
- AI. It's a bit early to be definitive here, but so far the AI seems pretty good. It hasn't been doing stupid stuff like getting stuck, and seems to be pretty smart in combat. In general, people tend to drop their weapons when you shoot their arms. Usually that's a good thing since them punching you is better than shooting you. It becomes decidedly less good when a second super mutant decides to pick up a minigun that another mutant dropped, though.
- Item repair. In FO3, your armor and guns wear out. Guns do less damage, armor offers less protection. You can pay various merchants to repair your stuff.. or you can do your own that goes along with your Repair skill. The way it works is you repair by salvaging parts from similar items. If you want to repair your 10mm pistol by yourself, you need to have other 10mm pistols in your inventory. Those get destroyed, and depending on your Repair skill you repair your original a certain amount. It's a pretty neat take on a durability system.
NOTE: I can't comment very much on the story since I just barely scratched the surface, so I'm not including it.
- UI. It's obvious Bethesda didn't put any extra effort in the PC version. The UI is suited for consoles, but severely lacking for PCs. In basic functionality, it's similar to Oblivion in that you open your Pip Boy and it has various screens that you can navigate through. Armor, Weapons, Aids (chems, stims), Ammo. Then there's your stats, your SPECIAL screen, skills, maps, quests, notes, so on so forth. The problem is there's no quick access and no hotkeys for anything. If you want to use a stim, you have to open the pip boy and navigate through the list of aids to find the stim and use it. You can't assign weapons to hotkeys, so to switch out a weapon you have to open the Pip Boy each and every time. The Pip Boy itself looks good and inline with what should appear in the setting, but it's a very cumbersome system. You get used to it, but I still wish they at least had hotkeys for weapon switching/stims.
Edit: Per kryo's sage advice to RTFM, there is a way to assign up to 8 hotkeys for items. I missed it on my first quick pass through the manual. Holding down the hotkey and left clicking on the item will bind the item to the hotkey (so, same system as Oblivion).
- Map. It's not that it's "bad" per se, it's just not easily readable. It's basically a single color (depends on what color you chose for your UI in the options) and just tries to differentiate different areas with shades of that color. It fits in with the Pip Boy theme, but doesn't do much for making maps easy to look at. For example, in one area the world map there was a big black gap - which normally gives you the impression that it's not something you can navigate through. That would be the wrong impression, because most of that area turned out to be pretty normal land. Maybe the map just shows elevation and since that area was "below" the horizontal it showed blacked out? Who knows. There's also a local map for the nearby area/building schematics but that's no easier to read. Corridors and pathways don't show very clearly at all. I was in one mine with narrow pathways, but on the map it was impossible to tell what was a path and what was a wall when zoomed out to be able to see the whole layout - and it was not that big of a mine.
- It's obvious also that the PC version didn't get much special loving with textures. It looks good, but the textures could've been made higher resolution to take advantage of more memory generally available for PCs. It doesn't quite stand out like a very sore thumb, but if you go up to a wrecked/burned car, well.. it doesn't look very prettily textured. Other than that, the game really looks great.
All in all, I think it's a great game. It's not perfect, but so far it definitely seems like a worthwhile addition to the Fallout family of games. I'll post more stuff here if I think of anything