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Thoughts on my very first Fallout 3 playthrough

(EDIT: Didn't realise this had turned out so long, the last paragraph serves as a TLDR)

When I wait so long to play something, especially if that something was very impactful on release, I often have a hard time figuring out whether the opinions I hear about it are based on a nostalgic then or a more objective now. Fallout 3 was a perfect example of this. I never fully understood if everything I'd read or seen justified a playthrough today, because a) I struggled to find any recent first playthrough accounts, and b) it is a fairly long game. As an older gamer, I tend to value my time a lot more than I used to back then, so I pause when faced with a prospect of investing 25+ hours in a game that might end up leaving me feeling underwhelmed after I play it.

After my 36hr playthrough though, I can easily say Fallout 3 was worth the time. I’m hard pressed to remember a game I played that was able to convey a more effective sense of a nuclear post-apocalyptic world. This is, unquestionably, Fallout 3’s biggest strength: its environmental design is remarkable even for a fresh pair of eyes in 2022, and the world is a joy to explore in great part because of this. The game sets the perfect visual tone – even if, ironically, it sometimes seems tone-deaf in other aspects. But that’s not all Fallout 3 offers. The next best thing for me was the intro: it plays so much like the quintessential set piece that it almost feels personal, taking its time in nudging you to become involved and engaged with the life in the vault from infancy to adulthood. This is fundamental to provoke in the player that sense of wonder when they step out into the world for the first time. And it was so well done that it still manages to create an impression even if, like me, you’re only experiencing it now. At this point I was still not entirely sold on the game, as its age was showing in different ways and this took a bit of getting used to. However, by the time I reached the Super-Duper Mart and had my first one-on-many against a bunch of Raiders, I was hooked. There was just something so satisfying about making use of the VATS system to make it out alive, even though I felt clearly underleveled. And this mechanic is actually what makes combat ultimately feel okay. Actually, gunplay as a whole doesn’t exactly live up to the horror stories I had heard. I mean yes, it is far from perfect and guns do feel weak when used in normal mode. But not only did I eventually get used to it, using VATS definitely brings the experience up a few notches, even if the whole thing can still be a bit janky now and then. Audio wise though, nothing to criticise on the gun front. All weapons sound amazing, and this is actually transversal to the rest of the sound design. Everything in the world sounds as it should, from the environmental effects to the radio stations you can listen to (though I’d recommend turning those off for that truly gritty post-apocalyptic feel). Another thing I appreciated was the sense of progression. Though you can reach 100 on a couple skills fairly quickly, there’s a growing feeling of accomplishment when you start going from a clueless noob to a wasteland veteran. It isn’t ideal, but it gives you just enough balance to justify replayability. Finally, the story. Apart from a couple of weird instances, I liked it more than I thought I would, in the sense that even though it’s nothing groundbreaking by today’s standards, it still gives you more than enough to be engaging and, and at a couple of turns, even surprising.

All of these positives, of course, need to be stacked against Fallout 3’s problems. Even if the new FPS and resolution boost mostly made it a joy to play on the Series S, the game’s clunky movement and mechanics can feel pretty awkward until you get over it. The dated visuals and animations don’t do the it any favours either, and the worst part of this is that F3's colour palette leans heavily on darker tones, resulting in a loss of detail especially indoors, even with the brightness cranked up (at times I couldn’t even see objects that were right in front of me). Something else I didn’t like was how restrictive exploration felt around the metro areas, especially for an open world. I understand this was by design, but closing off that many areas with rubble, thus forcing you to navigate through a bunch of subway tunnels that look identical to each other, was a bit off-putting. Another point of contention is the emotional tone of the game. Too me, it often felt too ‘chirpy’ for a miserable looking world where destruction and radiation reign supreme and a lot of people are suffering. There are exceptions to this throughout your journey of course, but it was still prevalent enough for it to become somewhat bothersome. One last word for the lack of ambiguity in your choices. Even though I love how the game gives you enough room to either become the stuff of legends or an absolute asshole, I would’ve liked to see more grey areas in terms of decision making. I heard New Vegas addresses this issue and I’m excited to see that for myself.

I suppose the only real question that matters is whether I would recommend a 2022 Fallout 3 playthrough to the few oddities out there who, like myself, have never played this game before. And the answer has to be a definite yes. Even after all these years, Fallout 3 still manages to be an engaging experience, with an almost perfectly crafted post-apocalyptic tone, loads of fun to be had, and a decent amount of replayability. Unless you find any of the flaws I mentioned above to be a complete turn-off in your games, you will likely have a great time with it if you're into these types of worlds. 8.5/10.


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