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Best of the Decade: Fallout 3

Fallout 3

Platforms: Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Windows

Release Date: October 28, 2008

Publisher: Bethesda Softworks

Developer: Bethesda Game Studios

Bethesda games are broken. There’s no way around it. I was intimately familiar with Oblivion’s brand of broken before their new project was even announced. Fallout 3 followed faithfully in its footsteps in being a technical mess of a game. If we’re being honest, most of Bethesda’s games would be laughed off of the shelves were it not for their one primary saving grace.

But oh what a saving grace it is.

Like its fantastical predecessor, Fallout 3 nails the feeling of an epic scope like no other game this side of World of Warcraft. It’s pretty safe to say that Bethesda’s games are the largest, most detailed worlds in all of gaming, at least on the single player end of the equation and perhaps beyond. Exploration is present in spades. There’s so much to do and see it boggles the mind. I may go back to WoW periodically for my “holy bejeezus this gaming world is huge” fix, but in my off months I’m playing games like Bethesda’s, and no one does them better than the studio that brought us Elder Scrolls.

The game starts off slow. This can be a pain on your second or third time through as you want to hop straight into the action, but the sense of drama the slow opening creates is worth the tradeoff. They force you to spend enough time in the vault to get acclimated, to see where your character comes from. When that moment comes, and you step outside of its underground confines and into the light, you’re as spellbound as your character would be. The sheer awe of stepping out of the vault is still one of my favorite little moments in gaming. It immediately inspired an urge to explore every bit of that magnificent world that I could, and over 80 to 100 hours of play I made my best stab at doing just that.

This scale comes at a price. I’ll try to put this nicely. Bethesda’s games are, shall we say, lacking somewhat in quality control. They’re simply riddled with glitches and problems in every aspect of the experience. Nothing in the game is untouched by the occasional bit of weirdness.

Yet we put up with it. We do the same with Grand Theft Auto, though my experiences with both series lead me to believe Bethesda’s issues are far worse than Rockstar’s. Apparently technology hasn’t yet gotten to the point where worlds this massive can be problem-free. Clearly, however, the appeal of exploration and adventure is strong enough that we’re willing to mostly set these problems aside in exchange for a chance to inhabit these spectacular expanses.

Fallout 3 in particular was compelling to me because it was like no open world I had played. This was no fantasy setting a la Oblivion or big city like Grand Theft Auto. True to its name, this was a wasteland. The post-apocalyptic setting made for a somber yet fascinating series of locales to explore. The great writing and interesting quests kept me going once the scenery became familiar. 

It speaks highly of the compelling world Bethesda created that the finely crafted RPG mechanics were decidedly of secondary interest next to the story and scenery. As much fun as it was to grow stronger and shoot bigger things, choosing your path through the ruins never stopped being the primary draw. Building your character and choosing from the multitude of unique perks was no slouch in terms of fun factor though. You could truly build a character to suit your play style and the choices you made had a noticeable impact on the gameplay. 

Fallout 3 combined sheer scale and enjoyable RPG traits, in the form of both great story and satisfying character progression, to make an enveloping world like none other. It wasn’t an effortless attempt, as the game is filled with rough edges, but there’s still something clearly special about it. Any game that can disrupt your immersion with a constant string of issues but still remain as consistently engrossing as Fallout 3 obviously has done something right on a fundamental level. I only hope Bethesda can one day retain that healthy core and place it in a game with fewer issues.

For now, however, it’s clear that Fallout 3, for its awe-inspiring size, scope, and detail, must be called one of my Best of the Decade.

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Reader Comments (2)

I'm curious to know exactly what issues you're talking about with the game. I played through a couple times and I never really noticed any glaring problems that took away from the experience. it's been a while though, maybe I'm just forgotten.

December 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGameboy

The recent followup, New Vegas is far worse. It has issues like freezes that lock up the game, strange obvious graphical errors, quests that don't work, etc.

The original Fallout 3 is, thankfully, not as bad. There's a lot of weirdness with the physics system for a start. Enemies manage to clip through the environment sometimes. Lots of little things like that. In terms of glitches though, you're right, Fallout 3 was more than engrossing enough to overcome its problems. My issues with it aren't major, only small and sort of numerous.

New Vegas on the other hand....

My biggest "issue" with Fallout 3 isn't glitchiness, actually, it's that the presentation is outdated (animations in particular are terrible) and mechanically it's clunky in spots. Still, here again it's not bad enough to take away from the experience, thus its making my list.

December 27, 2010 | Registered CommenterBrendan T. Smith

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