Preview By: Jared Black
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After putting over 200 hours into The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion across three platforms (I know, I’m seeking help), there was no game I wanted to play more at this year’s E3 than Fallout 3, and I got a chance to do just that with the Xbox 360 build in a closed door session with Bethesda during the week. What followed were easily the fastest 30 minutes of the entire week.
Bethesda basically just turned us loose in Fallout 3’s world with minimal guidance, suggesting the path we take and enforcing a strict “no storyline” policy in previews. Not that I would’ve seen much of that anyway, as the demo began when the player leaves the vault. The vault basically acts in the same way as leaving the sewers in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, as from this point forward you’re free to roam and do as you please. Should you choose to do it, your first objective is to make your way to the capitol city of Megaton to learn more about your background and begin the story proper. Since Bethesda wants to keep the story under wraps however (understandably so), instead I headed off in the opposite direction towards the town of Springvale.
Like everything else in Fallout 3, Springvale has been absolutely demolished from the blast 200 years ago, with remnants of buildings hinting at what the town used to be. The dominant feature of the town is the elementary school, which I made a beeline for after searching through a few houses for supplies. Along the way I found overturned grocery carts, long-abandoned drink machines (which the player can use to scavenge health-replenishing Nuka Cola), cabinets (some of which are locked, which you can either force open or lockpick in a mini-game using bobby pins) and huge piles of rubble. I also picked up a radio feed for some good ol’ fashioned old-timey patriotic tunes and an underground DJ, which was equal parts humor and awesomeness (of course I listened to it the entire time).
Turns out the enemies were actually all holed up in the school, with some low-level raiders (humans that apparently survived the fallout and may or may not still be human, complete with punk-like outfits and hair) spread throughout the building. Combat works much as it did in Oblivion on a basic level, only in Fallout 3 you can pause combat at any time to target specific parts of the enemy’s body...and of course there are guns instead of bows. By pausing combat you can chain together multiple attacks; all executed when time is unpaused. Each body part has a rating attached to it, indicating how likely the attack is to land, and the damage that will be done if that attack is successful is also estimated. If a chained attack is pulled off well with a killing shot, the game shows the kill in slow-mo so the player can enjoy it in all of it’s gory glory. Selecting different body parts with the analog stick felt a little too touchy for me, as it would often skip over body parts with a light press, so hopefully there will be a way to adjust the sensitivity for actions like that (and if there isn’t, it’s the kind of thing you’ll get used to).
Like Oblivion, every enemy and container in the world can potentially contain items that the player can add to his inventory. I did notice that, in a simple but nice change from Oblivion, empty containers are now labeled as such before they’re opened up. While I still ran into containers that held seemingly useless items (although some may have hidden functionality I wasn’t able to discover during my time with the game), this alone should speed up exploration a bit.
The game itself ran smoothly throughout my time with it, although the Xbox 360 debug unit froze up just as my 30-minute session was ending. Given the frequency of this occurrence throughout the week, I don’t fault the game for that. The only glitch I ran into that I can say was the game’s fault was a display one: after bashing raiders with a baseball bat for a few minutes I decided to switch to a pistol, and while the baseball bat was functionally unequipped it was still shown in my hands. So I ended up with both a bat and a gun in my hands for about 10 minutes, fused graphically into a “bat gun” that could’ve been the coolest weapon of all-time if it was actually intended to be one. The bat didn’t show up during slow-mo kill cutscenes and never interfered with gameplay, but it did stay persistent from area to area. So it’s obvious that the game still needs some polish before it ships, although little glitches like that should be easily corrected.
Overall I walked away from my time with Fallout 3 very impressed. The combat is fun, the leveling system is deep (I won't bore you with the different skills available, but they’re very Oblivion-esque), and the post-apocalyptic world is fully realized and impressively scaled. While the quality of the storyline is still unknown, going into my playtime that was the least of my concerns given Bethesda’s track record. It remains to be seen if old-school Fallout fans will embrace what is essentially “Oblivion with guns,” but most Elder Scrolls fans should fall in love with Fallout 3 almost immediately.
Posted: 2008-08-04 19:05:31 PST