When I first heard, I felt as if a bomb had gone off.
Bethesda? They're doing the new Fallout?
It's not that I didn't like Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, on the contrary, I played the hell out of that game, if you pardon the pun. Still, as much time as I put into defending the King, I practically lived Fallout for a few months in high school. If there's anything that the subsequent Brotherhood of Steel games taught me, it's that power armor and Pip Boy does not a Fallout make.
While I liked Oblivion, I also saw the other end of the scale when Bethesda performed a gaming abortion using the Star Trek license.
What's more, is that this wasn't just another spin-off. The game isn't called Fallout: Vault-Tech Chronicles, or even Fallout: The Next Generation. This was a clear-cut sequel. It was Fallout 3.
God help us all.
So it is with great pleasure that I tell you this game, if nothing else, is a lot of fun. The demo they had me play started outside of Vault 101, with a pre-made character equipped with some early gear.
Wandering out into the wastes was a daunting task. Even marching forward in more-or-less one direction over the 40 minutes I had with the game did not reveal the far border of Washington DC's shattered beauty. Though battered structures were all around, I found that no two buildings looked exactly the same, giving a spooky realism to a fully realized fantasy setting. Despite this, I noticed dozens of thoughtfully-placed landmarks across the ruined landscape, which will no doubt help vault dwellers effectively find their way around. There is also a fast-travel system tied into the pip-boy to allow quick navigation across terrain previously covered.
During my wanderings, I still managed to stumble across a few NPC's. One lady was sunning herself by the radiated river, while a boy I ran into a bit earlier asked me to save his father from mutant ants. There were usually three to five dialogue options, with some occasionally being tied to a skill or attribute. The higher the skill in question, the better the chance of a desirable outcome. On this occasion, I could calm the frightened boy using my speech skill, or otherwise employ my strength skill to convince the lad that he came to the right vault dweller.
I also came across a wandering trader, complete with guard dog and two-headed brahmin to carry his wares. The trader could repair my items, plus offered me a few bottles of NukaCola for the road ahead. I politely declined.
Gun play using the Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System, or VATS, definitely seemed like 'easy mode' for my character, especially at close range. VATS uses action points, a self-regenerating 'time currency' which will be familiar to those who played the first two Fallout games. Prior to Fallout 3, action points governed how much you could move, fire, or really do anything while in combat. Now that the series is no longer turn-based, action points seem to regenerate whenever you aren't using VATS, regardless of whether or not you are shooting, running or using items.
What's more, is that with VATS turned on, you seem to become an elite killing machine. Even when I only fared a 60% chance of shooting someone in the face, I had enough action points for four shots, one of which would usually cause critical damage. While this did a good job of making me feel powerful despite having just started (early characters in Fallout 2 were terrible at everything), they seem to have taken this a bit far. Just to be clear, VATS does not replace or even approximate the turn-based combat of previous Fallout titles. It allows for effortless targeted shots, providing the best ammo to damage ratio you could hope for.
Additionally, VATS seemed to create the most ideal scenarios to see the various extreme death animations, usually consisting of a lost limb and a lot of blood. It was beautiful in a way my mother would not be comfortable with.
Near the end of my trek, I spotted a few super mutants and decided to make a run at them. They attacked me on-sight, but two of the three were only using melee weapons. While there was a chance I could have blasted them unassisted, it was suggested that I employ the help of the various drugs and meds in my inventory.
A hit of Jet and a dose of Psycho later, I was able to use VATS to dispatch the mutants with ease. For the melee fighting hulks in particular, I found running backwards and jumping to be an effective strategy. After a few seconds of hopping in reverse, my action points had regenerated, and I was able to switch into VATS once more for a targeted shot to the head. I noticed that while I had gained the ability to fire at an enemy's weapon, I was no longer able to target the eyes, which was my organ of choice in games previous.
The drugs gave my character tons of action points, with various other stat boosts. I can easily imagine players taking advantage of them to force their way through particularly difficult fights. Case and point, I killed three super mutants armed with only a pistol. While addiction is an issue, along with the stat-reducing withdrawal, I am told there are a few ways to go about kicking the habit, including making use of doctors.
I was also privy to the lockpicking and computer hacking mini-games. While both were challenging, I found neither particularly fun in comparison to the main game, and likely would have been happier with a simple skill roll. The lock picking game used the two thumbsticks on the controller as the lockpick and screwdriver, where each has to be turned at precisely the right moment to succeed. The hacking game was basically mastermind, which means your mileage will vary depending on you love of old-school board games. Search through some computer code for a password, and the computer would tell you how many letters of the password you got correct. I yearned for an opprtunity to shoot something.
Despite it's flaws and differences over the previous entries, this is a significant departure from the Elder Scrolls universe, and "Oblivion with guns" is a disgusting simplification of this promising game. While on the surface, it's easy to marginalize a game like this as re-invented to a flaw. I'm sure many people were aching for an overhead perspective and turn-based combat. I'd be lying if I didn't say that at some point, I was one of them.
Still, as much as I tried to dislike Fallout 3, I would start playing to find how many of the old audio cues are pulled from the first games and think "this is Fallout". I would score a critical on a bandit, blowing his head clean off and think "this is Fallout". I would come across a Brotherhood of Steel outpost, see a hulking set of power armor and think "this is Fallout".
So while I can't really say if the game is the second coming of Sulik and the gang, what I can say with a fair degree of certainty, is that it is beautiful, it is fun and it is Fallout. Watch for it to be released on October 28th.