So this my follow-up post after playing through both Fallout 1 & 2, and I decided to see if those two games changed my opinions about Fallout 3, and overall analyze Bethesda's debut title to the franchise. Before I get to the details, I want to be clear that Fallout 3 was my first Fallout game, and I had been a fan of Bethesda games for awhile. Skyrim is my favorite game of all time for very personal and specific reasons, hence my username here. But I will try to put my biases aside for this. There are a lot of things to talk about, both good and bad, and many things I never took notice of in previous playthroughs. So let's get started.
Oh boy, where to start? Where to freaking start? I knew going into Fallout 3 with prior experience with the previous games would make this difficult. It's very hard to compare the game with its predecessors, as they are very different not only on a surface level but also in intended goals and design philosophies. While Fallout 1 & 2 were both very atmospheric rpgs focused on multiple solutions to quests and consequences to said choices, Fallout 3's design, while it is an rpg with similar goals as the previous two, ie an emphasis on multiple choice and consequences, the primary focus of the game is the open world and exploration, as is the case for pretty much all Bethesda Game Studios games. This is where Fallout 3 shines the brightest, and is arguably the best Fallout game in those regards. No other game has captured the look of a post-apocalyptic game in 3D, let alone a Fallout game, better than Fallout 3. There's a good argument for the Metro series, but for open-world games Fallout 3's world design and look still hold up to this day. The world design, while fantastic, is also topped with the many locations of the Capital Wasteland full of stories of their own and rewards to be found. Exploring the world and finding all these is Fallout 3 at its best! You always have an incentive to explore the world, whether it's a unique item, skill books, bobbleheads, or just the various stories to uncover. Bethesda has always been masters of environmental storytelling, and Fallout 3 is no exception. There's always a story to be told, and learning what had happened in these places is incredibly satisfying. Especially the Vaults, oh the Vaults have some of the best stories in the entire franchise, without a doubt, and I'm glad that the idea of exploring them and learning their stories has continued and escalated as the series went on. These are the best elements of Fallout 3 without any doubt, and one of the driving forces that kept me going.
However, the same cannot be said for Fallout 3's main story. The series has always started their stories on similar patterns. A small, personalized story expands to a larger story as you move around the Wasteland going from place to place and interacting with the various factions in the area. Every Fallout game starts this way, but Fallout 3 breaks this mold only slightly with its prologue. Now, I know not everyone enjoys the beginning Vault segment, but I didn't mind it all that much. It served its purpose to try and connect you to Vault 101 and its inhabitants. Growing up in the Vault is something I actually enjoyed as a lore fanatic to see what life was like in one of the Vaults. I liked it. Was it a bit long? Perhaps, yes. But it didn't detract from the game for me. The first act of the game is probably the best part of the story. Going into Megaton and learning information about where to find your Father, going to GNR and meeting Three Dog and the Brotherhood of Steel, all the way to the end of thee act with Tranquility Lane, are all very enjoyable moments. A lot of these scenarios also offer many different ways to tackle the situation, much in the spirit of classic Fallout, with the shining example of this being Tranquility Lane with more solutions to the objectives than any other in the game. Act 1 of the main story can be considered great, but the quality drops quite significantly going into Act 2 and gets slightly better by Act 3. From reuniting with your Father to the Enclave's attack on Project Purity, it's honestly the lowest part of the story. No choices or alternate solutions to make (unless you consider letting Garza die or helping him a "major choice.") The most exciting moment is when the Enclave attack and you make your way to the Citadel. Everything also moves at such a fast pace that it's almost hard to keep track. One moment your helping Project Purity, the next thing your shooting Enclave soldiers in their "Black Devil Armor." It moves too quickly. After learning where to locate a G.E.C.K. from Rothchild, Act 3 begins and you set off for Vault 87, origin of the D.C. Super Mutants. You meet Fawkes, find the G.E.C.K., and are captured by the Enclave. This is probably the highlight of this act, as you're interrogated by Colonel Autumn and you even have an option to give him the correct code to the Purifier, which parallels you giving the location of Vault 13 to the Super Mutants, and both result in a game over or death in Fallout 3's case, which is a nice throwback. You meet President Eden which honestly feels like a combination of meeting the Master and President Richardson from the previous games, but doesn't feel as memorable as the Master. The similarities don't end there, as you can make him activate the self-destruct of Raven Rock if you posses one of many requirements, skill checks, perk checks, speech, the actual codes Autumn had held onto. After escaping Raven Rock you get back to the Citadel, and the Brotherhood launch an assault on the purifier with Liberty Prime. It is an epic moment to rival the starting up of the ship in Fallout 2… if it were perhaps a cutscene instead of an actual gameplay moment. Liberty Prime overwhelms the gameplay and he has a tendency to bug out and get stuck. Luckily that didn't happen to me during this playthrough, but I vividly remember it happening in my many past ones, so I can understand why people tend to despise this moment. The story ends when you deal with Autumn and activate the Purifier, which would end the base game without the Broken Steel DLC. With the DLC you would continue the fight against the Enclave and the game doesn't end when finished, and it lets you see the results of whether you poisoned Project Purity with the Modified FEV or not.
Fallout 3's story is a far cry from the stories in the previous games. It has less choice and consequence and is just a worse story overall. It isn't terrible, but it isn't groundbreaking either. It gets better with Broken Steel, as the final option to destroy the Citadel is a choice with almost immediate consequences to be felt and great rewards that cannot be found if you destroy the Enclave. Another major problem with Fallout 3's story, and the game itself, is its reliance on bringing back all the elements of previous games into an amalgamation Fallout-esque objects. Instead of making the story with original ideas and expanding the lore, Bethesda brought back as many fan-favorites as possible. Water purification, Super Mutants, the Brotherhood of Steel, the Enclave, bottlecaps, G.E.C.K., nothing is brand new in the story. They're all elements from the previous games. In fact, this is one thing that requires more to mention.
Why are bottlecaps used as currency in the Capital Wasteland? It isn't because of the water merchants like in Fallout 1. It's never stated why. Why does the Brotherhood have to be here? Or the Enclave? Or Super Mutants? To the game's credit, it does make a good attempt to explain why these various factions are here. It isn't that hard for me to believe the Brotherhood would send detachments to other areas of the Wasteland to gather technology and establish outposts. This had already been established in Fallout: Tactics, although that game has largely been deemed noncanon. The same goes for the Enclave, where their presence in the nation's capital would make sense. Since they claim to be the old-world government, the remnants of them from Fallout 2 heading to the East to regroup and reestablish themselves isn't that far from a viable possibility. The Super Mutants in Vault 87, and the FEV experiments, would also make sense as I'm sure governments and organizations would have multiple facilities researching top-secret projects, in this case different strains of the FEV. All of this makes sense, but why did Bethesda focus so much on this? A lot of people claim that they didn't understand the lore of the games, but they clearly did the more you analyze it. There are lore inconsistencies, but classic Fallout isn't free from those either. You'd be hard-pressed to find any franchise that didn't have at least a few, even minor, lore inconsistencies. So why did Bethesda bring all these elements into Fallout 3? Well, we have to look back before the release of the game. When Bethesda had gained ownership of the franchise, Van Buren, the original Fallout 3, had been cancelled, Troika Games, which had been founded by previous members of Black Isle, failed to get the IP and had shut down, and Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel had released to become the lowest rated Fallout game up to this point. Fans of the franchise viewed Bethesda as the wrongful owners of the franchise, seeing as they had no prior experience with it other than being fans pf the games. Looking back at old forums on "No Mutants Allowed" a lot of people voiced their concerns and disdain for Bethesda picking it up, believing they can't possibly make a proper Fallout game. This negativity persisted for years up to Fallout 3's release. These negative sentiments are what I believe are the catalyst to Bethesda's choices. They were afraid of older fans not accepting their Fallout as a true Fallout game, so they tossed every fan-favorite element to hopefully win them over. I can't blame them for doing that either, as the negativity was loud and clear. I don't envy them, but they went a bit too far in their attempts, and thus the game's story suffers for it and the game itself when comparing it to the others in the series.
Talking about the story was a lot more than I anticipated when I wanted to do this, but I hope I got the point across. Let's move on. Fallout 3 has a very decentralized story, meaning that it follows along a path that deliberately keeps you from most of the map. Unlike in previous games where you come across pretty much all major settlements along the story, Fallout 3 keeps you away from areas like Tenpenny Tower, Big Town, Arefu, Oasis, and Canterbury Commons, areas with some of Fallout 3's best side quests. While the main story lacks in many departments, the side quests are much better. Multiple solutions and consequences are here, although consequences are very small-scale and not long-lasting except with Three Dog's comments on it. The stories are overall great and sometimes fantastic even, although not entirely consistent. I found more enjoyment in the side quests than the main, and the fact that most of the content is hidden away from players that stay along the main quest is a tragedy. This decision must've been made to align with the emphasis on exploration that Fallout 3 is best at.
As for Fallout 3's tone and atmosphere, it's very much like Fallout 1, which I love. A dark and depressing world, something I prefer over the wacky tone of Fallout 2. However, the same cannot be said for the. The writing is constantly at odds with the tone of the game. It's not terrible writing, it's just not consistent with the dark tone of the game.
Thinking about things, I feel like Fallout 3 would have been better if the game had been set much closer to after the Great War. Megaton looks like a recent construction, a lot of people still live in old shacks and ruined buildings, and the constant reminder of the old-world. A consistent theme that pops up is nostalgia, something that people in the previous games never felt. While it is possible that all this could have happened in this time-frame, just look at the primitive societies here on Earth, it would make much more sense if the game had been set much earlier.
I might as well talk about the game's DLCs as well. Broken Steel fixes many of the game's main story issues at the end, and adds at the very least an epic ending to the story that could end in one of two ways. Mothership Zeta is… fun to an extent, but nothing special. It adds some very cool guns and great spectacles at the very least. Operation: Anchorage gave us a look into the Battle of Anchorage, so it's pretty cool to see that, even though it's just a simulation. The Pitt was short and good, with an interesting location with new elements, a moral dilemma, and a great atmosphere. Point Lookout is basically just more of what made Fallout 3 great, ie more exploration and things to discover. Overall, Fallout 3's DLC is a mixed bag, but still adds enough content for each one.
My opinion about Fallout 3 has indeed changed since playing the originals. While I still love the game to death, it did introduce me to one of my favorite video game franchises, I can see why older fans and others view it with such disdain. Fallout 3 is not a bad game, it isn't even a bad Fallout game at many points in it. It even is the best in the series at certain moments. Mainly the incredible world design and sense of exploration that the previous games couldn't accomplish. Yet, at the same time it has many flaws. But, taking the game for what it is, isolating itself from its predecessors, it is a great game. But isolating it isn't possible. Fallout 3 is mixed bag for me. I love it immensely, but I can see why others do not.
I know I've been very critical of Fallout 3, but I did thoroughly enjoy replaying the game. There's a reason I put 74 more hours into it and did absolutely everything there was to do. I plan to keep playing through the series up to Fallout 4, and I'll keep doing these posts if people still enjoy them. Going through the games, almost like a retrospective of it, has been fun and I can't wait to start up New Vegas again! I'm just curious which faction I should side with… oh well. I'll have to wait for that. I hope you guys enjoyed this, and this wasn't a bad take on the game.
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