Given that it's a Bethesda RPG, you can probably play Fallout 3 a hundred times and experience a hundred different outcomes. In fact, the game supposedly has hundreds of possible endings. So despite the fact that we've played and written about Fallout 3 about a half dozen times now, it's always fun to play it again and see what we uncover. When I last played it at E3 in July, I stuck to the script and followed the main quest that led to Megaton. At PAX, I went hunting with my trusty pistol and wandered the world. Where it led me was most interesting.
Like before, Bethesda handled all the character generation and early game, giving me the gamepad just as your character leaves the vault where he or she grew up. In this case, it was a he. I entered the post-nuclear wastes of Washington DC and promptly headed for the high ground, where I encountered wild dogs, bloat flies (big, stinging flies that make an annoying buzzing noise, like when a fly gets right in your earlobe), mole rats, and raiders.
The raider encounter was interesting because it showed how it's possible to stumble into an area of the game that you are simply not quite ready to tackle yet. That's a departure from Bethesda's fantasy RPGs; those games scaled the difficulty to your experience level, so the game always feels "just right" and you can never get into too much trouble. These raiders were armed with sniper rifles and worse, and while I managed to kill three or four, they still managed to cut me down.
This is my second or third time to play around with the turn-based VATS combat system, and I'm now really feeling comfortable with it. It also helps that they've done a lot to polish the system. You have an action point meter that's usually full when you enter combat; hitting the right bumper pauses the game and kicks you into the turn-based targeting system. Since this was a demo and I was never going to see this character ever again, I dumped all my points into small guns skills, which made me especially lethal with pistols, hunting rifles, and assault rifles.
This let me target the heads of my opponents with a decent chance of hitting. If you have a full meter, you can queue about four pistol shots or three rifle shots up. Then hit the execute button and watch how the combat unfolds.
I'm an old school fan of the Fallout series, and the one thing I will always remember is the over-the-top level of violence in those games. I'm glad to say that Fallout 3 made me chortle and laugh and gasp as I saw gunfire blow heads apart or even saw heads off of bodies. Blood doesn't just squirt; it fountains out of severed arteries. It's graphic, and gratuitous, and thoroughly awesome.
My wandering around the world let me discover the Jury Street Metro Station, so I was actually able to go underground and explore a raider-infested tunnel system that had plenty of goodies to discover. I encountered a Ryan Briggs, some kind of surgeon or medical researcher working on mole rats. He didn't like my presence and opened fire on me with his assault rifle. I shot his head off and claimed his rifle, as well as his blood-splattered scrubs that I donned myself. The scrubs don't offer much armor, but they do look nifty, and they give a +5 bonus with certain medical skills. I also got the key to his safe and raided his office for all sorts of medical supplies, blood packs, vodka, drugs, and ammo. However, I also left with this worrying thought that I might have killed someone might actually be very important later in the game. That's one of the dangers when you go off script!
Dumping all those points into weapons skills also turned out to be problematic, because Ryan had a nifty computer terminal in his office. But to even access it, you need a terminal skill of at least 25. You pretty much need to decide early on what kind of character you want to play, then build a skill set to improve it. Want to be a ninja? Then work on those stealth and unarmed combat skills. Want to be a ruthless killing machine? Gun skills are always nice. Want to be a techie? Then hone terminal skills, definitely.
My wanderings around the tunnels also let me encounter the lock picking minigame for the very first time. This is sort of like lock picking in a Splinter Cell game, where you jam a bobby pin and a screwdriver into the lock. You must use the left stick to rotate the bobby pin and the right stick to apply force to the screwdriver. The trick is to carefully apply pressure with the screwdriver while maneuvering the bobby pin to pick the lock. If you apply too much force, the bobby pin can snap, and since you have a limited number of bobby pins, that's a bad thing.
By the end of my hour long play session, I figure I killed about a dozen raiders, about 20 mole rats and other mutant creatures, and found plenty of loot, weapons, and armor to sell off in town. But an hour in Fallout 3 passes really quickly, and I didn't want it to end. That's always a good sign, and this game is definitely a lot more polished than when I last saw it at E3. And any doubts that I had about this being one of the biggest games of the year diminished even further. Bring it on, Bethesda. Bring it on.
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