Desperate times often call for desperate measures. When fresh water is a rare find and most of the food available is just as full of radiation as it is nutrition, simply making it through the night is the definition of success. And sometimes, somebody else has to die for you to do that. Such is life in Fallout 3, Bethesda's upcoming post-apocalyptic role-playing game for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC. The game may keep track of your good and evil deeds through a karma system, but even the most angelic of characters will have to get their hands dirty if they value their lives. To do that, you're going to need some weapons.
A quick primer for those who haven't been following Fallout 3 as close as we have: Once you exit Vault 101 and enter the wasteland that used to be Washington D.C., you're free to go wherever you want and do as you please. There is a main storyline, but you can ignore it or tackle it at your leisure. Despite a nuclear war that left little standing, life has found a way to persist. Not all of it is friendly. Raiders and mutated wildlife can be waiting on the other side of any rubble, waiting to rob you blind and eat the bits of flesh on you that still look appetizing. Venture underground and you might meet a irradiated ghoul, humans that have been so poisoned by the nuclear fallout that bits of their flesh are melting off .Some have been hit so hard that they've lost their humanity and have become feral. It's a dog-eat-dog world and you're going to have to make use of everything at your disposal to stay in one piece.
The combat in Fallout 3 is a wonderful marriage of real-time combat and deliberate, planned attacks done while the action is paused. Everything takes place in the first-person perspective by default (you can switch to third-person if you want), and if you want to you can pass the entire game punching, bashing, slicing, and shooting your way through whatever gets in your way in the same way any first-person shooter works. Since this is an RPG, there's a bit more going on underneath the hood that determines the efficacy of your attack, including your skill levels and the weapon's state of disrepair. The real fun, though, comes when you hit a button and go into the Vault-Tech Assisted Targeting System (VATS).
VATS is what makes the combat in Fallout 3 so thrilling. It takes a great weapon set to the next level with style. Everything is more fun with VATS. Here's how it works. When you enter VATS, you'll get a read out of info about your target. Different body parts can be targeted, including the head, arms, legs, chest, and whichever weapon they're holding. You'll see how much damage each section has already taken, as well as your percentage likelihood of connecting with this attack. Each attack uses action points, a limiter that prevents you from targeting the head of an enemy thirty times over in VATS and letting the shots rip. Depending on the situation, it might be a good idea to shoot out the enemy's legs and cripple them so that they can't get close to you with that melee weapon. Or you might want to go after the head and simply decapitate them. I prefer to go for the head every time.
Once you've queued up an attack or two in VATS, you get the satisfaction of watching your moves in slow motion. The attack may miss, but when it connects you're in for a treat. Everything in the world reacts with Havok physics, which makes for some spectacular death sequences. Think, for a moment, of the possibilities. Shoot a raider in the face and his head might explode. Sneak up behind a chump and you can deliver a slow-motion baseball bat whack to the back of their head. Toss a grenade at a ghoul's feet and you can watch their lifeless body soar through the air. Target a grenade in an enemy's hands and…well you get the idea. That's not even getting into some of the more exotic weapons.
Most games reward progression by giving you access to cooler weapons. At the beginning of the game, you'll be stuck with a few junky weapons, but by the end you'll be a walking death-bringer armed to the teeth. That is not the case in Fallout 3. It is possible to get awesome weapons very early in the game. The catch is that most of these will be half-broken, require some serious effort to obtain, and you won't have the skill level to get the most out of them yet. The trick to getting these weapons is usually making them yourself.
My personal favorite of the weapons I've tooled around with is the Rock-It Launcher. It is possible to get this within the first hour of leaving the vault. Of course, first you'll have to buy the blueprints for it at a cost that is out of most early player's price ranges. Then you'll have to find the parts to build it, which could cost you even more if you can't scavenge the parts yourself. Once you have the launcher, though, it will be hours before you switch to anything else. Other games like Fallout 3 are populated with lots of junk to make the world feel more real. Things like ashtrays, toys, pots and pans, and books are often scattered around the world and free to be picked up by the player. But why should you? It's just worthless junk to carry around. Not so with the Rock-It Launcher. This weapon can be loaded with just about any piece of crap you find. Instead of a world of junk, you now have a world of limitless ammunition. Say, for instance, you come across a pile of rotting body parts. Take a few arms out of the pile and you've got yourself some ammo for the Rock-It Launcher. Yes, you can kill people with high-speed body parts. Nothing, and I mean nothing, is more satisfying than loading the Rock-It Launcher up with teddy bears and killing somebody by shooting it into their face at slow motion.
But perhaps flinging garbage at unsuspecting citizens isn't your cup of tea. That's OK. I won't hold it against you. There are other options. Just out of the Vault, you'll find yourself with simple weapons. There's the 10mm pistol as the standard fallback. It's effective against things like Mole Rats, Blow Flys, and basic Raiders, but doesn't pack much punch or pizzazz. If you like weapons, you'll want to look for something better like a scoped .44 Magnum, a Sawed Off Shotgun, or a Hunting Rifle. Most of the basic guns will use 10mm ammunition which is quite plentiful throughout the game while the guns with a higher caliber of shot will have a limited number of rounds early on.
When you run out of ammo, and you probably will, you can revert back to some melee weapons. This is just as satisfying in VATS as long range combat, believe it or not. Bethesda modeled the slow-motion attack after Zack Snyder's 300 and it looks spectacular. Clubbing foes with baseball bats or police batons is hilarious, but you'll want something sharp in your hands. I grabbed a Ripper, a small one-handed chainsaw, and took a radiation poisoned dog's head straight off. Or there's the Chinese Military Leader's Sword. As Insider Editor-in-Chief Dave Clayman described it, "That was badass. I chopped &(#*$'s up." We weren't able to find it, but many of the game's makers we spoke to called out the Powerfist, a mechanical hand that amplifies your punching strength, as their favorite melee weapon.
I prefer the big guns though. These are their own category of weapon with an associated skill and will make any gamer that loves chaos giddy. The Flamer, a highly effective flame thrower, can be found early on with ample ammunition scattered throughout the world. Light a poor sap on fire and he'll keep burning and taking damage over time while you laugh and point. Within the first 6 hours of playing, I managed to amass an arsenal that included a missile launcher, a personal nuke launcher, and a chaingun. I could only afford one nuke to put in my launcher, but boy-oh-boy was that a lot of fun.
You may technically be able to beat Fallout 3 in 75 minutes if you have all of the inside knowledge that the people who made the game do, but you'd be missing all of the fun the awesome weapons bring to the table. I sat down with the game for six hours and didn't even come close to seeing every tool of destruction. I know because I had just made it to the quest that gives you the blueprints for the Railspike Gun and only heard of the Nuka Grenade (pickpocket someone and leave one of those behind for maximum yuks).
It's a rare occurrence to find an RPG with as much freedom as Fallout 3 while still keeping the combat exciting. With VATS and a wonderfully imaginative set of weapons, that's exactly what you get. Stick around IGN as Fallout 3 week continues over the next four days.
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