E3: Fallout 3 Demo
07.11.07 - 2:52 PM

Fallout is a series that remains dear to many, many PC RPG fans worldwide. Despite the fact that the last two titles, Fallout Tactics and Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel were not quite as well received, Fallout and Fallout 2 remain perennial favorites. Many were wary when Bethesda Softworks took the reins on the newest Fallout title. After all, how could some guys who had worked mainly on a fantasy-oriented series capture not only Fallout’s wonderful gameplay, but its post-apocalyptic flair? With Bethesda’s early demo at E3 2007, one thing is clear: while it is far from a carbon copy of the first two titles, the franchise is in safe hands. Todd Howard, one of the brains behind Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls series and executive producer of Fallout 3, took us through an hour of their Fall 2008 release, and we couldn’t have been more impressed.

Fallout 3 begins in Vault 101, one of the iconic vaults of the series, located in the Washington DC area, not far from Bethesda’s own headquarters. Unlike Vault 13, out of which the main character in Fallout 1 was sent to find a replacement water chip, the main character leaves Vault 101 against orders. After all, the Overseer says that when one is born in the Vault, they’ll die in the Vault. As the main character ventures out to find his father, however, he becomes only the second to venture out. Interestingly enough, the player’s father will resemble the character, whose features are set in the first hour of the game.

Character creation can be done either via character sheeting – the easiest way to twink for veteran RPG fans – or by following quests in the first hour of the Vault, as the main character advances from birth to age nineteen. Characters will gain statistics through the SPECIAL system that Fallout fans are familiar with, setting perks and flaws, and gaining key abilities. One thing players will notice is that Bethesda has painstakingly re-created the 2D Vaults from earlier titles in full 3D. There’s detail in everything, from the knobs on devices to the PipBoy 3000, which looks absolutely amazing.

Not only is the Vault created with care, but all of the graphics found within Fallout 3 are as well. Once emerging from Vault 101, players are introduced to a world ripped to shreds, with the futuristic world portrayed in the 1950s given a grisly makeover. All of it is rendered in real time and looks absolutely amazing. Bethesda has created environments that can be changed on the fly, so not only does the devastation look amazing, but all of the damaged caused on the fly looks absolutely real. Now, environments looking fantastic in a Bethesda game aren’t exactly new: both Morrowind and Oblivion had fantastical environments, though the characters themselves looked a bit off; not so in Fallout 3. Characters look just as good as they do in any other top-tier game, if not better. Fans of Bloody Mess shouldn’t worry, either, as enemies in Fallout 3 fall apart just fine.

Graphics aren’t everything, but Fallout 3 seems to have nailed a new style of gameplay that varies greatly from the original titles, yet remains faithful at the same time. Players who want to play in real time, like the battle system seen in Oblivion, are welcome to do so. However, those who want to spend their AP can do so using the VATS system – the Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System. Players will hit the right bumper button, or equivalent button on PS3 or PC, and be introduced to a menu similar to the aimed shots from earlier titles. While there didn’t seem to be an option to shoot enemies in the groin, Bethesda did add a feature where weapons can be attacked and damaged (though the Vault Dweller should beware, as his own weapons can be damaged in the exact same way).

Enemies are incredibly intelligent in Fallout 3. Very early on, we saw a super mutant attempt to flank Todd Howard’s character, though the super-statistics of his demo character allowed him to easily take down the underground foe. Players will be able to use a wide variety of weapons, from a .22 hunting rifle seen at the beginning of the game to a hand-held nuclear catapult called the Fat Man. Combat is very tactical and players must balance risk versus reward. Is it worth it to blow up that nuclear-powered car to take down a group of super mutants if you’re going to be bombarded with radiation because of it?

Combat’s not the only place where choices matter; Fallout 3 will use branching quest and speech trees, allowing players to make just about any choice they want. Early on, the Vault Dweller will encounter a town called Megaton, built around an un-detonated nuclear weapon. He can be hired on to detonate the weapon, or he can save the town. If he chooses to destroy it, the explosion can be seen, in real time, from miles away, where the detonation device is.

Risk versus Reward seems to be the theme in Fallout 3, not only inside the game, but Bethesda Softworks’ view of the game. While they remain true to Black Isle’s vision of a post-apocalyptic world, they are making their own, brand new game. It may not be the hex-based combat that the ultra-hardcore are looking for, but Fallout 3 is on track to be one of the most fantastic games of 2008. Good Work, Bethesda. Good Work.


John McCarroll