Have you ever woken up one day and wondered where the last decade went? I haven’t, because I’m only twenty eight and that would be horrifying, but I came mighty close to that terrifying existential realization when it dawned on me that Fallout 3 released ten years ago. Believe it or not, the iconic Fallout 3 released on October 28th, 2008 and we’re all old now.
Back then, I wasn’t sure what to think when I first played Fallout 3. I thought that starting as a baby was a bit of an odd choice, but I let it slide because I was curious. Afterall, this was my first experience playing a Fallout game so I had no idea what to expect. I took my first glorious waddling baby steps into the world of the Wasteland under Papa Neeson’s tutelage, stepped into the nuclear light, and never turned back. Fallout 3 was the beginning of a lifelong love affair with the Wasteland.
Fallout 3 lets you explore a huge map filled with adventures. Wandering the Capital Wasteland with no agenda is a surefire way to stumble across something unique. Even ten years later, the side quests in Fallout 3 have stuck with me for longer than the stories of any other game.
Convinced by a man named Vance, The Family lived among the rats and ghouls in the ruins of the subway drinking blood in order to survive, believing they were vampires. Far away in Vault 112, Vault Dwellers are trapped in Tranquility Lane, a virtual reality simulator the Vault Overseer uses to mentally torture his community. In a hidden land stands Harold, a man who mutated, fused with a tree, and now grows a forest around him; an oasis in a barren wasteland. And of course, who could forget Megaton? A town built around an nuke that made impact, but never detonated. Naturally, I flipped the switch on the nuke and ran off into the distance to ensure I had the best view of the mushroom clouded sunset over Megaton.
This is what makes Fallout 3 so interesting. All of these tales are discovered as you explore the Capital Wasteland and playing as the Lone Wanderer means that wandering and discovering the world is all that anyone expects you to do. The heart of the Fallout 3 experience is just this, discovery.
For that very reason, the game is just as great today as it was when it was released. Fallout 3 is so vast and filled with quests that no one could be blamed for missing any. The freedom of choice and exploration allow us to make our experience entirely own, wandering the Capital Wasteland as a hero or villain. Unfortunately for the citizens of the Wasteland, I enjoy making all the dastardly moral decisions that I wouldn’t in my day to day life, but going back to play again mean just one more chance to do things right and be the hero for a change.
I blew up Megaton. I tuned into the sultry sounds of The Ink Spots singing, “I don’t want to set the world on fire” and I blew up the town of Megaton. The residents of Megaton had clearly lost their minds. They were worshiping the cancer leaking nuke as it slowly killed them all. At the behest of a well-dressed concerned citizen named Mister Burke, I spared them from decades of illness and decay. He was so concerned with their well-being that he offered me a reward for my good deeds. After releasing Megaton from its impending demise, I made my way to Tenpenny Tower were the nice gentleman lived to collect my prize.
It took me a while to get to Tenpenny Tower but I had to muster on, there was good news to share! Along the way I met some nice people named Gary, enjoyed meet pies with settlers in Andale, and assassinated the tyrannic ruler of The Republic of Dave. I arrived at Tenpenny Tower exhausted. There’s just so much work out there for heroes these days.
Obviously, I’m not very good at controlling my more destructive impulses in Fallout, which is fine, because there are rarely any dire consequences. It’s designed for you to play as you choose, be who you choose, and destroy (or save) what you choose.
Ten years later, it’s still the same experience. Each quest has a number of ways to complete the mission and with fifty nine quests in the base game and another thirty five contained in the expansions, there’s still plenty of opportunity to try a fresh approach and uncover something entirely new.
It’s worth remembering that Fallout 3 is more of an RPG than it is a shooter, despite its default first person perspective. Anyone used to first person shooters will struggle with the lack of axis sensitivity in the combat system. To even that out, there’s V.A.T.S.; Better known as the Vault-Tech Assisted Targeting System. V.A.T.S. slows the game down and gives the player the choice to target specific parts of an enemy and breakdown the likelihood of making contact by calculating proximity, line of sight, and skill with the equipped weapon. V.A.T.S. is a solid system (when it works) that makes up for the otherwise clunky combat mechanics, but players who depend on V.A.T.S. will find it slows down the game tremendously.
As much as I love exploring the Capital Wasteland, not everything has maintained its glamour. Even when it was first released, Fallout 3‘s main story was underwhelming, but ten years time has made it feel even weaker. The more that the gaming industry focuses on improving narrative, the harder it is to appreciate the unoriginal tale of a father abandoning the protagonist on account of needing to complete a world saving project. Hiring Liam Neeson to do the voice over work as the the Lone Wanderer’s father, James, does make encounters with him more engaging, but it’s never enough to make up for the tired plot.
Visually speaking, Fallout 3 is a bit of a mixed bag now. Character animations are stiff and textures distort quite a bit at close proximity, but the environments are so detailed that it hardly takes away from the experience, if at all. The bodies and garbage littered across the world serve as embellishing details of each story or hiding valuable bottle caps. For anyone playing on a PC, there are plenty of mods out there to improve textures, but it’s not a necessity. Regardless of how aged Fallout 3 textures are, stopping to appreciate the desolate buildings and vehicles run off the road is no less impressive.
But if there’s anything that Fallout does with masterful consistency, it’s the user interface. Both thematically and practically, the Pip-Boy is one of the best menu systems in gaming. Going into the menu pauses the game and utilizes the in-game Pip-Boy 3000 item as an interface for monitoring health conditions like concussions, selecting quests and locations, tuning into Three Dog Radio, and scrolling through inventory. Even as it pulls the game to a grinding halt, the Lone Wanderer bringing the Pip-Boy into view as the game’s action pauses keeps the player immersed and engaged in the world of Fallout.
If you haven’t played Fallout 3 before, I can’t recommend it enough. And if you have played before, do it again. The nature of Fallout 3‘s character creation and perk system gives players a lot of flexibility to determine who they want to be. You can tank your way through the game by pumping all your stats into strength and heavy weapons, or you could be a scientist who depends on knowledge of computers to hack into robots that will fight for you. Or better yet go for a challenge and play with low intelligence. Everyone treats you like Brick and you gain skills points at a slower pace.
If you haven’t already experienced the Capital Wasteland, put down Fornite and get on it. There’s a tremendous world of engaging and surprising stories that really hold up, even a decade later. You can get the Game of the Year edition just about anywhere for $20 or less, far less if you’re willing to buy used or buy digital on the PC and if you’re just looking for the vanilla base game, you can get it for half that. No matter how old Fallout 3 gets, it will always be worth your time.