Unless you’re living under a rock, I’m sure that you’ve heard about Fallout 3 and how awesome it is.  If there is any doubt, or you just want some more to read about the game because your sickeningly addicted to it, then feel free to absorb my words as they project into your eyeballs and are interpreted by your brain goo.

Fallout 3, to put it simply, is one of the greatest games ever made.  Frankly, you shouldn’t even be reading this if you haven’t played the game yet.  Turn off your computer, rub your eyes a little bit, and go out and get the game.  Trust me, you won’t regret it.

If you don’t want to read my long-ass review, watch this video (SPOILERS!) which shows enough crazy awesomeness that you may be convinced here and now. Lots of words will follow if this isn’t enough for you.

The game takes place in the not too distant future of mankind.  Nuclear fire has ravaged the world and now the survivors do what they can to eek out an existence in a land of hostile extremes.  You play as a child raised in an underground vault, where the privileged few hid away during the nuclear firestorm.  You’ve spent all of your life in the vault, as has everyone else that lives there, so it’s all you or anyone else knows.  “We’re born in the vault, we’ll die in the vault” as the saying goes.

That is until your father suddenly disappears one day, leaving the vault (and you) behind as he heads out into the capital wasteland.  He leaves no information behind as to his motivations, but you quickly head off to find out the whole story when it turns out the leaders of the vault want you dead.

From the moment you turn the game on and start a character, the developers are tugging at you with emotional puppet strings.  For some reason, playing through the tutorial as a baby and growing through to adulthood really brought about a sense of connection with the characters in the game.  While I might not have really gave a crap about the father character had I just popped in the game and had a story handed to me, the interactions that your character has with their father really makes you feel the bond between them.

It’s just a great example of Bethesda’s attention to detail and love of their craft.  The entire game screams polish and care.  It’s very obvious that Bethesda’s people were and are fans of the Fallout franchise that they’ve lovingly resurrected.  There are those who will still complain that it’s not like the original Fallout games, but I call it progress.

Yes, there are problems.  It is still Fallout, though, and Fallout doesn’t have to be an isometric 2D CRPG.  It does definitely feel a lot like Oblivion, so if for some crazy reason you thought Oblivion sucked, then you should probably go back to your cave and chill with the rest of the inhumans because you probably won’t get much from Fallout 3.

Unlike Oblivion, you don’t have different experience points, so you can’t just jump around to build up your athletics.  Pretty much everything you do, from killing a bastard to picking a lock to disarming a landmine, will grant you some experience points, and it all goes to the same pool for leveling up.  Once you level up, though, you have a lot of hard choices to make.

Unlike a lot of other RPGs, you will not get to a point in Fallout where you will max everything out.  Trying to be good at everything will make you good at nothing, and probably dead a lot of the time.  Specialization is the key here, and while certain situations will arise that will make you wish you had put points elsewhere, that’s just the nature of the beast.  I can’t tell you how many times I had wished I’d have put more points in lockpicking, for example, but I made up for it with a quick wit (high speech) and computer skills.

This is where a lot of the beauty of the system comes from.  Talking to other people who play the game, you will constantly hear different things that happened at the same point in the game.  While Dan may have pickpocketed the codes to a door from some wasteland raider, I sweet-talked him into just handing them over, for example.

Every level you get to spend a certain amount of points on your skills, which include the obvious, like guns and explosives, to slightly more mundane (but quite useful) things like speech and repair.  You also get to pick perks that will do strange and wonderful things depending you what you pick and what your stats are.  Some do simple things like increasing your small arms skill while others do crazy things like having a mysterious dude in a trenchcoat show up every once in a while and blast the living hell out of your enemies with his magnum.  His mystery is only exceeded by his power.

The graphics and sound are incredible, and I’ve never felt such wondrous loneliness while playing a game before.  Wandering around the destroyed countryside surrounding the D.C. area just takes one’s breath away.  I would lose myself in the visual and areal experience for hours, just… walking and being out there in the middle of a destroyed Washington.  It really is something that has to be experienced to be understood, but trust me when I tell you to turn the sound up and the lights down and just… explore.

You’ll probably be better off exploring anyway, as the main game’s storyline probably only takes fifteen to twenty hours to complete if you don’t get sidetracked at all.  It’s a stupendous story with plenty of twists and turns along the way, but if you just play through that and don’t do anything else, you’re missing out on what makes Bethesda such an awesome developer.  Frankly, I think most anyone will find it hard NOT to get sidetracked, at least for a while.

The characters are all unique and the rewards for helping them are often too good to pass up, and I’m not talking simply better weapons or money.  Each side quest could be a part of the main story on their own.  I recall one quest where I was trying to track down the whereabouts of a runaway android that took me all over the capital wastes looking for clues.

There are side quests and hidden locations aplenty in Fallout.  As big and empty as things seem when you’re out there wandering around, it also seems like a new adventure is just hiding around every stone or inside every trashcan.  You’ll experience things as simple as escorting a lady across the wastes to as complicated as stealing the Declaration of Independence from the National Archives.

There are even “quests” which will not even show up in your quest log, like helping the guy in charge of the pump house in Megaton fix leaky pipes.  He’ll simply mention that it needs done, and you can go do it whenever you feel like it.  If you do it he’ll keep paying you for any scrap metal that you find, so it’s very much worth it.

The greatest part of Fallout 3 is the feeling that your decisions actually make a difference.  The sort of things that you do in the wasteland can have far-reaching and permanent consequences.  If you kill someone, they will not be replaced by another faceless NPC.  That dude is dead.  This includes anyone you have following you in your party.  If Dogmeat (your faithful canine companion) bites the big one, he’s gone forever.  It really forces you to think about what the people who may be following you are up to, whether or not to get into certain fights, and what equipment they should have.

For the most part, this includes quest givers also, though apparently anyone related to the continuation of the main story will simply fall unconscious instead of outright dying.  I don’t really agree with this being that this is a game about hard choices, but I understand where Bethesda is coming from.  They have to cater to a much weaker and coddled gaming public than in RPG days of yore, so no more will you see messages like Elder Scrolls 3 telling you that you just killed a pivotal storyline NPC and that the main story can no longer be completed.  Gamers these days just don’t like to have failure as an option.

Another thing that bugged me is the apparent fear of sex by Bethesda.  Fallout was never an overtly sexual game, but sticking to it’s mature themes there were sexual encounters in the two previous iterations of the franchise.  I remember two very vividly.  One was getting caught sleeping with some farmer’s daughter and being forced into a shotgun wedding.  For the rest of the game (or at least, until she died) she would follow you around the wasteland nagging you about everything.

Another was being able to star in porno movies for cash in San Fransisco.  You got to pick a porn name and once you were in one, some NPCs would notice you from the movie and yell out about how much they enjoyed your films.  I always went with Arnold Swollenmember.  Hell, in both games there was a perk you could pick up called Kama Sutra Master which made you very good at sexual encounters.  Again, it wasn’t anything that played into the game on a constant basis, but it was there and it was an option to get certain quests and stuff moved along.

So far, I have noticed only one sexual act in the entirety of Fallout 3, and it was so bland you could hardly even consider it mature at all.  There is a prostitute in the bar in Megaton who says that if you rent a room, you get her also.  If you pay for the room, she’ll go up and go to sleep on the bed.  That’s it.  You can then use the bed to sleep in, but nothing happens.

Now, don’t get me wrong — I am a pervert, but I certainly don’t get my jollies banging video game chicks or anything. The simple fact that I can shoot a dude in the face in slo-mo and watch his brains and eyeballs go flying yet can’t even get one black screen with some sound effects seems a little bit strange to me.  Maybe it’s just the pervert in me, but seeing how the world of Fallout is so shitty and people are desperate to do whatever it takes to survive, you’d think selling one’s body for money or food or something would be a little more prevalent.

Perhaps some of my disdain for this design decision comes from playing Fable 2, where you can bang pretty much anyone who has genitals.  Fable 2 seems so much more cartoony and childlike compared to Fallout with the exception of it approach to sex.  Fallout makes Bethesda seem like they’re afraid of the carnal pleasures or something and to me it really is a missed opportunity to further show the desperation of wasteland life.  Granted, it doesn’t really detract from the game in any way, it’s more of a matter of principle for me.  Blood and guts and eyeballs are perfectly fine, but God forbid we see a nipple.

My only REAL problem with the game (it’s virgin-esqe stance towards sex not withstanding) is the few glitches and bugs that pop in from time to time.  It’s a huge game so these things are bound to slip through the cracks, but I did encounter at least one glitch that prevented me from completing a quest.

I had the option to teach a town how to defend themselves by using skills that I was good at.  One of the options was to help them build robots to use as guards, but after I made my decision, the robot parts I was supposed to use were not to be found.  Apparently, there is a problem with the physics engine and fast traveling that will sometimes cause dead bodies and such to “bounce” off the ground at tremendous speeds, sending them flying to God knows where and, with this quest at least, making it all but impossible to find them.  It was simply a matter of loading a save game and choosing a different path, but the simple fact that I had to do that, to me, makes that a game-breaking bug.

The only other bug or glitch I can think of are strange graphical anomalies and placement problems.  There were several times when exploring the ruins of a school or church or whatnot that I’d see things clipped through the walls.  You know, severed arms or coat racks just poking through a solid brick wall.

The other was a strange inky black craziness that seemed to follow me wherever I went for a while.  It was apparently a rocket launcher that I shot out of someone’s hands that went into some physics engine nightmare and was stretched and warped into incoherency.  It was a little freaky and a bit annoying but nothing that was disastrous to the overall experience.

Overall, I’d say that things were pretty smooth.  You can definitely see improvements over Oblivion with this version of the engine.  There are no more of those annoying pauses every so often as you travel the world, for instance.  There is a bit of pop-in and the like, but nothing too dramatic.  The sound, as I said before, is fantastic.

I recommend turning the music soundtrack the whole way down to really experience the desolation of the wasteland in all its glory.  Hell, even if you don’t the in-game music is decent enough and generally doesn’t get in the way of the aforementioned desolation.  The radio stations bring a lot to the game though and listening to them while exploring can sometimes make you feel even more like you’re the last living thing alive.  I highly recommend the Agatha’s Song questline and unlocking that radio station.

Fallout 3 is definitely a must-own game for anyone with a gaming system at all.  Hell, if you don’t own one, you should go out and get one or upgrade your PC or something.  Games like Fallout 3 are why people play games in the first place, and it should not be missed under any circumstances. It’s a 10 out of muthafuckin 10, biznatches.