Is Fallout 3 Oblivion with guns? No, not really. While it’s true that when you enter houses and watch people go about their business it instantly smacks of the last rendition of The Elder Scrolls, it seems that the old Fallout sensibilities and mannerisms are here as foundation not lip gloss.
Character S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats (luck, perception, etc) return as the base numbers for your character, for example. These can be boosted and drained by the full host of addictive stimulants present in the first games, such as strength-harbouring Buffout, the more traditional narcotic of Jet (the factory for which was technically destroyed in the earlier games, if I’m pedantic), intelligence-boosting Mentats and rage-infusing Psycho.
On top of these lie your skills (the numbers you can raise each time you level up, making you better at bartering, small guns, medicine, repair and the like), three of which you can specialise in and gain double the advance when it’s gratz-time.
While we’re on levelling, it’s important to underline that Fallout does address one of Oblivion’s biggest foibles: the fact that as you levelled up, the entire world levelled up with you.
In the wasteland, as in the original Fallout games, the further you stray the more dangerous things get – as I discovered during my lonesome trudge into the glorious north-east and was increasingly battered by the mole rats, bloatflies and Raider bases I came across.
However, enemies that lie along the plotline will be levelled to match you so that the difficulty curve is kept to Bethesda’s heel.
Whereas Oblivion hid away many of its stats, or at least let you batter away in mindless ignorance, in Fallout Bethesda have pulled the link between player experience and player statistics closer to Black Isle’s model.
As in the original games, your skill specialisations not only give you options in conversation (my medical bent would later lead a doctor to confide a patient’s medical history to me, for example), or show themselves concretely in percentage strike-probabilities during V.A.T.S. combat, but are integral to your performance – such as when I disarmed the century-old nuclear device threatening the town of Megaton, having guzzled Mentats to make me extra brainy.
Having played the game for only five hours, and with many of the hang-ups people had with Oblivion only becoming apparent after 50, I can’t be definitive about this – but in terms of building a modern game on the systems of one that’s now 10 years old, it’s hard to think of how Fallout 3 could have been tied closer to what has gone before.
A must read.