For me, the defining characteristic of a truly great game is replayability. Despite being a story-driven RPG, Fallout 3 - like its predecessors - has plenty of replayability. For instance, when you first begin to venture out from the comfortable surroundings of Megaton - which for most players is their home base - you will probably encounter a nearby grocery store. I say probably because it totally depends on which direction you decide to wander. Anyway, within and around that store is a band of raiders, and they guard a fair-sized pile of resources. Now, you can skip this encounter if you like. There are a lot of them and only one of you. You can sneak in and take only what you need, then get the hell out, which is the approach I took my first time through. I returned later on to confront the raiders when I was stronger. But there are many more ways to play this. I can see someone deciding to challenge the raiders early on, to take on this store full of maniacs, picking them off one at a time, heading back to Megaton to heal and rearm, until they are all wiped out. Cool.

Wandering groups of bad guys can be avoided, if seen early enough, or even ambushed. If you decide to make use of the fast travel feature, as I do, you sometimes pop out at the end of your journey smack in the middle of a group of bad guys, typically mercenaries whose sole aim is to kill you for money. Those are tense moments.

I plan to play F3 at least twice more in different ways. I want to try focusing on stealth, and I want to specialize in heavy weapons with another character.

Special, memorable moments are what we talk about when describing games to other people. Like the time I was wandering the wasteland at night and stumbled onto an old drive-in theater, populated by a gang of thugs. In the ensuing fight, someone fired a couple of rounds into one of the wrecked cars littering the place, and the atomic pile within it exploded in a brilliant mushroom cloud. This triggered a chain reaction; all the cars in the area exploded, lighting up the night sky and the surrounding landscape for what seemed like miles.

I've witnessed distant firefights, waited for them to die down, then wandered in to loot corpses. I've found defunct robots in bathroom stalls. Spooky evidence of former habitation by survivors. Are they still around, or long dead?

Regarding the VATS system: although it's not exactly groundbreaking (it was in Fallout and Fallout 2 after all), it makes a huge difference in Fallout 3. Early on I was getting trashed regularly, so I decided to give VATS a try. Among other things, VATS allows to you to use your weapons more efficiently. You get off more shots, and they tend to be more accurate, at least in my experience. Best of all, you will tend to do more damage while taking less yourself. Also it saves ammo. Anyway, if you haven't tried it, please do. I ended up using VATS about half the time, depending on the situation. Of course, the VATS system also shows you close-up, slow-motion gore, mostly involving heads being blown off. Surprisingly, I never got tired of that. Okay, no surprise. I imagine that hardcore players will avoid VATS because it makes combat easier; although they will miss out on the slow-motion carnage, they will still be able to remove heads and limbs violently. Yay!

Gaming is about rewards. Good games give you lots of rewards, and in lots of different ways. One of my favourite rewards is a great enemy death animation. Anyone who played Diablo 1 or 2 knows what I mean. Each type of monster had at least one unique - and entertaining - way to die. Contrast that with games where the bad guy is firing at you one moment, then suddenly on the ground, dead. Boring. In F3, enemies react to your attacks in a variety of ways. I particularly like spending time near Super Mutants, partly to hear them talk among themselves, but mainly to watch them react when I shoot them. A shotgun blast to a Super Mutant's head will have him holding his head in his hands and groaning "oh, my head." This effectively disables him for a moment, giving you a chance to hit him again. But they're so entertaining, I almost hate to kill them.

There is such a wealth of features in this game that you will almost certainly not bother with all of them. For instance, you don't actually need to repair your weapons, just toss that worn out assault rifle and grab another one from a dead enemy. You don't have to use stores or traders - for the same reason. You can even kill traders when you meet them and take all their stuff. If you don't care that people think you're a jerk.

You will occasionally discover locations that that you can't properly explore, with invisible walls restricting your movement (grrr!) - but these are surprisingly rare and easy to overlook. The edge of the world isn't an invisible wall, it's just so radioactive that you can't get near it - cool!

Buy weapons or make your own. Hire doctors to remove your radiation or do it yourself. Make a home in Megaton, or wander the wasteland. Fight evil or kill everyone you meet. Fallout 3 - if you get tired of this game easily, there's something wrong with you.

Platform usedWindows
TypeRPG, open, unscripted
In-game advertisingno
User Interface8
Voice acting7.5
BugsMany and varied, including quest bugs and crashes
Co-op multiplayer vs. botsno
Map editor???
Copy protection???
Classic blundersNo standard keyboard shortcuts

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