The Fallout From Fallout 3

Posted by Will Ooi | Posted in Favourites, Gaming | Tags: , , | Posted on 10-09-2013-05-2008


Originally seen on Galaxy Next Door

It was an almost endless toxic wasteland of strife, hardship, and disappointment, where one could wander around literally for hours and only take away from it even more negativity and gloom…and this was just the reception from Fallout fan sites and forums when Fallout 3 finally saw the light of day – or, rather, when it rose from the nuclear ashes of development hell.

*Ain’t That A Kick In The Head?*

The production of Fallout 3 had suffered through a long and sordid affair, with the rights to the franchise undergoing a protracted saga after the closing down of the series’ original development house, Black Isle Studios, and the cancellation of their vision of the third installment, codenamed Van Buren. Fallout’s licence then eventually left the grasp of a post-Brian Fargo Interplay (a memorable figure behind many revered 90’s RPGs who’s now back on the scene after Wasteland 2’s Kickstarter success) and landed in the hands of the Elder Scrolls developer, Bethesda Game Studios.


When this reimagined Fallout game did arrive in late 2008, a full decade after Fallout 2 (and not counting the best-forgotten console-market-focused Brotherhood of Steel, which incidentally existed at the expense of Black Isle’s version of Fallout 3 under disastrous new stewardship at Interplay) and with Morrowind and Oblivion lead Todd Howard at the helm, it did so with a Megaton bang. Despite the almost-unanimous critical acclaim and Game of the Year awards that left other big-hitting titles like GTA IV, Mass Effect, Bioshock and Metal Gear Solid 4 in the dust, another apocalypse was taking place over at the Fallout forums – chief among them No Mutants Allowed and the Fallout Wiki – with the existence of the latter an indication of both the richness of the series’ lore and commitment of its fanbase.

A glimpse of how the cancelled Fallout 3, a.k.a.Van Buren, was shaping up

*I Don’t Want To Set The World On Fire*

The ripple of shockwaves tore through with devastating consequences, with old school fans making known their feelings that Fallout 3 resembled and respected little of what had come before, more FPS than RPG and essentially a standalone title that sought to appeal to newcomers who had never played, or even heard of, the originals. Gone too was that West Coast of America setting, with Washington DC’s Capital Wasteland undoubtably vast and detailed, but severely lacking in internal consistency and logic – in 200 years since the war, how could these communities still live in squalor without any viable trade or agriculture? What, exactly, do they eat?


Simplified as well were the originals’ ambiguous choices, replaced instead by – thanks to the mechanics behind 3’s Karma system – mainly binary, black or white decisions: save the town of Megaton or blow it up, help the ghouls at Tenpenny Tower or exterminate them all; regardless of what situations you encountered, there was little room for shades of grey. And to top it all off, prior to the extension of the vanilla game through DLC, and for all the choices and multiple endings promised throughout one’s several hundred hour experience with Fallout 3, players were reward with just the one solitary and terribly anticlimactic conclusion: that of the Lone Wanderer joining the Brotherhood of Steel and sacrificing themselves to stop the Enclave, a caricatured battle of ‘Goodies vs Baddies’ proportions which wouldn’t look out of place from a Disney script. The cancellation of Van Buren was even harder to swallow in these circumstances.

*Let’s Go Sunning*

Yet it wasn’t all doom and gloom. For the uninitiated who didn’t have that same level of expectation, Fallout 3 was mindblowing. The game provided immense satisfaction in exploration and imagination through the ‘environmental storytelling’ that Bethesda does so well (and which original Fallout creator Tim Cain himself has stated he loved) – sculpting habitats that genuinely felt lived in thanks to meticulous level decoration, a host of voice messages from before and after the bombs dropped, and unpredictable random encounters peppering the wastes to provide character to the world that enriched the journey.


And once the learning curve of getting to grips with the game’s almost-OCD-inducing amount of seemingly random objects, options and inventory menus had been conquered – you’ll be needing those firehose nozzles and toy cars later – it’s difficult to forget the adventures to be had; a solitary existence changing forever once we’d befriended Dogmeat, the homage to Fallout 1’s canine companion, and that ever loyal and trustworthy (and always, always angry) Charon the ghoul. Sure, they didn’t talk much, but in a way they didn’t need to as we created our own narratives and role play adventures in our minds and ever-increasing save file sizes, all the while accompanied by a heartwarming 50’s soundtrack completely at odds with the ruins of DC which nevertheless fit perfectly, introducing a whole new generation to the magic of The Ink Spots and Ella Fitzgerald.


*I’m Tickled Pink*
But what about those who hated Bethesda’s vision of the title and vowed to boycott the series from then on? Almost out of nowhere arrived an unexpected silver lining following Fallout 3’s success; once the hype had died down and while Bethesda was at work with their next game, Skyrim, a follow-up title was announced for release in 2010: Fallout New Vegas. The even bigger surprise was that it would be outsourced for development by, almost poetically, Obsidian Studios, the new home of many ex-Black Isle staff members and, notably, JE Sawyer and Chris Avellone, the two former leads of that long mourned-for and seemingly dead and buried Van Buren project.


For the first time in years for the Fallout faithful, there was something to be genuinely excited by as Obsidian announced that it would use Bethesda’s Fallout game engine and incorporate into it many of ‘their’ planned ideas, characters, and factions from the Van Buren design documents…and all of it set back on the West Coast, the return of pieces of Mark Morgan’s atmospheric score  and with ending slides commemorating your adventures, to boot. On paper it sounded like the Fallout title that would appeal to everyone, both the new fans brought in after Fallout 3 along with the old and long-suffering ones alike who would finally get to see fully-realised versions of the legendary Burned Man, the Van Graffs and Arcade Gannon as they decided the fate of Hoover Dam. It was almost too good to be true. And in some ways, it was.

*Big Iron on His Hip*

Fallout New Vegas turned out to be, for many on even the most hardened of communities out there, one of the most richly rewarding modern day RPGs that provided great insight into just why the series’ hardcore fans had been so livid back in 2008. Yet it was also a title that, owing to factors such as a notoriously difficult to work with Gamebryo engine, a short development and QA cycle (New Vegas was completed in just 18 months) and an ambitious design full of permutations and possibilities, was extremely buggy upon release often to the point of unplayability.


And compared to the style of gameplay of its predecessor, it offered less reward in pure exploration, a skill Bethesda would later continue to display prominently when their next entry in the Elder Scrolls was released. But in its place – and for those who refused to let bugs ruin the grander scope of the experience – came a Fallout title doing away with the overall influence of the karma system and bringing back the complex reputation scale and political machinations from the earlier titles which saw The Courier befriend, betray, or set against one another the many characters and factions to be encountered in the Mojave Wasteland. Who didn’t feel compromised when Mr House requested that you dispose of the Mojave chapter of the Brotherhood of Steel, or when you slowly learned that, far from being stereotypical white knights like the Brotherhood over in DC, the NCR were in many ways just as bad as -or worse than – the nefarious Caesar’s Legion?


Companions were also much improved, with each of them, whether it was a straight-talking alcoholic lass with a skill in downing shots and handling shotguns, a cybernetic dog with early onset Alzheimer’s, or a lovable Enclave eyebot with a heart of gold, coming with their own backstories, motivations, and personalities. Sorry Charon, Jericho, and Butch, but a handful of lines of dialogue paled in comparison next to Cass, Arcade, Boone and ED-E. Tunnel Snakes, by comparison, no longer ruled!


*Heartache By The Numbers*

The critical reception for New Vegas may have peaked at a contentious 84 on Metacritic, just one point below a milestone score that would have resulted in bonuses for Obsidian outside of an initial one-off payment – a revelation that hurt even more given the layoffs at the company after the game’s release – but its enduring legacy and classic RPG sensibilities are perhaps best assessed by what came directly after it. Looking back to when Skyrim took over our lives for a while with its huge and beautiful world that was so pleasant and easy to escape into, next to the richness of the lore and verisimilitude of New Vegas it was also extremely shallow – honestly, did anyone really care about the Stormcloaks or Imperials come the end of that sidequest? Or even the main quest, for that matter?


The two games are difficult to compare, but when placing the aims and style of Skyrim directly next to the quality of, particularly, FNV’s DLC add-ons, where fans were treated to some of the best writing and characters, hands down, in the entire Fallout universe, personally it brings about some doubt as to whether Fallout 4, likely to be developed again by Bethesda, will be as rewarding in terms of writing strength and creating a thought-out, complex and consistent post-apocalyptic world. In fact, whether any title anywhere comes close to surpassing the staggering, record-breaking 65,000 lines of dialogue featured in New Vegas remains to be seen.

The Burned Man walks! Joshua Graham was resurrected in the Honest Hearts DLC following his initial conception during Van Buren’s production

*Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall*

And so it was in the end that, after Sawyer and Avellone showed us a glimpse of what Van Buren may have been after Todd Howard had shown us what it now was, we find ourselves in a stalemate true to that long enduring Fallout motto, ‘War never changes’. Fans both new and old once again split into two distinct camps, with the licence holders  Bethesda – for the former a developer who can do no wrong, but for the latter a company that concentrates on content catered more to entertain than to challenge – situated firmly in the middle of a war of attrition that doesn’t look likely to resolve itself anytime soon. If only Bethesda could build the worlds of the next Fallout titles, and Obsidian could fill it with characters and plot…


Let’s see, then: where do you stand as far as Fallout goes…are you an old school fan or did you get into it from 3 onwards? Which out of FO3 and FNV do you prefer? And, controversially, would you even go as far as saying that a FO4 handled by Bethesda would actually be a step back from Obsidian’s New Vegas, despite all its flaws, or are you happy with Bethesda’s vision of the series?

As an additional resource, here are some links to a series of Fallout interviews I was lucky enough to conduct after the release of New Vegas with JE Sawyer (lead developer of NV), Chris Avellone (head of creative at Obsidian and lead for NV DLCs – Part One and Part Three), Tim Cain (creator of the series), Jason Bergman (Bethesda NV producer), and Tagaziel (No Mutants Allowed  administrator).

And for all you PC players out there who haven’t installed JE Sawyer’s own unofficial mod for the game, reflecting his vision of the final product, what are you waiting for?


Comments posted (16)

War never changes. I’ve been reading about The Vietnam War to predict The Syrian War. Never played Fallout. Well, I did play the original for five minutes. But I doubt that counts. Skyrim. Yup, played it for over 100 hours. Don’t give a shit about Imperials and Stormcloaks or questing for that matter. My favorite part of the game was grinding and power-leveling. I’m level 263 and have all of my skills nearly at 100. Haven’t killed a single dragon. Don’t really care to. Bored now that I’m overpowered. Prolly play Crysis 3 next.

You could become way too overpowered in Skyrim. I maxed out at 100 for all stats too, and haven’t played it since. But now you can ‘prestige’ your skills and essentially level up forever, eh? No thanks.

First 100 hours was magic though, I’ll give it that, but then you see the flaws shine through. Particularly loved the journey from Whiterun to Markarth, mining for ore and making jewellery.

Re Syria…guess the lesson learned is say no to US intervention!

I must agree with a lot that you stated and hands down, Fallout New Vegas was truly a light in those dark and long underground metro tunnels that we walked in Fallout 3.

I entered the Fallout waters back in 2001, when I got Fallout 1 which I loved above all. Sure, I died as many times as the New Vegas counts its dialogue lines but that didn’t make me stop from enjoying the game. All the chances, the consequences and with Fallout 2 it only got better (Enclave, ‘uuuraaah!).

When Van Buren was announced dead and Bethesda taking over the Fallout franchise, I had mixed feelings and with how Fallout 3 was given to us… it was one drop too much for me. I didn’t give in yet, continued to play thinking that MAYBE it’s going to be better but to no avail. While it did offer some nice moments and scenes and a fair world decoration (D.C.), it did little to legitlly say it’s a Fallout game. Maybe Bethesda learned out of their “mistakes” but when you look at what Fallout 3 fanboys say considering New Vegas, I doubt it’s going ANYWHERE good.

A Fallout game without Obsidian (Fallout under Bethesda publishing) is a game not worth being named Fallout.

Those underground tunnels…if there’s any one single thing that has put me off another potential playthrough of 3, that’d be it.

Thanks for your comment. Here’s hoping the next Bethesda Fallout delivers as much intrigue or dedication to lore as New Vegas managed…or otherwise that Obsidian gets to do every ‘other’ title in the series.

HOPEFULLY Bethesda learned a lot from Obsidian on how to make a great Fallout game while using their FPS/exploratory design.

I had a lot of fun with 3, but it does have things I have to skip like what they did to Harold, and MZ.

There is a higher standard for lore here than with TES. More so than anything else, I want them to carry that forward.

Oh dear Mothership Zeta…I have to say I’ve since blocked all of that from my mind. In a nutshell it sums up the respect for the series’ lore, really.

There’s plenty of potential for Bethesda to do FO4 well with their own factions – Talon Company Mercs and The Institute, etc. – would be happy for them to be fleshed out…but that’s if they choose to do so.

But surely they realise that they can’t simply aim for more of the same, third time lucky with their games? Then again, it’s not like they’ll have any problem selling FO4 either way, so why change? We’ll see.

For me personally nothing can ever beat fallout 2. I still play
it a few times a year. Fallout 3 was not a bad game, however it was a bad fallout game. New vegas was fantastic, though i still missed isometric turn based. I think the problem is just that bethesda never really got what fallout was about. They seen the traits like Bloody Mess, and that you could do drugs and sell your body, and they thought it was all about that kind of “OH WOW I CAN DO THIS” kinda fun. When really what made fallout and fallout 2 stand out was the story and the choice and consequence system. I have played them many many times, but i always seem to play it just a little bit differently each time. Its not that bethesda makes bad games, just that they are typically more shallow casual fun. Whereas Fallout is fun, but in a way almost too serious at times. Even when your playing a goof character, you feel the effects of your choices in the wasteland. Fallout , Fallout 2, and New Vegas are works of art, Fallout 3 is a game.

The really amazing thing about Fallout 2 for me is how different the experience is each time you play through it with a different character build, and like New Vegas’ it really requires multiple playthroughs before you see everything there is in the game.

Chatting with friends about our styles of play while NV had come out, I was amazed by one of them using the Black Widow perk as a female character, seducing Benny at The Tops, and nonchalantly selecting the option to slit his throat as he slept.

With FO3, after you go through your Good or Evil characters…that’s it. And as you mention Beth’s interpretation of the series, the inclusion of the Fat Man weapon and mini nuke ammo sums it up in a way, really, without truly ‘getting’ the dark humour that defined the series.

[…] The Fallout From Fallout 3 – I played 90+ hours of Fallout 3. Keep feeling that playing New Vegas isn’t a priority, but keep hearing that it is the modern one to play… […]

Great article, nicely written and betrays love and knowledge for/of the Fallout series.

I pretty much agree with everything here (to think I actually thought Bethesda was more-or-less developing a worthy Fallout title back then). The one thing I didn’t care about was the change of setting, I wouldn’t have minded it with Van Buren and I found it especially fitting in FO3: in the end moving to DC left my precious West Coast untainted by Bethesda’s nonsense.

Thanks very much! There’s potential there for the East Coast Fallouts to grow their lore and backstories, and I really do hope FO4 turns out to be deeper than merely fun to explore. That or we get more Obsidian Fallouts on the west side, which would be a great trade off. And if not on both counts…there’s always Wasteland 2 =)

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I prefer Fallout 3 to New Vegas. There are so many ways in which New Vegas is vastly superior to Fallout 3 — I admit that. However, I felt shafted into being forced to go into certain directions, with no real exploration… and I love to explore.

Everything about Fallout 3 was environment and exploring, the story took a back seat to the creation of a character who could do whatever, whenever, in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. I know, I know, that’s not what Fallout 1 and 2 were about.

If they had made New Vegas in a similar manner, it would be, hands-down, the superior game — even approaching levels of perfection. The story is top notch, the dialog is perfect, the companions are great. Everything you said in the article is 100% correct.

But if, in the middle of a story, I see a marker on my map to one side or another, and I can’t even approach it for fear of being slaughtered by Cazadores or Deathclaws, I consider that problematic, and not much fun at all.

I truly hope Fallout 4 is more of a combination of 3’s exploration and NV’s near-perfect everything else. I’m sure I’ll get flamed for this, anyway, though.

Hi Megan, thanks for your comment.

I totally get how you feel about Fallout 3’s exploration, and no need to feel as if a flaming is on its way. Much the contrary, even! If anything, it was Fallout New Vegas’ arrival and the reaction that followed that showed what Fallout 3 could have been, but it doesn’t take away from what Bethesda actually achieved when 3 was out and still fresh in our minds. I absolutely loved the little subplots and discoveries to be found in the Capital Wasteland, especially the Keller Family diaries and just little touches like the kid who armed the comic book factory with baseball pitcher booby traps with Grognak the Barbarian editions scattered about in the background. These details didn’t need the storytelling exposition Obsidian is so good at, and proved that Bethesda are very well adept at creating these amazing worlds and subplots alike. I just hope that NV had an impact as far as Bethesda’s modern game design goes…a combination of a compelling main plot – which was Fallout 3’s weakness – in addition to all those glimpses of what life had been like in the post-apocalypse would be something else indeed.

And yes, restricting players’ freedoms with deathclaws and cazadores in NV did seem at odds with what what 3 had provided previously…but then that’s Obsidian wanting players to go around a designated starting path in order to be drip-fed story details regarding the NCR Correctional Facility and Nipton, etc. in order to confront players with the ‘truth’ about whether factions really were as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ as they had originally seemed. Here’s hoping a strict story path and free roaming exploration can exist hand in hand in future Fallouts.

Oh, absolutely. I think the same thing could have been provided in other ways. The rich story in New Vegas was certainly more enthralling. Fallout 3 had a horribly vapid story. I actually hated it (essentially just the main story, though). The fun for me was just exploring. Hey, what’s that I see in the distance? Oh, it’s the Clifftop Shacks! I think I’ll kill those Super Mutants and see what they’re hiding in there. A unique nailboard? Blah. Couple of skill magazines? Yes! And on to the next thing…

I don’t remember how I ran across this article, but it got me actually playing them again. I ran through New Vegas twice first (Yes Man then Legion stories) and found it far more enjoyable than I remembered. After a few years away I think I approached it differently within the confines it was put into and the distinct dialog and in-depth story that it was meant to encompass. It’s story exploration, not environment exploration. I think that’s the best way I can word it. Everything about New Vegas SHOULD be better. The quest arcs can pull you in so many different directions, you can almost ignore the lack of focus on environmental exploration. Which is almost a shame, really, as New Vegas has such a vibrant and beautiful landscape (er, as vibrant and beautiful as you’d expect a post-nuclear-apocalyptic desert wasteland to look). There’s no annoying sewers or subway tunnels, either.

The entire approach is so different that, looking back at how I chose my SPECIAL stats in my first New Vegas runs, it was more for a Fallout 3 playthrough than a New Vegas one. The whole game is just… different. I should have just taken it as that instead of expecting more of Fallout 3 (with a better story).

So now that I’m playing Fallout 3 after re-evaluating New Vegas, I’m enjoying Fallout 3 more again. And it’s actually irritating me that I am. I like the feeling of it being destitute. I like that, when I run across a group of people in a small village, they might be just a nice bunch of people, or horrible cannibals. I like that I can, in turn, choose to be a horrible cannibal myself. I like running across something, starting a stupid random quest, and not caring a bit about the main story. Whenever I’m playing New Vegas, I’m always wanting to follow the story — it’s like a good book.

I don’t know that they could (or should) make Fallout 4 some combination of the two. Could it be done without hurting one aspect or the other? I certainly hope the story is better than 3, but I’m not so sure I want the story depth of New Vegas either. I’d rather that be left to another off-game like NV done by Obsidian… then I can enjoy them both for what they are, instead of putting too much focus on one or the other. Clearly the two were developed with entirely different intentions, and New Vegas is obviously the spiritual successor of Fallout and Fallout 2. Fallout 3 is almost a post-apocalyptic Elder Scrolls instead of a Fallout.

That’s an excellent comparison between FO3’s environmental exploration and NV’s story exploration. Have you played JE Sawyer’s mod for NV? It really makes the experience even more compelling, especially on hardcore mode where survival is added to the mix to a level far greater than in the vanilla release, making the Mojave even more treacherous and every health item a godsend. Starting on Hard or Very Hard difficulty makes the first several hours of the game incredibly tense, especially when Legion assassins come after you or when you’re desperately looking for a Doctor’s Bag to fix those crippled limbs. Plus it’s absolutely brilliant for role play purposes when your character is always up against the odds.

I’m looking forward to another run through FO3 as well, but just wish that hardcore mode was added in to the mix to bring up the difficulty level. Ultimately you become so overpowered in the game relatively early on that the exploration turns solely into loot grabbing, with the only consideration at hand being how much you can carry. But for what it does do well, it does it excellently – and there is quite a lot to be said for FO3 and how it fuels one’s imagination so that the narrative – replacing the very weak one in there – is yours to elaborate on. And even though the karma system is a bit weak, the game is great in that the experience between good or evil is pretty significant too, e.g. Tenpenny tower and Paradise Falls options.

Similarly I’d also love to give Skyrim another shot, but the ‘choice’ in there is so superficial – even more so than FO3 – that I fear that, having already done everything in there already, there’s little to no variation that’s worth a several hundred hour replay. But oh that glorious exploration!

All in all, both games are great in their own way, and here’s hoping that Obsidian gets another go at a future Fallout. The series is all the more richer with them on board.

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