Eurogamer: Fallout 3 Preview

By Kieron Gillen on April 25th, 2008 at 4:05 pm.

I wandered down to That There London last week to have Fallout 3 demoed to me. My preview went live, in it I start somewhat blandly…

Given that the developer is responsible for the most successful Western-style RPG of recent years, Oblivion, it was a little surprising, during Fallout 3′s demonstration, to get the sense of a team with something to prove. While there’s much about FO3 that recalls Oblivion, there are also regular elements that arise as if to signify, “You know – we’re good enough to deal with a legend as big as Fallout. Watch this.” In itself, this is a tad touching. A team like Bethesda would probably be justified in going, “Damn the lot of you – our way is the best way.” The result is something that – on these impressions – seems to be the next logical step on from Oblivion, while infusing as much of what made Fallout Fallout as they reasonably can.

Before wandering into more interesting areas. No, really. I touch on the start of the game, conversation options, Dogmeat and my worries about combat – which aren’t the worries I expected to have.

, .

46 Comments »

  1. Schadenfreude says:

    I don’t think I’m going to like VATS. Now that it’s moved from 3rd person tactical to FPS play it’s just going to annoy me if you can only do Head/Arm/Leg/Eye shots via VATS even if you’re clearly shooting those locations in real time.

    And then there’s the massive part of me that rebels at the removal of groin shots.

  2. Pavel says:

    Is the fighting, when NOT using VATS, similar to gunplay in Bloodlines, or Deus Ex?
    And how about humor, was there something smart and funny, or was it just the humor in the vein of “let us in motherf**kers!” ?

    Damn, I am waiting for this game since 2000, having finished both Fallout games 11 times, I just CAN NOT wait.I hope and pray Bethesda will pull it off and the game will be really worthy Fallout successor.

  3. Phil says:

    The idea of your character being born, in first person persepctive, as part of your character creation process is just genius.

    The dog stiffing out ammo so you don’t have to – genius.

    Chance for Machiaveillian birthday cake tainting – icky but genius.

    In fact, whole game fills me with such a warm expectant glow I’m inclined to pre-order for the first time ever.

  4. D says:

    I’m pretty sure I’ve read in a FAQ that real time shots will use a similar probability system as pause-time shots. So if you aim at the head you might hit it, depending on your stats.

    What I’d like to know, is if its possible to move during pause-time, aka queue up movement. Cause then someone might mod it to be fully turn based.. In time.

  5. James G says:

    A fully turn based mod would be fantastic, although I somewhat doubt that movement will be VATS enabled.

    I have yet to play the original Fallout actually. I’ve ordered it, and am just awaitng delivery. Should be here soon, assuming that the Amazon marketplace seller has his/her skates on.

  6. Cigol says:

    Regarding; A team like Bethesda would probably be justified in going, “Damn the lot of you – our way is the best way.” That’s exactly what their official line was. Finally regarding the NPC’s who can join you – do you mean they assist or that they join you and your party?

  7. Kieron Gillen says:

    D: I didn’t see him doing it and he didn’t say anything about it, but apparently not.

    In passing, if any of the NMA guys are reading, the bit where I talk about how I’d like to see this turn-based thing go further, was me badly phrasing that the “Give orders/see results cinematically” is a bit like how turn-based games work. Clearly the pause-time attacks of VAS aren’t a true turn-based game, but it shows that a turn-based like interaction lead to cute results, at least on first impression. Since that’s relatively strong and the normal-combat is relatively weak, I’d have been interested in seeing them pursue it a bit more.

    I should have been a lot more explicit with what I said.

    KG

  8. Kieron Gillen says:

    Cigol: The impression was that the join your party, in a way akin to Dogmeat. But only one, I believe.

    KG

  9. Therlun says:

    >>[...]Oblivion was probably as good as a first-person sword combat game as we’d had. It wasn’t mind-blowing, but no-one had done it better. Even now, only the PC version of Dark Messiah is a peer.
    <<

    Mount & Blade! :)

    /edit: Crap... how do you quote?

  10. Brother None says:

    Thanks, Kieron, I put in that clarification, if you don’t mind.

    (yes, I work for GameBanshee, but I also do stuff for NMA)

    Also, I’m not sure your surprise at Bethesda’s attitude is justified. And not just in the sense that they’ve had a barrage of criticism from everyone except the gaming media (and they have, just look at their own forums. Those aren’t NMA members for the most part, if you’re wondering).

    But believe me, Bethesda has been a lot less humble in action than in words. And that’s just the thing. They’re taking a franchise someone else created, threw a lot of money at it to get the legal right to do what they want, and then ripped it out into a completely different direction than the originals.

    Yeah, no kidding some humbleness is in place there. It’s like P.W.S. Anderson making the Godfather 4 into a CGI-based action flick. You’d hope he’d be a bit humble about it.

    Even if you disagree the direction is “completely different” (and that’s fine, they are indeed trying to hold on to some parts of dialogue and setting, and seem to be trying to keep up choice & consequence), going from a pen and paper emulation to a sandbox RPG is still a big enough step to warrant some contemplation.

  11. Kieron Gillen says:

    Thanks, None. You were who I hoped was passing. Not fine phrasing, so I can see why the NMA guys were rolling their eyes.

    EDIT: There’s a second part to this preview where I’ve got a short interview with Hines. I touch on some of those topics, including my “Wouldn’t this have been a lot easier to just do your own world?” thing.

    KG

  12. Jochen Scheisse says:

    YOU ARE NOTHING COMPARED TO BLACK ISLE!!!

    Still, I will buy this game no questions asked. I mean, I even bought Tactics. Stopping smoking was hard enough.

  13. Brother None says:

    Is that still to be published, Kieron?

    As for “you are nothing!!”, well…heh. I wish there were more critical voices amongst journalists. Not that I don’t understand the basic excitement after Oblivion, but remember this: Oblivion is now widely criticized for its flaws, amongst which are the simple Radiant AI and terrible level scaling. This was never criticized in the previews or reviews, but now, years later, we’re suddenly doing an about-face.

    My hope would be that journalists would learn from this kind of experience. I’ve seen Fallout 3 myself. There’s a lot to like, there’s a lot not to like, but could we please dispense with all the “Game of the Year!” nonsense and be a bit more realistic in our criticism. There’s a lot that can go wrong with this game, even without the expectations of “Fallout” slapped on.

    Though me typing this here is a bit silly, since your previews was one of the better ones.

  14. Kieron Gillen says:

    None: Yeah. I guess it’ll go up either at the weekend or on Monday.

    KG

  15. John P (Katsumoto) says:

    Crap, I must have glazed over the bit where they said no groin shots. What the hell. That’s, like, half the point of fallout. GUTTED.

  16. Jochen Scheisse says:

    Yeah, I also liked the review. I have visited the FO3 forum for some months after it was opened, but the discussions became very repetetive. I would have liked the game to be real time with pause. There’s still an incredible lot to do with this concept in my opinion, the surface hasn’t even been broken. Stacking and unstacking command pipes could prove to be a real evolution of classic PnP initiative concepts, and they are not to be shunned now that the processing help of the PC makes them possible.

    Still, I see that there needs to be a certain hatred for outside influence in Bethesda’s heads. No creative process without hatred making the canvas white. I just hope for the epicest.

  17. Darius K. says:

    Kieron: I think Mount & Blade is still pretty much the best first-person sworder out there.

  18. Cigol says:

    “As well as the intoxicating freedom, Mount & Blade features probably the greatest horse-back combat the world has ever seen.” – Kieron Gillen (RPS)

    Perhaps it’s an oversight? I personally believe the on-foot combat in Oblivion, from a control/asthetics standpoint anyway, is more enjoyable – but M&B could very easily eclipse it with more polish.

  19. Noc says:

    Of course, the cynical side of me looks at “more conversationally dense than Oblivion” and reads “has some dialog options.”

    But I’m actually feeling pretty optimistic about this one. I just hope that the level of interactivity and such that they put in the opening sequence doesn’t fizzle out into genericism once you get out into the world. Like it did in Oblivion.

  20. Briosafreak says:

    I got what you said on the TB remark, but updated my blogpost anyway.

    That idea of a cinematic TB system reminds me of Incubation. 3D, turn based, cinematic camera, released in the same year as Fallout.

  21. Cigol says:

    Ah, incubation. I had fun playing that against friends (asking one another to leave the room while we played our turns :D ) Quite Space Hulkish.

  22. Jochen Scheisse says:

    Yeah, Incubation was great! Too bad Blue Byte don’t do Battle Isle games anymore (of which Incubation was a part), they are probably legally bound to rape the Settlers franchise to death.

  23. Pavel says:

    Yeah, Incubation was absolutely awesome.Great atmosphere, soundtrack, MULTIPLAYER, everything.I wanna play it again, damn.

  24. John P (Katsumoto) says:

    IncubatioN! THANK YOU. I’ve been trying to remember the name of that game for nigh on.. well, for as long as I can remember. Brilliant stuff. I think I played that in my first year in school and now i’m in well into post-grad study. How time flies.

  25. fluffy bunny says:

    Oh, man, it just struck me – we were talking about Ino-Co developing new games in two classic franchises. So one was Majesty 2. What if the other… no, it sounds too good to be true. Though it would be a perfect fit for them. Just perfect.

    Edit: Also, Fallout 3! I want The Elder Scrolls V instead, tbh, but okay. It might be good.

  26. Tom Bramwell says:

    “None: Yeah. I guess it’ll go up either at the weekend or on Monday.”

    Probably Monday, K-dog.

  27. mechazawa says:

    I hated Oblivion, a lot. I’m really afraid i’ll hate Fallout 3 too, despite my blinding love for the previous games.

  28. Pidesco says:

    I thought Oblivion had pretty awful sword combat. Of course the competition in that area isn’t exactly vast, but still. In fact, I can’t even understand how you’d say it had good melee combat. Could you elaborate, Kieron?

    Dark Messiah had far better melee combat. I mean, it’s not even in the same league. And Condemned had better melee too, I’d say.

    Block/Swing, and that’s it.

  29. sluzzuls says:

    i really really hope they dont BoS this fallout. while i liked and beat bos, it didnt feel like a fallout. same graphics, sounds, music but the atmosphere was missing. the soul was gone. and im not talking about open ended..ness. thats usually what happens to people taking on others realized dream. they werent part of it so they dont understand it.
    and i dont have much love for Oblivion either. stupid world leveling homogenized bs. thats not adventuring.

  30. Kieron Gillen says:

    Name anything better?

    KG

  31. hidden_7 says:

    As opposed to what in Condemned? Block/swing. In fact, Half-Life had some pretty terrible shooting mechanics, aim/shoot, sometimes a secondary shoot.

    Calling Oblivion’s sword combat just block/swing is a little misleading. It has power swings, but further it’s all about the interactions between that blocking and swinging and your opponents blocking and swinging, hit a blocking opponent and you can be recoiled, leaving yourself open, but a power attack may be able to break through it, a power attack against an unguarded opponent can stagger them allowing you to get a flurry in, blocking works differently whether you have a shield or weapon, attacking strategy is different whether you have a big axe or a little dagger, further advance skill in a weapon skill lets you do special attacks that can disarm, knockback, etc and your opponents can use these abilities on you as well, further because of the physics system when a weapon is disarmed it actually drops to the ground in the world, where you can toss it or knock it away from your opponent, forcing them to switch to hand to hand. The general feel is believable, solid, and adds a little bit of strategy to it beyond simply mashing the attack key. Yeah Dark Messiah adds kicking and environmental hazards, but actually a lot of the time it came down to JUST kicking into environmental hazards.

  32. Will Tomas says:

    To be honest I’ve never really got the antipathy Oblivion seemed to generate sometime a few months after release. Sure, not everyone’s going to like every game, especially a widely-hyped one (some people are just like that), but I for one loved – loved – Oblivion. It was the best single-player game for being in a world that I’ve played, and it did so very, very much right. Yes, it made some missteps. But they were relatively minor compared to the imaginative potential and sustained brilliance of much of the rest of the game. The sword-fighting combat mechanics too were better than anything seen in an RPG, where statistical abilities and dice roles had come to matter more than whether you would actually have hit or not. Oblivion was lovely. It and Half-Life 2 were the best things to happen to PC gaming at that time, much like Half-Life and Deus Ex were several years before.

    I haven’t played Fallout so don’t have any fanboy love-that-never-dies passion for it, but anything by Bethesda where they’re actually putting this much effort in is going to be worth playing, whether it uses the setting of an old school videogame from way back when or not.

    Or to put it another way, there just ain’t no pleasing some people.

  33. Claw says:

    Name anything better?

    KG

    Besides M&B? Well, maybe it is the best First Person sword combat game then. I just don’t care much for that distinction.

    I hated Oblivion, a lot. I’m really afraid i’ll hate Fallout 3 too, despite my blinding love for the previous games.

    Maybe if your love weren’t so blinding, you’d hate Fallout 3 because of your love for the previous games.

  34. Priapist says:

    I’m with the “Oblivion had awful combat” folks here. What was good about it? It was a generic “press LMB to attack and RMB to block” deal, with added power attacks that were awkward to perform, because they’re irrevocably tied into movement. The greatest step forward in first person shooters is the separation of legs and arms, so I can move independently to where I aim. Imagine a FPS interface that required you to walk backwards and press fire to reload, and press strafe and fire together to switch weapons! This is the biggest shortcoming of Oblivion’s melee combat, and unforgivable when games like Mount and Blade do it properly and even fifteen year old games like Ultima Underworld or Bethesda’s own ten year old Daggerfall have more workable systems.

    Aside from the dull melee combat, the ranged combat was god awful too. Without error, the enemies would aim exactly where the vector of their projectile and your movement would intersect. So if you were moving when they launched a projectile, stop. If you weren’t moving, start. Even Doom was more sophisticated, mixing up hitscan weapons, projectiles, splash damage, homing weapons and most importantly a f***ton of enemies. These days, the bar is set even higher.

    And incidentally, there’s probably a reason why the list of “first-person melee” games is mercifully short in comparison to the much more heavily populated third-person melee “genre” ;)

    Finally, to name a few games that do first person melee combat better – Mount and Blade by a country mile, Thief, which is the first such game I can think of that actually treated your blade as a collision object that could hit walls, deflect enemy swings, etc, Jedi Whatchamacallit, the Hexen games, Ultima Underworld, which admittedly has a steeper learning curve to a seemingly cumbersome interface, but far more control once you’ve mastered it, Arx Fatalis, which is the bridge between Underworld and Dark Messiah, maybe even Daikatana, but I don’t think anyone persisted with the game long enough to actually get the sword. Outside of the strictly first person qualifier, there’s way too many to mention.

    Given that most journos can now comfortably admit Oblivion’s other major flaws, such as the level scaling, AI brain farts, and overall generic blandness, can’t you also take a step back and see that even the very core of the gameplay, the thing that you do more of than anything – the combat – is horribly flawed as well?

  35. James T says:

    And then there’s the massive part of me that rebels at the removal of groin shots.

    So to speak.

  36. Kieron Gillen says:

    Claw: Yup, that’s my point. It’s the best first person sword game. It’s not great, but it’s functional and there’s no-one better for it to be compared to, as opposed to as a first-person shooting game.

    Priapist: I’ll give you mount and blade, which slipped my mind as I was thinking more mainstream. Thief’s sword-fighting was deliberately rubbish to discourage you from using it. I despised all the Jedi games’s lightsabre combats.

    Oblivion’s melee combat was basic, but functionally robust – the block/attack sequence is rock solid. The special moves aren’t that interesting or useful, but the fogginess which creeps into close combat in the basic mechanics simply wasn’t there.

    (Compared to – say – Morrowind, here you start getting misses which clearly hit due to the skill system rolling. When you do that stuff in first combat, it just fails)

    I agree there’s probably a reason why there’s not many other First Person combat games… but that’s beside my point. Oblivion’s combat may be critiqued to be rubbish only really on its own merits and failings. Fallout may be critiqued as being rubbish compared to dozens of better First Person shooters. It’s a line about the danger of unfavourable comparisons, which Fallout faces, not absolute merits.

    (There was a recent presentation by Robin Hunicke where she talked about how people are getting enormous thrills out of games which are nowhere near as advanced, just because it’s a new thrill. The Be-a-lawyer or be-a-doctor of Trauma Centre and Phoenix Wright is incredibly basic compared to even a third rate FPS like Turning Point’s simulation of combat and adventure… but they’re more appealing, because they are at the top of their genre rather than the bottom. They’re an easier fantasy to achieve, because they’re a new fantasy, so people’s standards aren’t as exacting. FP swordfighting, while nowhere near as novel a field as Lawyering, isn’t anywhere near as exacting as first-person shooting – and you’ll note that I didn’t defend the bow combat.)

    KG

  37. Muzman says:

    Just to throw another one
    Although a bit shakey in that view and not really designed for it, Severance in first person was fantastically intense (which it was in third person as well of course).

  38. Imamutant says:

    I’m so looking forward to this game. The first FO stole much of my time as did Oblivion. The marriage between the FO franchise and Bethesda has me excited for FO3. Thank you for your review as it only heightened my excitement. I’ll pre-order now.

  39. Jochen Scheisse says:

    If I want good close combat, I will play Prince of Persia or Dynasty Warriors, or a Beat Em Up. While applying action mechanics to a RPG has lots of potential, no one is ready to invest the manpower or money it needs to be able to stand up against games who concentrate on that kind of stuff.

    Let’s not talk about Oblivion any more. Every new idea in that game was horrible. They did nothing right there. Dialogue mini game? Scaled enemies? Scaled drops? Plot?
    Seriously Bethesda, WHY NOT GIVE OBLIVIONS MAIN CHARACTER A ROCKET LAUNCHER WITH UNLIMITED AMMO? YOU COULD REALLY SCORE WITH THE MAINSTREAM GAMERS THAT WAY, STATISTICS SAY THEY LIKE ROCKET LAUNCHERS!

  40. Kieron Gillen says:

    Okay – let’s talk abstractly now and play Devil’s Advocate.

    Scaled Enemies, as executed, was really bad and actually what broke the game. But I’m not convinced it’s a bad idea per se in a more open world. The trick would be i) To make it actually scale to the combat ability rather than an actual abstract idea of non-combat level ii) make it actually tie to the plot. The idea that there are no trolls before you hit a certain level just breaks the illusion of a world, and that’s without even getting to daedric armoured bandits or whatever.

    What I’d have done is to actively make it a punctuated plot element. So you hit a level threshold and a plot development occurs, where – say – vikings invade the land, and all of a sudden there’s harder people in the country-side… and there’s an actual *reason* for it. Perhaps have a plot where you can eventually deal with it, pacifying the countryside until you hit another threshold when an even bigger threat is unleashed on the land. The point of fantasy lands regarding quests is that they are *not* static, and you can get some dramatic and meaningful things by altering the threat level as player competence grows.

    (One of the bits where Thief 3′s city actually worked okay was near the end game when the whole place was descending into anarchy. I’d have liked to see someone apply that approach to an open world fantasy game. Hell – look at how brilliant Pathologic’s clock-as-enemy approach worked. They’re all, basically, scaling environment to player competency.)

    But – y’know – backseat designering.

    KG

  41. Noc says:

    What I think some people don’t realize is that Morrowind had scaled encounters, too. Ever think about how you got pecked at by one Cliff Racer at a time when you’re first wandering around, but a dozen levels in you start getting attacked by large handfuls? If you rest in the wilderness on your first couple excursions, you get woken up in the night by a Squib, but later in the game you wake up to find an angry-looking Alip breathing down your neck?

    And how the goblins in Mournhold are really hard when you bring a high-level character there, but that the Tribunal quests are somehow still doable if you go at them with a new character?

    Scaled encounters aren’t a new idea, and aren’t a bad idea. They were just handled really badly in Oblivion.

    Especially since, with the Oblivion gates already in the plot, they could have done exactly what Kieron suggested.

    Having the landscape become increasingly overrun with daedra as you progress would have a) scaled up difficulty, b) made you feel like the Oblivion gate thing was actually a THREAT, which would have made the main storyline feel more legitimate, and c) given you some motivation for closing the ones you come across, if closing a gate would render the stretch of road surrounding it less demon-infested.

    Missed opportunities, Bethesda.

  42. Kieron Gillen says:

    Noc: Exactly. See also people growling at Bioshock for the the Vio-pods, when SS2 had the same mechanism – the difference being the *execution* of the idea.

    There’s few bad ideas in videogames, but many bad executions.

    KG

  43. Nick says:

    The SS2 (and indeed SS) ones called for you to reconfigure the machines so you didn’t get cyborgified when your corpse was dragged to them for..cyborgification. The SS2 ones also cost you something when you used them. They were woven into the story pretty well and still had a downside if yo weren’t careful (dying on a new level in SS before you’d even found it to convert resulted in a great little clip of you being turned into a Cortex Reaver).

    As Kieron said, it’s all in the execution, Bioshocks Vita Chambers made you feel invulnerable, you could just die, then run right back and finish off the still wounded enemies Somehow in the SS games you still felt frail (possibly because you emerged from the chambers with very little health on top of everything else).

    (edit)

    Yes, scaled encounters in Morrowind existed, but were much better integrated. So when you got high enough you’d encounter tougher enemies more often (or at all). But the enemies all had level ranges they’d scale to and not past for the most part.. and you’d still encounter the weak creatures when high up. Oblivion just did them very badly and it felt lazy and..crappy.

  44. Jochen Scheisse says:

    Okay, there is probably something to be said for scaling. I guess it’s rather that my happiest CRPG memories consist of returning to that cave I accidentally ran into 10 levels ago and showing that bandit horde my recently aquired Full Plate Mail and Mithril Axe. I don’t mind having to reload for that..

  45. Priapist says:

    Kieron: Thief’s sword-fighting was almost as functional as Oblivion’s, you were just far more frail, and had fewer ways to actually recover health. That’s the main difference. Aside from that, it had standard attacks, power attacks, a parry option not unlike Oblivion’s, and the usual dynamic of two characters trying to dance in and out of sword range and trying to time their strikes. I wouldn’t call it rubbish, just a not-particularly-intelligent option in comparison to sneaking about and blackjacking.

    As for not liking lightsabre combat, I’m with for most of the games, but the most recent one (Academy?) I thought did it pretty well. But I haven’t played enough of it to deconstruct it and try to argue the point.

    To get back to Oblivion, I felt the swing/block dynamic was completely pointless, and you were better off manually dodging. Especially when your reward for getting better with heavy armour was faster movement. I played quite a bit of the game as a paladin style character, and ended up power-levelling my block skill by letting weak enemies attack my shield for a few minutes at a time, just because it had little utility in actual combat so it was falling a long way behind the skills getting regular use. So take that out, ignore the shabby power attacks, and you’ve got something very basic. Not necessarily broken, but that seemed to be Oblivion’s design mantra – it works, who cares if it’s underdeveloped?

    It’s interesting that you bring up Morrowind and its to-hit rolls. I’m very interested to see how they reconcile the hit percentages in VATS with the player actually shooting/swinging a super-sledge in real-time. I can’t help but think they’ll wind up with either the same complaints leveled against Morrowind, or an imbalance between the two modes of play.

    And I’m not sure I agree with the idea of an FPS having a bigger pool of games to compare unfavourably to, since it cuts both ways. There are a lot more sub-standard FPSs out there that Fallout 3 can compare favourably to, than quality titles such as Half-Life which may put it to shame. In the smaller pool of FP melee games, you have an undisputed king in Mount and Blade that shames everything in the same class, and that nagging thought of “how did dozens of guys with multi-million dollar backing manage to fall so far short of a husband/wife indie team working in their spare time?”

    However, at the end of the day, Bethesda aren’t about beating Thief, or Half-Life, or Fallout, or Mount & Blade. They’re all about doing away with a tight, focused gameplay experience in favour of a much higher quantity of gameplay options. Personally I don’t think that’s a good philosophy, because sooner or later, the players work out that so much of their enjoyment of that sort of game is derived from imagined possibilities and being enamoured with concepts rather than actual quality of gameplay.

    But, that said, Bethesda have carved out a pretty sizeable niche of player who want a DIY fantasy world that offers many options and few challenges. They’re like P&P players with a bunch of sourcebooks for pre-scripted adventures, but no core rulebook. I won’t begrudge them that, but I can certainly register my distaste in Fallout 3 taking a similar direction.

  46. Kieron Gillen says:

    Priapist: I’m generally in agreement, but being compared to a sub-standard FPS isn’t actually going to end up with you being kindly looked upon, even if you’re better. “It’s better than Daikatana” isn’t a great recommendation.

    KG