I headline “Bethesda Softworks” to keep the format I’ve been using, but really I should just have put “Fallout 3” because that’s all they were showing and that’s all anyone cares about. I had a little bit of problem with this scheduled appointment – The time I was set to see it got confused by either PR or myself (we couldn’t decide) – so I didn’t perhaps get quite as much hands-on time as I would have liked (is there ever enough hands-on time at these kind of shows for hundred-hour RPGs?) But I got to stand and chat to executive producer Todd Howard while I waited, so it worked out for the best, really.
The most important things Todd told me was that there isn’t an Oblivion-esque “The World Scales With You” system. This is probably common knowledge, but lets write it anyway. There are easy areas, hard areas, and so on. There some bosses and stuff who do scale, but only roughly on the basis of when you first encounter them. Which is probably fair enough.
Talking about my hands-on experience of Fallout 3 actually feels a little dicey, because when I sat down to play I was given a long list of things I wasn’t supposed to talk about, which I promptly forgot. I know I wasn’t supposed to talk about anything the loading screens say (they feature background details on the world) which is a shame, as my reaction to one of them forms an at least mildly interesting anecdote. But let’s press on.
Fallout 3 is based on the Gamebryo engine and the modifications that Bethesda Sofworks made to it for Oblivion (I’m going to get this one right for sure) and the striking thing you’re going to notice as you move about the game world is that it feels very much like Oblivion. It doesn’t look exactly like Oblivion thanks to the urban decay, though there are some obvious markers – such as that weird, slightly wrong way that people look. But it kind of makes sense in Fallout 3 considering they’ve all been warped by radiation and stuff, I guess.
That it feels like Oblivion is a pretty important thing to note, I think. Because as a result (and I have to note that I played this with an Xbox 360 pad, not a mouse and keyboard) I didn’t like the real time fighting any more than I did in Oblivion. In fact less, because there was a great and immediate satisfaction to using Oblivion’s bows that the guns of Fallout (or at least, the ones from the early game) don’t have.
But that’s where the V.A.T.S system comes in. It is incredible. I refuse to believe anyone is going to play the game using real time combat when V.A.T.S is available. You see, V.A.T.S. turns every battle into an amazing cinematic event, and not in a lame way like a Final Fantasy game or something. The minute you spot an enemy, you choose your position to attack from, enter V.A.T.S mode, select the body part et cetera (classic Fallout stuff, you know the drill) and watch what happens. The cinematics are generated on the fly and delightfully satisfying. While shooting an enemy stalker (damn, er, just enemy) who is miles away with a pistol is a boring exercise in shooting at a dot, in V.A.T.S you’re able to watch as your bullets batter him with a pounding velocity, crippling his body parts or exploding his head [“or her head, obviously.” – Equal Opportunities Ed.]
During my play time, I had a fantastic battle with a feral dog using the V.A.T.S system, where I selected V.A.T.S the second he leaped for my throat, and popped him in the head repeatedly as he sailed through the air only to land as a sad little doggie corpse.
V.A.T.S removes completely the problem that we’ve all had with the Oblivions system of battles – that they look incredibly stupid – and turn it into something thrilling.
Anyway, after a few short battles, a bit of exploring and some interface fiddling (the Pip Boy 3000 is perfectly usable) my time was over. Before leaving I picked up one of the promotional bottles of “Nuka Cola” which was literally flat cola (and kind of nice for that, somehow) and asked Todd if they were going to include modding tools with the game for PC. His answer? That they haven’t announced anything, and they’re very focused on making a great game first and genuinely don’t know if they’ll include one or not.
It’d be a real shame if they didn’t as the modding community around Oblivion is pretty great, but it seems like at least the lessons they’ve learned from Oblivion might mean this is a game that doesn’t need patching by fans to make it actually playable.
I know, I know – I’m speaking too soon. I can’t help it – that V.A.T.S thing was awesome!