The ruins of Washington DC and the Capital Wasteland can be a daunting place: raiders, ghouls and mutant wildlife roam the landscape looking for victims. The few survivors, leery of outsiders, are potential threats with a careless word or pistol drawn. Even worse for a character that's never seen this harsh world after the nuclear war of 2077, trying to track down your father is like searching for a needle in a radioactive haystack buried in rubble. However, in Fallout 3, players will have the opportunity to explore this post-apocalyptic world, making their fate in a vast, expansive adventure. Although we've been following some of the events within the game in our coverage of Fallout 3 week, I had a chance to check out Fallout 3 on the PS3 recently at a press event to see what kind of heroics (or trouble) I could get myself into.
My adventure started out shortly after my character had left Vault 101 in search of his father, but I specifically chose not to follow in his footsteps. Personally, I reasoned that if he was willing to leave me behind in the Vault without any information as to why he was going, he could easily wait as I attempted to get my bearings in the outside world. So, after augmenting my stats to boost my Lockpicking, Small Arms and Repair skills, I set off due south to explore the ruined town of Springdale. I knew from the short play time at E3 that there were a number of items strewn in the nooks and crannies of the town, such as the mailboxes, refrigerators and ovens of the town, but I was able to take advantage of my character's shady skills as an amateur thief and pick the locks of some chests and safes. Picking locks does take a bit of time to get used to, as you have to manipulate a bobby pin with the left analog stick while applying a gentle amount of force to the lock via a screwdriver from the right analog stick. Too much force and you can either snap the bobby pin into the lock, requiring you to start over, or potentially break the lock, forever entombing the items within.
Luckily, with some nimble fingers, I was able to gain a large number of items and ammunition, which came in handy as I went on my next impromptu mission to clear out the Springdale School. During E3, I remembered that this place was filled with Raiders that had tortured anyone their roving bands had come across. While I hadn't decided whether I was going to try to be good or evil, I did know that these monsters needed to go, especially because they were probably hoarding vital supplies that I could use. Fortunately, I was able to hack and batter my way through a number of enemies with melee weapons, and quickly shift over to the V.A.T.S. system to target specific limbs or inflict even more damage. Here, my attention to my Small Arms came in handy, because I found myself aiming shots easier and finding those bullets hitting their targets. There was definitely loads of gore to be seen with each successful hit; for instance, heads were blasted from the bodies of the Raiders, legs were crippled, and chests burst open from solid strikes.
Obviously, each fallen opponent gave me an opportunity to loot their bodies for gear and other items that I could use within my quest. However, becoming a wasteland packrat that picks up almost everything will frequently weigh you down, making it impossible to leap around or run thanks to your encumbrance. While you can trek all of this stuff back to a trader or a town general store and turn these items in, or drop them off in a set location, players will sometimes have a third option available. Depending on the item and your character's Repair skill, you can salvage parts from these items and use them to strengthen or fix the wear and tear on frequently used parts. While you don't receive any experience for fixing these elements of your equipment, you can consolidate your inventory and improve the items in your backpack in the process. That makes the Repair skill a vital one in the midst of any exploratory trip.
Once I'd cleared the school of everything inside its walls, I went outside and tried to figure out the next place to go. I still didn't want to go to town, so I decided to head over the hills and stop at the next location that I found. In my case, this happened to be a dilapidated grocery store known as the Super Duper Mart. This was a trashed location, with aisles blocked off by shelves to provide both protection and the element of surprise for a player stumbling across these ambush spots. Unfortunately, the entire Super Duper Mart was also packed with a number of Raiders, who needed to be eliminated before I could claim the few items scattered around its walls. This was easier said than done, because not only did the Raiders have a number of members inside the building, but reinforcements wound up returning halfway through my search for treasure, complicating my chances of escaping unscathed.
Fortunately, one of the raiders had left behind an extremely cool weapon against humans and dogs alike: a laser pistol. Much like its bullet driven counterpart, the Laser Pistol was very effective at close ranges, and had the added benefit of potentially blasting the opponent into a pile of ash with every critical hit. While the bodies might have been vaporized, their gear remained behind, so blasting these enemies was a satisfying way of quickly eliminating them. However, my skill with weapons definitely came at a serious price – while my character was extremely skilled at blasting creatures or picking locks, he was horrible at some of his other abilities, such as accessing computers. In fact, the few times that he tried to use computer terminals, he quickly locked them up. Ah well, who wants to be an egghead in this environment, when a good trigger finger will do?
Actually, I found that having an itchy trigger finger could accidentally get me into some quick trouble. As I wandered through the wilderness and crossed a hill, a laser blast flew past my head into the distance from behind. I immediately swiveled and targeted the offender, only to realize that it wasn't a raider or Super Mutant, but instead was one of the random Enclave robots that had been broadcasting the signal of the remnants of the American government into the vast wastelands of the country. Apparently, the floating Enclave bots have no problem attacking Mole Rats, RadScorpions or other animal life in the wastes, and if you happen to be in the way, they'll sometimes graze you as well. Although I was glad to see that the accidental shot was targeted for a Mole Rat up ahead, the droid's aim was too weak for my taste. So once the Mole Rat was dead, I immediately turned on the robot and attempted to blast it into pieces. It took a couple of shots, but I was able to destroy the droid and salvage some items from its innards.
Shortly thereafter, I experienced my first random encounter in the wild. A young boy ran up to me and told me that an infestation of Fire Ants had carried off and killed almost everyone in a small town called Grayditch, leaving him wondering what happened to his father. While I wasn't entirely sure if this story was a trap or not, I decided to try to help the little boy out, and made a beeline for the outskirts of the town. This actually turned out to be a bad mistake for my character, because not only were there seemingly dozens of Fire Ants scattered throughout the city streets, these things were extremely hardy. Blasts from laser beams did very little damage, and they seemed to take a lot of damage when V.A.T.S. wasn't being used. Even worse, these things were able project bursts of flame, (akin to a flamethrower) to set you on fire and cripple your character.
The only thing that seemed to truly clear out these ants was to drop a number of mines in the middle of the street and hope that the insects would walk near them. Although they appeared to exhibit some intelligence that made them avoid the traps, I was able to toss a grenade near the explosives. The resulting explosion set off some of the mines, which in turn set off the remaining power in some of the ruined cars along the city streets. After a few seconds of explosions, the streets were completely cleared of ants, and the town of Greyditch had a new level of radiation fallout to deal with. However, just like real ants, there didn't seem to be any way of completely eliminating these insects. As soon as I'd kill one, two more seemed to pop up. I eventually left both Greyditch and the little boy to their own devices – I'd run out of ammunition and stimpacks thanks to the constant attacks of the ants, and I no longer wanted to hunt ants; I wanted more raiders. Sorry kid, but you're going to need an exterminator with that problem.
However, I needed supplies, and since I hadn't spent any time in a major town, I needed to trade my items for ammo and cash. Fortunately, I was able to track down some Scavenger merchants, as well as a couple of caravans, that provided me with a lot of the items that I needed. Sure, I didn't have all of the cash that I was hoping for with a sale to these characters, but I was able to gain enough to buy a lot of bullets, which would help in my quest. I also couldn't help but chuckle when one caravan trader mentioned being pleased that he was going to help me with my "purchase of hot death." I was also pleased to see that the traders weren't afraid to defend themselves and their caravans if a roving monster came near them, and were pretty good shots for the most part. While I did admit to using the traders and their bodyguards to soften up some enemies was a shallow tactic, all's fare in the wasteland.
While this was the first time that I'd seen the PS3 version at a press event, the title ran beautifully. The visuals were sharp and well designed, and the framerate was quite solid and seamless. In fact, there were only a few moments where the game slowed down, and that was only after some significant explosions rocked the screen. There were a few other visual glitches, but it was easily understandable given that the build that we played was still an early pre-alpha build. Finally, although the build didn't have any trophies and focused solely on the single player experience instead of the downloadable content coming on the 360, we were told that these elements could potentially be grandfathered into the title with future patches if the demand for these items is high and it's easy to add for the development team.
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