Warning, there be spoilers.
Dear Bethesda Softworks,
I think you've got a great heart. You dream big, just like me. It's nice that we have that in common. Unfortunately, we also have in common the fact that our eyes are often bigger than our stomachs, metaphorically speaking. Your worlds are huge, which seems on the surface to be a great thing. It would be, except that these worlds are chock full of the same things, copy and pasted over and over and over again. That's the way I felt with Oblivion, and that's the way I felt with Fallout 3. Yes, I realize that you love sandbox games and the oodles of freedom they provide, but personally I'd rather have a more linear game if it meant having more unique items, locations, and characters.
I don't know what's wrong with me, but apparently something is. Fallout 3 was awarded Game of the Year for 2008, and for the life of me I can't understand why. Don't get me wrong, it was an okay game. There were parts of it I really enjoyed (although most of those were downloadable content). It's just not a spectacular game.
-The world is wide open, with plenty of buildings to explore and sidequests to check off.
-It has an epic, absorbing story.
-The DLC (downloadable content) is superb. Really. I mean, I enjoyed the DLC at least three times better than the rest of the game. Mothership Zeta was without a doubt my favorite, mostly because it presented a really unique setting that gave me a break from all of the dust and rubble.
-The dialogue is okay. Not stellar, just okay. Also, there are some cool voice actors. Well, one cool voice actor. Okay, Liam Neeson.
-There are some really fun weapons, and a weapon constructing system that allows you to create your own if you have the schematics and materials.
-The soundtrack is beautiful, which shouldn't be surprising for anyone who played Dragon Age. Inon Zur was responsible for both soundtracks. Incidentally, he also composed the music for Crysis. Is it bad that I want to play Crysis for that reason alone?
-It has an interesting moral choice system, similar to the "paragon/renegade" system of Mass Effect or the KOTOR II system. If you're good, you'll be hunted by the bad guys. If you're bad, you'll be hunted by the good guys. Also, you get different rewards depending on the choices you make.
-The VATS targeting system allows for an interesting combat dynamic and presents an opportunity for strategy. Basically, it allows you to stop time (figuratively speaking), choose a body part to aim for, and shoot it in slow motion. These attacks are often much more effective than normal attacks, especially at close distances, and can help you take on more powerful enemies. Thankfully, the VATS system offers you a limited number of "action points" with which to take down your enemies, so you can't just keep using it forever, which forces you to use a combination of normal attacks and VATS attacks.
-The ending sucks if you don't have the DLC. I understand that allowing a player to use a radiation resistant companion would make things too easy and detract from the epicness of the ending, but it's also the only ending that makes sense if you happen to have one such companion. Apparently Bethesda realized this, because they made it all better when they released Broken Steel.
-Bugs. Fallout 3 is infested with them, and some of them affect the main quest, as I found out. Scribe Rothchild was supposed to show me something on a map, but he wouldn't move, and the quest couldn't continue if he didn't. Fortunately, I used the cheat console to move him myself (once I found a way to get the console to work, that is...). I ended up having to find workarounds for several quest blockers, which was not fun.
-I disagree with Bethesda's policy of having all of their characters on a dialogue loop. Seriously, you hear the same freaking conversations throughout the entire game. It really detracts from the experience. Why not just remove the loops and plug the resulting hole with some ambient talking-ish noise? I'd rather have a silent character then a character that constantly reminds me that he's only a character.
-The characters are so. freaking. flat. Seriously. There are two basic classes of characters in Fallout 3: generic plot relevant npcs, and generic enemies. The former are boring because Bethesda doesn't take the time to create any emotional attachments with them. They're basically sidequest machines. The only character I really cared about was my father, Liam Neeson, who died not long after I finally found him. Come to think of it, Bethesda has a history of doing that to characters voiced by famous actors. I mean, look what happened to Captain Pic--I mean, Uriel Septim in Oblivion. And then there are the enemies. There should be a rule that generic enemies you don't want to spend a great deal of time designing should all wear masks, so that we can't see enough of their faces to realize that we've been killing the same people fifty thousand times. That's why I was elated to finally be fighting the enclave troops. They're nice and faceless.
-Bugs. They piss me off. I swear, Bethesda should work at removing more of them before releasing their games. Oblivion was like this too, as I recall, though to a lesser degree. Seriously, this is what play-testers are for.
-The landscape is what you would expect after global thermonuclear war, by which I mean it looks like Roland Emmerich and Michael Bay finally joined forces to destroy mankind. This is great and all, but the scenery ends up being rather dull, except for a few select locations. Also, there seem to be a lot of the same random useless items scattered everywhere. I swear, if I never see another pile of empty tin cans I will die a happy man...
-The karma system, while interesting, is deeply flawed. For instance, if you want to be good, you can't take things from evil people without incurring bad karma, sometimes even if they're plot relevant and lead to a good ending. Also, you can fix some of your worst actions (blowing up an entire town, working with slavers, etc.) and redeem yourself in the public eye by donating water to beggars and money to churches. And by churches I mostly mean strange cults who worship radiation or some such thing. Yay for religious tolerance...
-The VATS targeting system that can be so helpful can also be an extreme drag, because it takes entirely too long to pull out of slow motion. I often found myself staring at a dead body for at least a minute after I shot it, waiting for the slow-time bubble to dissipate.
-Bugs. Did I mention that bugs piss me off?
-The graphics, while they don't actively bother me, are not spectacular either. I would even go so far as to say that they're a little glitchy.
I encourage you to form your own opinion, if you have the time and money. It's a moderately entertaining game, I just still don't understand why it merited game of the year.
OVERALL SCORE: 6/10