Character creation can be one of the great joys of an RPG game and, though Bethesda has tried it's best to make Fallout 3 the type of thing that you can play pretty much just as a shooter if you want, we'd be doing the game a disservice if we didn't talk about the stat set-ups and so on.
The first experience you'll have in Fallout 3 is that of being born, popped into the world inside the vault while your doctor father does what he can for your mother as she passes away from the complications of the birth.
The bad news is that the only real action you can do is cry like the spoiled brat you are. The good news is that you also use this time to set your stats. Base stats in Fallout 3 are the same as they were in Fallout and Fallout 2 – the SPECIAL system.
If you're not too hip on the RPG mechanics of olde worlde (for shame!) then don't worry. It's pretty self explanatory. You have a base of five points in each of the SPECIAL categories – Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility and Luck- choose a specialty or distribute your points equally if you want. It's all up to you. For someone like me, finding the right balance is half the fun, but you may have a different plan.
From birth the game starts jumping around, layering the tutorial in as part of your growing up. Your first steps. The moment you decide what you want to be when you grow up by setting your skills. Are you a doctor like your Dad or a wild-eyed anarchist with a taste for eating man-flesh? There is total free reign here and over the course of the game you’ll be able to dabble in everything from cannibalism to indiscriminate genocide. Or petting fluffy kitties – whichever you prefer.
This introductory period of the game also happens to be one of the most polished and well-thought out pieces of tutorial we’ve ever seen, which isn’t all that surprising as Bethesda has always had a flair for introducing players to its games.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re telling the Emperor about yourself in the opening chapter of Oblivion or filling out a census in Morrowind, Bethesda knows how to teach you the basics while keeping the narrative moving. Fallout 3 is no exception to the norm.
Of course, that might be the problem – that Fallout 3 is just too damn similar to the previous iterations of The Elder Scrolls games. It’s the accusation most commonly levied against Fallout 3 (by those who haven’t played it, of course) – that it’s just Oblivion with guns.
And to an extent, it could actually be true – but in a good way.
Fallout 3 carries much of the accessibility of the past Elder Scrolls games; that perpetual, gaping openness that puts the world at your finger tips at all times.
Previous Fallout games have always funneled the player into a particular character type based on past actions and responses. Act like a fabulously magnanimous arse for your first few quests in Vault City and certain quests will start dropping out of reach for you – you can’t become Captain of the Guard if you’ve got false citizenship papers and a liberal, peaceful attitude to nearby towns.
Fallout 3 however has a slightly different ethic and has spun this round somewhat because there’s a hidden flaw wrapped in the model of the previous games – that the player doesn’t always know how their options are being trimmed, their choices culled. You might miss out on important quests and information without knowing it, so as well as extending development time by factoring in all this redundant content, you can leave players feeling falsely trapped or locked into a game they don’t want to play.
Fallout 3 avoids this neatly then, giving players a constant string of second chances. You’re reputation is still tracked locally and globally via the karma evil-o-meter that labels you with different titles and insults based on your allegiances and actions, but you have a permanent ability to disobey your own ethic.
You can, for example, take on a specifically evil quest to slaughter the entire population of kittens a town, but doing so won’t prevent you from taking a good quest later or having a chance to expand the kitten orphanage to nicer premises if you want to turn your life around.