The system requirements for Fallout 3 aren’t all that steep. The recommended spec is only 2GB of RAM, a Core 2 Duo CPU and a DX9 graphics card with 512MB of memory or higher (an Nvidia GeForce 8800 or ATI Radeon HD 3800 or higher), and the minimums are only half that.
Still, every system has both strengths and weaknesses, so it’s always preferable to customise your settings a bit if you want to try and get the most out of your game.
Unfortunately, a lot of the graphics in the game are hard to quantify or difficult to show in screenshots, such as draw distances and level of detail fade sliders. The fade distances are a problem too, as they tend to be hard to capture precisely and reliably.
Instead then, we’ve got the two most quantifiable settings showcased below; Water Detail and Texture Size. These are settings that have a definite and visible impact on the game and which we believe will be important to any gamer who wants to see the scalability of the engine.
The Texture Size setting used here is the setting that most directly effects how the world looks as it controls the amount of detail held in texture for in-game objects, though no landscape as you can see.
Texture Size in Fallout 3 on Large (left), Medium (centre) and Small (right), click to enlarge.
This screenshot, which is taken from the top of Tenpenny Tower in the game, shows that while the Texture Size setting effects the detail of world textures up close, it doesn’t effect the look of textures in the distance. What it also shows is that the in-game textures look quite awful on the lower settings. The floor of Tenpenny Towers looks muddy and blurry, with fuzzy edges and not an inch of detail. The same is true of the character's fist, which you can see in the enlarged image.
On the higher settings, this isn’t true and while the textures are certainly not what we’d call hi-res, they are detailed enough to get by. You can see cracks in the cement more easily, as well as veins which stand up on the player's arms, helping the world seem more detailed and lifelike as a whole.
There’s not a lot of water in Fallout 3, but it can play an important part in the game when it is there. Nearly all the water in the game is irradiated, so wading through it can be dangerous and you’re pressed into finding ways around or over it.
Water Detail in Fallout 3 on High (left), Medium (centre) and Low (right), click to enlarge.
The results here are, we dimly recall, pretty much the same as they might be in Oblivion, though slightly yellower. On the higher settings the water looks more realisitic, with proper ripples when you shoot it and a little bit of refraction changing the way that the dog's head looks under the water.
Like we said earlier, you’ll spend a lot of the time blowing off dogs' heads.
On the lower settings, the water looks flat, lifeless and boring. It doesn’t ripple when you shoot it, nor does it reflect anything in the world around it or refract the light entering and exiting the liquid. It just stays there like a bottle full of yellow liquid found by the side of the road, unmoving because nobody wants to touch it.