I've got to warn you - Fallout 3 isn't coming until fall 2008.
So, you've got a lot of time to get excited about it.
Here at E3, Bethesda took us through an approximately 45-minute demonstration of some of the beginning parts of Fallout 3. Some things that they pointed out, I'd like to note up front:
No, it's not isometric. The default viewpoint for the game is first person, because they believe that's the way to make it the most immersive. However, you can play in third person, effectively, and you can pull the camera out quite a ways. Bethesda wanted to capture the feel of the original Fallout game. They did a lot of work to recreate Vault 101, while expanding on it and making it live and breathe. While the first Fallout says "you've lived here all your life and now you've been kicked out," in Fallout 3, you'll actually go through some of the major points of your life - and then have to escape the Vault! This is definitely a "rated M" game. It is extremely gory in parts, and there is lots of foul language.
For the demo, the character wasn't created from scratch - instead, we joined in when he's 16 and supposed to go take his G.O.A.T. test. This test will basically help set up your skills.
When you're 1-year old, we were told, you have to read the book "You're S.P.E.C.I.A.L.!" which will set up your stats. Such stats as luck, agility and strength will have a great bearing on the game and are hard to change once it starts. You have to make some hard decisions for a 1-year old!
But even before that, you'll set what your character looks like. After customizing his (or her) look, the game uses that decision to make your father, a respected scientist in the Vault, look like you. Your father, by the way, is voiced by Liam Neeson, who reminds you that "you were born in the Vault, you die in the Vault." Then he disappears (but that happens at 19, not 16 ...)
So, we walked around. For the demo, we tried to lie to our father, but with only a 29 percent chance of succeeding, it was a failure, and he ordered us to go take the G.O.A.T. As we walked to the classroom, people would say hello or go about their business - we got to see some Vault greasers (stereotypical 1950s gang members) harassing a young woman, and we could've gotten involved with that if we wanted, interacting with the Radiant artificial intelligence. Instead, acting like we were 19 - when you leave the Vault - we headed out of the Vault.
Before leaving the Vault, we ran into a handyman-type robot who complimented the look of the overalls we wore - then insulted us after we left. It was quite funny.
Once outside, you see a wide open view of the world. There's nothing out of bounds - you can go anywhere you want. The quest that you're on will suggest that you go to a town called "Megaton" to look for your father.
Remember those greasers I mentioned? If you're not familiar with Fallout, let me get you up to speed. Fallout 3 takes place approximately 200 years after a worldwide thermonuclear war wiped out civilization in 2077. The United States of 2077 bears more of a resemblance to a futuristic version of 1950s society than today's. World War 2-esque recruiting posters and 1950s-esque advertising still dominate the landscape. The cars are all large and nuclear-powered.
Even looking at your Pip-Boy - the computer on your wrist that tells you your attributes, health, radiation count, equipment, basically all of the "game" information - has a '50s feel to it. And speaking of the Pip-Boy - the developers like to point out that there are more pixel shaders on the Pip-Boy than they used in Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. They wanted it to look perfect.
So, you wander the landscape. At a Red Rocket - a refueling station for those nuclear-powered cars - a few shots set an old car (a Chryslus Highwayman, if I remember the name correctly - each car will be identified to you when you look at it) on fire and blew it up in a mushroom cloud. Developers showed us how the system used to show all the destruction also allows the change in the scenery if you, for instance, shoot the scenery.
Then there were a few skirmishes with giant spiders.
Combat is something that a lot of people had questions about. In the original Fallout, it was turn-based using a system called "VATS." Now, you have a choice.
For instance, you have a targeting reticule. With your trusty .22 rifle in hand, you can take potshots at the spiders, with a chance of hitting a body part (such as a leg, to slow it down, or an antenna to try to make it go berserk and attack his friends). But if you're not good at shooting like that, you can still use VATS.
Using VATS will cause time to pause, and you select what actions you want to take based on how many AP you have - action points, which regenerate at a rate determined by your agility - as well as the chance to hit certain parts of the creature. You can even set up multiple targets in VATS to switch back and forth.
A later battle against a super mutant showed us that. First, a couple of shots went into the leg of a mutant who was charging us with a super sledge. The next shots then went toward the head of a mutant with a Chinese assault rifle, blasting at us from a platform, and the last APs were used to reload.
Why use VATS if you're good at shooting?
Well, for one, Bethesda doesn't want this to be a shooter - they want it to be a role-playing game. They're still ironing out the combat system, but your chances of doing something good - a critical hit, a hit to a body part - will be better using VATS. Also, even in "twitch" mode, your skill still affects your accuracy and damage with a weapon.
Plus, when using VATS, you get cinematic! Instead of being completely focused in the first person's must shoot it out with mutant, you get a brief dramatic movie of your actions as you fight it out!
A great example of that came near the end of the demo - but I'll save that for later.
After shooting it out with spiders, it was time for a visit to Megaton. Megaton is named that because it grew up around an atomic bomb that dropped but didn't explode. There's even a cult that worships said bomb.
As you walk into town, you're first scanned by Deputy Weld, a robot sentry, who allows you entry. The town's sheriff and mayor will talk to you, and you can play it cool or just act obnoxious. From there, you can explore the town, or do as we did - walk to the bar, meet a mysterious stranger who wants you to blow up the atomic bomb in Megaton, and agree to work with him.
We headed to the bomb, installed a device in it and then went to meet up with the stranger farther away. After all, you don't want to be close when that goes off!
The best way to get there is Metro. Climbing into the tunnels led to a couple of battles with super mutants and later showed off the hacking system. Instead of fighting with two super mutants, we found a dormant security robot and hacked it.
Basically, hacking entails getting the right password. You'll look at a scrambled file with a number of words in it. Each time you try a word, it'll tell you how many letters were right in the word. STREP might go to TRACK which might go to AWAIT, for instance. Get it right, and the 'bot is yours - get it wrong, and you'll get locked out.
In this case, the robot came out, didn't know there'd been a war and so asked the super mutants for their tickets; when they didn't show any, the robot killed them.
(I'm glad that Metro doesn't actually have that!)
From there, we exited out into Chevy Chase.
Yes, the game is set around Washington, D.C. - after all, Bethesda is from those parts. (And so am I, so I dug that! I also noticed that the Metro logo was similar to the logo in real life, though the Metro's design isn't based off the real Metro.)
When we came out of the Metro, we were attacked again. Unlike Oblivion, enemies will be of set level when you encounter them and will stay at that level. Shooting up the hulk of a car, we dove into a personal fallout shelter to keep the radiation down when it blew up to take out some of the mutants.
You see, you don't have to worry just about health in this game - you also have to worry about radiation. It's all around, and you can get it from doing such things as blowing up nuclear-powered cars or even drinking contaminated water or food, such as the water we drank from a toilet bowl. (Pay attention to the water, too. For those of you that complained about the water in Oblivion, it's much better here, with true reflection and refraction.)
Fortunately for us, the Brotherhood of Steel - armored and laser-armed guardians - happened to be around, and we met with them to make it safely to our objective. We fought through more mutants and arrived at the Galaxy News tower ...
... just to be jumped by an enormous super mutant behemoth, wielding a mace made of concrete and a fire hydrant.
Our lasers didn't do much to him, so we ran over, grabbed a Fat Boy - basically a nuclear rocket launcher - and took a pot shot at him. It missed.
Dodging his wild swings, it was back into VATS, and the cool scene I mentioned earlier.
The good thing about shooting, well, NUKES at a bad guy is that even if you miss, you can still hit. So, instead of shooting for his torso or head, it was his right leg that was the target. As one of our erstwhile comrades dodged out of the way of the rocket, blasting him with laser fire, the fat little nuke shot right ... past ... his ... leg ...
... and hit the ground behind him, going up in a huge mushroom cloud. Scratch one super mutant behemoth.
But while still in slow-motion, watching the carnage, bodies of our friends came flying past us, whipped and kicked up into the air by the huge blast. Uh, sorry guys.
It was a good way to show off the Havok physics engine, though.
From there, it was a quick walk to the top of the building, meet our mysterious friend and push the big red button. Scratch Megaton.
Those are the kind of situations you're put into in Fallout 3. It's a character-driven game with lots of hard choices of what to do - do you go "goodie goodie" or evil? Or just stay neutral? Every choice you make has consequences. But you've got a definite goal that you're working toward - finding out what happened to your father - so always keep that in mind.