Fallout 3 is finally here. DailyGame’s “Best of Show” winner from E3 2008 and our editor’s most-anticipated game of the year, has finally arrived on both the PS3 and Xbox 360. It’s not easy to re-invent a beloved franchise, nor is it any small feat to “out-do” the excellence that is The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. But crazy Bethesda Softworks, that’s just what they’re trying to do.
Fallout 3 is a first-person RPG, a departure from the original Fallout games, but one that — so far — shows incredible promise. Like Oblivion, which provides the basis both for the open-world structure of Fallout 3 and its graphics engine, Fallout 3 begins with a crazy-deep character-creation process. Sure, there are randomizers and preset characters from which to choose, but when you’re bound to spend upwards of 100 hours playing the game (as we did with Oblivion — before even reaching the halfway point in the campaign), it’s important to design a character with which you truly feel comfortable.
We’ll be live-blogging our first 10 hours playing Fallout 3, but our Fallout 3 coverage will begin where the game does: creating our character. We can’t possibly share with you all the details, but we hope the snapshot below goes into enough detail that it not only whets your appetite to really create a customized character, but to think long and hard about the skill, personality and other traits for your Fallout 3 avatar.
Fallout 3 literally opens with your player’s birth, which provides an appropriate opportunity to define your character’s personal options. After proceeding to witness your digital birth from a first-person perspective, you begin by “telling” the good doctor (who’s also your dad, and voiced by Liam Neeson) whether you’re a boy or a girl. Nice of you to communicate these things so early on, no? After choosing your gender, Fallout 3 presents you with the option to name your character. These are basic things, really, but they provide a nice way to introduce the character customizations in Fallout 3.
Please note: this is the last time you’ll ever think Fallout 3 is shallow. From here on out, the customization gets crazy deep. Oh, and yes, this write-up does include a few very minor spoilers.
With gender and name in tow, it’s time to choose your characteristics of Race, Face and Hair. The game makes four races available: African-American, Asian, Caucasian and Hispanic. Considering the sliders available to further customize your character, these pre-set races seem more like convenient labels than anything that has a true impact on your appearance, but for those who don’t want to customize their appearance too much, they do provide some individualization.
The first of these customizations has to do with the overall face. Fallout 3 provides eight preset facial appearances, each of which can be further customized using the base “appearance” as a skeleton of sorts. As in Oblivion, sliders exist for eye shape, the distance between your eyes, forehead height, forehead angle, jaw protrusion, jaw angle, jaw depth, head height, head width, the height of the bride of your nose, nose length, nose pointiness, nose angle, lip depth, lip width … you get the picture. Ironically, about the only thing you can’t customize is anything to do with your ears. And as always, there’s the option to randomize every feature within each preset.
What good is a face without a nice, sexy ‘do to frame it? Not much, apparently, because Bethesda has gone absolutely overboard with the hair options in Fallout 3. The core hairstyles number roughly one dozen, from the standard buzz cut, shaved head and mohawk to some awesome new ‘dos that include a mullet and a combover. Yes, a combover. Because you know, nothing screams “post-apocalyptic hero” like a dude walking around the Wastelands pining for his youth.
Once your hairdo is in place, it’s time to determine the color of your hair, as well as whether you want facial hair. Again, Bethesda has blown the roof off facial-hair styles in Fallout 3, providing roughly three dozen different options for facial hair. If you’ve seen it in a spaghetti Western, enjoyed it in a wushu film or seen it in a rock band, it’s safe to say you’ll find that type of facial hair in Fallout 3. For instance, not only can you choose “soul patch,” but you can choose varying degrees of soul patch bushiness and length. Not only can you choose a goatee, but you can choose a “beatnick” goatee that appears like something straight out of the local gourmet coffee shop. Muttonchops, anyone? Or, how about not one, but two different types of Abraham Lincoln facial hair setups, the “Gettysburg” and the “Abe”? The piece de resistance, though, at least for all the ladies playing Fallout 3, has got to be the “Swashbuckler” moustache, which is a dead ringer for Johnny Depp as Capt. Jack Sparrow.
After choosing these options, your in-game mother goes into cardiac arrest, at which point the game jumps ahead to “one year later.” Here, you must toddle your way across the room into your playpen, which you eventually break out of and wander over to a baby book called “You’re Special.” This book provides your first introduction to the game’s core attributes, and it does so in a very creative way. The pages of this book are, and I quote: 1) “S is for Strength, and that means I am strong! I can carry more toys and swing stuff all day long!” 2) P is for Perception, a long funny word! It means what I tasted, smelled, saw and heard!” 3) “E is for Endurance, and that’s how long I can play! I’m always really healthy, and have energy all day!” 4) “C is for Charisma, it’s why people think I’m great! I make my friends all laugh and smile, and never want to hate!” 5) “I is for Intelligence, it means I’m really smart! I use my brain for lots of stuff, like science, math and art!” 6) “A is for Agility, that’s how I get around! I move real fast and easy, and I never make a sound!” 7) “L is for Luck, and it’s simple, you see! It means that good things always happen to me!”
After reading these seven pages, you find yourself at the coup de’gras of character creation: your first chance to distribute five points among the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. categories you most want to focus on. Each of the seven categories above starts with five points, so you’ll never be bottomed-out in any of them, but obviously the more points you assign to one, the more proficient you’ll be in it. For instance, Strength is a measure of your raw physical power, so the higher your strength, the more powerful your melee attacks and the more you can carry in your inventory. A high Perception, meanwhile, grants a bonus to the explosives, lockpick and energy weapons skills and determines when red compass markings appear indicating an enemy’s presence. Endurance boosts health, environmental resistances and the Big Guns and Unarmed skills, while Charisma improves people’s perception of you and makes your Speech and Barter skills a bit more effective. Intelligence boosts your Science, Repair and Medicine skills, while Agility affects your Small Guns and Sneak skills. And if we need to explain Luck to you, there’s really no hope for you in an RPG this deep.
Each time you level-up, including when you first leave Vault 101, you are granted 16 points to distribute among the key sub-categories above (science, repair, lockpick, energy weapons, etc.), and at least one Perk lets you add a point to your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. categories down the road. Obviously, then, this opening sequence is not the only chance you have to customize your character. But, these first 10 minutes definitely provide the foundation on which you build your Fallout 3 character, so choose wisely. And with that, if you’ll excuse us, we have some Fallout 3 to play, and some live-blogging to do about our experience.
— Jonas Allen