08/09/2009 09:47 | By Patrick Goss: Editor - Tech & Gadgets

Fallout 3: The game of 2008?

We take an early look at Fallout 3 - already generating positive hype a year in advance of release.

Fallout 3 © Bethesda

There aren’t many games companies confident enough to start fuelling the hype around their games a full year before they are scheduled to hit the shops, but Bethesda are doing just that with their ‘next big thing’ Fallout 3 – and they have already succeeded in making it one of the most eagerly anticipated titles around.

Of course, when it’s Bethesda – the software house behind the mighty Oblivion games – that are making the game, and they can boast the voice talents of Liam Neeson and Ron Perlman in a series of games that already has a huge nostalgic fan-base, you can begin to imagine just why excitement is building.

For those that haven’t heard of the series, Fallout 3 is set in an alternate future, where the imagined nuclear war of the 1950s has occurred, leaving the world scarred and pockets of survivors that hid from the blasts in ‘vaults’ deep underground.

Fallout 3 - billboard © Bethesda

The gamer plays from the first person perspective and will slowly build up special talents depending on their favoured style. Although it looks like a first person shooter in the style of Doom or Half Life 2, this is a very different animal, with accuracy dependent on levelled skill rather than the mouse ability of the player.

Described as an ‘action role-playing game’ the player, as a Vault 101 resident, must unravel the mystery of his missing father, moving out into a damaged environment of mutants and hardened survivors. Intriguingly, the game features a lovingly sculptured ‘karma’ system that will influence the way the game plays out.

During the demo, we witnessed a mission that saw the player decide whether to blow up the entire township of ‘Megaton’ which is assembled around an unexploded warhead. Although we watched in delight as the town was reduced to dust, this option would leave the player facing a very different game to one who chose to save the residents.

Fallout 3 - school yard © Bethesda

Bethesda’s Pete Hines insisted that, despite the morality of the choices, those that picked the evil route would not be preached at or forced into the light.

“There are two things we were looking to achieve,” Hines told tech & Gadgets. “We wanted the player’s choices to be meaningful and we wanted to avoid the player getting all the way through then have a choice to make that changes the game regardless of what you did up to that point.

“So Fallout 3 has lots of different endings – we think about nine to 12 – based on a number of different things.

“In some cases you will make a choice that is unrecoverable. Obviously if you do something like blow up Megaton you can try to work your way back up the Karma system but you’re probably not going to get back to even neutral – because you can’t make up for being that evil!

Fallout 3 Combat © Bethesda

“We do want all the paths to be unique. If you play evil then you get to do things that you would never get to do if you take a neutral or middle route.  There will be people that won’t deal with people on certain moral paths and or parts of the world that are not amenable to neutral or good people.

"To be honest it was the middle routes that took the most amount of planning in terms of paths. Good or evil are easier in some ways – when you do quests and try to discover what the grey area is – a choice that’s neither good nor evil – those are more interesting.

“We’re not really siding with any one path, it’s just that making your way through that moral ambiguity we want the choices that the player is making reflect in his karma.

“We wanted people to make choices and living with the repercussions. All three choices are viable paths with their own pros and cons.”

Pip-boy © Bethesda

Fallout 3 has a lot less in terms of missions and quests than the Oblivion games – something that Hines felt was critical in keeping with post apocalyptic setting.

“Fallout 3 is set in the ruins of a city after a nuclear strike – it should feel less populated that a capital of a busy province like Tamriel (the main city in the The Elder Scrolls games). There you will find more people so there are more things to do. Fallout 3 is very much about the choices you take – it’s about trying to give people similar experiences but giving them more depth within those choices.

“We’re really encouraging people to play the game through a few times and see what happens if you take a different choice at different points. With Oblivion you could do every quest line and end up being head of every guild in the same character, but in Fallout 3 you can’t play every outcome at the same time – you have to make choices that you cannot go back on.

VATS © Bethesda

Hines is aware that, by hyping the product a year ahead of release, Bethesda are taking on a huge burden of keeping people interested, but believes that the already enthusiastic community and a slow trickle of information and game footage will keep Fallout 3 at the forefront of people’s minds.

“We’re holding a while lot of stuff back. We’ve shown off gameplay footage to the press but not anywhere else yet. We have lots of stuff planned and, hopefully, we’ll be able to keep people interested and pick up a lot more fans as we get closer to launch."

Having seen the footage, it’s easy to see why the buzz is growing around Fallout 3. The character driven story seems well rounded, the action scenes looked exciting and the karma system should bring a real sense of consequence to the gaming arena; roll on Autumn 2008.