Dust Off: A Fallout 3 Retrospective

War... War Never Changes... Until Bethesda Got Their Hands On It

Welcome to Dust Off, where we take a look at games from the past, present, and not the future because I haven’t encountered that blue box yet.

This week we are venturing into the Bethesda Era of the Fallout franchise. Bethesda acquired the Fallout franchise in 2004, being given the right to make Fallout 3 instead of Interplay with their “Van Buren” version (see my previous article; Canceled Fallout Projects).

We will be taking a look at the development & acquisition phases, the plot, the gameplay, and what impact Fallout 3  had on the gaming world.

Acquisition & Development

Interplay Entertainment’s Black Isle Studios was in the middle of production of Fallout 3, being developed under the codename, Van Buren.  Due to Interplay suffering bankruptcy, the project was canceled and Interplay sold off the Fallout franchise to a company mostly known for their RPG series The Elder Scrolls; Bethesda Softworks. Development of the new Fallout 3 began in July 2004, deciding not to use any of the work done by Black Isle Studios and start from scratch. Work was done on the Gamebryo engine, the same as Bethesda had used for their most recent release The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and focused on the previous Fallout games style of non-linear story, open world, and dark humor. The game was first advertised on May 2nd, 2007 via a website with music and concept art from the game along with a countdown timer to June 5th, 2007 when they revealed a trailer for the new Fallout 3.

At E3 2008, game director Todd Howard announced that there would be DLC released for the Xbox 360 and Windows versions, not allowing PS3 players to get the DLC until a year later. The DLC’s are Operation: Anchorage, The Pitt, Broken Steel, Point Lookout, and Mothership Zeta.

I will be spoiling the basic story of these games, so if you don’t want the stories ruined for you, play the games first.

The Story

Fallout 3 has a very different story than the previous 2 entries in the series. To catch yourself up to speed, you can read my look at Fallout, Fallout 2, and Fallout Tactics.

Fallout 3 takes place in the year 2277, 200 years after the great war, on the east side of the USA based in Washington D.C., Northern Virginia, and Maryland (funny enough, Maryland is where Bethesda started, taking their name from the city Bethesda, Maryland). It starts with you being born (your mother dying due to childbirth complications), and going through the different stages of your life up until you reach the age of 19 when your Father, James, escapes from the Vault you resided in. Vault 101 to be exact, which was set around the experiment of isolation and one eternal Overseer so the vault was never meant to be opened. This causes the vault to try to kill you (bear with me) and you making your escape due to help from your friend, Amada, who is also the Overseer’s daughter. You make your escape and start looking for your Dad, starting at the nearby settlement of Megaton, a town built around a nuke. You are (after a few quests) lead to the local Galaxy News Radio to talk to its host, Three Dog, the man who will dub your character “The Lone Wanderer”. You are then (again after some quests) lead to Rivet City where you meet Doctor Li, an old associate scientist of your Dad’s (by the way, your Dad is a scientist). It is here that you find out that you and your parents were not born in Vault 101, but in the wasteland where your parents were working on a huge water purifier at the Jefferson Memorial called Project Purity, a purifier that would produce virtually unlimited clean water to everyone in the wastes. Your father, after your mother died, gave up on the project to make sure you were safe and managed to persuade his way into the vault with you.

You next learn that your Dad is looking for a G.E.C.K (conveniently the same plot device used in Fallout 2) which will help Project Purity continue. You track him down to Vault 112 where he is stuck in a simulation created by Dr. Braun, the Overseer of the vault, who a scientist from before the Great War and is managing to keep himself alive through technology. You free your Dad, and together you recruit the scientists at Rivet City, only for The Enclave (conveniently the antagonists from Fallout 2) to raid Project Purity soon after your arrival. Your Dad locks the project down so The Enclave cannot get to it, knowing that they would use it for evil, but killing himself in the process. You are then put in contact with the East Coast faction of the Brotherhood of Steel, who help you locate a G.E.C.K. at Vault 87. Retrieving the G.E.C.K. with the help of friendly Super Mutant Fawkes (he is optional but he is the best part of the whole game so you better take him), you leave Vault 87 only to be captured by The Enclave. You then meet the leader of The Enclave, President John Henry Eden, who is a Zax Computer (basically an AI), and learn that the President wants to use a modified version of F.E.V (conveniently the plot device for Fallout) in Project Purity to destroy all the mutants in the wasteland. You then escape The Enclave base and meet up with the Brotherhood who, with your help, launches a full-scale attack on the Jefferson Memorial where The Enclave is planning on using the G.E.C.K. to use the FEV in Project Purity. You stop them (assuming you are good, as this whole story summary is just the good playthrough) with multiple options to do so; Letting the whole thing explode, sacrificing yourself in the lethal radiation to activate Project Purity properly, Sacrifice Sarah Lyons (a member of the Brotherhood) by letting her activate the machine, or send in a radiation resistant follower to activate the project (if you have Broken Steel).

Like I said, quite a different story but it is also very similar in (my opinion) the wrong way. A summary of why Fallout 3’s story is not that good looking back would take way to long, but if you watch Fallout 3 Is Garbage, And Here’s Why on YouTube, that gives a perfect explanation.


Fallout 3’s gameplay has a few differences from the first 3 games, as it is now a first-person shooter (optional 3rd person), open world, RPG. There is a “morality” system that unfortunately does not have a lot of depth called Karma. If you do something bad, people don’t like you, if you do good things, people like you. It is about that simple. There is also a new system in the vein of the target option of combat in Fallout 1, 2, and Tactics, called V.A.T.S. (Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System). V.A.T.S.lets you pause combat and select a different section on the enemy which, depending on your range and skills, may or may not hit the enemy. Other than that, the gameplay is similar. I have a love-hate relationship with this game because I still have a blast picking up and playing this game with the fun gunplay and exploration, but I have gripes with the weak Karma system, limited character customization, and not so great story. Of course, I know that I am in the minority of people who aren’t huge fans of Fallout 3, so if you like the story and all parts of the game, or even just one part I don’t like, more power to you.


So, yeah, I’m not a huge fan of this game, but this game was critically acclaimed universally and was a bestseller. It helped bring games like Oblivion and other RPGs more into the limelight on consoles and helped bring Fallout into popular media. Considering that we still have a lot more to look at when it comes to Fallout, the game must have done something right. You can purchase Fallout 3 on Steam, Xbox Live, and GOG.

Join us next week when we look at my favorite Fallout game, Fallout: New Vegas!

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Tyler McKerracher

Tyler is a young writer, geek, video game enthusiast, and just all out goofy dude all the way from Canada

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