Here’s some insider info about how things work at E3 nowadays. You have to set up appointments with companies to check out their games, and most of the time when you walk into their room you’re offered the chance to sit down and watch as a developer plays the game while another talks about the selling points for this product. The games that are closer to release might let you get your hands on, but it’s generally after being talked to a bit by more people. The better guys just put you in a room and let you play, but a lot of people just seem to like to talk about their games than chance you getting to play it and not enjoying it.

Bethesda definitely had the coolest set up of the event. A few journalists were allowed in every half hour, led to a room where a bunch of Xbox 360 stations were set up with the game, and were told to go nuts for a half hour. We could do whatever we wanted as long as we didn’t talk about the main storyline, and in a game as massive as Fallout 3 (they’re promising 100+ hours of gameplay), you really had no problem with that.

I came out completely convinced that this is going to be one of the best games of the year, but Fallout purists, take note- This game is not what you’re used to. I know a ton of the more hardcore fans hate that they’ve changed the turn-based combat and setting somewhat, but as a fan myself, trust me, it’s got the feel of a Fallout game. It’s got the humor down, and the setting- well, it’s the best post-apocalyptic landscape you’ve seen in a game yet. On the flipside, Oblivion fans have no reason whatsoever not to rejoice. This is definitely a more refined version of that incredible game.



It was apparent right from the start of my gameplay. For those not familiar with the basic storyline, the game is set in 2277, almost 200 years after nuclear war destroyed the planet. Your character’s ancestors survived by holing up in a massive community Vault located in Washington DC. One day, he wakes up to realize that his father has left the Vault for some unknown reason (no one ever leaves the vault) and the son is forced to go outside to find out why he left.

The demo began with the vault doors opening before you and allowing you out into the world. to see sunlight for the first time. As your eyes slowly get adjusted to the outside world, it’s soon apparent that it ain’t a pretty sight. Destruction and ruined trees are everywhere, and the sky’s a mottled gray color. It’s very reminiscent of when you get out of the sewers in Oblivion and see the massive world around you, marveling that you can go anywhere you want and do anything you desire, except that it’s much more depressing this time. This place is a wasteland.
 
After walking around for a bit and checking out the amazing VATS system (more on that later) on some small mole creatures who attacked me for no reason (rabid little bastards), I wandered my way and followed signs to a nearby location that was set up almost like a Road Warrior village. Metal and seemingly impenetrable, you walk up to the guardian (who warns you not to step out of line) to allow you into the town. Hydraulics churned and the giant metal doors slid open, and I made my way into ‘Megaton’.



Talking to the Sheriff of the place (complete with cowboy hat) upon my arrival, you soon find out the story behind the strange name of the town. See, it turns out there’s an unexploded nuclear bomb in the middle of the village. Talking to him some more about the insanity of this situation it was obvious that later on in the game there would be a quest to defuse the massive bomb. I went off to see it for myself after talking to him, partly to see if it was possible to defuse it, but mostly because I wanted to see if I could set it off. My skills weren’t high enough for me to even attempt to defuse it yet, and the two bullets I fired at it just glanced off, so I walked away, defeated. Along the way I met some more individuals (great voice acting, as always) and broke into someone’s house with a lockpicking minigame. Inside the house was some supplies and coolest of all, a hockey mask that you could use for armor. A quick move into the third-person view (achieved with a click of the left bumper) showed that my Jason-esque warrior was ready for combat.

So, the similarities to Oblivion were immediately obvious. The
dialogue trees control mostly the same way. Characters ask you to
complete quests for them, and you’re offered the same freedom in
choosing who you want to work for or how to go about doing it. Items
are all over the world and any bit of junk can be picked up, just like in Oblivion.



There’s tons of little tweaks. This time, before opening up every crate
or bag to see what it contains, it’ll show if it’s empty so you won’t
waste your time. There’s now a radio in place that allows you to listen
to various transmissions you can find as you walk around the wasteland. I spent my time listening to a 50s pop station, making for a somewhat
jarring and darkly funny juxtaposition of sight and sound. (It adds so much to have for the game, you have no idea. Feels much more like a real world.) Breaking into
doors now starts up a more involving lock-picking game, where you use
both analog sticks to mimic the lockpicks.


And then there’s the VATS (Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System).
It’s almost a requirement for the fast-paced, projectile weapons-based
combat in the game. Hitting the right bumper on the controller pauses the action during a
battle, allowing you to select and engage enemy characters at your own
pace. Once an enemy is highlighted you can choose different sections of
the body (head, torso, each limb) to shoot. It’s familiar to fans of the series and a welcome addition to this new type of gamplay.



It was obvious that I needed to see some more violence and really test out the combat system, so I had Pete Hines from Bethesda steer me in the right way for some action. A little ways down the road (the map system and quick-travel from Oblivion returns as well!) was an old, decrepit schoolhouse that some raiders had taken over. Time to re-enact some Class of Nuke’m High! I ran in there with my pistol blazing.



My first encounter with a mohawked Road Warrior reject went pretty well, as I aimed at the arm he was wielding a club with and blew it off with just two bullets. The guy was down and out in gory slow motion. VATS works beautifully against multiple oponents, it really does. The slow motion aftereffects of every shot, the bloody and satisfying way they fall down, it all added up to a great and gritty experience. The animations are much improved over the stilted movements of Oblivion, as well. Wish the character had more than a pistol to mess around with, but there were plenty of bludgeoning and stabbing weapons that you pick up from your downed enemies. Grabbing some homemade metal armor and a pool cue from a headshot victim, I walked around to try and find someone to bludgeon, but alas, my time with the game was up.

 


The half hour went by way too quick. For a game as immense as this, it was just a tiny taste of things to come. But things are looking good, folks- it’s safe to say that we’ve got something special on the way. Just talking to other journalists at E3 who played it, it was interesting to see how people spent their time, and how there were so many ways to go at the game. Some people had never found Megaton, some had never found the school. One guy had found an abandoned supermarket and raided it for supplies before finding out that it was also filled with Raiders, while another spent the majority of his time messing around with the Pip-boy (which acts as your inventory screen) and seeing how leveling up your character went and what perks you could get. Another shot a villager in the face and was attacked by the guards.
 
There’s a whole lot to do in this game, so you better have a few sick days ready (or preferably, an underground vault to hide in) when it hits in October.