Fallout 3: First Impression (Part 1)

In the last week or so, I probably mentioned Fallout 3 on this blog few dozen times. I figured it is time to post about my first impressions with the game. Or for that matter with the Fallout franchise.

Yes, it is true – I am a Fallout virgin. I have not played the first two games. Please keep this in mind when you read this review. I have considered playing the previous games – especially since you can legally buy both of them for next to nothing at Good Old Games. I figured I could take a crack at these games before tackling the Betsheda release. Then I heard that this is actually a horrible idea.

Apparently if you approach Fallout 3 as Oblivion with guns, you will have a rather positive experience. If you approach it as the third installment in the epic RPG saga you likely won’t enjoy it as much. So as I do often in situations like that, I set my expectations to the lowest setting and decided to give the game a chance to entertain me on it’s own terms. This way I don’t suffer yet another crushing disappointment and you don’t need to listen to yet another blogger ranting about how F3 did not live up to his expectations.

Let me preface this post by saying that so far I’m actually enjoying Fallout 3. Still, before I can talk about the actual game, I really need to go through this laundry list of whiny complaints that have little to do with actual design, plot or game mechanic. These are purely usability and customer experience gripes that I need to get out of the way.

The DRM

I purchased Fallout on CD rather than on Steam which means I got a fist full of Securom with it. I mention Steam because I think that the version distributed via that system is Securom-less. Feel free to correct me in the comments if this is not true. As you may imagine I was not happy about this surprise DRM getting installed on my brand new system.

So I wanted to use this occasion to say: thank you Bethesda for infecting my brand new computer with the nastiest shit on the market. I could have pirated this game, but I didn’t! I actually went and bought it because you guys made Morrowind (my favorite game evar) and Oblivion (my other favorite game). Yes, I wanted to give you my money so that you can make more games that I can add to my favorite list. Way to betray my trust! See if I buy another one of your games, assholes!

And don’t give me that “we only use it for a disk check” crap. I don’t care what you are using it for. The fact that you are using it is enough for me to re-consider ever buying your product again.

That said, since my computer is already infected with evil DRM I might as well play the damn thing and enjoy it.

Windows Live

In addition to DRM my copy of fallout included Windows Live integration. I was not exactly sure what this meant, but I gathered that Windows Live the PC version of that silly X-Box system that let’s people have gamer tags, earn achievements and etc. It’s a bit like the Steam achievement system, but worse in just about every aspect.

Initially I chose to ignore this whole Live thing, but then I realized that signing up for it is the only way to actually get the downloadable expansions. How do you sign up for it? Well, you launch the game, then you click on the Live button, then you navigate through some menus, then the game minimizes itself and opens a browser. You have to fill out registration form in the browser, submit it, close the browser and then maximize the game again. Then it does some authentication, and it tells you that your Live version needs to be upgraded.

How do you upgrade it? Well, the game minimizes itself, opens a browser aaaand… Do you see the pattern here? I think the whole process took me in and out of the Fallout menu screen 4 times. I’m not sure who is at fault here but this is pretty shitty user experience if you ask me. I mean, sure – I could probably start this process online without the game running in the background and cut the number of sudden context switches in half, but no one told me that when I started. If you already have a Windows Live account the process is much simpler I guess – you just sign into it within the game and that’s it.

In fact, once you associate your Live account with your game it will ask you to sign in every time you wish to play. If you fail to log in, or if you don’t have internet connection handy, the game will use the local profile which is different from your Live based profile. This means you won’t have access to your saved games and configuration settings.

Windows Live - No Internet Connection, No Saved Games

Windows Live - No Internet Connection, No Saved Games

It gets better. Let’s say you ignore Live like me and play with the local profile for a few days. Then you decide to check out the DLC’s and sign up for Live, create a profile and sign into it. When you start your game for the first time with your Live profile, you will be in for quite a shock – all your saved games will be missing.

You see, by default the game keeps your saves in the \Documents\My Games\Fallout 3\Saves folder. When you associate your Live account, it creates a subfolder in that directory. To restore your saved games, you simply need to manually copy the saved games into it.

It would be nice if there was a button somewhere that would do this automatically. I mean, how hard would it be to include a “import my saves” checkbox somewhere in one of the menus? It seems that no one really thought about that. The Live system seems forcefully grafted on at the last minute and completely untested.

From what I heard though this is a typical for this system. Next time I see the Live logo on a box, I will steer clear of it and wait till the game is released on Steam instead.

Note that this is strike two against Bethesda and I didn’t even start talking about the actual game content. I am merely discussing user experience of actually installing and configuring the game.

The Bugs

The list of Fallout 3 bugs is quite impressive. You should probably do yourself a favor and download the 1.5 patch before you even launch the game for the first time. Even after you patch it, the game still has all kinds of strange glitches and problem areas.

Most notably, the Fallout 3 has major compatibility issues with recent nVidia and Realtek drivers. I mean, who even uses these two brands? Am I right? It’s not like these audio and video cards were popular and virtually ubiquitous.

Chances are that if you have a fairly new computer, you will experience frequent driver related crashes. If you have an older computer with older version of drivers you will merely experience degraded performance and frequent glitch related crashes.

My game crashed so frequently that I considered just abandoning it until I found a workaround. I will post about it later though. That issue deserves it’s own post, so that it can be properly documented and indexed by Google. The game worked fine until I left the Vault and then it was crash central. Every 20-30 minutes I would get brutally dumped back to the desktop.

I can't tell you how many times I've seen this error

I can't tell you how many times I've seen this error

Oh, and did I mention the game has issues with Vista permission system as well? For some strange reason you need to run the Falout 3 executable as an admin. Usually, the game will allow you to run it with low lever privileges the first time around, but it will crash as you exit it. From there on, it won’t even launch unless you run it as an admin. It’s silly, dangerous and, what is most important an undocumented behavior. The box says the game is Vista compatible, which is clearly a lie. Or most likely, the game was Vista compatible before they have stapled Securom and Live to it. Yes, I suspect that this bizarre privilege escalation issue is caused by the DRM.

This really makes me wonder why I actually paid for this game. So far all I got was a half baked, buggy software crippled with nasty DRM crudely stapled together to a broken expansion download system that insist on calling home before it lets me play. I got a product that disappears my saved games without a warning, and constantly dumps me to desktop just because I decided to go with nVidia rather than with ATI. I got a game that wouldn’t even start until I went online and found a workaround solution somewhere on the forums. And that’s after I patched it!

Getting this game to run was actually a chore. Do you know how many times I had to do online research just to be able to use it? Three times! First time to discover the privilege escalation bug. Second time to figure out what happened to my saved games after Live ate them. Third time to fix the Nvidia related glitch that kept crashing the game to desktop.

If Fallout 3 was a meal, I would send it back to kitchen and tell them it is undercooked. I hardly even started playing the game, and I’m already pissed off. This is really not a good way to win customers Bethesda.

I do realize that Oblivion was also very buggy but I could accept that since I played it on hardware that was barely meeting the minimum requirements. So I could forgive occasional glitches and crashes caused by a flaky video driver. Now that I’m actually running a game on hardware that meets or exceeds the recommended specifications (for the first time in years btw) I sort of expect more.

I’m going to stop here, before this review turns into another 5 thousand word essay. In the next post I will try to cover the character creation, the stat system, the user interface, and the inventory. I promise I will to much less whining in that one. Once you get past the bullshit above and get the game to run for you, it’s not half bad actually.

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13 Responses to Fallout 3: First Impression (Part 1)

  1. the funny thing is.. i found Fallout 3 pretty fantastic, even while i liked F1&F2 more then Oblivion and Morrowind (but not much more, these are all some of the best games i have ever played).

    Dealing with mentioned Bugs and anoying Facts about the implementation was pretty much frustrating, but as a fan i went through it… saving every 2-5 minutes got a habit i became pretty used to.

    But all would have been ok… until the End of the Game hit me.
    Its like i said… it hit me.. right into the face.
    I wasnt expecting it now and even worse.. i couldn’t continue the game after it.
    The last savegame where i wasnt trapped near the end was hours ago and unlike F1&F2 there was no propmt “you’ve done it, do you want continue playing?”.
    I really would have wanted to search the World for more Places, im pretty shure i didn’t even discover half the Tressures and i didn’t even do a quarter of all quests… but the game is over.
    I dont think i will start one of the old savegames… at least not in the next months. (thats something i would have never dreamt of in F1/2)

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  2. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    @Dr. Azrael Tod: I have been warned (by multiple people in fact) about the abrupt ending of the game. I avoided spoilers of course but I know you can’t continue once you finish the main quest so I’ve been making myself busy doing all the side quests i can possibly find before even touching the main quest.

    Btw, the Brotherhood of Steel DLC supposedly removes the ending and allows you to continue the game after you finish the main quest. It also raises the level cap to 30. I haven’t bought it yet because Windows Live thingy made me jump through so many hoops.

    First I needed to set up this live thing. Then I had to open Live marketplace which seems to be a wrapper around IE. Then from there it made me open a browser and log into their X-box portal so that I can purchase Microsoft points and transfer them back to my Live account.

    Oh, and they only sell the points in bundles of 600, 1200 and etc. Each Fallout 3 DLC costs 800 points – which would leave me with extra 400 points which I wouldn’t be able to spend in any way… Unless I bought more points so that I could afford another DLC, and get 200 points that I wouldn’t be able to spend anyway… Unless…

    So yeah – it’s pretty shady buying them over the Live thing. I haven’t seen these expansions in the stores, but then again, I wasn’t looking for them either.

    Sigh… If I pirated the damn thing I wouldn’t have these problems. Here is what I get for trying to be a honest customer.

    But yeah, broken steel DLC raises the level cap, and lets you continue the game after you beat it.

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  3. Zel FRANCE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    I could be considered as a Fallout 1&2 die-hard fan, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy Fallout 3. I did, seriously. Just not as an RPG. It’s a pretty good game, but it lacks the three main ingredients I need to actually immerse myself in a game : interesting story, compelling characters, and meaningful choices. If I were to define it, I’d call it a post-apocalyptic playground. Lots of toys to play with, but nothing very deep.

    But I digress, and I suspect I’ll have plenty of room to speak about these matters in a comment of your following posts, unless you’re closed to the opinion of one who’s a member of NoMutantAllowed, in which case I should be blocked :).

    As far as I remember, Oblivion also had SecuROM included free of charge with the (PC) version of the game. I’d actually have trouble naming one recent game that doesn’t include this little gift, so you can’t really blame Bethesda on this one. At least they had the decency to remove the online activation part.

    I suppose I was lucky that my hardware is about two years old and that my gaming computer runs on XP. I didn’t experience many bugs, though the crash-on-exit one was occurring almost every time. I had my share of crash-to-desktop, but no more than any other game.

    @Dr. Azrael Tod: I think the next DLC (or is it already released ?) will provide the means to continue the game after the ending. This may be what you’re looking for, although you’ll have to spend a few $ to get it. If you’re level 20 and have high-end equipment, I’d suggest starting over though, as cleaving your way through ants with overpowered energy weapon isn’t very fun (or maybe just for a little while).

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  4. @Luke Maciak: So all i have to do is buying additional content over crappy Micro$oft Systems to make this game worth its money? (of course only if we ignore the bugs, DRM, weak story opposed to 1&2 and the fact that i then wont be able to play this game offline)

    SCNR

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  5. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @Zel: Yeah, but other games using it doesn’t make it right. It is a nasty piece of malware that does absolutely nothing to prevent piracy.

    Also, I always welcome people with differing opinions. I’m looking forward to hearing Fallout 3 complaints from someone who was a fan of the original. :) I like the game so far, but I do admit it is not perfect and I will talk both about the good parts and the bad parts – and since I will be trashing parts of it, I won’t mind others doing the same.

    @Dr. Azrael Tod: Yup, it’s a ripoff. They should really have a big sign on the box that says “the game ends abruptly after you finish the main quest”. It seems that if you postpone doing main quest missions there are tons of non-linear sandbox content in this game.

    But you are right – they should have added the option to continue playing in the patch rather than in a DLC.

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  6. k00pa FINLAND Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Windows live is something that I hate. I hate drm, but if I want to play my new game, I can install drm.

    But the windows live! It is Microsofts steam clone. And I hate it.

    Steam is actually pretty good. Example statistics/achievement systems works well. And the steam cloud sounds good, it just need more games that supports it.

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  7. @k00pa: I think the problem with both steam and Microsofts DLC would be that there is no possibility to play these games if you don’t have any internetconnection at your pc…
    of course we know that today every gamer has to have a flatrate dsl or better… but what if not? What if someone wants to install a game while going from a to b via train? What if this exact computer is generally not connected to the net? What if you are on a LAN-Party without any internet-access?

    Even better: What if you have bought any game like this and the publisher is gone? How will you get your bought copy?
    This Problem isnt exactly new… i allready have big Problems to reinstall Fallout 1&2… not becaus of missing CDs, more because of missing Patches without both games are nearly unplayable. But with online distribution this all got much worse.

    And dont tell me this wont happen cause microsoft or valve wont go out of buisiness… it allready does!

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  8. Zel FRANCE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    You can play the Fallout 3 DLC without an active internet connection (though you need one to buy and download said DLC, obviously). It requires moving some files around, not unlike the savegame trick Luke used. You can find the detailed instructions on the Fallout Wiki.

    I didn’t know Microsoft was selling full games through their Games for Windows Live platform. They’re only providing a somewhat easier mean to release and sell content. You can still play the original game without an internet connection, as creating an offline profile doesn’t require any.

    I don’t quite understand what you mean by problems with Fallout 1&2, they work fine in XP and the (official and unofficial) patches are easily available at a certain fan site. You can always download them and keep them on you HD along with the CD images, or burn both Fallout games plus patches on a DVD if you want to be able to install them on a train.

    Games bought via Steam, or any other digital distribution, I agree with you though. It’s naive to think the companies providing them will never go out of business or will support their games for an infinite amount of time.

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  9. @Zel: I know NMA.. and i needed it allready multiple times ;-)
    There are multiple Bugs in Fallout 1&2, making it impossible to do some quests. One of them is the Boxfight after wich you cant leave the arena, another one is a small forest-area in F2, where you have to find something (right after the start) whenever i visited this area the game just crashed.

    Of course most of this bugs are gone after installing the latest patch.. but you have to get the patch (and dont tell me its ok because some fans provide what should be provided by the one who made money with it)
    And course i could have saved the patch to DVD and ripped an image of the game right to the same… but in some countries it would be illegal to do this (in Germany for example if there is “working” copy-protection – wait.. if it works, wouldnt it be impossible to do it illegaly?) and DVD+/-R/RW still wont be readable more then 3-4 Years.

    so…you could find a fix for every mentioned problem. But its a lot hazzle.

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  10. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    @k00pa: I can attest to this – Steam provides a much better user experience in general.

    @Dr. Azrael Tod: Yeah, you are right. It’s unfortunate that my legal copy of Half Life 2 is merely a long term rental. I really love Valve games and I do not mind Steam but I have no illusions about what it is – it’s really just an on-demand service.

    So both Live and Steam are bad from that standpoint. It’s just that Steam offers a better end user experience.

    That said, you can play Fallout 3 DLC offline if you move your saved games over to a different folder. I can’t understand why they didn’t automate it – perhaps Microsoft wanted to keep people signed into Live at all costs.

    Also, I think that the “Game of the year” box is/will be bundled with some of the DLC’s allowing you to bypass Live altogether. Or at least that’s what I heard.

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