There's no other way to say it: I was deeply and profoundly affected by this game.
First, let's get the comparisons to the original Fallout games out of the way, so that those of you who've already chosen sides in the war over whether to love or to hate this game and are simply looking for an enlistment station - and not a proper review - can get what you need and go about your lives.
As far as comparing Fallout 3 to Fallout 1 and Fallout 2 goes, the fact is this: you can't. I'm sorry folks, but there's no going back. Sputnik will never be un-launched, Kurt Cobain will never grow a new head and Fallout will never again be an isometric, 2D, top-down, strategy role-playing game. It's just not in the cards, so beat that drum elsewhere.
The fact is, as much as I loved the original games, I would never want Fallout 3 to be just like them, to be just "more Fallout." The original games still exist. I can still play them. But Fallout 3 is so much more than the originals, so much different, and that is entirely as it should be. To set out to make a game now, ten years after the fact, that's nothing more than a retread of what is, to be blunt, a dead genre, would be ridiculous. And that is really all there is to say about that.
As of this writing, I've been playing Fallout 3 for just over 20 hours, and I have to be completely honest and say the experience of playing this game is quite unlike anything I've ever experienced before. Except, perhaps, for playing the originals.
Fallout 3 puts you in the jumpsuit of a person living almost 300 years into our future, whose ancestors survived the nuclear apocalypse by hiding in a giant underground shelter called a vault. And then they stayed inside for 200 years.
You're one of the first people to set foot outside the vault. You know practically nothing about the outside world, the area around the vault, known as "The Capitol Wasteland," except that it's a dangerous place filled with dangerous people. You have a quest. You step outside the vault to take your first steps toward completing it, are blinded by the light of the sun (which you've never seen) and are suddenly dumbstruck by the enormity of your surroundings, your task and this game.
Fallout 3 gives you suggestions as to where you might go to complete your quest, but then it gets out of your way so you can experience its enormous playground at your own pace. You can follow the markers to complete the main quest, or, as I've done, just start walking and see what you run into.
What would the world look like 200 years after a nuclear war? According to Fallout 3, it would be a vast, howling waste, depressingly empty of life in which everyone and everything is out to kill you. It's like Texas with radiation.
Those unused to the Fallout universe (or post-apocalyptic role-playing) may be in for a surprise with Fallout 3. This world is our world. The world of Fallout assumes the gee-whiz ideology of the 1950s survived another 100 years of technological development. There are, in other words, laser guns and much, much more. But there is also radiation - fallout - from the bombs that almost destroyed all life on the planet. And it is everywhere.