Get lost in Fallout 3’s radioactive wasteland

War. War never changes. But thankfully, it does gets upgrades. Fallout 3’s all about those upgrades, presenting the best damn post-apocalyptic America this side of Thunderdome.

Just as in the first Fallout from the late 90s, you stumble out of a subterranean Vault and blink at the toxic wasteland. Only now it’s rendered in millions of colors, instead of 256, and you’re looking through the character’s eyes, not at some isometric landscape.

Your first stop is Megaton, a town built around an undetonated thermonuclear bomb. Founded on the outskirts of Washington, D.C.,  Megaton has everything needed to survive the wastes — ammo, water, medicine — but it’s also home to Church of the Atom, which worships the bomb’s Holy Radiation, and a nefarious man in black who wants to pay someone to detonate it.

Or not.

The beauty of Fallout 3, like its fantasy stepbrother Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, is players can do what they want. Wander the wastes looking for burned-out factories. Scour the D.C. subways for lost technology. Battle super mutants in the broken streets of Washington. Or even track down dear old Dad, the reason you left the Vault in the first place. Do whatever you want; the world is your irradiated sandbox.

It’s not all mutant roses. Like its predecessor Oblivion, the computer-generated humans of Fallout 3 don’t look quite right. While their facial expressions have improved greatly, they still look like animatronic stand-ins.  The game looks good, but there’s just not enough diversity when it comes to the landscape. The wastelands tend to run together, and the game really could have used a few radically different areas. A crater overrun by fluorescent green quasi-intelligent slime mold or a super mutant encampment painted in brilliant reds and oranges would have been a welcome change from the never-ending dreariness.

Word has it the game has a lackluster ending that prevents players from going back and completing their quests — I wouldn’t know, because when I heard the rumors, I decided to avoid finishing the game for as long as possible. But never mind that; with Fallout 3 the journey is the thing, and what a hell of a journey it is.

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