Fallout 3 holds a very special place in my heart. It also holds a special place on my arm, where I’ve got a Brotherhood of Steel helmet permanently etched into my skin. It was the first Fallout game I played, so I’ve got a soft spot for it, but despite the better writing of New Vegas, the originality of its isometric predecessors, or the quality of life improvements to 4, I’ll always think Fallout 3 is the best because of how desolate and hopeless its wasteland is.
Once you leave the sterile, steely confines of Vault 101 and your eyes adjust to the harsh sunlight, you’re greeted with the dirty, tarnished sight of the Capitol Wasteland. Everything is rundown and patched up with the ruins of the old world. Even Megaton and Rivet City, the two most impressive settlements in the area, are built on decay. It’s clear from the moment you step into the Wasteland that it’s a hostile, cruel place.
Apart from Megaton directly ahead, there’s nothing for miles apart from ruins. The odd shack houses a lone survivor or small family, but settlements with large groups of people are few and far between. There’s Megaton, Rivet City, and Tenpenny Tower. Pretty much everywhere else is just a few individuals who happened to put their shacks next to each other.
In such a large, nuclear green world, you’re rarely surrounded by people, and that really puts the ‘Lone’ in Lone Wanderer. You can walk for miles in any direction without seeing a single friendly face. This is in stark contrast to the opening hours of New Vegas, where you’re plonked into a fairly well-off town with clean water and ample hunting opportunities, just up the road from a town with a working casino. Megaton’s water purifier is on its last legs and relies on you to keep collecting scrap metal to keep it chugging away.
In Fallout 4, you can build settlements with farms that grow fresh food, clean water, and electricity for all. In the Capitol Wasteland, the only place with a living tree is Oasis, and even it has a dark secret hiding below the roots. There are some brahmin, two-headed cows, but most of them live in absolute filth, and one is right outside a doctor’s office next to an unexploded nuclear bomb. Fallout 3 is clearly set in a world where people are fighting tooth and nail to carve out a space to survive in, whereas the people of Boston and the Mojave are thriving in comparison.
It’s your job to repopulate Boston, and New Vegas is already so overcrowded people are at war. If there are enough people to raise armies, it can’t be that hard to survive. Fallout 3 is the only game out of the modern series about surviving amidst the detritus and squalor of a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Society is rebuilding slowly, in small clusters, out of sheer necessity, using whatever’s available, and that’s why it’s the best: it actually feels apocalyptic.
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