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Favorite Games of 2013

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 1, 2014 by caseystorton

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-2013 was an interesting year for gaming. While I’m not exactly the perfect person to do something like this, I’ll give it a try. Before we begin though, I want to explain what I mean by “Favorite Games.” These games’ inclusion on my list is based on the amount of fun I had playing them, not necessarily how innovative they were, or even really so much about the plot, although a well-told story will help a game’s chances. In a controversial move, I won’t be giving any of the games an exact number on the list, as I don’t really feel like I should. Instead, I’ll just tell you what I enjoyed and why. With that said, I do have a favorite picked out, so feel free to complain about that to me on Facebook. Anyway, before the actual list, I’ll mention some other games that won’t be making the list. Not because I didn’t like them, but because as of this writing, I haven’t finished playing through them, and I don’t think it’s right of me to pass judgement on a game that I haven’t fully experienced yet.

Grand Theft

Auto 5

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-Even if I did finish this one off, I’m still not entirely convinced that it would have made the list. It is a pretty fun game, but I do have a few issues with it, namely with some of the character writing, sluggish story progression, and counter-intuitive control scheme, that I’ll give more attention to if and when I eventually pick it back up and finish the story mode.

Assassin’s

Creed IV:

Black Flag

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-I’ve had a lot of fun with this game, but the main reason I’m not finished is because there’s so much fun outside of the story missions that I find myself spending way too long playing it. It’s got a learning curve for anyone new to the series like me, but the combat is interesting, the gameplay is fun, and the story is engaging, when you can pull yourself away from the awesome pirate ship battles, that is.

Papers,

Please

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-A nifty little Indie game developed by exactly one person, Papers, Please is one of the most fascinating gameplay experiences of the year. The basic premise has you playing a guard at a border crossing checking people’s passports and such to make sure they are clear to enter your country. It sounds simple, but really comes into its own once extra documents, terrorist attacks, kidnapping schemes, and other obstacles add some surprising variety to the game. You’ll get a full review once I play it some more, but Papers, Please is not a game to be missed out on.

The Last of

Us

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-Heralded as one of the greatest games of the year by just about everyone that played it, The Last of Us is part of the reason that I bought a PS3, and now that I’ve played some of it, I can safely say that I don’t regret my purchase. The gameplay is intense and nerve-wracking as the characters have to contend with increasingly ferocious enemies with their very limited arsenal of weapons. It also has a great story, with some of the most human characters of any game I’ve ever played. This is another one that I’ll hopefully finish soon, but don’t wait around for my review, as everyone else seems to have been right about it.

Shadow

Warrior

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-This one kinda slipped past a lot of people, which is a shame, given how enjoyable it is. While I haven’t played all that much of it yet, Shadow Warrior is one of the most fun times I’ve had playing a game this year. It’s got tons of blood and guts to give impact to your gunshots and sword strikes, as well as some incredibly varied combat for a Shooter. I’d say give it a go if you can get it on sale.

-Now that we’re done with those, let’s get to the ones that I actually did finish.

Bioshock

Infinite

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-While certainly not my favorite game of the year, I did enjoy my time with Infinite. The story was interesting and engaging, if a little confusing, although I suspect that this was the point, the gameplay was fast and frantic, even with the limitations on your arsenal at any given time, and the characters of Booker and Elizabeth were both genuinely interesting to experience. I’ve already wrote a lot about this game, so check that out for a more detailed opinion.

Tomb

Raider

-Tomb Raider represents a nice trend in gaming that started last year with Spec Ops: The Line and Far Cry 3 of video games where the focus of the story is put on the main character. While the world Lara exists in is populated by other characters that are a driving force of many of the things that she does, she is on her own for a very large portion of the game, and is left with only you, the player, to watch over her and guide her through the impossible situations that she winds up in. This combined with the fluid controls and fun gameplay makes Tomb Raider one of 2013’s best.

Injustice:

Gods Among

Us

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-I’m not exactly an expert on fighting games, but Injustice was a fun time for me. It had a character roster that was extensive without being overwhelming, a fun and balanced combat system that only had one or two overpowered characters, and a story that, while a bit silly at times, gave a pretty decent context to all of the action. Definitely worth checking out for anyone that enjoys fighting games.

Far Cry 3:

Blood

Dragon

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-While far from the lengthiest entry on the list, Blood Dragon’s approach to comedy is a huge step in the right direction for gaming, and hopefully the start of a great new trend with AAA releases. As the great philosopher Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw explains it, “Someone wants to unwind after a big AAA project by taking all the tools and making a funny little ancillary game that appealed to them, because they didn’t have to take it so seriously. And then low and behold people like it because it’s fun and got a bit of heart that makes it stand out among the usual AAA releases.” I really hope this continues, mostly because it’s not too late to make “The Last of Us: Robot Monkey Space Adventures.”

The Stanley

Parable

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-While I’m still having trouble allowing myself to call The Stanley Parable a “game” in the traditional sense, I figure it’s at least close enough for me to put it here. If you still aren’t familiar with the phenomenon of The Stanley Parable, go play it for yourself.

Pokemon Y

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-I’ve been playing pokemon games for a long time now, but after Diamond and Pearl, I was skeptical as to how much they could really add in the future. I skipped out on the Black and White games, but decided to give this one a go to see if the change in platform would bring about any cool new features. One of the biggest advancements in the series’ history, X and Y add a ton of new things to the formula without sacrificing the familiarity that endears the franchise to its fans. Anyone that’s ever enjoyed a pokemon game really owes it to themselves to give this one a try.

And finally, the moment we’ve all been waiting for. The Casey Storton Reviews Game of the Year for 2013 is…

Saints Row

IV

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-Was it perfect? No. Is it the best Saints Row game ever made? Maybe, still not sure if it beats SR2. Are there plot holes? Yeah, sure? Does that matter? Absolutely not. Saints Row IV easily the most fun I had in a game released this year. The gameplay is tight and well-designed from years of practice from developer Volition, the story is fun while still providing a clear goal, the characters are entertaining, and all-in-all, it’s just a damn fun time to play. Get some background information from the earlier games before you start, but don’t miss out on Saints Row IV.

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Spoiler ramblings: Bioshock Infinite

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on April 17, 2013 by caseystorton

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-I’ve seen/read a lot of discussions dissecting the story/ending of Bioshock Infinite lately,  and I just wanted to throw in my two cents for those that care enough to hear it. I will reiterate, there will be plenty of spoilers all throughout this post, so if you haven’t finished the game yet, don’t read this, as I intend to discuss plenty of major events that you deserve to experience first-hand. Sound good? Okay, let’s begin.

-First, we’ll talk about the centralized plot-point of the whole game: the existence of an infinite number of alternate dimensions. Some have complained that there are a few choices early on in the game that end up having no bearing of the story as a whole (bird necklace or cage necklace, heads or tails, ect.) but I feel like this may have been part of the point of it all. The major assertion of the game is that since there exist an infinite number of alternate dimensions based entirely around Booker DeWitt or anyone else making a decision that differs at least slightly from a decision that they made in any of the other dimensions. Nobody really has control over anything since each and every dimension exists solely for the purpose of being different from all of the other ones. Choices really don’t have consequence because for every negative repercussion that occurs in whatever dimension Booker and Elizabeth currently inhabit, there are an infinite number of other dimensions where such repercussion does not exist and things are better for it.

-On that note, I’m still deciding whether or not the paradox of the ending was intentional or not. Even after Booker kills Comstock, he and Elizabeth decide that they need to stop him from ever existing, and as such this Elizabeth as well as many others drown Booker there in the Baptistery in order to ensure that he doesn’t become Comstock and create Columbia. However, since there are still an infinite number of dimensions, for every dimension that Elizabeth kills Booker to erase Comstock, there are infinite others in which she doesn’t, and Comstock still exists. I feel like this may have been one final assertion of the writers’ point that nobody in this existence really has any choice about anything, but I don’t think that I’ll ever know for sure.

-On the point of the ending, despite the fact that it doesn’t really “end” anything in the story, it was really the best ending that the player-character version of Booker could ever hope for. This becomes a little more apparent once you begin to examine the subtle similarities between Booker DeWitt and Father Comstock. While they are trying to be different kinds of people, they did both have to find ways of dealing with themselves after the horrible things they did at the Wounded Knee Massacre. The Booker DeWitt that you play as dealt with his guilt by becoming a drunk and a compulsive gambler who was so morally bankrupt that he sold his own daughter to pay off his debt, whereas the Booker DeWitt that became Father Comstock dealt with his guilt by trying to baptize away his past and change his name, and while neither of them are good people, both did at least make an attempt at fixing themselves for their future.

-Now that we’ve (mostly) covered the plot, we’ll talk about some of the other things. Most importantly: the Vigors. There really is no reason that the society that is Columbia would ever want or need Vigors. In the original Bioshock, it made perfect sense for the citizens of  Rapture to experiment with Plasmids and Gene Tonics given the nature of their existence there. The whole point of Rapture was to allow scientists and visionaries freedom from things like morality and societal norm so that they would have the means to pursue the perfection of the human form in every way that they saw possible. In that world, it made perfect sense that the citizens were quick to charge a heavily armed man with nothing but a bit of pipe, because all of their splicing had screwed up too much of their brain for them to think through such things. In Bioshock Infinite, everyone there is just an overly religious racist that holds contempt for anyone that isn’t an overly religious racist along with them. Flawed as they may be, they aren’t insane like the Splicers were, and it appears that Vigors don’t inspire such tendencies in people like Plasmids did, which continues to beg the question of why enemies bother rushing you with clubs there there’s a drink that allows them the launch fireballs at you sitting on the ground ten feet away.

-There’s been a lot of talk lately about how violence effects the narrative in the game, and I’m still not entirely sure where I stand on the subject. The main sticking point for most people is the executions that you can pull off with the sky-hook once a target’s health gets low enough. Violence has always been part of the Bioshock series, but it hasn’t ever been quite as in-your-face as it was here, excluding a couple of gorier moments from the first game that were intentionally grisly in order to achieve a reaction, which I never considered a bad thing given the context in which they were used. Bioshock Infinite, however, allows you to tear the throats out of hundreds of generic foot soldiers with a series of dull hooks. I personally never really got used to seeing it, but that may just be because melee combat was never really viable in the context of the gameplay. The main question is: does the borderline sadistic violence in Bioshock Infinite detract from the seriousness of the story? While I personally didn’t have that big an issue with it, I will admit that the executions did not need to be as ridiculously graphic as they were.

-It’s hard for me to think about everything that I want to say about Infinite at any given moment, so I’m sure there are things that were left out of this post that I wanted to cover. So, here’s my deal: I don’t post that contact info at the bottom of all my posts for fun, I do it so you can contact me with questions, requests, or whatever else you want to say to me. So, if there’s something you want me to address that I didn’t mention here, send me an e-mail, tweet it to me, post it on my Facebook page, or just write a comment here on WordPress. Okay? Okay.

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Far Cry 3

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 3, 2013 by caseystorton

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-This right here is the reason that I didn’t finish Bioshock Infinite sooner. You see, I was on Spring Break last week, and I was scheduled to work 38 hours that week at my old job. However, I only had this game at home, and I couldn’t take it back to college with me, so it got most of my attention even after Infinite came out. But was it worth it?

-You play as Jason Brody, one of a group of 7 kids right out of college who are on a sky diving trip or something out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean somewhere. Basically, you get captured by some crazy pirate slaver named Vaas. After a bit of intense scenes with Vaas, you and your older brother Grant manage to escape from your cage. After a bit of stealthing around the camp followed by Grant’s death at the hands of Vaas, you escape and wash up in a nearby village run by a resistance group that’s fighting Vaas’s organization. You and the village leader Dennis start working to get your friends back, but as time goes on, it becomes increasingly clear that Jason will have to lose a big part of himself in order to get his friends back and destroy Vaas’s organization once and for all. For a game like this, there’s a surprising amount of weight to Jason’s character development. It’s clear that he knows he’s slowly turning into a bloodthirsty monster, but thinks that maybe this is the only way he can get what he wants.

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-On the gameplay side, Far Cry 3 is a lot of fun to play around with. There are a lot of RPG elements to the game’s progression, but they feel very central to the design, so it makes sense that they have the opportunity to take up so much of your time. A big part of the game’s progression involves hunting animals in order to acquire the  skins necessary to upgrade all of your various holsters for ammo, weapons, syringes, ect. On the note of the syringes, a big thing about Jason’s character is that, while he’s always been a bit of a daredevil, all of this stuff has him very much scared out of his mind from the beginning, and he must eventually grow into his role as action hero by way of constant, life threatening danger and taking a whole lot of drugs. Yes, really.

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-While the story progression never really stops, you’ll want to take a break from it every now and again in order to make progress in other ways. Areas on your map aren’t visible until you’ve activated a radio tower in the vicinity, so it pays to run around and just activate all the radio towers pretty early on so the entire map is visible. There’s also the continuing mechanic of liberating outposts from enemy control by killing all of the inhabitants. While it is possible to eventually win by simply running in and shooting everything in sight, you get a significant XP bonus for clearing it out before the enemy sees you. Sometimes, though, this can lead to some rather strange occurrences. On at least two separate occasions, I was crouch-walking around outside of an outpost, marking all of the enemies so I could keep track of them, and just when I was about the move in a freaking tiger strolls on in and murders everyone in sight. It is a little weird, but the random, uncontrolled nature of this sort of thing is a nice change from the over-orchestrated set-pieces of games like Call of Duty and Battlefield.

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-Overall, Far Cry 3 is a great game. It’s got plenty of fun, open-world action and randomness and a surprisingly personal and engaging main-character arc for Jason Brody. It’s a great value for what you’re getting, and the open world means plenty of collectibles for those that desire them. 89/100

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Bioshock Infinite

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 2, 2013 by caseystorton

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-I’ve been looking forward to this one for a long time. The original Bioshock is possibly my favorite game of all time, with the major competition being Resident Evil 4. Bioshock 2 wasn’t bad, it just had only a few rudimentary upgrades to gameplay while taking a severe hit in the story department and suffered for it. With Bioshock Infinite starting off fresh with an all new story and setting, I was interested to see the franchise evolve beyond its roots in the underwater city of Rapture.

-You play as Booker DeWitt, a mysterious man with an equally mysterious debt that can only be paid off by going to the flying city of Columbia and bringing back a girl named Elizabeth. The first major difference you will notice between Infinite and its predecessors, is that unlike Jack and Subject Delta, Booker DeWitt has both a face and a voice, as well as an actual personality that evolves as the story progresses, with more than a little help from Elizabeth. On the note of Elizabeth, developers, this is the new standard for a secondary character in an action game, and any future game that can’t do escort characters this well is automatically getting marked down for it. Once you first rescue Elizabeth, she follows you around wherever you go. As soon as you get her, you see a message that says “You don’t need to worry about Elizabeth in combat, she can take care of herself.” I was skeptical about just how true this was, but ultimately, they were right. Enemies don’t ever bother with her, and in the midst of a battle she will toss you health, ammo, and salts, which are fuel for Infinite’s version of Plasmids called Vigors. She also has the uncanny ability to open “tears,” which are basically holes into another version of reality. These can yield things like weapons, health kits, and friendly turrets to aid you in battle.

-There is also one initially interesting thing about when in the city’s lifespan Booker makes his journey there. In Bioshock 1, Jack accidentally enters Rapture some time after the city has gone to shit from the drug-addicted splicers going crazy and breaking everything. In Bioshock 2, Subject Delta comes back to life long after Rapture should have by rights been completely destroyed by both the ever deteriorating structure of the buildings and the destructive tendencies of the Splicers. In Bioshock Infinite, Booker DeWitt ascends to a city that is still in it’s youth, teeming with life, promise and goodwill, without a murderous, disfigured addict to be seen. This interesting change in scenery goes a long way into seeing what Rapture may have looked like in its prime, as well as give us a picture of a utopian society in a remote location that doesn’t suck.

-The combat in Bioshock Infinite feels radically different from that of Bioshock 1 and 2. Given the underwater setting of the first two, areas were generally pretty small, and necessitated small scale fights with only a few enemies at a time. With Infinte taking place in a city in the sky, levels are much more open and expansive, which permits battles with larger numbers of enemies. Another omission from the previous games is the ability to carry first-aid kits on your person, but there are now much more health items scattered around the level, and you have a small, rechargeable shield that protects you for a bit before taking more permanent damage. There is also one very major change that actually got quite annoying throughout the game. Previous games let you keep every weapon you found and switch between them as you saw fit. Infinite sticks to the more recent practice of only letting you carry two guns at a time. While there are a lot more guns this time around, a decent portion of them are just more powerful variants on more common weapons, and were these extraneous guns eliminated, there would be 9 weapons, which while that is a lot for a recent game, it would still be freaking awesome to be able to carry every gun at once, which is just one aspect of the previous games that I really enjoyed. Here, it just feels unnecessarily restrictive, especially considering that you can have every Vigor in the game equipped at once.

-Storywise, the game is a little odd. Initially this is just an extraction job, but as you go on, Booker gets more invested in the fate of Columbia and Elizabeth, and starts to take it upon himself to get rid of “Father Comstock” or as I liked to call him “guy that wishes he could philosophize as well as Andrew Ryan.” Still, he’s better than Sophia Lamb from Bioshock 2. An interesting story point involves Elizabeth’s ability to find tears that lead to alternate realities where one thing or another is how you need it to be, at the expense of something else possibly being different. With this ability, you can go through to different versions of reality that exist alongside our own, and all kinds of things can happen. It sounds odd, but it surprisingly manages to not be confusing and serves as an interesting device that could have otherwise been employed simply as a Deus Ex Machina to get the writers out of a corner.

-Back to Elizabeth as a character, she’s certainly one of the strongest female characters I’ve seen in a video game for a long time. For someone who’s spent their entire life locked in a tower guarded by a giant mechanical bird, Elizabeth is much more than a simple damsel in distress that just goes along with whatever Booker, her knight in not-so-shining armor, wants her to do. She actively makes decisions that alter the story for both better and worse, just the same way that Booker does. Again, pay attention developers, THIS is how you write a female character.

-Just a bit of an interesting thing to note here: if it weren’t for the existence of the Vigors, this could have pretty much passed as an entirely different game, totally separate from the Bioshock brand. None of the weapons from the first two games are here, it’s in a different time and place, with different combat, no Big Daddies, no Little Sisters, no Adam, no Andrew Ryan, and no carrying every weapon ever. The thing is though, it would still feel at least tangentially related to the first two games by way of the old-school health system, steam-punk aesthetics, and philosophical antagonist.

-While there will always be a special place in my heart for the original Bioshock, Infinite does a great job of breathing new life into a property that was showing some age around Bioshock 2. The story requires no knowledge of previous games, so returning fans and newcomers alike will find something to love about Bioshock Infinite. 90/100

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Fallout 3

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 28, 2012 by caseystorton

-A couple years ago when I first bought this game, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was getting myself into. At the time, I’d never really played much in the way of RPGs, and outside of Mass Effect 2 and Bioshock, I hadn’t yet experienced a game where I had very much control over what the story was doing at any given moment.

-We start with a really awesome cinematic that shows what has happened to society since the nuclear holocaust 200 years ago. In preparation for this, many humans have sealed themselves away in underground vaults in an attempt to wait out the crisis. The game begins in your Vault, Vault 101.  Have you ever played a game where it feels like you start off in the middle of the story? Well, that most certainly isn’t the case with Fallout 3, at least not at first. The game literally begins with a blurry, first-person cinematic of you being born. From here you get to select your name, gender, and future appearance. Also your father is voiced by Liam Neeson. That’s awesome. You are then brought through the highlights of your childhood, including selecting some basic skills as a one-year-old, receiving you Pip-boy 3000 at your tenth birthday, which I’ll expand on later, taking a test, or not, to see what skills would best suit your play-style at age 16, and daringly escaping the Vault in pursuit of your father at age 19. The whole opening sequence is the best example of immersion that I’ve seen in a game to date, even if the immersion takes a bit of a hit when a window pops up as you’re exiting the Vault asking you if you want to change anything you did while you were in the vault. From here, you walk out into the Capital Wasteland in the area that once upon a time was called Washington D.C.

-From here, you have very little in the way of restrictions, from the get-go, there’s nothing stopping you from just walking in any direction until you find the edge of the map, which I can’t recall ever seeing in any direction. Yes, the world is quite massive, but not overwhelmingly so. There’s plenty to find out in the wasteland, with a number of characters, locations, and enemies to find, with just enough walking in-between to allow you to take in the peaceful atmosphere outside of combat. And if you find yourself getting tired of simply walking quietly across the barren landscape, you can always turn on your radio. Your Pip-boy has a built-in radio that can usually pick up one of two channels. One is Enclave radio, some bullshit station where the “president” tries to talk everyone into following what he says, and Galaxy News Radio, a station with a badass DJ who calls himself “Three Dog” who reports on the news of the wasteland, a lot of which is about stuff that you have done, and plays classic music from the 40s and 50s, which fits that atmosphere very well, with just enough songs to have some variety while still allowing you to get excited every time your favorite comes on.

-On to the gameplay, the non-combat areas offer plenty of opportunities for you to find side-quests, followers, and extra items and weapons to help you on your journey. Also, if you want to turn them into combat zones, just attack someone, and entire towns will come after you, which is always good for a laugh. Just be sure to save before you do something you’ll regret. Everything you do, accessing game stats, reading your notes, tracking quests, managing items, switching weapons, ect. is done with the use of your Pip-boy. The interface has some rough edges, but the ability to hot-key weapons and items helps alleviate some of the annoyances.

-The combat itself is pretty fun, with several different kinds of weapons that allow you to tackle an encounter however you choose. There are many different types of guns, including pistols, shotguns, hunting rifles, assault rifles, and several different kinds of launchers, as well as a variety of melee weapons and even a couple of glove-type weapons that are more effective based on what level you have your unarmed skill at. Basically, trying to shoot freely isn’t too easy, as enemies move around a lot and your tiny cross hair makes it difficult to land shots. This is where VATS comes in. VATS is a system that uses your action points to select which part on an enemy’s body you want to attack, with a displayed percentage of what possibility there is of you landing a hit, and watching in slow motion as your character then takes action. It works well, and helps keep the combat from getting too frustrating.

-There’s also a nice little progression system that has you training skills with experience points you get when you level up as opposed to the Elder Scrolls system of skills leveling up as you use them. Say what you will about your problems with this system, but at least you can’t exploit it like the laughably unbalanced, hilariously boostable skills in Skyrim. The way it works, just about anything you do, killing an enemy, picking a lock, hacking a computer completing a quest, or persuading a character gets you EXP. Eventually you gain enough EXP to level up. From here you have a set number of points to assign in any area of your choosing, including Small Guns, Melee, Unarmed, Lockpicking, Speech, Sneak, ect. The effects on combat skills are minimal, but many doors and computer terminal cannot be opened unless the respective lockpicking or science skill is high enough.

-Overall, Fallout 3 is a great game. It has some issues with interface annoyances, somewhat meaningless progression in the combat skills, and occasionally formulaic combat, but there’s still a great world here to explore, with plenty to see, do, discover, and enjoy. 8.5/10

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