Working out where to start with Fallout 3 is almost as bewildering as the unparalleled sense of disorientation we experienced when we first stumbled, bedazzled, half-blinded and guilt-ridden (Why? Our lips remain sealed) from the depths of Vault 101. We're currently precariously juggling more info in our skulls than that last minute A-level cramming session - and working out what exactly constitutes a spoiler (or not) is driving us barmy. So bear with us as we attempt to explain why you absolutely have to buy Fallout 3, even if it hasn't quite topped Bethesda's opus, Oblivion.
Ah yes, Oblivion. See, it's going to be impossible to review Fallout 3 without constantly, infuriatingly having to refer back to those bloody Elder Scrolls. And that's a pity, because Bethesda are to be applauded for embracing the Fallout universe with such zealous alacrity, producing possibly the most fully-realised, borderline obsessive homage to another developer's title ever seen. Yet, who apart from the hardest of the PC hardcore will even have heard, let alone played, the series before now? The irony is this is exactly how gamers should view the title - as a genuine sequel to Fallouts 1 & 2 - and not a post-apocalyptic Oblivion. But, in the end, comparisons are inevitable.
To arms then. For starters, Fallout 3's Capital Wasteland is a considerably smaller, albeit denser, environment than Cyrodiil. As for the main quest itself, we're talking proper short - in head-down slogging mode we caned it within a paltry nine hours. It gets worse - unlike Oblivion, once finished the game ENDS FOR GOOD - a real step backwards in our humble opinion. Worse still, it's not until the closing stages that you're really gripped by the seismic events overtaking DC. We know perfectly well that that's not the way you're meant to play the game, but we'd be lying if we said we weren't ever so slightly disappointed. Worse still, we're totally mystified as to the complete lack of any guild-style quests in the game - especially when the various factions (Brotherhood of Steel, Enclave, Raiders, Slavers) surely offered every bit as much questing potential as Cyrodiil's Thieves, Mages and Fighters' guilds.
Obviously, actually approaching Fallout with such single-minded intentions would be doing a disservice to Bethesda. The bleak Capital Wasteland lies before you, just begging to be explored, and - like Oblivion before it - it's often those quests that you'll stumble upon off the beaten track that end up being the most rewarding. How else would you get to reaffix Abe Lincoln's bearded bonce onto his famed memorial, rescue an android who's become self-aware from termination, attach a satellite array to the top of the Washington Monument, battle a couple of self-styled faux superheroes or defend the freaky folk of DC from a colony of giant mutated fire ants?
Initial character creation is visually guff, but building your personality is something else. The 'You're SPECIAL' book you're given by Pops as a toddler and G.O.A.T test you sit when you're a teen are inspired, while some of the perks you'll accumulate during your adventure are touched by genius. Yet even at the dizzying heights of level 17 (the cap is 20), we never felt rich, overpowered or truly comfortable - and the sight of a Yao Guai or Deathclaw galloping across the badlands on a collision course with our throat still chills to the bone. Being a penny-pinching, post-apocalyptic perpetual pauper might be realistic, but it can also be frustrating; specifically the marked absence of any Microfusion Cells to power our laser rifle (after ploughing all our skill points into energy weapons) rankled massively, leaving us to resort to our crappy SMG and police baton. We can almost hear the Super Mutant Masters chuckling in anticipation as we write.