Seeing the pre-order adverts for New Vegas, I dusted off my copy of Fallout 3 and took another crack at the wasteland. At once I was reminded how annoyed I was that the last of the expansions was never released as its own disc. I bought the first four on disk from my local game store because I hate Windows LIVE and I can't stand the thought of having any of my content tied to that horrible piece of spyware. Luckily, there was a sale on in association with the New Vegas preorders where I could pick up the game of the year edition for the price I would have paid for the last expansion had it come out. While it's annoying that I now have two copies of the game and the first four expansions, it didn't actually cost me any more. The only caveat was that I had to preorder New Vegas, but I am the guy who'd buy it on release day anyway, so it was no big deal.
I also recently picked up the Fallout back catalog for about $7 (Fallout, Fallout 2, Fallout Tactics). It was not the best investment I've made. When EA released "Command and Conquer: The First Decade" they at least fixed the issues which would prevent the old DOS and Win95 games from running on newer systems. The licence holder did no such work on the Fallout back catalog. I can't get them to run in Vista at all, and the best I could do was to run them in Wine on my Laptop. A Windows game that runs better in Linux than windows? Well it happens mostly with the oldest of the lot.
A lot of people have a good deal of nostalgia for the original Fallout Games. I am not one of them. I never got far because I always ran afoul of the fact that these games didn't autosave. Before you ridicule me this is actually a complement. It means that I was so engrossed in what I was doing that I forgot to pause and save the game. So when I go hoisted by my own petard after cleaning out the mole rat god in Fallout 2 and found out I had to start the whole game over, I walked away instead. Each successive attempt I made at the first few games got less far along. Next time I'll probably fail to make it out of the vault.
Conversely, I did well in Fallout 3 (probably because it did autosave). I still recall that the first time I played I turned left instead of right coming out of the Vault and ended up clearing the school of raiders before ever finding Megaton. It's oddly the little things like that which are most memorable about the game. I accidentally circumvented half the main plot without ever realizing I'd missed it, but since the main plot quests were less than memorable, I didn't really miss anything.
Instead I recall most vividly the first time I stumbled onto a Deathclaw in the wasteland. It tore my poor character to pieces. Since I had to get past it I detoured to Old Olney... only to find it was a town infested with Deathclaws. I avoided one to run into a dozen. Oddly enough, through frantic stimpak usage and deranged spray and pray tactics, I managed to crawl out of Old Olney and into Vault 92.
In the Beastiary of Fallout 3, Bloatflies are mere annoyances for even low level characters, but I was so badly mauled after Old Olney that the bloatflies in the entrance to Vault 92 gave me a run for my money. I recall being afraid to leave the vault because the first Deathclaw I'd run into had been not far from the entrance. Crawling around with four crippled limbs and out of healing, I realized that I was actually desperate enough to eat bloatfly meat (for the HP). That moment stuck in my mind more vividly even than the assault on the Jefferson Memorial or calling down an orbital strike on the Enclave Headquarters.
The problem with the Epic sequences in Fallout 3 suffer from the same problem - I feel like a spectator when they're going on. These were crowning moments for Liberty Pime or the Brotherhood of Steel, not for my character. I might have been there, but it didn't feel like I did anything. Mothership Zeta almost brought it back to the point where I felt I did something useful during the climax, but it was still just "keep pushing the button." To be honest, I've had more epic battles with Radscorpions than with that ship.
This is why I am able to spend hours just wandering the wasteland looking for trouble to get into without getting bored. But sadly, the actual plotted sequences are underwhelming.
As you may have realized, Fallout more or less invented the sandbox genre, and Fallout 3 is still a sandbox game. You're free to come up with your own solutions to situations as best suits your style. Perfect example is in the differences between the three members of my regular social group who play the game. One runs in full tilt, heavy weapons blazing, never pausing for VATS and popping StimPaks like an addict (you can't get addicted to them ingame). Another is a dedicated sniper, regarding any combat where the enemies get a shot off as a failure. I fall somewhere in between, sneaking in close then cleaning out as many as I can before my action points run out, then using my latent FPS skills to finish off the survivors. More or less a gunslinger style with heavy infiltrator leanings.
This freedom extends past combat to how you approach other game elements. Though, the game does have a Karma Meter recording how good or evil you are. Oddly, quest Karma seems to outweigh your day to day actions. One of my characters perfectly displays the dissonance in the way Karma is recorded. He's a kleptomaniac cannibal who often racks up collateral damage when civilians get too close to nastier bad guys and he takes out the rocket launcher. But he's at max 'Good' karma and works for the Good Vigilante group. He also once tried to massicre the town of Little Lamplight. I have half a dozen characters (most of them more sane than that guy...)
Little Lamplight is a town which should not be. It's the 'all children settlement' where the members are kicked out at the age of sixteen. One wonders how the town hasn't evaporated due to the population aging out. Beyond that, the residents are so horribly obnoxious and annoying that I was driven to actually try to exterminate them all once I had my plot coupons. Unfortunately, I ran into the 'immortal' flag which the developers had set on all children by default. This is simple appeasement to the Moral Guardians. But seriously, I could have hit them with tactical nukes and they'd have just shrugged it off. And yes, there are tactical nukes in the game to try it with. I've collected a few dozen as trophies. Too bad they're too awesome to use.
Anyway, Little Lamplight - I'm still trying to figure out if adult characters depsoit children there or if we're expected to extrapolate that the residents have kids of their own before hitting that sixteenth birthday... either way has horrible implications that the Moral Guardians should be more concerned about than the ability to shoot the children. But given the other content, the whole issue is practically moot. (I direct you back to that PC as a Cannibal comment from above.) I usually just mention the 'Bloody Mess' perk and people stop asking questions. Some back away slowly as well. Remember when gamers were feared?
Just remember, the games don't make people violent. Though violent people tend to like violent games (but so do non-violent people).