War. War never changes ... as Ron Perlman says over the intro, fallout on the other hand does.
The original was one of those games that was critically very well received, even today it is consistently in the most of the top ten games of all time, it didn't actually do very well commercially as is often the case. As a game offered a lot of freedom and the sorts of moral choices that were unheard of at the time with a very adult themed story that modern games have tried to emulate to varying degrees of success. It was filled with dark humor and a gritty world to explore and its ending was anything but black and white.
The series, developed by now decommissioned CRPG powerhouse Black Isle Studios, managed 2 games but then died with the studio. A couple of less well received spin offs were also made but they were essentially watered down versions of the franchise. At the time Black Isle went under they were almost finished on a prototype of their own fallout 3 a fully 3d game that incorporated a new combat system that could do either real time or turn based combat (which sounds a lot like V.A.T.S. from the current game) code named "Van Buren". Tech demos of that game are still floating around the internet to this day. It is a game that has a small but hardcore following and so when oblivion developer Bethesda announced they were picking up the liscence the news was met with a mixed reception.
Fallout 3 is not really a successor to the original fallout games it is probably more accurate to see it as inspired by but otherwise unrelated to the original games. It doesn't follow the story of the previous games though it borrows ideas from them, in this game in 2077 the world is like some sort of odd future where it is like the American sitcom 50's but with robots running on valves. There is fear of the red menace and nuclear power is your happy friend. There is a terrible war and most of the world is wiped out some people survive by taking refuge in specially designed vaults. The game picks up the story some 200 years later in 2277 where you are an occupant of vault 101 built in the ruins of what was once Washington D.C. now called the capital wastes. The tutorial levels shows your birth and childhood in the vault as a series of set scenes. The game proper starts when your father mysteriously disappears from the vault and you set out into the wastes to find him.
The game makes use of the originals S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system (an abbreviation of Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, and Luck) for its core stats with a similar set of skills (a set of 20 or so things like small arms, lock picking, science, medicine, and so on that govern how well you can do things in the game) and traits (which are one off boosts to certain skills often in certain situations ie the gunslinger perk adds to one handed small arms accuracy, solar powered perk boosts strength and adds regen but only in daylight and a host of others). It also makes use of the same retro future theme that permeated the fallout games.
The graphics are pretty good I would assume it's the same engine as Oblivion underneath but it seems to work pretty well bringing to life the desolate ranges of the wastes and the destroyed areas of Washington D.C. and the more varied reconstructed from scrap settlements like megaton. The character creation system is suitably in depth you can play as a man or a woman in either first or third person views. Your quest is assisted by the pipboy 3000 a arm minicomputer that shows your inventory, quests, maps, and other data, it also functions as a flashlight. You have a choice of melee or ranged weapons in a multitude of flavors from pistols and shotguns to laser cannons and flamethrowers. You can also collect schematics for new and varied weapon types you can then construct by finding the parts in the world.
You can shoot like a first person game with right trigger acting as shoot left for a zoom for more accuracy (in melee left is block right is hit) but for the most part you will be using V.A.T.S. (Vaulttec Assisted Targeting System). Hit a button and it will pause the action and switch to a graphic of the current target and a breakdown of probabilities to hit various body parts and their current health (head, legs, arms, torso, their weapon if they are holding one, and occasionally other things if it's a robot or a creature) you can then queue up shots from your current weapon (until you use up a pool of action points small weapons use a low number big weapons use a large number) on any of the body parts and all targets currently in range. The action then shifts to a dramatic camera angle as you unleash hell. This is quite an effective mechanic and lends itself to a tactical approach. You can go for damage and aim for the torso for a high probability shot, or aim to cripple your opponent by taking out his legs, or disarm them by shooting out their weapon, or their arms, or go for a less probable head shot for more chance of taking them down in one, or in some cases (mostly robots and animals) you can shoot out an antenna or feeler or a some such and cause them to go berserk and attack their own allies leaving you to pick off the survivors. You can also spread your damage over multiple targets, on one occasion I was facing four raiders all armed with melee weapons running at me, I queue up a head shot on each of them in turn and got three of them in one frenzied barrage of pistol fire. When you do achieve a kill it will often show a cool slowmo cinematic death animation of their head getting blown off or their body being turned to ash by a laser or some such. The action points then gradually regenerate over time allowing you to use V.A.T.S. again later.
One thing with the V.A.T.S. is that it is the only thing you will use pretty much, you basically enter a fight and use up all your points then if anything survives you spend a while running backwards or hiding behind something maybe taking the odd manual pot shot till the action points have regenerated enough for another round of V.A.T.S.
Weapons and armour have condition which gradually decreases with use or with damage, shops and vendors can repair things and you can repair them yourself if you have sufficient skill and a spare version to use for parts. If stuff gets to zero condition you can't use it but it doesn't break so you can still get it back to working at a later date. The better the condition of a weapon the more damage it does, the better condition of the armour the more damage they resist. Typically the stuff you find on raiders and so on is not in the best condition. You also get more money for better condition stuff.
There is also custom weapons which can be made by finding the schematic and then the parts littered through out the game world. The are often quirky, the first one I made was the Rock-it launcher that takes other useless junk and fires it at enemies, the slowmo cinematic you can then get of a raider getting pummelled in the face at high velocity by a coffee cup or a plunger is quite entertaining. I also have plans for a melee weapon that incorporates a whirling blade that is on fire, I just need one more motorcycle handbrake and I'm there!
The general weapons are the usual array of pistols and other firearms with additions like laser pistols/rifles and specials like the "fat man" a mini nuke launcher. Melee weapons range from standard things like bats and clubs to the more esoteric like power fists and chainsaws. Most of the time there is no need to buy weapons you can just take them off the corpses of your enemies.
There is a tendency with all these weapons to end up carrying one of each at all times and while ammo is usually weight free weapons add to encumbrance. At one point I was carrying an arsenal extensive enough to occupy a city including three different types of assault rifle, five different types of pistol, two types of shot gun, three types of rifle, a minigun, the rock-it launcher, a flamethrower, 40 grenades, 25 mines, a few mini nukes, four baseball bats, two board with nails in them, a police baton, and a chainsaw. As a result I was having doom the board game flashbacks.
You can also recruit followers that then function as AI backup I've not managed to gain one yet except when the game foisted someone on me for the purposes of story. They mean more lead flying into the targets so I suspect they are a good thing. Enemy AI is passable but nothing amazing, since the game has no cover system it is a case of either running at you with a melee weapon or shooting at you from a distance throwing the occasional grenade. If they are sufficiently wounded they will often leg it for reinforcements.
The morality is there you can play as good and bad or in between and your actions are reflected by how people treat you in the game. It uses the same sort of system as oblivion with certain skills unlocking certain types of dialogue, so a really intelligent character will understand the babel of a scientist, a accomplished liar or speaker can convince people do do things with speech and often avoid conflict or get better rewards. I tended to play good so far (although I did blast my way out of Vault 101 killing everyone and anyone in my way and several other people that might have been in my way had they moved a bit. The world is alive with stuff to find and do even though it's a desolate wasteland. Often you will be on your way to a mission and something will happen in front of you, a kid running from raiders, or super mutants attacking a town, or a trader being attacked by a death claw, or a team of mercs sent to assassinate you, or all sorts you often find you end up getting diverted from what ever the task was at hand and like oblivion the main quest is almost forgotten about with all the exploring and side quest there are to do. It doesn't seem to do the annoying thing Oblivion did where the outside leveled as you did, here various areas are harder than others, ie the closer you get to DC the more hardcore the monsters are.
Radiation plays a part mostly as a environmental obstacle but also there is a trade off factor food and drink in the world are often radioactive but if you really need some health you can drink the radioactive water or eat the glowing radroach meat for health. You gradually build up a radiation level and when it gets to 200 rads you start to see the effects higher than that and the poisoning becomes worse. This can be mitigated by rad suits or rad resistant drugs and then the rads can later be purged by rad away or a trip to the doctors. Some perks actually allow you to benefit from the radiation allowing you regenerative capabilities when heavily irradiated. For the most part it's better to avoid glowing like a Christmas tree.
The story is good, but much like oblivion you do maybe the first step of the main quest then ignore it occupying your time helping or hindering the rest of the world with an extensive array of side missions.
The game has some good voice acting, the part of your father is played by Liam Neeson which having seen Taken seemed handy since if you are kidnapped at any point he can then come and rescue you with lethal violence. I also recognised Malcolm McDowell as the president of the enclave. Ron Perlman acts as the narrator at the beginning of this new game as he did in the original Most of the npc's are voiced well and they often have little conversations with each other in the background. I'm sure like oblivion before it and fable2 recently these will devolve to the same set conversations again and again.
The game features a world that feels richly textured the post apocalyptic wasteland with its broken sections of remaining infrastructure the few identifiable remaining monuments and buildings falling apart. You'll be wandering across the fairly bleak world and come across little shanty towns built of scrap or surviving buildings used as new, wreaks of trains and cars, wandering weapons of war that randomly attack, or mutated creatures.
It is a wonderfully put together product and while not a genuine successor to the original fallout games it continues its legacy creating a new franchise around it's core ideas bringing the game to a whole new audience. Well worth a go :)