3D Performance with Fallout 3 Part 1: High-end cards
Fans of the Fallout series have had to wait a long time to return to the post-apocalyptic world at the center of the game. 10 years in fact. After Black Isle Studios, the original developer of Fallout and Fallout 2 was shut down five years ago, it looked like another Fallout sequel would never happen, but fortunately the project fell in the hands of Bethesda Softworks, the same guys who brought us Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion in 2006.
But thatís not the only thing Fallout 3 has in common with Oblivion. Both RPGs are also based on the same Gamebryo game engine. Fallout 3ís graphics are a little more polished than Oblivionís, but the underlying nuts and bolts of the game are the same. Because Fallout 3 isnít based on the latest version of Gamebryo (which supports DirectX 10 as well as NVIDIA PhysX), you wonít need Vista and a DirectX 10 GPU to experience the gameís best graphics: DX9.0c is the only codepath supported in the game. This is certainly good news for those of you with older Radeon X800s and GeForce 6800 class hardware, youíll obviously need to dial down the graphics settings a little more aggressively than you did in Oblivion, but at least youíll be able to play the game.
The story in Fallout 3 is completely independent of the previous Fallout games, with the game taking place in the Capitol Wasteland in and around Washington D.C. The game is set in the year 2277, 30 years after the events that took place in Fallout 2. The central plot involves the search for your father, who suddenly disappears mysteriously. The overseer of your vault has murdered your fatherís assistant and now heís looking for you. You must escape from the vault and find your father, along the way youíll face many choices and side quests. For instance, during your escape from the vault, a childhood bully pleads with you to save his mother. Do you take the time out to help him, or should you focus on getting out of the vault alive? The choices you make throughout the game affect your karma, which determines which NPCs will join you on your quests, and ultimately determines the final outcome of the game.
Iíve barely scratched the surface of the game as Iíve been busy testing Nehalem and other products, but so far itís been the most fascinating game Iíve played since BioShock. In my opinion Fallout 3ís story and gameplay should appeal to the traditional FPS gamer as well as RPG fans looking for a deeper experience than the traditional linear FPS like Crysis or Far Cry 2. The gameís new VATS combat system has been a little controversial as it takes some control away from the player, but I think Bethesdaís done a good job with it.
To see how well the game plays with todayís latest hardware, Iíve rounded up the latest high-end DX10 cards from ATI and NVIDIA, as well as the performance champs of the previous generation, the 8800 GTX and 8800 Ultra. 11 cards total. Since the game doesnít have a built-in way to record timedemos or evaluate performance, I used FRAPS to record frame rates as I ran through the town of Springvale as well as running up to the outskirts of Megaton, a city named for the unexploded megaton bomb located at the center of the city. Letís see how the cards compare to each other in performance.