Ok, so all those questions that people asked Matt Miller of GameInformer to ask Bethsoft have come out. You can read them over on Gamespot. You can also watch GameInformer's interview with Todd Howard and Istvan Pely (an art guy) spread over three parts: here, here and here.
Q: Is this another Oblivion but with a Fallout theme?
In short: no. Sure, Fallout 3 plays primarily from a first-person
perspective like Oblivion, and conversations with NPCs use a similar
style of dialogue tree, but combat, questing, character creation and
most importantly the tone and style of the gameplay shares more in
common with Fallout 1 and 2 than Oblivion.
How’s the V.A.T.S. combat system work again?
A: I talk about this a good bit in the July magazine article, but to be
clear, Fallout 3 plays in both real time and a paused tactical combat
mode. It’s not really turn based, however.
Instead, you can pause the real-time action in order to make aimed
ranged or melee attacks on your opponents, smashing their legs to slow
them down, or perhaps shooting an arm to hurt their weapon aim. Like in
the original Fallout games, doing these aimed shots take action points,
but since there are no turns, those AP recharge over time after
unpausing the game. You can shoot in real time, but that will then slow
your recharge rate. In practice, this means players have the option
to play the game very much like an RPG, but with a good bit more action
than traditional RPGs.
Q: Will Fallout 3 be as open-ended as Oblivion?
A: In many ways,
Fallout 3 is being designed to be more open-ended than Oblivion,
offering choices to players that alter the course of the game world in
dramatic ways. In Oblivion, for instance, you either do the Dark
Brotherhood missions or not. But imagine if you had the choice to
either become the leader of the Dark Brotherhood, or infiltrate it and
bring it down from the inside. Alternately, pretend you had an unstable
nuclear bomb, and you put it outside the Dark Brotherhood hideaway and
blew it up. That’s the level of open-endedness they’re shooting for
with Fallout 3.
Q: How is the story going to work, how many quests are there, how much branching is there, etc?
I received a bunch of questions from you all on this point, and it
shouldn’t surprise you to learn that I don’t really have the answers.
With over a year of development ahead, I’m sure even Bethesda doesn’t
know all the details about exactly how many quests will be in the final
version. However, you can certainly look at the story elements that
were included in the magazine article and draw a few conclusions. In
the demo that was narrated throughout the article, the character chose
to arm and detonate a nuclear bomb in the town of Megaton. This choice
effectively closed off a whole slew of events and quests that could
only be found in Megaton. Go back to that town afterwards for the rest
of the game and all the people, homes, and shops will be gone, replaced
by a big irradiated hole in the ground. However, having blown up
Megaton, a previously unfriendly settlement that your employer is
affiliated with might open up, and new quests, (probably some pretty
evil ones) might become available. Had the character not blown up
Megaton, there are all sorts of quests there that would open up in
Megaton, but that other town and its quests might never become an
option. You might be asking yourself: “Well, wouldn’t that mean I could
have a dramatically different playthrough the second time through?”
That’s sort of the idea, I think, at least if Bethesda manages to
successfully implement this idea.
So it ranges from bad to good and back again. The last point sounds hopeful - making a quest hub an irradiated zone but that opens up new quests that you couldn't get any other way (but the MIGHT open up concerns me - will it be possible to get access to both ways ala head of all the guilds?). And, looking at it again, the new quests will probably be 'pretty evil ones'... what happened to shades of grey? If there's an obvious good and evil path... ugh. Yeah, and that nuclear bomb thing...
Also, the dialogue is similar to Oblivion (let's hope that's a misstatement: if the dialogue's dead, the game's a complete Fallout failure, no doubt about that), it's real time combat with a gimmick by the sounds of it and blah blah blah. So draw your own conclusions. It seems a mix to me.