After spending a decent length of time with the game, I've come to the conclusion that this slightly odd warping is simply a necessary evil. You'll end up doing an awful lot of to-ing an fro-ing in Fallout 3 and if you had to do every journey on foot, you'd probably get very bored. As weird as it may seem, the warping mechanism allows you to set up camp somewhere - probably the house that can be acquired early on - and once you get into the habit of periodically returning to your base, you'll find that you start thinking a bit more tactically about the weapons and kit you'll need for the road ahead. At low character levels you'll probably spend a fair bit of time looting corpses and lugging your treasures back to the nearest merchant, so it's often handy to travel light.
On all but the shortest of journeys, you're bound to run into some form of enemy. Combat is conducted via a mixture of real time shooting or fighting, and targeted attacks made using the VATS system, which pauses the action and allows you to queue up a limited number of actions. You're probably sick of hearing about this by now, but it's worth confirming one more time that the whole stop-start thing works really well: it lends a tactical edge to battles, but it doesn't slow things down too much at all. Fighting outside of VATS takes a little getting used to: while it may look and feel as though you're playing a FPS, attacks are calculated along the lines of standard RPG rules. In other words, unloading a clip into a bandit's leg won't automatically cripple them unless you score a critical hit. It's a strange hybrid of action and strategy, but it's highly satisfying once you get used to it - and for some strange reason you'll never get tired of watching the slow-motion deaths of your enemies.
In terms of the weapons at your disposal, there are five skill classes available - small, large and energy-based firearms, plus a selection of melee and hand-to-hand weapons. To be honest, the former fair distinctly better than the latter: from super-mutants to hard-nailed mercs, most of the antagonists in Fallout 3 have some form of ranged attack, so you're far better off wielding some form of gun. You'll also find that close-range swipes and punches look a bit weird - the character models don't always connect as well as they might. In any case, the guns simply sound better: the magnums boom and the rocket launchers whoosh - and during a VATS kill these noises are slowed and distorted to excellent effect. While we're on the subject of killing, we have to flag up our love for the sloppy way that enemies melt into the ground when you hit them with a plasma rifle. It's gruesome, funny and very reminiscent of the old-school Fallout death animation.
Another favourable comparison between Bethesda's sequel and its Interplay counterparts is to be found in the way skills are used. As you level up through experience, you'll be given points to spend on improving your abilities. Aside from combat, you'll be able to improve your training in areas such as medicine, science and speech. While boosting any of these has a benefit in its own right, you'll also find that raising certain skills will unlock new dialogue options when conversing with NPCs, opening up alternative ways to complete quests. Such moments are highly pleasing, since they reward you for growing your hero in a particular way and make you feel connected to the character you've built up - which is surely half the point of playing a role-playing game in the first place.
Indeed, I'd go so far as to say that the overall quest design in Fallout 3 is one of the game's strongest elements. In the early stages you'll find most quests to be relatively straightforward, but once you get stronger and travel a bit further afield, there's all sorts of stuff to be done: one minute you're raiding the National Archives; the next you're a private detective, attempting to locate an android who looks identical to human beings. This last quest, a clear nod to Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, is a perfect example of the way in which players are allowed to follow their own morality. Finding the missing robot is a task of itself since he's undergone facial surgery and has had his mind wiped - and then once you finally find him, what should you do? Do you inform his master, or do you kill the master and let the machine live in peace? But then again, the android no longer knows he's an android - so perhaps you should tell him what he is? It's up to you to decide.
This open approach to morality is more prevalent in some quests than in others, but there's always several ways to approach the task in hand - and you're frequently rewarded for thinking outside of the box. One quest will send you on a mission to assassinate four characters across the world - but if you do a bit of digging around, perhaps you might be able to work out why your employer wants them dead. If you play your cards right, you'll discover what it is they really want. To say much more would be to spoil one of Fallout 3's better adventures - but let's just say that seeing the full extent of this quest will take you several hours. You could just go ahead and do the hits if you're a cold-blooded sort, but if you're the curious type... well, I'll let you see for yourselves.