I suppose it's in a way too late to analyze the game, since all the Fallout sites picked it to pieces before it even launched. But now that I've played and beaten the finished product I think it's time to go around and critique everything.
First, combat: I found it very fun and honestly VATS never got really old or felt "easy mode." For the uninitiated VATS is basically Bullet-Time mixed with Turn-Based fighting. It pauses the game, you choose targets that you'd like to hit, complete with estimated chance to hit; the number of attacks is determined by Action Points which are determined by Agility and a few other modifications. Your character then carries out the actions, monsters then fight back in unison, and body parts often go flying. I think it's an extremely clever way to introduce turn-based fighting into a real-time game. There's just one issue: Your character loves to shoot walls. You may see their head, VATS may tell you there's an 85% chance to hit, but when it comes time to shoot, your character aims for the girder just to the left of that Super Mutant, so you miss every shot. This doesn't happen every fight, but it happens much more often than I'd like.
Real-time combat is of course very typical. Aiming feels like Call of Duty where your character raises the weapon slightly and your aim improves while your move speed suffers. Again, Call of Duty. In the name of ammo conservation VATS is the way to go and since my computer is very old, it was fairly difficult to effectively fight in Real-Time. Overall the combat works quite well if you discount my computer troubles.
Companions, of which I believe there are only three (and could be horribly wrong here) are quite useful. I managed to grab the "evil" one (You must have positive or negative Karma to acquire a follower, specific to each one) and he was a beast with his assault rifle. They can die, so your companions can't tank a Deathclaw, but their offensive potential is very good. However, one of the companions only even shows up at the very end and by that point in time you really don't need helpers anymore considering the status of the quests.
The RPG Element of the game (levelling, etc) is one of the reasons I really like RPGs. I really enjoy the whole gamut of trying to solve everything, being rewarded for your efforts, and then completely destroying your enemies because you already prepared your character for the fight.
Compared to the first two Fallouts, it comes a little short. They averaged out everything: Even if your Intelligence is 1 you still get enough skill points per level to get by, or if your Agility is 1 you can still use VATS decently. The attribute points do matter, but they have less drastic an effect than in the first two games. Also without Traits in the game (chosen at the moment of character creation, they would help one aspect of your character and hurt another) the game feels a little flat again. The Perks seem a little flat as well. Too many of them (90%) are simply "Adds 5 to this and this Skill." There are a few that deal with accuracy in VATS, but otherwise every single Perk can be described as "Adds X to X ability and Y to Y ability" (sometimes Z). Maybe I'm just being bitter, but I miss abilities like Awareness (The game tells you what equipment your opponents are wielding).
The world is really well done. Towns and people are well done. You can tell the differences between the towns and they are filled with really interesting characters. The characters all interact well and are really fleshed out. I got to make fun of a girl named Princess because I convinced one of her "friends" to tell me some dirt on her. And these are almost entirely useless characters (one of them is involved in a quest). But that will bring me to my eventual point point, the quests: With all these rich developed locales and interesting people, why don't we have to interact with them more?
The actual Wasteland is definitely pretty big. The unfortunate thing here is you spend most of your time in about 1/4 of the map. Eventually a quest will send you somewhere far away and you get to go explore, but it's not like Fallout where it's like "Go to Vault 15... Hey! Shady Sands! Let's go mingle with people and save someone from Raiders!" In this game it's all about single locations wanting you to go to other single locations and you really don't find anything interesting along the way. Sure there are Radscorpions and Raiders; sometimes you'll find some ruined fort or something. For the true perfectionists who want to find every hidden weapon and so on, these forts are useful, sure, but they serve no purpose for "power-gamers" who want to go beat all the quests and kill lots of bad guys, or even regular people who just want to save dear old Dad.
If I can put it another way, the world is very full. There's stuff and people to encounter at every turn. The only problem is they're all so unimportant. It's like they finally got their world designed and got to designing the main quest and then they're like "Shit, this game launches in a month, what do we do?" People just feel useless. I found my way to the Brotherhood of Steel headquarters and even though there are dozens of people milling about in this huge complex, I needed to talk to maybe three people. One of them was optional. The world is full yet completely empty. So many people are useless. In Fallout 1/2 it was fine. With the view the way it was, you could just run past all the gamblers and guards and actually find the important people in the back of their little structure. In Fallout 3 you've got to try to navigate around using a map that isn't even helpful if the structure is more than one story, trying to find some guy with imperfect directions.
While I touched on this already, the quests are just not fulfilling. The main quest takes you a variety of places, introduces you to many people and makes you do a lot of cool stuff. There are lots of quests that stay open "Find me some scrap metal/sugar bombs/old books/slaves and I'll buy them off you." Those consist of about half the quests in the entire game. Literally each town has two quests, not counting when the main quest stops by to talk to someone. I think there was one interesting third-party quest line, the "Wilderness Survival Book." I mean I guess if the slaves are interesting people you really want to go save then and take them to their safe haven, but compared to a game like Morrowind or Oblivion where you had entire guilds that you did constant quests for, where you had Daedric shrines that you did interesting, unique quests for, there's just not much content here. I guess that's the best way to put it: There's just not much content. Solving a quest in Fallout 2 meant you interacted with some people, got the quest, traveled somewhere else, interacted with them, and in order to get what you wanted from them, they wanted you to go interact with some other people. Then you worked your way back and there you are. A typical Fallout 3 quest is "Go over there and get me a land mine."
But don't get me wrong; the game is fun. I played through the entire game between Oct 28-30 (with my saves magically disappearing after the first day, so I played it through in two days basically). I enjoyed the game a lot; there's room to replay the game since there are 2-3 ways to finish most quests and with interesting characters, it's worth seeing their reactions and how it plays out. But there's two things I don't like: Unlike the first two Fallouts there's no "And this is what happened to Shady Sands, this is what happened to Junktown, this is what happened to..." Instead it's a canned ending with one variable and three possible outcomes depending on how your character behaves at the end of the game. Secondly, unlike Morrowind/Oblivion, once the main quest ends the game ends, even when it shouldn't. So that helper you acquire right before the end of the game, well there's a big climactic fight happening. I mean sure you can put it off, but it's a big exciting fight filled with power armor and robots! Once you get started on that quest line, it's a little weird to just up and stop and do something else if the world's unfinished. I mean come on Bethesda, you made all these interesting characters, why not let me talk to them after I've saved the world?
I'd give it somewhere between an 8 and a 9.