Fallout 3/NV religious wars

I was just reading this page which starts with an Obsidian dev comparing Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas, and then devolves into a bunch of fanboys arguing which one sucks and which one rules.

The two dumbest recurring comments:

  • That FNV had better game mechanics.  Of course it did; it came later.  It inherited the engine, and the devs could consider what worked and what didn’t, and add interesting stuff like iron sights, ammo reprocessing, much more item creation, and more guns.
  • That the games have lots of “cut and paste” areas.  That’s the dirty little secret of all level design.  Texturing and modelling takes time, an enormous amount of time.  Of course it’s going to be re-used extensively.
Jacket’s got style, if only it had AR

A lot of game preferences come down to what you’ve already played.  Fallout 3 blew me away, but I’d never played Fallout 1 & 2, so there was nothing to spoil for me.  FNV had a lot to live up to, and it could never re-create the thrill of (say) that moment you exit the Vault in F3, the brightness blinds you a moment, and then you see that wide, desolated, yet beautiful wilderness for the first time.

A lot of the commenters on that page obviously feel that FNV is much better written than F3, and I just don’t see it.  I played through F3 twice, and I haven’t been able to finish FNV, though I still might go back to it (if nothing else, I want to try the DLC).  Partly it’s just RPG fatigue.  But partly I think it’s way too linear, and that doesn’t mesh with what seems to be an open world.

The F3 manual pointed you at Liam Neeson, but suggested that you could ignore the main quest entirely.  And you could!  You could do stuff (and live) in Megaton, go mess with (or help) the slavers, interfere with the politics of the Republic of Dave, palaver with the pseudo-vampires.  I centered my second playthrough on the quixotic goal of finding all the bobbleheads.  FNV seems to have much, much less of this.  It has side quests (the ghouls and their rocket, for instance), but it seems to be organized around a very specific trek, the one that takes you on Benny’s trail up to New Vegas.

And twice, I’ve gotten bogged down once I got rid of Benny.  There’s a long stretch where you’re just talking to people, and if there’s a choice at all, it’s usually between being helpful and being nasty.  An example: there’s a quest where you can help or hinder a gang from embracing cannibalism.  Um.. I guess that’s post-apocalyptic and all, but it feels completely unreal.  It doesn’t tell us anything about the world or ourselves, and the only gain for choosing the evil path is to hear whatever dialog they came up with.  Compare a choice in Saints Row 3: you (as a crime boss) steal a bunch of prostitutes from a rival gang, and you can either add them to your organization, or sell them back to your rivals.  There’s no option to give them jobs as secretaries or something.  Now that’s an interesting choice, because it feels real.   It’s not a choice between good and evil, but between doing something squeamish and being more of a bastard.

You do get to decide who will ultimately run New Vegas, though personally I think the choice is way too easy.  There are two reasonable choices, but it feels like the game only really approves of one of them.  Where I’m at in the game, however, almost all there is to do is pursue one of the choices.  Which I guess is how most games work, after all (you can’t exactly go off on your own in Mass Effect either), but at their best the Bethesda games make you feel like you have a lot more options.

The Point Lookout DLC for F3 did this much better, I think, because there were two factions which were morally equivalent.  That’s better game design because it’s not dressing up a tired elves-vs-Sauron choice as a real moral decision.  The player can then bring their own morality and history to the choice.

It also affects my judgment that New Vegas itself just doesn’t work.  The casinos are big and fancy and yet almost completely dead; there’s no excitement or even a sense of sin.  Plus, given the almost complete social collapse depicted in the rest of the game,  it just doesn’t make sense that these enormous casinos could be making money, or even get all the electricity they’re wasting.