Thoughts On: Fallout 3 & Fallout: New Vegas

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Anyone who knows me well, will most likely know my position on the Fallout 3 vs Fallout: New Vegas debate. And that position is that I prefer New Vegas. I want to discuss a little as to why I prefer it, but before I do I’d like to confess something to the hardcore fans of the franchise: I haven’t yet played Fallout 1 or Fallout 2. Yes I know, utter blasphemy, and I’m ashamed for not trying it. I’ve played quite a bit of Wasteland 2, which is actually made up from a majority of the team who made the original Fallouts, and I’ve been told Wasteland 2 is merely a modern echo of the richness that is the old Fallouts. So, someday I will get around to playing them. I would just like to point this out, as I know how frustrating it can be to read the opinions of somebody who acts as an authority figure on a franchise when they barely know anything.

Okay! Fallout: New Vegas, what to say?

I believe it was somewhere in mid-2009 I played Fallout 3. I was even more ignorant of the franchise back then, but I went out and rented it for my Xbox 360. My reason for renting it was because I noticed it was developed by Bethesda Game Studios, who had made The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion – a game which I had played to death. I thought I’d get the same experience when it came to the engagement aspect. But going into Fallout 3, the first thing I noticed – and disliked – was its faded, dreary and sickly looking colour palette. I know this was intentional, to go with the style of radioactive decay and all that, but combined with Bethesda’s pitiful Gamebryo game engine the results were nauseating. I think the only way they got away with it in TES III and TES IV was due to their use of varied colour palettes and fantastical art styles.

Washington D.C. - as depicted in Fallout 3

Washington D.C. – as depicted in Fallout 3

The thing is, normally this is exactly what you want for a post-apocalyptic game. But the problem I felt was that the way Fallout 3 approached the wasteland made it clash with the world they were trying to depict. The main feature of the series is the fantastical setting of a 1950s United States that never ended. Even after the bombs dropped, you’ve still got the ballrooms boogieing and the fedoras tipping. It’s like time had stopped after the apocalypse and no one is moving on. The biggest disappointment for me was the way most of the quests just dealt with resurrecting aspects of the pre-war world in order to survive the limbo that is the post-war world. I personally never felt like I was able to experience the wasteland as anything other than looking back on the pre-war era with a sense of loss I never even had in the first place. Fallout 3‘s Capital Wasteland feels like a world you shouldn’t exist in – compare that to the post-apocalyptic worlds seen in Mad Max or A Boy and His Dog, where everyone knows the end but not the world before it, all that exists in their world is the will to survive. The Capital Wasteland is like nostalgia manifest, despite Fallout 3 taking place roughly 200 years after the world was destroyed in Nuclear hellfire.

But with Fallout: New Vegas, I saw something more. From the moment you leave Doc Mitchell’s home to the final Battle of Hoover Dam, you see in the Mojave Wasteland an unfamiliar world. The memory of the pre-war times isn’t there, instead we as players navigate ourselves through the complex societies, factions, legends and conflicts present within the game’s setting. Fallout: New Vegas for me feels like what you could describe as a post-post-apocalypse. You see manifestations of the old world that existed, but instead of making them the focal point of the story and lore, they’re fed into the lore of Fallout‘s post-war world. They’re given reason beyond simple game mechanics, which I felt Fallout 3 didn’t do because they treated these aspects as outliers to be affected sparingly by the player. Take the Church of the Children of Atom in Megaton for example: in-game the Children of Atom are treated like kooks, barely given notice by the people of Megaton, and it’s the same with Megaton’s settlers as compared to the rest of the Capital Wasteland. The only interaction you have with the Atom Bomb that gave Megaton its existence is to either disarm it – leaving the town as it always was with absolutely no effect on the world at large (no influx of settlers, no rumours within neighboring districts etc.), or destroy it – turning the entire town and surrounding area to glass – all this at the whim of a businessman with barely any investment in the town anyways. To me that felt quite juvenile and pointless beyond the little flash spectacle of a mushroom cloud and the Ghoul’d up Moira we were rewarded with for doing it. I much preferred the approach taken with Fallout: New Vegas, treating these outlying communities as one part of an interwoven tapestry that makes up the Mojave Wasteland, and interacting with any of these factions causes possible consequences within other factions. It’s interesting, and makes you appreciate that the world you’re in isn’t just one of people scraping by, living off the memories of time long gone. You’re in a complicated place, with complicated relationships.

The Burned Man - One of many strange figures in Fallout: New Vegas.

The Burned Man – One of many strange figures in Fallout: New Vegas.

One of the big arguments against Fallout: New Vegas that I’ve noticed, is that it’s too railroaded, and doesn’t offer anywhere the same amount of freedom game play wise as Fallout 3 does. But what I think people tend to forget with Role Playing Games is that you’re not playing a self-insert, free to do whatever they want as reflective of the person playing them. You’re creating and filling a role, meant to interact and grow off the world they’re introduced in, and doing what’s appropriate to the role they’ve made. Fallout: New Vegas does have a more linear focus yes, but it’s needed for your character’s progression – again, from Doc Mitchell’s to Hoover Dam, you the Courier are journeying through the great tapestry of lore that is the Mojave Wasteland, and in that process the Courier integrates themselves into that tapestry.

This is why I preferred Fallout: New Vegas. I appreciated how it made me a character within the world, rather than having it make a world around my character. Sometimes, it’s good to play an RPG that doesn’t make you a self-insert, but rather an established part of the world that forces you to go out and seek answers yourself instead of letting you create answers based on your personal preference. Hopefully, we see this kind of approach taken with the upcoming Fallout 4 – although I really doubt it. Anyways that’s enough rambling, if you enjoyed Fallout 3 but haven’t tried Fallout: New Vegas, or you like lore rich RPGs but haven’t tried the Fallout franchise, give it a go.

And remember,
True to Caesar!

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