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Fallout 3 > Fallout: New Vegas

A few days ago I presented a pretty radical opinion on the Twenty Sided comment board: I said I think that Fallout 3 is superior to New Vegas. Some people took issue with that, and this is a topic I’ve actually been meaning to get off my chest for awhile, so I figure that now is as good of a time as any to just tackle it.

First off, let me say that Fallout 3 did have crappy writing. I’m fully aware of this. I’m not sure what drugs the Bethesda writing team was exposed to during the development of Little Lamplight, and I sincerely hope they were merely on prescription medication. But writing is just one aspect of a narrative, and narrative is just one aspect of a game.

I do think that story matters in games. Don’t think that I just don’t care for motivation or backstory. Narrative was the main reason why I loved games like Deus Ex, Final Fantasy 6 and Psychonauts, and why I hated Fable 2. But like I’ve said before, the story of a game is like the lyrics of a song. It isn’t completely necessary to have a good one, or even to have one at all, but it can add a lot of entertainment value if it’s done well.

And Fallout 3 is the song that’s so well written and constructed, until you look up the lyrics and realize how offensively stupid they are. But it’s still a good song, and if you ignore those lyrics then you can enjoy it quite a bit regardless.

New Vegas, on the other hand, is a song that has good lyrics indeed, but those lyrics are spoken through such a severely autotuned voice that it sounds like a narration from a malfunctioning Microsoft Sam. And the actual music sounds just like that of the other song, except considerably more bland and less engaging.

Okay, fine, I’ll stop laboring this analogy.

I understand that it’s easy for a game to be completely ruined for someone because of one flaw. Shamus disliked The Witcher because he hated Geralt. Tom Chick disliked Deus Ex because he doesn’t like spy stories. Yahtzee disliked Bionic Commando because it drinks Pepsi. There are about a million reasons to like or dislike any given game. I get that, and that’s fine. Hell, Jamestown was almost ruined for me because of its difficulty restrictions.

I guess I’m just confused by the fact that so many people think Fallout 3 completely sucks because it has a badly written story, and never is this more obvious than when these people praise New Vegas, a game I found to be inferior to Fallout 3 in nearly every way but the writing.

My experiences with Fallout 3 and New Vegas were essentially the opposite of my experiences with Assassin’s Creed 1 and 2. When I finally did get my hands on Fallout 3 it was the Game of the Year edition, which means I had all 5 DLCs. I played through the main plotline, every single sidequest and DLC, and then made an evil character and did a lot of it again. I loved that damn game. With New Vegas I beat the game, started a second character, and then almost immediately shelved it. It was very much a disappointment for me.

And I used to think I was weird for that. I even started to make excuses, like that since I played Fallout 3 in 2009 and New Vegas in 2010 I must have had higher standards by then. But after putting thought into it and talking to others I really do feel justified in saying that I think Fallout 3 is a better game.

Like I said earlier, writing is just one part of a narrative, and although I do admit that New Vegas had a more competently written plot than Fallout 3, I much prefer FO3’s overall narrative style. Fallout 3 felt more like a journey, while New Vegas just felt like a bunch of stuff happening.

In New Vegas I never really felt emotionally involved. The beginning didn’t draw me in, the ending didn’t feel climactic, and I rarely ever felt like I was working toward something. Fallout 3 actually felt more compelling to me, and I think the intro contributed a lot to that.

I know a lot of people bitched about the tutorial section of Fallout 3 taking place in Vault 101, but I actually thought that was a great way to open up the game. Sure, it lacked freedom, but what it did offer was pacing, pacing that New Vegas completely lacked.

As far as I can tell, starting off in a concealed, claustrophobic environment like Vault 101 served two big purposes for Fallout 3. Firstly, it meant that the player could be gradually introduced to each mechanic of the game in a controlled tutorial. And secondly, it made it feel much more poignant when you get released into the overworld.

It really reminds me of what Yahtzee was talking about in his Crysis 2 review. You start off small so that once things get big it actually carries some weight for the player. The Vault is a very sheltered, “safe” society, which makes it feel like an extreme gear shift when you go from there to being alone in the decrepit wasteland. It also gives your first view of the wasteland much more of a “wow” factor, which set a great first impression of the game for me.

New Vegas lacks all of this. Its approach is to just drop you into the game world with very little motivation, understanding or sense of direction. This doesn’t surprise me at all, since Fallout 1 opened up in the same way, although I feel the need to point out that it’s really not a good thing when your game resembles the opening of Fallout 1.

Ahem. Anyway, the Spoiler Warning guys actually admitted in today’s episode of the show that they preferred the traveling and dungeons of Fallout 3. I have to agree, and I think that’s a large part of the reason why I preferred Fallout 3 overall — because that makes up so much of the gameplay.

So much of the game is spent getting from point A to point B, or from exploring buildings and vaults (for me, anyway) and in Fallout 3 it’s actually fun, but in New Vegas it just feels like bland filler. Endlessly trudging through the Mojave is so boring that it almost makes me wish for a nuclear winter, but you have to do it if you want to get through the quests. That’s what ultimately caused me to shelve New Vegas. I was sick of the filler and I wanted something fun.

I know you’re really aching to post a rant about how “stupid” Fallout 3 is because of its nonsensical plot right now. Just take a deep breath, because I know. But the thing is, I really can’t appreciate New Vegas’s plot any more than Fallout 3’s. The reason for that isn’t because of the plot itself, but because of the way that it’s delivered.

You can’t really enjoy a plot unless you can suspend your disbelief, and New Vegas seems virtually designed to break your immersion as much as possible. Characters act completely mechanical, a large percentage of the voice acting is unbearably wooden, and the world just doesn’t make any bloody sense. Once you complete a quest objective or tell a character a certain piece of information, everybody in the world instantly knows about it. If you kill a character while you’re “hidden,” nobody will even notice that the person is dead and that her corpse is lying in the middle of the room.

What’s wrong? Nothing’s wrong. Just a couple of dead naked women, usual business.

Maybe this stuff didn’t ruin the story for you, but it sure as hell ruined it for me. Why? I’ll quote Shamus himself, though he was talking about Cities XL 2011 rather than Fallout at the time.

“See, I like to believe that the underlying system makes some sort of sense. Perhaps I insist on it. When it becomes obvious that the thing is catastrophically arbitrary, it loses its appeal as a playground. Even doing well loses its appeal, because there’s always the knowledge that I’m doing well at running a nonsense city of random bullshit.”

Of course in this case we’re not running a nonsense city of random bullshit — we’re navigating through a nonsense world of random bullshit — but I think the same concept applies. So as far as I’m concerned, the entertainment value of both games’ stories is at zero. That didn’t bother me in Fallout 3 because I was having so much fun exploring, finding new locations and buildings to loot, but in New Vegas the story is practically all we have, and that’s why the game falls flat for me.

And yes, I’m aware that Bethesda is to blame for a lot of these immersion-breaking issues because of its horrible engine. I don’t care. My point is not that Bethesda is a million times better than Obsidian. My point is that I think Fallout 3 is superior to New Vegas.

And maybe I’m just looking for discussion in the wrong place. Like Shamus said in that episode I linked to, the general public doesn’t seem to be as loyal to New Vegas or as hateful toward Fallout 3 as Twenty Sided is. Most people I’ve talked to outside of Shamus’s site agree with me that Fallout 3 is the better game and that it had a better narrative structure. Hell, Extra Credits is on my side. That’s got to count for something.

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18 responses

  1. I don’t really disagree with you on your music analogy. To be fair, I put more hours into Fallout 3 than New Vegas, even though I’d rate FNV as the “better” game. It’s certainly smarter and more interesting, but in a sandbox game the environments are REALLY important.

    I think the big reason people (myself included) raged so hard against Fallout 3 was because its weak points (plot, characterization, motivation) were things that Fallout and Fallout 2 did really, really well. Precious few games have ever made a story and setting that captivated players like Fallout, so to have the new sequel fail so hard at what people thought of as the “heart” of the series was really what set people off. It’s like a Mario game with horrible platforming: It doesn’t matter how awesome everything else is, returning fans are going to be offended.

    July 27, 2011 at 2:28 PM

    • JPH

      That makes sense, and I think that would explain why most people liked Fallout 3 more than the Fallout 1 and 2 fans. Most people have never played the first two Fallout games, and many of them don’t even know those games exist.

      July 27, 2011 at 2:34 PM

  2. Extra Credits may agree with your stance on which game is better but since they used New Vegas as an example of why amnesia in games is bad, despite the protagonist not actually having amnesia, their opinions should be taken with a grain of salt in my eyes.

    That being said, even though I prefer New Vegas (not by huge amounts, mind you), I agree completely that the way Fallout 3 introduces the story and eases you into the game is miles better than in New Vegas. Once you get past that beginning though, neither game ranks particularly high on my list of ‘games I’d replay solely for the story’.

    July 27, 2011 at 2:50 PM

  3. Khizan

    Fallout 3 was a major disappointment because it was so incredibly weak where Fallouts 1&2 were so strong.

    And while exploring the Capital Wasteland was initially more fun than exploring the Mojave, all too often the things you found while exploring were a disappointment. The vampires and the village. Big Town. Harold.

    Disappointments like that grind away at the enjoyability of wandering. Walking the wastes to see what’s over the top of the next hill stops being enjoyable when the last half dozen hillsides had things like the “Family”. In the end, I had more fun roaming the Mojave because I had some faith that I wasn’t going to find something ridiculously bad.

    While the Mojave’s design is worse than that of the Capital Wasteland, it made up for it by not having outright stupidity waiting for you on the side of every hill.

    Add in the fact that New Vegas had choices and stances other than Dudley Do-Right of the Wasteland and a mustachio twirling Snidely Whiplash and combine it with the way it managed not to take a steaming crap all over the background material, and you get what I feel to be a superior game.

    i can deal with an amnesiac courier out for revenge as a protagonist more easily than I can deal with the sheer stupidity that Fallout 3 was burdened with.

    July 27, 2011 at 4:57 PM

    • JPH

      There were plenty of Fallout 3 set pieces that weren’t outright stupid. Dunwich was one of them. It’s been awhile since I played it so I can’t remember much of the others.

      And like I said, New Vegas seems just as stupid to me as Fallout 3 since any sort of story or characterization it tries to deliver falls completely flat.

      July 27, 2011 at 5:24 PM

      • krellen

        Dunwich was stupid, though. It had the beginnings of greatness, and the ambience was one of the few great parts of Fallout 3, but in the end it led nowhere and had a horribly unfulfilling resolution. You go through those logs and slog through those ghouls, and all you’re rewarded with at the end is a meaningless boss fight that doesn’t even give a resolution to the story you followed throughout (at least no resolution beyond “and then he became a ghoul and I shot him”).

        And that’s indicative of Fallout 3 as a whole. A lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

        New Vegas might have less dressing on the way, but at least it has a destination to reach.

        July 28, 2011 at 11:18 AM

        • JPH

          “Horribly unfulfilling resolution” sounds like Obsidian in a nutshell.

          I had the same problem with New Vegas, especially with the ending. The ending drove me crazy because some of the narrations about specific factions directly contradicted what I did to those factions in-game; for example, it told me about what the Powder Gangers did with the prison, despite the fact that I killed every single person in that place.

          July 29, 2011 at 1:24 AM

          • krellen

            You did not kill every single person, then. What happens with the NCR Correctional Facility depends on whether or not you killed the NPC running the place. You probably missed the other building you could enter (I know I did the first time I visited.)

            August 1, 2011 at 3:57 PM

          • ThirteenthLetter

            My biggest complaint is how the ending fell so dramatically flat. You don’t get to kill Caesar. You don’t even get to rampage through the Legion camp at the head of an army of kill-bots, because these supposedly fearsome Securitrons turn out to be easy meat for any idiot with a machete. You instead get to either try to kill a guy who seems to be wearing a tank given how he shrugged off every grenade and bullet I was carrying, or talk him into going home with his army intact to keep terrorizing the Wasteland. Whee.

            Then the General shows up, and the way you have basically no choices in how to deal with him is even worse. I wanted New Vegas to be independent, but I like the NCR even if they’re kind of incompetent, and they are clearly the only chance people have to live a civilized life. I would’ve been happy to cut a deal. I get Vegas, you get the dam and everything else. But no, all you’re permitted to do is a bit of evil preening and then either kill them or just kick them out. Geez, guys, it’s not like you need to set up another fifteen hours of branching plot at this point; it’s literally less than two minutes from the end credits, why not go crazy with the dialog tree?

            This was even more aggravating for me because I actually thought the NCR and Legion were quite deep, well-drawn forces, especially compared to the Enclave and Brotherhood in Fallout 3. They felt real to me, given the severe limitations of the game scripting, and I wanted to orchestrate a particular ending. When all the options fall away towards the end of the game it’s just… bleh.

            August 6, 2011 at 11:49 PM

  4. Eric

    Not to be rude, but did you delete my post? I wrote something up a while ago, and it appears to be gone now.

    July 28, 2011 at 4:05 PM

    • JPH

      Yeah. It seemed very contemptuous, like you were almost trying to start a flame war. I don’t want those sorts of comments on my blog.

      July 28, 2011 at 4:09 PM

      • Eric

        Apologies, but that wasn’t the goal. I may have used some profanity, and a large helping of sarcasm, but it was directed at Bethesda, certainly not at you. I’m sorry if you consider strong opinions to be flamebait. If that’s the case, I won’t bother continuing.

        July 28, 2011 at 4:16 PM

        • JPH

          It wasn’t that you presented a “strong opinion,” it was that you were practically hostile about it. The amount of times you said things like “Really?” and “Seriously?” was ridiculous.

          July 28, 2011 at 4:27 PM

        • vukodlak

          NMA member perchance? :P

          July 28, 2011 at 5:47 PM

  5. I’m not sure which one I like better. Maybe New Vegas a bit more because Yes Man is awesome, and that really is enough to make me like it better. Otherwise their about the same as far I’m concerned. It is interesting to see the arguments that people on both sides present.

    As you say the exploration is a bit better in fallout 3 than new vegas. One thing that I personally think was a positive for new vegas was faction reputation. Rather than all choices breaking down to a good vs evil choice it was slightly more complex in how much different factions like you. Maybe not a lot better than karma but a little bit more interesting I think.

    I may disagree with you on which one is better, but you certainly argued it well. I did not think Fallout 3 was a terrible game because of the bad story, and I did like both games a lot actually, despite the failings that both had.

    “Hell, Extra Credits is on my side. That’s got to count for something.”

    That’s an appeal to authority so, no it doesn’t count for anything. The specific arguments they present may or may not count for something, but the simple fact that they agree with you doesn’t help your case at all. I don’t mean to be a nitpicky douche or anything, and really you don’t need extra credits to agree with you because your argument is good enough to stand on its own.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appeal_to_Authority

    July 28, 2011 at 9:30 PM

    • JPH

      The comment about Extra Credits was mostly meant as a joke, but yeah, you’re right. It doesn’t really mean anything in terms of my argument.

      I agree about Yes Man. He’s one of the few video game characters out there who’s genuinely funny. And I did like the reputation system much more than the karma system (though karma was still in New Vegas, so…). I may have been a bit too hard on New Vegas, because I did enjoy it. Just not as much as Fallout 3.

      July 29, 2011 at 1:20 AM

  6. Sumanai

    Haven’t played much New Vegas, so can’t comment on the versus, but…

    From what I’ve understood the Fallout 1 team formed Troika Games, the majority of the Fallout 2 team formed Obsidian Entertainment.

    Also I didn’t find traveling in Fallout 3 fun*. And I’m apparently the only one. Didn’t help that my monitor sucks at reproducing dark colors, so those subway tunnels were rather annoying.

    * Like most things, this was improved with a mod. Specifically one that removed the green filter. I can’t actually help but wonder how many are remembering the modded Fallout 3, and playing non-modded New Vegas.

    July 29, 2011 at 4:59 AM

  7. vukodlak

    Well, JPH, I think I agree, more or less. Overall I enjoyed both games (and I enjoyed the original Fallout too back in the day, although it’s quite difficult to get back into now, mainly thanks to the horrible interface) but both had moments of incredible frustration. However, where Fallout 3 mostly annoyed me on a conceptual, intellectual level, New Vegas did so much more on a moment-by-moment basis.

    I thought that Fallout 3 had OK writing overall, but some of the quests (Megaton and Little Lamplight in particular) were just … bad. Badly written, badly acted and most of all badly planned. I cannot comment on the main quest but I think it’s indicative that in 200+ hours of play I never finished it. Having said that, it was mostly a case of saying to myself ‘this is idiotic’ and then leaving and moving on to a different quest or just go exploring.

    I found that the free-roaming, exploring aspect of Fallout 3 to be extremely well done. The buildings/dungeons were always interesting to explore, as was the capital wasteland (although that didn’t always make sense, I admit. But I was having too much fun to notice flaws.) When you exit the vault (and a save just before the exit from the vault works wonders if you want to replay the game) you are free to go anywhere and do anything, which really echoes the first fallout. And although there’s some level scaling, there are still areas which will be extremely tough if not outright impossible. The only time the free-roaming is disabled is in the sewers, which are easily the worst part of the game.

    In contrast, New Vegas clearly had much more competent writers. The quests make more sense, as does the setting. The characters are less likely to say mind-numbingly idiotic lines, and the NPC companions especially shine. However, as Shamus pointed out (when writing about Oblivion I think) and as JPH alludes to, as the complexity of AI behaviour increases it’s much easier to break the suspension of disbelief. Most of the NPCs in Fallout 3 come across as alien automatons, and once (if?) you get over that it’s very difficult to break immersion. NPC in New Vegas talk and behave (more or less) closer to actual humans, so when they do something stupid, it jars much more.

    But the biggest problem I had with New Vegas is that the exploration gameplay takes such a massive drop in quality from Fallout 3. Right from the start you’re told to take a particular route to New Vegas – enforcing a strictly linear 4-5 hours. You’re free to make your own decisions along the way, sure, but the railroading was annoying (much more annoying I thought, than a 20 minute tutorial which allowed me to change my chacrater at the end). And that was even before I noticed that some of the Mojave wasteland appears to have corridors in it. I often found myself wanting to cut across some mountains only to find that I can’t – they are impassable. The same problem as in Fallout 3’s sewers – but now spread all over the main map…

    Once I started getting frustrated by the gameplay, it becomes much eaiser to get annoyed by other design decisions. Having to surrender guns before going into a casino makes sense (allowing me to smuggle in dynamite, not so much); having to re-assign hotkeys when you get the guns back is just annoying. Using an airport as a base of millitry operatioins is interesting; having to traipse around a deserted airport looking for the 6 NPCs you can talk to is tedious. Extending the crafting system sounds like a good idea but offer a plethora of bland choices and it becomes a bit tedious. Hardcore mode is a great idea but with the food and drink so plentiful it just becomes busywork. Faction reputation works great but having the idiotic karma system on top feels even more frustrating. And so on…

    TLDR: Both are fun and both have bad decisions. I found it easier to get over Fallout 3’s bad decisions because they’re mostly not related to gameplay.

    July 29, 2011 at 12:57 PM

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