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.
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.