'Fallout 3' Impressions (Unedited)
January 7, 2009 § 1 Comment
I was listening to Ryan Davies recently on the Giant Bomb podcast and heard him mention that he thought that Fallout 3 was a little boring. Now, I’d say the worst thing a game can be, other than frustrating, is boring. Yet this game has won numerous GOTY awards and has a score of approximately just over 90 whatever platform you look at. So why is it that I’m about to echo what Mr Davies mentioned in his podcast?
Sure, part of the problem is that if you’re going to create a post-apocalyptic wasteland as a setting for a game, the barren and desolate nature of that particular theme is going to be an issue. As such, the landscape isn’t particularly awe-inspiring and travelling from place-to-place on foot gets quite tiresome. Fallout 3 doesn’t have the strength of a good storyline like Mass Effect but this is not a criticism since the game positions itself more as an open-ended sandbox where you sort of mill around picking up quests, exploring the wasteland and meeting new people. This is fine as not all great RPGs require a focused narrative to work well but if you’re going to make an open-ended RPG, you have to make sure the world itself and the people within it are interesting to interact with. As it stands, neither the world, nor the people are. I don’t think I’ve come across one character in Fallout 3 that I actually enjoyed talking to, that I didn’t skip through the dialog while that person was talking. None of these people are particularly interesting, often their motivations and psychology are as simple and flat as a pancake. But then, all these NPCs are really just quest-dispensing machines, just cyphers whose sole purpose to exist is to grant you access to exciting missions which you then have to complete, right?
Well, that would all be true if the missions were exciting or in any way deviated from the ‘go here, retreive/dispense/kill this, come back’ formula. This is essentially all you are doing throughout the whole game, it’s just a big ol’ easter egg hunt. Harsh words but I challenge anyone to really dispute this.
Another issue with the game seems to be that the designers clearly designed most of the quests based on the assumption that you would be a ‘good guy’, that you’d want to help little Timmy find his parents, or act as a messenger between towns, or help out a kooky scientist with his life’s work. Would an evil character be particularly interested in these quests? No, because they involve helping people for very little reward, why bother? Yet, if you want the XP and don’t want to be endless roaming the wasteland shooting overgrown scorpions and ants, you’ll do the quests. Of course there is the option of killing everyone in the game to steal their stuff but if you do that you end up getting very little for the trouble that is bound to cause you. My point is, it pays more to be good than bad and in this sense the game really doesn’t give you much of a choice at all because rationally it would be completely illogical to the player to act in a way which would hinder his progress in the game. Gamers in general I think are a fairly consequentialist bunch, I’m not sure its a criticism or what, but the fact is that games have tought the user of the years to think this way and as a result, I would say a great number of players conceive their choices in terms of rewards, not in terms of morality.
Anyway, my point is that the game doesn’t seem to accomodate the truly evil player, instead it constantly gives little indirect shoves into a morally ‘good’ direction. Personally I think this is a problem for a game in genre which prides itself on giving the player choices. The simple solution to this would be to introduce more ‘immoral’ quests for the player to participate in. But again, this idea of morality, especially in RPGs is so simplistic and subjective that really you end up either looking like Adolf Hitler or Gandhi to the other NPCs in the game. Very is very little room in the game’s moral palette for a gray area and so what you are left with is a rather childish view of morality.
That’s the thing with Fallout 3, it feels very ‘gamey’, almost cartoonish in its approach to a world pre-nuclear armageddon. It’s technically quite an impressive game in terms of the graphics, the scale of the world, the voice work, the amount of ways you can approach the game etc… But ultimately the game most strangle it’s own ambitions to remain playable, hence its short comings in terms of lack complexity in its characters or the simple morality it exhibits.
What isn’t so excusable is the rather awkward combat where they have tried to implement a turn based system over a real-time one. At any point during combat you can ‘pause’ the game to allocate points as to where you will shoot the opponant (targetting the head costs more than the torso for instance) and then stack your attacks and ‘unpause’ the game into real time where you will see your character perform these actions automatically, only then for control to be turned back to the player. It isn’t necessary to use this turn based system during combat but it is advantageous to do so because the computer can aim at the NPCs heads better than you can and the enemy AI often moves in very unpredictable ways due to the jerky animation, making it hard to pull off precise shots. I should mention of course that ‘precise shots’ don’t actually count for much since your aiming is tampered with by your skill (or lack of) in whatever type of weapon you are using. Simply put, the combat is clunky and just poor. If you were to play this as a pure FPS (which you shouldn’t and defeats the point but if you did) then you would be sorely dissapointed.
Coming to the end of this piece it feels like all I’ve been doing is criticise the game for what it’s not, rather than what it does well. Is it a bad game, is there anything it does well? Well, no, Fallout 3 isn’t a bad game, just a rather dull one which on a technical level works really quite well considering its scope and the fact that you can do pretty much anything in the game. It just seems to me that there isn’t much worth doing.
N.B. I did forget to mention one thing and that is that I said that there no characters in the world I liked or was particularly interested in. That’s a small lie, since I did thoroughly enjoy Malcolm McDowell’s voicework for the President who communicates his speeches through little robots dotted around the wasteland. For that I rate the game a little higher than I would normally do since I don’t think there is anything McDowell has been in which hasn’t benefited from his awesome prescence.