Posted by Will Ooi | Posted in Gaming | Tags: Fallout, Fallout 3, fallout new vegas | Posted on 10-09-2013-05-2008
Originally seen on Galaxy Next Door
It was an almost endless toxic wasteland of strife, hardship, and disappointment, where one could wander around literally for hours and only take away from it even more negativity and gloom…and this was just the reception from Fallout fan sites and forums when Fallout 3 finally saw the light of day – or, rather, when it rose from the nuclear ashes of development hell.
*Ain’t That A Kick In The Head?*
The production of Fallout 3 had suffered through a long and sordid affair, with the rights to the franchise undergoing a protracted saga after the closing down of the series’ original development house, Black Isle Studios, and the cancellation of their vision of the third installment, codenamed Van Buren, before eventually leaving the grasp of a post-Brian Fargo Interplay (a memorable figure behind many revered 90′s RPGs who’s now back on the scene after Wasteland 2′s Kickstarter success) and landing in the hands of the Elder Scrolls developer, Bethesda Game Studios.
When this reimagined Fallout game did arrive in late 2008, a full decade after Fallout 2 (and not counting the best-forgotten console-market-focused Brotherhood of Steel, which incidentally existed at the expense of Black Isle’s version of Fallout 3 under disastrous new stewardship at Interplay) and with Morrowind and Oblivion lead Todd Howard at the helm, it did so with a Megaton bang. Despite the almost-unanimous critical acclaim and Game of the Year awards that left other big-hitting titles like GTA IV, Mass Effect, Bioshock and Metal Gear Solid 4 in the dust, another apocalypse was taking place over at the Fallout forums – chief among them No Mutants Allowed and the Fallout Wiki – with the existence of the latter an indication of both the richness of the series’ lore and commitment of its fanbase.
A glimpse of how the cancelled Fallout 3, codenamed Van Buren, was shaping up
*I Don’t Want To Set The World On Fire*
The ripple of complaints tore through quickly and in great intensity, with old school fans making known their feelings that Fallout 3 resembled and respected little of what had come before, more FPS than RPG and essentially a standalone title that sought to appeal to newcomers who had never played, or even heard of, the originals. Gone too was that West Coast of America setting, with Washington DC’s Capital Wasteland being undoubtably vast and detailed, but also severely lacking in internal consistency and logic – in 200 years since the war, how could these communities still live in squalor without any viable trade or agriculture? What, exactly, do they eat?
Simplified as well were the originals’ ambiguous choices, replaced instead by – thanks to the mechanics behind 3′s Karma system – mainly binary, black or white decisions: save the town of Megaton or blow it up, help the ghouls at Tenpenny Tower or exterminate them all; regardless of what situations you encountered, there was little room for grey. And to top it all off, prior to the extension of the vanilla game through DLC, and for all the choices and multiple endings promised throughout one’s several hundred hour experience with Fallout 3, the game only had the one solitary and terribly anticlimactic conclusion: that of the Lone Wanderer joining the Brotherhood of Steel and sacrificing themselves to stop the Enclave, a caricatured battle of ‘Good Guys vs Bad Guys’ proportions which wouldn’t look out of place from a Disney script. The cancellation of Van Buren was even harder to swallow in these circumstances.
*Let’s Go Sunning*
Yet it wasn’t all doom and gloom. For the uninitiated who didn’t have that same level of expectation, Fallout 3 was mindblowing. The game provided immense satisfaction in exploration and imagination through the ‘environmental storytelling’ that Bethesda does so well (and which original Fallout creator Tim Cain himself has stated he loved) – sculpting habitats that genuinely felt lived in thanks to meticulous level decoration, a host of voice messages, notes and mysteries to be uncovered, and unpredictable random encounters peppering the wastes and enriching one’s journey.
And once the learning curve of getting to grips with the game’s almost-OCD-inducing amount of seemingly random objects, options and menus had been conquered – you’ll be needing those firehose nozzles and toy cars later – who could forget the adventures we went on; a solitary existence changing forever once we’d befriended Dogmeat, the homage to Fallout 1′s canine companion, and that ever loyal and trustworthy (and always, always angry) Charon the ghoul. Sure, they didn’t talk much, but in a way they didn’t need to as we created our own narratives and role play adventures in our minds and ever-increasing save file sizes, all the while accompanied by a heartwarming 50′s soundtrack completely at odds with the ruins of DC which nevertheless fit perfectly, introducing a whole generation to the magic and positivity of The Ink Spots and Ella Fitzgerald.
*I’m Tickled Pink*
But what about those who hated Bethesda’s vision of the title and vowed to boycott the series from then on? Almost out of nowhere arrived an unexpected silver lining following Fallout 3′s success; once the hype had died down and while Bethesda was at work with their next game – you may have heard of Skyrim - a follow-up title was announced for release in 2010: Fallout New Vegas. The even bigger surprise was that it would be outsourced for development by, almost poetically, Obsidian Studios, the new home of many ex-Black Isle staff members and, notably, JE Sawyer and Chris Avellone, the two former leads of that long mourned-for and seemingly dead and buried Van Buren project.
For the first time in years for the Fallout faithful, there was something to be genuinely excited by as Obsidian announced that it would use Bethesda’s Fallout game engine and incorporate into it many of ‘their’ planned ideas, characters, and factions from the original design documents…and all of it set back on the West Coast, the return of pieces of Mark Morgan’s atmospheric score AND with ending slides commemorating your adventures, to boot. On paper it sounded like the Fallout title that would appeal to everyone, both new fans brought in after Fallout 3 and the old and long-suffering ones alike who would finally get to see fully-realised versions of the legendary Burned Man, the Van Graffs and Arcade Gannon as they decided the fate of Hoover Dam. It was almost too good to be true…and in some ways, it was.
*Big Iron on His Hip*
Fallout New Vegas turned out to be, for many on even the most hardened of communities out there, one of the most richly rewarding modern day RPGs that provided great insight into just why the series’ hardcore fans had been so livid back in 2008. Yet it was also a title that, owing to factors such as a notoriously difficult to work with Gamebryo engine, a short development and QA cycle, and an ambitious design full of permutations and possibilities, was extremely buggy upon release – for some often to the point of unplayability. Also, compared to the style of gameplay of its predecessor, it offered less reward in pure exploration, a skill Bethesda would later continue to display prominently in Skyrim. But in its place – and for those who refused to let bugs ruin the grander scope of the experience – came a Fallout title doing away with the overall influence of the karma system and bringing back the complex reputation scale and politics from the earlier titles which saw The Courier befriend, betray, or set against one another the many characters and factions to be encountered in the Mojave Wasteland. Who didn’t feel compromised when Mr House requested that you dispose of the Mojave chapter of the Brotherhood of Steel, or when you slowly learned that, far from being stereotypical white knights like the Brotherhood over in DC, the NCR were in many ways just as bad as or worse than Caesar’s Legion?
Companions were also much improved, with each of them, whether it was a straight-talking alcoholic lass with a skill in downing shots and handling shotguns, a cybernetic dog with a need for a replacement brain, or lovable Enclave eyebot with a heart of gold, coming with their own backstories, motivations, and personalities. Sorry Charon, Jericho, and Butch, but a handful of lines of dialogue paled in comparison next to Cass, Arcade, Boone and ED-E. Tunnel Snakes, by comparison, no longer ruled!
*Heartache By The Numbers*
The critical reception for New Vegas may have peaked at a contentious 84 on Metacritic, just one point below a milestone score that would have resulted in bonuses for Obsidian from Bethesda outside of an initial one-off payment – a revelation that hurts even more given the layoffs at the company after the game’s release – but its enduring legacy and classic RPG sensibilities are perhaps best assessed by what came directly after it. Looking back to when Skyrim took over our lives for a while with its huge and beautiful world that was so pleasant and easy to escape into, compared to the richness of the experience and lore of New Vegas it was also extremely shallow – honestly, did anyone really care about the Stormcloaks or Imperials come the end of that sidequest? Or even of the main quest, for that matter?
Arguably the two games shouldn’t be compared, but when placing the aims and style of Skyrim directly next to the quality of, particularly, FNV’s DLC add-ons, where fans were treated to some of the best writing and characters, hands down, in the entire Fallout universe, to me at least it brings about some doubt as to whether Fallout 4, likely to be developed again by Bethesda, will be as rewarding in terms of writing strength and creating a thought-out, complex and consistent post-apocalyptic world. In fact, whether any title anywhere comes close to surpassing the staggering, record-breaking 65,000 lines of dialogue featured in New Vegas remains to be seen.
The Burned Man walks! Joshua Graham was resurrected in the Honest Hearts DLC following his initial conception during Van Buren’s production
*Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall*
And so it was in the end that, after Sawyer and Avellone showed us a glimpse of what Van Buren may have been after Todd Howard had shown us what it now was, we find ourselves in a stalemate true to that long enduring Fallout motto, ‘War never changes’. Fans both new and old once again split into two distinct camps, with the licence holders Bethesda – for the former a developer who can do no wrong, but for the latter a company that concentrates on content catered more to entertain than to challenge – situated firmly in the middle of a war of attrition that doesn’t look likely to resolve itself anytime soon. If only Bethesda could build the worlds of the next Fallout titles, and Obsidian could fill it with characters and plot…
Let’s see, then: where do you stand as far as Fallout goes…are you an old school fan or did you get into it from 3 onwards? Which out of FO3 and FNV do you prefer? And, controversially, would you even go as far as saying that a FO4 handled by Bethesda would actually be a step back from Obsidian’s New Vegas, despite all its flaws, or are you happy with Bethesda’s vision of the series?
As an additional resource, here are some links to a series of Fallout interviews I was lucky enough to conduct after the release of New Vegas with JE Sawyer (lead developer of NV), Chris Avellone (head of creative at Obsidian and lead for NV DLCs – Part One and Part Three), Tim Cain (creator of the series), Jason Bergman (Bethesda NV producer), and Tagaziel (No Mutants Allowed administrator).
And for all you PC players out there who haven’t installed JE Sawyer’s own unofficial mod for the game, reflecting his vision of the final product, what are you waiting for?