I am working on an article about subjective reception of games and movies depending on your own personal situation. I realised that I have a lot to say about Fallout 3, which doesn’t really fit into the article, so here we go.
I loved Fallout 1 and 2, especially the freedom and how much hidden content I missed because I decided to follow a certain path I chose for myself. I loved Oblivion, I played it 300 hours and I haven’t seen everything. So when the makers of Oblivion were announced to develop Fallout 3, my expectations were going through the roof. I expected the best of both rolled into one.
Expectations can be bad! I am only human. You should first realize what a game tries to be, then take it just as such and try to make the most out of it.
I started the game on Day 1, and after a promising start I slowly realised I didn’t like it. I compared it with both Fallout and Oblivion and it was weaker than both in direct comparison in my own twisted view. Fallout “seemed” more liberal to me. I clearly remember the massive freedom I experienced with some quests I played 3 or 4 times with different choices and results, including many non-violent approaches. Oblivion has magic, and monsters, and a lot of quests, and I loved it, so it is a hard rival to beat with a grey future setting.
Fallout 3 started very well, but I met a lot of problems in my subjective experience. As soon as you are asked to go to downtown Washington, killing began. Like masses of enemies, no real choices, just stupid killing (my expectation was: RPG. I got: Shooter). Ok some were super mutants, but I was expecting more value to life than this. Every human or human-like thing attacked me blindly, even if obviously underarmed, and while bullets are expensive and people are poor, everybody still attacked me and died. What kind of realistic real world is this? Why shooty no talky?
My expectation for Oblivion was: Monsters are evil, killing is fine. But I expected much more from a future earth, I expected a world simulation, which was wrong of me. In Oblivion and Dragon Age you can at least try to pay the robbers, that’s more intelligent, and that’s “only” classic fantasy.
Why do they act like I had a choice? This is the main story arch. I did everything I could to keep the slaughter to the minimum, I spent hours trying to “break the game” sorry I mean hunting for free choice. What if I had chosen a scientist character?
Then I met this giant Uber-Mutant (I was supposed to run away from) in front of the Brotherhood base. I defeated him because of a bug, he was stuck in the environment. It took almost all my ammo and bombs, and it gave 0 XP and no loot. Ok just a bug but still…
There is this vampire quest, which started very interestingly. A boy was involved with vampires. We decided to kill them all (because they were not cool vampires but cannibals rather, yuck). So, we saved the boy, he said “thank you!!”, and when we walked back from the mission to grab our reward, suddenly the mission failed, and everybody involved totally forgot about the quest. I reloaded 4 times. Same effect.
It’s just a bug, but it was a showstopper so…
The slave camp – I pay a lot of money so the children get released, I kill him (slavery is no go) AND THEN his slave women attack me. In Oblivion I can at least try to “give up”, this often works if the persons are at least friendly in nature. No way here. I can “choose” to be attacked by unarmed women slaves I just liberated until my drugs run out or to kill the unarmed liberated slaves against my absolute intent. Then I looted everyone, and guess what, the big amount of money disappeared. This breaks the illusion, I just paid him so the children get out of the way, I never took my eyes of him. Even if he had eaten the money right there on the spot, I could have reclaimed it because there wasn’t much left of him.
COME ON, don’t expect me to play a roleplaying game and give me this G.I. Joe kind of black and white Duke Nukem world where everything is about killing, no asking. I try to live a movie here. I try to be a character. I think and talk about what to do next. I even try to act “in character”, to stay true to the character, just to keep up the illusion and immersion. You can’t set up an atmosphere and allow me to spent 2 hours on character creation and then throw me into this cardboard world with the depth of Paper Mario. For ME, this is what the game is about. For others, including the gamedevs, this believable interactive world full of choices that make sense is just on the “nice to have” list.
And now to the finisher.
I had some fun with a few good quests, too, and I tried very much to like the game. All in all, I lied to myself quite well and thought I had some fun.
Until I met the president, the big super villain master boss enemy, which turned out to be a computer. So I did ONE click during our conversation, “could you give up please?”, and he said “OK” and killed himself. Really, I am not kidding. I think I stared at the screen in silence for 1 minute. This was the worst CRPG story moment in my entire 24 years of gaming experience I believe. Imagine this scene in Batman: “Joker, give up!” “OK, I kill myself *BAMM*” Or “Yes Mr. Bond, you are right, I see the error of my ways, I will just stab meself with this handy dagger urglll*
I am aware that Mass Effect [SPOILER, skip this paragraph if necessary] pulled a similar stunt at the end, but I think this does not compare. In Mass Effect, the person in question is in a weak state, his internal struggle was established in at least one earlier scene, we have just defeated him, and he is actually possessed, so to convince him to commit suicide is “too easy” but not “madness”.
In Fallout 3, it is a computer! I am a weak prisoner in that base, surrounded by my enemies. I am at the weakest situation possible excluding gang-rapage. I have not even escaped, I was asked to join computer for a nice chat. And in that casual conversation, the computer decides to end his master plot and his existence because I successfully made a charisma roll.
(do you know why I was caught in the first place? Because like in the worst movies we have, just the second after I retrieved a quest item from a too big totally emptied out dungeon, the enemy was upon me in large numbers. “Thank you, I will take this.” style. What a dick move, where the fuck did they hide, I was going up and down the dungeon many times and it was mothereffing empty. That shit does not translate to interactive media!)
At this point, the game became my enemy. I look at Roleplaying Game of the Year awards and wonder what people think an RPG should be like?
But this also makes me happy in a way. All my secret game design ideas have value if the competition is that “bad” and so revered at the same time. We reach limits in graphics, or at least we have to fight to push through. People have huge expectations concerning graphics. But there is so much still to do, to tell, concerning story, content, depth, choice, a convincing setting, emotions other than fear or hate, approaches without violence, moral shades of grey.
I know that you have to be huge, rich and brilliant, in order to pull off a well-financed game, which is fun to play, which is acclaimed and sells well, and which advances the rather low level of substance we have today. I guess I will not have the luck to be ever in the situation to have a try. But, we as players should support the few games that have the chance to raise our standards, I look at you Heavy Rain and Alan Wake.