Top 5 Ways Fallout Needs to Evolve
When I heard that Bethesda bought the rights to the Fallout IP and had begun working on Fallout 3, I was extremely wary. After all, these were the same people responsible for the beautiful, albeit clumsy, Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. When I actually played Fallout 3, most of my fears were either forgotten or assuaged. It was evident that the transition from top down 2D to first person 3D was both necessary and welcome.
More recently, Obsidian Entertainment held the reins and, I'm not being overly dramatic here, wiped the floor with Bethesda in their delivery of Fallout: New Vegas. Yes, New Vegas is bug-riddled, but when stacked together, it makes Fallout 3 looks like amateur hour. Sorry Bethesda, your writers and world builders just can't compare.
Yikes. Nostalgia or no, these classics do not hold up, graphically.
Obsidian, in perfecting a Fallout story, atmosphere and characterization, exposed an interesting set of blemishes that the franchise needs to confront and address:
1. The battle of Hover Dam was a bloodbath! I saw at least eight people die! War is hell!
Four of these "problems" are directly or indirectly tied to the game engine itself. It's somewhat disheartening that while Fallout 3 has been relegated in my mind to an impressive tech demo, the sheen of newness is already quite rusted and worn. I'm not talking about the need for better graphics, in fact, the graphics are still pretty nice looking, on the whole. No, I'm talking about the limitations inherent in the Gamebryo engine regarding function.
While it sort of makes sense that The Strip, among various other locations, is walled off, most of the time those walls just serve to remind the player that the game can't handle too much excitement in any one location. To a person, I'm willing to bet that no one was impressed with the 3-part Strip partitioning. That's just not what you imagine leading up to your visit. And each of those areas is pathetically small, only a few steps from door to door.
Likewise, the Battle of Hover Dam, the climax of the game and the event that everyone in the area is worried about, turns out to be nothing more than a little skirmish between maybe two dozen soldiers from each faction, and that's being very generous with the estimations. Obsidian tried to tell a grand story but the engine simply couldn't cut it. In the end, it was painfully obvious why the courier was able to swing the battle so thoroughly in his chosen direction. There was never really any army standing in his way. These are but a few glaring reasons why the engine needs to be rebuilt from the ground up. But there are many more.
Majestic view, flaccid battle scene.
2. Screw you, Pip-Boy!
After two Fallout games, I can officially say, I hate the godddamn Pip-Boy 3,000. The worthlessness in design and function of this clunky, 1980's era interface can't be overstated. The obvious shortcomings are many, from a hyper-bland presentation to the woefully time consuming process of finding the function that you want.
Let's tackle this one element at a time. Whoever thought it was a fun idea to take a Commodore 64 and adapt it to wrist-format was an idiot. I understand that this civilization developed a different set of aesthetic priorities, but does anyone really want to relive their old text adventure days? Didn't we all praise the gods of gaming when Super Mario Brothers hit the scene?
The lacking presentation doesn't end there. When you first heard about the new survival and hardcore features in New Vegas, didn't you imagine huddling by a fire, pulling out your portable spit and going to town on some fried gecko? It would have been a defining memory in most gamers' minds if that had actually happened. Instead we get to look at our wrist, highlight "gecko steak", and click to hear a "nom nom nom" sound. Whoopee. Nothing says cowboy living off the land like text box selection.
I'm crying too, Pip-boy. I'm crying too.
This series needs a streamlined way of handling inventory, maps, journals and health. How about opening a backpack filled with guns, stims and ammo and letting us rifle through (in an organized fashion, of course). How about actually pulling out a real map, a la Far Cry 2. And why not let the player simply look down at his body, see that he has a broken arm, and watch as he pulls out some gauss and tends to it. Not only would this solve the Pip-Boy problem, it would also add immensely to the overall immersion of the game. No longer am I clicking a single data file lost among dozens of other data files in my weapons menu; now I'm frantically yanking out my rusty machete as a wild deathclaw charges me.
3. Faster than a speeding bullet!
I'm one of those people that poured over Google Maps late one night to find that, indeed, Primm, Searchlight and Goodsprings were real towns! But what immediately jumped out at me was the distance between those locations. Dozens upon dozens of miles separate these locations in real life. Does it matter? No, not really, not from a gameplay perspective. After all, this could easily be a "fictional Nevada" where the towns are extremely close together (and very small, at that). But that's not the point.
Fallout 1 and 2 had scale. It took days and weeks to traverse the destroyed landscape of California. Even if all we were shown at the time was a red X inching its way across a flat map, the player was still painfully aware of the passage of time while traveling, as numerous world events would occur while on the road. A larger map also let players of Fallout 2 own a car!
Now this is what I'm talking about!
Plain and simple: Fallout needs to reclaim its larger scale. Not only would that allow for the reintroduction of ride-able vehicles, but it would also let the player experience more than one local flavor per game.
4. The Band-aid that is VATS.
Fallout 3 introduced VATS as a way of paying homage to the turn-based combat of its predecessors. But let's face it, the past two games have neither been good shooters, nor great RPGs (where stats determine combat outcomes). Combat-wise, most people now think of Fallout as a mediocre shooter with a dash of stats thrown in. In trying to have their cake and eat it too, Bethesda's middle road has neither RPG fans nor shooter fans singing their praises. We already have a decent ruined-world shooter in the form of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series, among others. Why not go back to the drawing board and really make Fallout into a true RPG again? The popularity of "tactics" games shows that people are more than willing to give slower-paced, more strategic combat a chance. Let's leave the FPS mechanics to games that truly focus on them and embrace the roots of the Fallout legacy.
This sure doesn't seem like an RPG...
5. This is whole apocalypse thing isn't so bad.
I applaud Obsidian for adding a new depth in the form of Hardcore Mode. I was eager to dive into this new gameplay but quickly found that it made little difference. By the end of the game, I had over 400 stimpacks, 60 doctors bags and a fridge full of so much food, I could feed all of New Vegas for a month. Not exactly roughing it, was I? Fallout needs to take a page from the survival horror genre: less is more. If stimpacks are rare and making/buying food and water is a much more pressing concern, the player will feel the crushing weight of the Wasteland baring down on him, in a good way. Likewise with ammo - the beginning of the game felt the most fun because I actually had to switch guns numerous times to keep the bullets flying. After about ten hours, though, I never had to desperately pull out my .357 revolver because my much better hand-cannon ran dry. And that's a real shame.
I have better access to healthcare in the irradiated desert than I do in real life!
Fallout has all the elements of a great, lasting franchise. Obviously, the series needs an engine overhaul so that the epic nature of the universe can be fully realized. In addition, developers need to fully embrace the "survival" aspect of the setting. It's hard to take all those huddled masses seriously when they complain about starvation and radiation, when just the slightest bit of resourcefulness on the player's part nets him a king's level of luxury. Oh and one final bit of advice: Bethesda, please hire Obsidian to do all of your RPG writing. Maybe then, Elder Scrolls V will have lore that people actually care to read.