I preferred Fallout 3 to Fallout: New Vegas. Please do not stop reading.
Fans of the Fallout series seem to take to the internet forums daily in order to argue bitterly which current gen Fallout game is the best. Ignoring the fact that everyone has personal preferences, and that the whole thing is entirely subjective, it’s a decent debate to have; in a polite, well-mannered environment. Unfortunately the internet is to politeness what Fred Phelps is to….. politeness, and such discussions usually end in incoherent ramblings and petty, shallow insults.
I loved both New Vegas and Fallout 3, but I spent so much more time, and had so much more fun within Fallout 3’s world. If you preferred New Vegas; good on you! That’s fine! It’s a stellar game and you have every right to think as such. However, I’d like to address many of the criticisms levelled (unfairly) at Fallout 3, and many of the defences of New Vegas that feel less like actual love for the game, and more like a desperate attempt to shield Obsidian from criticism (as though they’ll vanish into oblivion if you don’t).
First of all, I’d like to tackle the idea that a games writing is automatically good/superior to other games because it is morally “grey”, or because it deals with less stereotypical ideas of “good” and “bad”. Including morally “grey” anti-hero characters can often be more interesting than pure, perfect blue boys or ridiculous, overtly evil villains, and the slew of television shows being aired that revolve solely around anti-heroes (Dexter, House, Mad Men, Sons of Anarchy etc) is proof that people love them some moral grey-ness. New Vegas, undoubtedly feels like more of a “grey” game, since each of the factions vying for control over The Strip are never completely just in their actions or their intentions; they are often just the best/worst of a bad bunch.
Fallout 3’s focus on the black vs. white conflict between The Enclave and The Brotherhood of Steel garners unfair criticism from many, seemingly not for its actually writing quality, but rather its clear cut good vs. evil dynamic.
Everybody is welcome to prefer morally ambiguous characters or storylines to their black and white counterparts, but implying that “grey” characters and stories are inherently “better written” is such a short sighted view to have. A story is well written if it engages a person’s emotions via entertaining plot points, interesting characters, and a clear sense of style and pace, all of which should be conveyed in a clear way that makes sense to the viewer/reader/player. The story could be a clear-as-day, good vs evil epic like Star Wars, or it could be a questionable tale of intrigue like Dexter. Neither story is better because of its stances on morality, but both achieve greatness through the ways in which they explore it.
Think of it this way: Wolverine is not entertaining because he is morally ambiguous; he is entertaining because he is well written and morally ambiguous. I’ve read enough Wolverine comics to know that it’s far too easy (and common) for writers to fall back on Logan’s flaws and “grey-ness” than actually develop his character.
I actually found Fallout 3’s clear cut morality more appealing than New Vegas’s “lesser of four evils” approach to factions and storytelling. At least The Lone Wanderer had sufficient reasons for undertaking his quest (finding his father and avenging his death by bringing pure water to the wasteland. The Courier’s motivations are flimsy at best, and non-existent at worst; why would I be interesting in following the people who had recently put a bullet in my head, let alone getting embroiled in political conflicts and wars far above the call of duty for a simple courier.
Another issue that commonly rears its ugly head when talking about Fallout is the idea of developer loyalty. Everyone is welcome to enjoy the work of a particular developer and wholeheartedly support them (heck I’ll play anything by Double Fine/BioWare), but that doesn’t mean they should get a free pass on the mistakes they make. Citing that you prefer New Vegas “because Obsidian” is a clumsy, brain-dead argument. I love a lot of the work Obsidian does (I actually think they’re one of very few developers left in the market who are unafraid to speak their minds and create niche titles brimming with fresh, creative ideas), but that doesn’t mean they get a free pass when they ship a game riddled with bugs. Neither does Bethesda.
It’s fair to say that Obsidian has been screwed over by publishers a fair amount of times, but using this as an argument for why the game is better than its predecessors is just plain absurd. I’m not angry at Obsidian when they release a blemished product due to time constraints, but I sure as hell don’t think that said constraints make the game better. The folks at Obsidian are talented, intelligent people with brilliant ideas; they do not need you to blow a giant, Obsidian-branded trumpet in their name, or defend them with a giant +4 Constitution shield.
To summarise what might seem like something of a ramble; I am not trying to discredit New Vegas or Obsidian, far from it. There are plenty of legitimate reasons to prefer NV to F3: you might prefer the games Wild West tone, its streamlined combat and weapon mods, its addition of a hardcore mode and of course, you might prefer its style of writing. But by touting that the game is inherently better than its predecessor comes across as desperate and arrogant. The game is not objectively better, you just prefer it.
People who prefer Fallout 3 are not stupid. People who prefer Fallout: New Vegas are not stupid. Both games have merit, and said merits (or the lack thereof) are worth debating in a calm, well-educated way. Remember to leave objectivity and absolutes by the wayside when entering a discussion about opinions.