When I played Fallout 3 for the past few weeks there was an odd feeling I felt. There was a joy from a piece of my childhood when I played my first D&D Gold Box game. It was the thrill of exploration and searching for new stuff and knowing that the search was worth it. I realized what I had missed most in my times of playing RPGs: Exploration.
Exploration was something I made these games great for me. I would wander the country side to see what would lay over the hill or deep in the forest. Would I find a hidden treasure, would I find a dragon to slay, would I find both? Taking weapon in hand, I would go forth and find what was worth finding. And there were plenty of things to find too. Magic weapons and great challenges were there for those that looked.
American RPGs were the kings of exploration, while I loved JRPGs, most lacked exploration and preferred to tell a better story but they often had hidden nooks and crannies with something cool to find.
But something happened to RPGs. JRPGs got rid of the over world for fixed maps and dungeons became simple and linear(more than usual) and American RPGs started to become more quest based. I played the late bioware games from KotOR to Mass Effect and found there was not much to explore and what there was felt shallow. Mass Effect's world that weren't connected to the story felt half assed and there wasn't much reward. Heck I felt Punished for exploring mass effect because the Thresher Maws would attack you and they were harder than the last boss and gave such a pittance of reward that it was more of a deterrent. I played WoW and while there felt to be some exploration potential, it died when I realized that to make my character viable to play, I had to know what I needed and where to find it. There was less exploring the world and more grinding and exploring the wiki.
But now when I play Fallout 3, I feel like exploring is worth it. There seems to be a lot of cool stuff to find and even finding a weapon I already have is worth it due to the way weapons are repaired. There was plenty of neat stuff to find and there were quite a few side quests that required exploring to find. I haven't had this much fun exploring since Wizardry 8 and Morrowind. Sadly I have the feeling that Fallout 3 is an exception and there will be another long wait for exploration.