Fallout 3 is the best Oblivion mod I’ve ever played
February 19, 2010 29 Comments
I’ve played a lot of Oblivion mods, and a lot of them were of an impressive quality. I mean, at times I had to wonder if it was cutting room content from the floor at Bethesda. Or maybe that’s just wishful thinking. But then, at the end of October, I saw the best Oblivion mod. Of course, the only catch is that I had to pay $50 to play it. But hey, considering the mod had about 1/4 of quest content than Oblivion had, then I suppose it’s worth it.
The Sins of our Fathers
If you’ve heard, “Oblivion with guns,” then I’m proud to report that such a statement isn’t far from the truth about Fallout 3. The engine, mechanics, voice actors, and even the UI are either identical, similar, or an improvement from Oblivion. However, what has changed is the setting and the art (some what). Oh, and there’s also that bit where Fallout is a long-established series that Bethesda only recently got their hands on.
Of course by now you’re probably defending Bethesda, saying something like, “You can’t blame them, all they’ve ever known is The Elder Scrolls.” Which is true; they’ve always been trying to improve the usual game play of TES. Morrowind was the milestone and Oblivion…well, Oblivion fell a little short (at least not in sales). However, developers are capable of doing something different. It’s not a foreign concept to find developers actually expand to other ventures and genres and be successful in their attempts as well.
And while I do not only wag my finger at Bethesda for trying not to be original, but I’m more about wagging my finger at Bethesda for essentially changing what the Fallout series is actually about. There was a specific defining quality of what made the games what they were and it mainly had to do with the interface and the view point in which you played the game. The only thing that has pretty much come from previous Fallout games is just the name, while everything else in Fallout 3 comes from Oblivion (including the rediculous vampires).
Still though, you’re still going to find some people saying that Bethesda did their research on Fallout, citing that S.P.E.C.I.A.L. and Karma made their way to the game, as did the Enclave and other common elements of the Fallout universe. Even early complaints about Fallout 3′s ending were apparently “justified” by a Bethesda employee, saying that they gave Fallout 3 a definite ending because Fallout 1 and Fallout 2 had definite endings. Except, uh, Fallout 2 didn’t, and only someone who has actually played the game would know that, which brings us back to my original point.
And while you see words flash up that say, “You’ve gained/lost karma!” or you can see your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats, but they’re nothing like the Fallout equivalents. Which, of course, has to do with Bethesda making an Oblivion mod and not an actual Fallout sequel. You see, the stats for S.P.E.C.I.A.L. actually made a difference on how you played the game in Fallout, as opposed to Fallout 3, where Bethesda just slapped on their old stats system from Oblivion and called them another name, adding in dialogue quips so if you had a high score in one stat you could get a unique dialogue option. Of course, the dialogue options are so few and far between and they, at times, don’t even make sense. For instance, if you have a high intelligence score, you apparently have the ability to point out the obvious. The karma system is also just the copy and paste of Oblivion’s fame and infamy system (or, at least, Bethesda has never actually read up on the concept of karma either).
Through all such things in the past, it becomes quite obvious that Bethesda was not making a full attempt to make an actual Fallout game, but rather another Bethesda game instead.
His Name’s Bob
What’s probably the most insulting to the Fallout series in Fallout 3 is how the lore is slapped across the face a few dozen times. This has more to do with the fact that Bethesda had a long reputation of taking care of actually involving their games with heavy lore and story involvement as well as quality writing. Take note in the past tense, however. Pete Hines has had a different perspective on things, letting everyone know that they “just don’t have unlimited monkeys and typewriters.” So apparently they only had a few monkeys with typewriters working on Fallout 3 instead.
The premise behind Fallout 3 is that it takes place in a totally different location. Whereas the setting was always California in the Fallout series, that changed with Fallout 3, which takes place in Washington, D.C. The other major problem to this “sequel” is that it’s not a sequel at all. Oh, sure, there’s a number three at the end, but that means bunk all. In Fallout 2, your character is actually the descendant of the Vault Dweller in Fallout 1, thus tying in with a poetic sense that of course your character saves the day once again; his own father was a savior (or destroyer) in his days as well. In Fallout 3, your character is magically the Lone Wanderer; don’t know how, he just is. That’s what the monkey with the typewriter wrote, so let’s roll with it.
The other trouble to Fallout 3 are the factions involved. You see, the Enclave pretty much went kablooie at the end of Fallout 2–at least, they were so severely crippled that the force that is found in Fallout 3 was highly improbable. The other trouble to the Enclave in Fallout 3 is that they’re supposed to be the Big Bad, but that feeling of actually disliking the Enclave never really comes into fruition. You see, in the past, the Enclave was basically the modern Nazi Party, wanting to implement a “final solution” to “clean” the Wasteland and start rebuilding the nation with only “pure” people (see: people who actually survived the vaults, which is probably not many at all). The Enclave also made it quite clear that they were not friendly either, swooping around settlements and usually bombing the crap out of them.
The other big faction is the Brotherhood of Steel, which also in the real lore is a lot less friendlier than they are in D.C. (oh, and they too aren’t supposed to be in D.C. as well–but hark, monkeys with typewriters). They too only have the idea of trying to rebuild, but only with those they deem worthy as well. The difference between them and the Enclave is that they’re actually not responsible for a lot of the crap that goes on in the Wasteland, usually attacking bigger factions that oppose threats–but only to them. They are not interested in helping out the little guys.
The last big faction to the Fallout universe are the super mutants. Here is, quite possibly, the least likely of all factions to find their way across the freaking country and find their way to D.C. The super mutants are products of The Master, creator of FEV. Again, we have another Enclave ending here, where The Master is killed and so are the vats that were needed to create his super mutant army. Again, while some survived, there was still not a force large enough to justify the numbers in D.C. That apparently is justified with how there are vats of FEV in the D.C. area too. Which, of course, is entirely impossible. But hey, remember, we’re dealing with monkeys with typewriters here. You can’t expect too much.
Essentially what Bethesda did is they wanted to set the game in a different setting, so they changed all the lore to support the setting. Of course, when the lore is on stilts, it’s hard to actually find an interest in anything that can apparently change at the drop of a pin.
Barging into the Office
The biggest critical feature of Fallout 3, however, is how shallow the game is. It’s shallow in its quest content, it’s shallow in its story, and it’s shallow on things to actually do with your time. It’s amazing to see that with Bethesda pretty much copying and pasting the mechanics of Oblivion that they apparently still didn’t have time to fill in the gaps. I’m actually starting to wonder if maybe textures, animations, and sounds were the only things Bethesda was really actually trying to work on.
As I mentioned earlier in this article, the amount of quest content in comparison to previous Bethesda games is down-right insulting. You usually want to add more things to do as you progress with your games; Bethesda apparently has a company MO to do just the opposite of that, taking four steps back each time they make a game. Morrowind had tons of quest content, Oblivion had less, and then Fallout 3 had the least of them all. Bethesda’s usual defense to this is that the quests in the game are “more fleshed out.” What this actually means is that you just get to play detective a little longer while talking to people. Of course tha ultimately means little, considering nearly every Fallout 3 quest involves you killing someone.
The other problem is that Fallout 3 is billed as an RPG. Bethesda still seems to think that having only having Lawful Stupid and Chaotic Stupid paths means that they’ve got their bases covered in trying to play a role. Either way, you’re going to be killing a lot of people to complete quests. Would it have been impossible to actually have other ways to complete quests that actually made use of your useless S.P.E.C.I.A.L. skills? How about using logic? Like, you know, “Hey Roy, if you hate humans so much, you can always just live in the Underworld. It’s full of ghouls, it’s a bit luxurious and…oh, right, you can live there for free.” Nope, no such option. In fact I’m convinced that Tenpenny quest wasn’t a quest at all, just some bored Bethesda employee trying to make a subliminal point (ooooh, my symbolism sense is tingling).
Wait, never mind. Monkeys with typewriters. I forgot.
And while I’ve beaten that quote to death by now, I wonder if Pete Hines was also trying to make a point when he said it. The idea behind the infinite monkey theorem is a mathematical one, but on the metamorphic level it represents an incoherent writer who is likely to write a lot of crap before actually writing something of quality. So maybe they did hire a few monkeys to write the main plot to Fallout 3, because it sure as hell felt like it.
The plot revolves around this Project Purity, which has the power to clean the tainted water supply in D.C. Apparently, however, the scientists on the project are unclear how to purify water–because, you know, they can already do it. Which with that knowledge alone makes everything that follows completely ridiculous. Apparently dear old dad was an original scientist on the project, but stricken with grief at your mother’s death at your birth, he runs away like a little girl and barters with the Overseer of Vault 101 to live there. However, dad eventually gets that itch he can’t scratch, and thinks busting out of the vault Governator-style is the best option to go for, thinking that his son would some how remain safe. Of course, when the Overseer wants to kill you, dear old dad’s philosophy on that one backfires.
Essentially the next half of the main storyline involves you just trying to find dad, while doing side quests for people just for information on the subject. However this can even be entirely skipped if you just go to the location where he is beforehand, where a player can actually skip half the main quest line on accident and not even know it. When you meet up with dear old dad he’s angry that you’ve left the vault. After he’s angry about you leaving the vault he then scolds you for leaving the vault, following with an afterword of how disappointed he is about you leaving the vault. Throughout all dialogue options, however, you are never allowed to say, “Hey you dumb ass, I left because you decided to go all Rambo and the Overseer was trying to kill me.”
This lack of character development with the player character and your father, fortunately, does not have to last much longer. Afterwards dad gets the old crew back together and goes back to work on Project Purity. Of course, before they can work, you (and you alone) must clear out the super mutants that have decided to hold up in the place. So, of course, dad has the utmost confidence in you that you can handle your own against 20 genetically-altered roid-raging killing machines. Later he has you throw some switches as well (also obviously confident in your Intelligent modifier). When you come back to the main room where the main switch has to be thrown, the Enclave has arrived, and they’re holed up in the chamber with two armored soldiers and an officer. Dad, in a total dick move, decides to kill himself for no apparent reason. His confidence in your combat proficiency is also non-apparent at the time (because 3 Enclave dudes are definitely harder to kill than 20 super mutants). Oh, and the Big Bad’s Lieutenant is also trapped in the trap dear old dad set up, which was to radiate the room of a dangerous level. The two Enclave soldiers in radiation-proof suits immediately die, but Colonel Autumn (the Enclave officer), manages to inject himself with Plot Device before he collapses on the floor.
About at this point in time you’re shrugging, because you not only don’t really know what’s going on, but also because you’re not choked up on a worthless character that is supposed to be the God in your eyes just killed himself. But wait, it gets worse! Later, when you get captured by the Enclave, their president decides that he wants to meet with you. Apparently in mid-stride to get to his office, Colonel Autumn announces on the intercom to belay the president’s orders to leave you unharmed and wants you shot on sight. You eventually meet up with the president, which you find out is actually a computer. Now, computers are usually models for logic, right? Well, some how, President Eden thinks that mirroring Hitler’s actions is the best course of logic, as he wants you to use an FEV virus in the water purifier for a Final Solution surprise. Oh, and while computers are usually smart (and this one is a super computer), he’s also ridiculously easy to fool himself into killing himself. Apparently he was trying to be too much like Hitler.
The biggest kicker to it all, however, is the ending, which has been critically hailed as a critical failure–so bad, in fact, that Bethesda is going to retcon the damn thing in later DLC. There are a number of problems with it. Actually, the entire thing is terrible. Leading up to it you are working with the Brotherhood to retake Project Purity, which is enclosed with Enclave shield barriers that the Brotherhood can’t pass (and they apparently don’t have aircraft, so they can’t fly over them either). The solution is to bring in this big robot to clear the road and destroy the shield barriers. So this bit leading up to the ending seems epic at first, with a robot screaming obscenities like, “Better dead than Red!” at Enclave troopers, but you soon find out that you could essentially be masturbating with one hand and drinking tea with the other and you’ll still pass this stage of the game because the robot kills everything in sight. And, like all epic parts of the game, it ends before it even gets started.
So then you get inside the building again. Cool. You go into the room and there’s Colonel Autumn. Cool. Colonel Autumn still doesn’t make it known why he rebelled against Eden, but you can pretty much surmise that he didn’t want to inject the FEV virus. Instead, Colonel Autumn just wants to turn on the water purifier. Gee, what a real bad guy. He wants to do exactly what you want to do. But hey, you can’t tell him that either. Nope, it’s time to die, evil doer!
Then, in a heel-face-turn wall banger, the ending is epitomized by punching in the numbers to activate the project before the reactor goes critical and you miss the chance to purify the water. The catch? Who ever goes into the chamber has to die. Never mind the radiation in the room is survivable. Never mind being able to punch in the numbers and quickly get out the room. Never mind that three of your companions can go into the room without being harmed, while two others are brain-washed or are willing to die for you, and they all deny wanting to do so. Oh, and if you don’t choose to kill yourself like your dear old dad and leave it up to this Brotherhood of Steel chick that you could also care less about to do it instead, then you’re a total bastard. Either way, the game ends.
And the biggest problem to a definite ending in a Bethesda game is that they don’t happen; you complete the main quest and you continue on afterwards. Life goes on. I suppose I would’ve been satisfied with the ending if it had a traditional Fallout ending. Oh, sure, Ron Pearlman was there, but the idea behind him telling you of all your exploits and how they echoed through history are either not mentioned or are shortened to just showing two or three pictures. This obviously contradicts Bethesda’s “we’re going to have 200 endings” promise. No, there’s four endings and that’s it. And the ending of Fallout 3 can effectively describe how everything else turns out in the game as well.
Ironically, despite how terrible the writing is in Fallout 3, it has been nominated for the Writer’s Guild of America’s Video Game Writing Award for 2008, which probably tells us 2008 was a terrible year for games with good stories. Of course, the kicker is that you actually have to be part of the Writer’s Guild of America to have your game nominated in the first place, so maybe there was an even smaller pool to draw from anyways.
War…War Never Changes
What gets me the most is that I enjoyed Oblivion’s main story, so I had this sense of quality I was expecting from Bethesda. Imagine my surprise when the story is so God-awfully terrible. I still question the decisions on it, especially considering how their third planned DLC is to retcon the ending (and allow you to continue to play the game after the real ending). Did Bethesda purposely sabotage the ending to be so terrible that anyone who was angry with it would buy the DLC, thus purposely leaving out game content to sell later? Before Pete Hines was Vice President of Bethesda I would have shook off this idea, but now…now I’m not so sure. Oh, sure, they’re saying the retcon DLC is because of the response they got from the ending, but it’s hard to imagine that it wasn’t planned on some level. Even a blind man could see just how terrible the ending was.
And while Fallout 3 is shallow on quest content and writing, there is no reason to deny that the combat and VATS system is actually quite fun. There also have been some better improvements from Oblivion as well, including level design. Every dungeon area in Fallout 3 is unique, as opposed to in Oblivion, where there were four or five designed layouts and copied and pasted all over the world. Oh, and the faces actually look pretty, as opposed to the rediculous oval baby faces we had in Oblivion. However, it seems Bethesda still made the same mistake in the effort department, focusing on graphics and textures more than what a real RPG should focus on. As each Bethesda game is released, this goal objective gets pushed back further and further.
The highlight to Fallout 3 is, however, the GECK editor, which essentially allows you to change anything about the game you want, including adding new areas, quests, NPCs, items, and just about anything else. It’s pretty complicated, but if you spend the time to learn it, you will find you can virtually do anything. Which is the only reason why Fallout 3 is worth buying because the modding community behind it is going to be so huge that in another three or four months you’re going to be able to download a boat load of mods that drastically change and improve Fallout 3 than Bethesda could ever try to do (just like what happened with Oblivion). Which is sad in the long run if you think about it. Hopefully Bethesda can get back on track one day.
Originally written: February 2009