Bethesda Softworks control two of the most revered series' in modern gaming. Creators of the Elder Scrolls games and acquirers of the Fallout franchise - Bethesda own the Sandbox RPG genre.
Before we go on - New Vegas IS better than Fallout 3...(appropriate pause for the hissing and booing of avid Fallout fanatics in utter disagreement)... Fallout 3 is a masterpiece - back in 2008 it delivered a rich, innovative and engrossing experience and brought something we had never seen before to the current generation of gaming. Two years later, Fallout: New Vegas took all of what its predecessor had achieved and made it better. So if Fallout 3 is a masterpiece then New Vegas is, well, whatever one better than a masterpiece is. Skyrim - the first worthwhile Elder Scrolls of the current generation- became a similar success; a hero’s tale framed within a beautiful fantasy realm complete with dragons, giants, mammoths and not just advanced AI, but a fully functioning civilization. If you had a social life, it was put firmly on hold after embarking on the Dragonborn's journey.
Ok, so now it has been just over a year since The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim graced our screens. And now that the dust has settled, the hysteria has calmed and the enchantment spell has worn off, it's time to lay the facts bare- Fallout: New Vegas is better than Skyrim (man, this article has the potential to piss a lot of people off!).
Let's talk why:
Setting, Believability and Intrigue of Gameplay: The Mojave desert, New Vegas and the end of the world scenario VRS the realm of Skyrim and a mythical doomsday.
I can hear the complaints already. Ok, ok, Skyrim is beautifully rendered. There are dragonflies and butterflies and rolling hills, and blah, and blah, and blah. I’m all for expansive maps and massive playgrounds which push hardware to its limits, but a fair whack of Skyrim is just plain boring. If I’ve trotted past a keep, cavern, burrow or cave once, I’ve trotted past one a million times. Anyone who claims they didn’t ‘fast travel’ from at least halfway through the main story is a liar. Size matters, but quality beats quantity every time. And where is the challenge? Skyrim’s random encounters pose almost no threat from the get-go. Bandits are felled with a single strike and trolls are picked off from long range with ease. Even the almighty dragon showdowns are either repetitive button mashing affairs or simply a case of outrunning said beast, making haste in the opposite direction. Sure, it is all more than aesthetically pleasing; but it’s just too easy.
New Vegas is quite the opposite. Thrown in at the deep end, battles regularly demand well executed strategy, timing and finesse. Be it battling a nest of Radscorpions, an army of fire ants, or a swarm of vehement Cazodors, you never feel safe. Utilizing Fallout’s VATs combat system efficiently only serves to force a tactical approach. And that’s without mentioning the most deadly of all videogame enemies - Deathclaws. As for New Vegas itself, its sparseness only adds to its grandeur. The sun-scorched plains and abandoned towns have you searching that little bit further for friendly life. Never has a game presented so many ‘I wonder what that is over there in the distance’ moments of exploration. Traveling is a joy - not a chore.
The basis of Skyrim’s story - for all purposely fantastical - just isn’t all that interesting. A bunch of dragons died years ago...now they’re back and plan to take over the world [insert overly-complicated reason why]... oh, by the way - you’re the ‘chosen one’, the only one who can stop them [insert almost non-existent reason why]... get to work.
Compare this with Fallout’s very real threat of nuclear war and the devastating effect it would have on the planet. As a mere courier, you are instantly aware of just how expendable you are in New Vegas. The Mojave Wasteland is almost the perfect setting, as it drives home a desperate scenario of desolation. The reinvented New Vegas; overrun with gangs and thugs battling for both power and survival is almost certainly how our fickle human race would act if placed in similar circumstances. Battling your way to the top in order to save New Vegas from itself and being forced to decide who you can trust; kill or let live, all makes for gripping storytelling.
Granted, 30 feet tall, mythical dragons destroying the planet isn’t exactly a comforting thought; but the idea of a post-apocalyptic world, the dangers it would present mankind, and the ensuing struggle for power between rogue factions is genuinely terrifying.
Gangs/Institutions: The NCR, Caesar’s Legion, House VRS The Imperial Legion, The Stormcloaks, The Blades
New Vegas commands some serious factions. The New California Republic (NCR) - a paragon of the old world, where democracy and government reined supreme, Caesar’s Legion - a neo-fascist, anti-democratic army of hyper-reactionists, and Robert House and Yes Man - paradigms of technological evolution and the threat they pose to society, to name but a few. Each, along with a series of recognised ‘families’ and gangs, go up against each other amid the New Vegas power struggle. You must discern and decide who is fighting for a cause, or for themselves; who is worth fighting alongside, and who is likely to betray you. You can feel part of a family, like when eventually welcomed by the Boomers, or realise you are being used as a tool, as with Caesar’s Legion.
Similarly, Skyrim has the Imperial Legion - a loyalist faction representing conservatism, up against The Stormcloaks - the would-be socialists of the realm. To be quite honest, the all-conquering, anti-religious attitudes of the Imperials whilst castigating ancient god, Talos, pale in insignificance when compared with the inherently bigoted and out-rightly racist behaviour of Stormcloak leader Ulfric Stormcloak. Freedom fighter? Che Guevara would turn in his grave. You never truly feel aligned with anyone - even the characters you’re forced to get along with.
New Vegas’s faction reputation system allows you to manipulate each gang and play one off another, creating depth and several possible play-throughs and endings. Conversely, Skyrim’s less significant factions’ missions are too linear to ever create enough interest (The Blades quests - yawn).