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).
Companions: Veronica Santangelo VRS J'zargo
Buddies, pals, followers, friends. There’s something special about teaming up with a mate and retrying that taxing boss battle or horde of bandits that keep bettering you on your lonesome. The great thing about both Skyrim and New Vegas, is that they utilize some very intelligent NPCs. Both games have a score of acquaintances willing to fight for your cause; however the New Vegas cast trump their Skyrim counterparts across the board. Better personalities, better skill-sets, and most importantly better in combat. I’m going to cherry pick here, but the team mates mentioned above perfectly illustrate the stark contrast in NPC quality across the two games.
Veronica Santangelo, scribe of the Brotherhood of Steel and Mojave traveller, is one of the best followers in any game, ever. A complicated individual, she has remained true to her beliefs, her morals and her sexuality - at times facing adversity as a result. She is adept with power weaponry and is unsurpassed in hand-to-hand combat. Her strength, defence and damned determined spirit makes her indispensable in battle. I wouldn’t have made it out of New Vegas alive, had it not been for her services.
Now Skyrim. J’zargo is a Khajit mage, an apprentice at the College of Winterhold and (unfortunately) a potential follower. Where do I start with this clown? For starters, he talks like a used car salesman. I don’t trust used car salesmen - particularly in a land without cars. He’s an arrogant sod, who has the pain threshold of a Skeever and, to quote Jay Z, “couldn’t bust a grape in a fruit fight.” Not to mention the bastard nearly had me killed whilst testing out his Flame Cloak spells! He is near useless and recruiting him as a follower is pointless. As pointless as a McDonalds salad, or a hug in a brothel. When I played Skyrim, I didn’t have 99 problems. I had one. It was J’zargo.
Weapons: Guns VRS no guns
[Edit - the scale of this section has been edited in light and respect of the utterly devastating events at Sandy Hook school earlier this month.]
I actually really enjoyed my journey in becoming the Archmage of Winterhold of Skyrim. And I thoroughly enjoyed all of the spells, incantations and summons I learned as a result. But I much more enjoyed taking down Caesar’s Legion whilst utilizing firearms in New Vegas.
Sure bows, arrows, long swords, broad swords, Daedric staffs - they’re all OK, but they’re not, well, they’re not guns. Considering Skyrim is so farcical anyway, I was shocked at the games lack of guns; particularly when you consider the advanced technology certain facets of the realm boast. This is all in order to fall in line with a made up chronology that is loosely based on a mythology! Dragons? Sure! Giants and Mammoths? Of course! Guns? Don’t be silly - they weren’t invented yet! How silly of me...
The variety of weaponry in New Vegas is great. A myriad of conventional weapons, super-charged futuristic weapons, and over-the-top (yet unbelievably satisfying) melee weaponry ensure constant, exciting battles. Not that Skyrim completely fails on this front, but when the only long-range action available comes in the form of bows and arrows or magic, there is certainly scope for battles to get boring, quickly.
Climactic republican war, on-going civil war VRS slain dragon, peace on Earth(?)
Last but not least, the grand finale. Skyrim’s ending has the potential to be epic. What we get though, is thoroughly disappointing. The Dragonborn’s quest leads us to Sovngarde, the Nord underworld, where it is understood main antagonist dragon Alduin has fled, feeding on the souls of the dead. Immersed in the chillingly beautiful surroundings of this alternative dimension, Dragonborn and co. must defeat this mighty beast once and for all. That’s right; once and for all...except, it’s the same battle which occurred 20 minutes earlier, only differences being you’re in a different location and Alduin doesn’t bounce back this time round. The world is saved, sure, but it wasn’t much of a challenge was it? Also, there is no explanation or guarantee that Alduin won’t return- like he has in past- suggesting that all our efforts may in fact be in vein. Very disappointing indeed.
New Vegas on the other hand throws a variety of endings at you, and depending on the path you choose throughout the main storyline, depends on the outcome of the final battle. The most enjoyable - in my opinion, having played through several times - is siding with Yes Man, opposing the NCR, however holding ‘Infamy’ with Caesar’s Legion. You blast your way through battle-scarred Hoover Dam, until reaching Legate’s Camp - home of Legate Lanius, the Monster of the East. What ensues is a showdown of epic proportions, as the courier is encompassed by Lanius’s blood-thirsty troops. Once disengaged, the courier must take on and take down Lanius himself. Of course, this encounter is pre-scripted to ramp up the difficulty - Lanius is able to heal himself and his limbs and it is impossible for him to be disarmed to name a few of his attributes. Without a companion, this battle is extremely tough. Either way, I have struggled to find a more rewarding game ending in recent years. In true Fallout style, you are then treated to a narrated epilogue tying up all the stories and loose ends of the Mojave dwellers, hinting that no matter what happens, there will always be conflict in a post-apocalyptic America.
So... that’s why New Vegas is better than Skyrim. I have drawn these conclusions after several play-throughs of both games and New Vegas comes out on top. This said, Skyrim’s soundtrack whips New Vegas’s ass!
As I mentioned before, Bethesda have this genre in the palm of their hand...Fallout 4 is gona be awesome!