Fallout 3 and New Vegas are the games that made me want to be a PC gamer. I have recently built my own rig and I have finally got a working mod set up on both games. I have heavily modded both games by improving graphics, lighting, adding more content and using game play overhauls (FWE and Project Nevada respectively) that increase difficulty and immersion. It may sound like I’m bragging but I’m just trying to be upfront about the things that may be alter my opinion of both games. For example, I wont be complaining about Fallout 3 lacking a hardcore mode because that function has been added by FWE. What I’m going to be focusing on is the world, your role in it and how it “feels” to play both games.
It is really tough for me to decide if I like one game over the other. To me the distinction isn’t so much good vs bad as it is one flavor over the other. The debate is less like “Coke vs Pepsi” and more like “Nacho Cheese Doritos vs Cool Ranch Doritos”. Both games are built on the same crunchy corn ship of 50’s retro futurism, post apocalyspe morality, shooting, and RPG mechanics but its the intense orange cheese of the gritty western or the cool tang of creepy 50’s sci-fi horror that makes the difference.
I’ve lurked long enough to see that the majority of Fallout fans prefer NV for reasons I perfectly understand. The fact that NV gives you a story with much more depth and much more choice is undeniable. NV not only gives you more factions to side with and more choices to make to affect the final outcome of the story you can also play the factions against each other and eventually even take New Vegas for yourself. In NV you are much more the causer of events instead of someone becoming part of events that were already in motion before you came along. The thing I disagree with most NV fans about is that FO3 had a bad story or that it is harder to become immersed in 3.
Looking for your father and stopping the big bad government might be more simplistic than the conflict in NV but I wouldn’t say that a story is bad just because it’s a simple. I love being the Hero of The Capital Wasteland. I was recently playing FO3 and decided to do the quest Blood Ties. I Love the fact that I was able to decide to get to know The Family and find a peaceful resolution. I love the feeling of being a nerdy unsure of himself teenager who is thrust out of his comfortable life and forced become a man and a badass armor clad laser blasting science paladin. The story works because it’s primal. The story of boy having to prove himself as a man by finding his father goes back centuries (this is still the theme of the story even if you play a female). It’s the same “average boy leaves home to become a hero” we’ve seen again in again in stuff like Star Wars or Harry Potter. I will say that my evil playthroughs never last long because I feel the game clearly wants you to be a hero with the evil quests being added as an afterthought. I don’t consider this a huge detractor from the overall quality of the game but I’ve seen others who consider this a mortal sin and one of the games biggest failings.
My favorite aspect of FO3 and the one way I feel it totally tops FNV is the game’s world. The Capital Wasteland just feels like it has more to do and explore (I don’t know if this is actually the case). I also find the DC wasteland is more pleasing to the eye (once again my experience of both games is colored by graphics enhancing mods but I feel the textures lighting enhancements I use are very similar in both games). I love looking off in the distance and seeing a collapsed bridges and electricity towers. The land feels like it has more texture and different kinds of natural formations and obstacles. FNV world by comparison feels more flat and monotonous but this is because the desert itself seems pretty flat, lifeless and monotonous. New Vegas has its share of natural obstacles and scenery but it just feels emptier than the DC wasteland.
Lets compare the city of Vegas to the City of DC. The City of DC is massive in Fallout 3. It takes up a huge portion of the game map and has lots to explore and that’s not even counting the underground tunnels that connect the areas in DC. Vegas resembles Rivet City more than it resembles DC. New Vegas has maybe 4 main areas and it’s pretty easy to explore and meet everyone. FO3’s DC is a part of the game world where as Vegas is much more separate. You don’t have to fight super mutants while traveling from Lucky 38 to Tops but DC doesn’t have Blackjack and not nearly as many hookers. The same thing can be seen again when you compare the starting areas of Goodsprings and Megaton. Goodsprings is a flat little town that doesn’t seem to have much going on. Megaton by comparison always felt much more alive to me and also had the added bonus of being a badass town made of junk instead of a sleepy little desert town. I will say the quest to save Goodsprings by rounding up a posse and fighting the powder gangers is more fun than going to Lucas Simms and telling on Mister Burke.
One of the ways that FNV beats FO3 is the feeling of agency the game gives you. In FO3 you are essentially a hero of prophecy living out your fate. Even if you are an baby eating cannibal the most damage you can do in FO3’s main quest is killing all mutants by releasing the modified FEV into the water. You still fight the Enclave, you still activate Project Purity, You still have to save your Dad, etc. In FNV the focus is more on creating your destiny than living it out. The story might also get points in primalness for its revenge element but revenge takes a back seat to the battle for the fate of New Vegas. New Vegas gives you multiple options for deciding that fate and even lets you become the new master of Vegas.
FNV also offers a more nuanced and realistic version of morality and society by using a reputation system instead of a karma system. Good and Evil, black and white, this is not how the world actually works. There is not big scary Enclave or group of brave techno knights who stand for everything good ready to save us from them. The real world is more like New Vegas’s warring factions, all of them say they are the morally righteous path but they all have failings and they are all interested in how they can exploit the wasteland for themselves. FNV also has a few quests where you have to make a choice that will hurt someone or cause you to lose favor with one faction and gain favor with another no matter what you do. I don’t recall seeing many, if any, quest like that in FO3. FO3 quests normally work the same way as quests in Fable, you can save these orphans or burn the orphanage to the ground.
The “villains” in FNV are also much more human and relateable than the villains in FO3. The Enclave is mostly represented by black clad stromtroopers who exist to be the Sith to the BoS Jedi’s. FO3’s supermutants pretty much serve the function or orcs in the DC Wasteland, they are an inhuman, aggressive, undeniably bad army that must be stopped. The “evil” factions in FNV represent a much more human facet of evil. One can understand why the Powder Gangers would want to rise up against the NCR; no body wants to have their freedom taken away and it would seem that the NCR was using them as slaves. The Powder Gangers may be criminals but what they are fighting for is freedom and the right to not be slaves anymore. Even Caesar’s Legion, the most direct analog of The Enclave, is more human because you can actually meet Caesar, meet members of the Legion, see what their life is like, and see their faces. I think the only enclave members you talk to in FO3 are Colonel Autumn and a few nameless staff members at Raven Rock. Both the Enclave and Caesar’s Legion may represent mankind’s inclination toward authoritarianism but I feel that the Legion does a much better job of making you understand why someone would want that kind of life by showing you just how good it can feel to give your life to a cause and see yourself as one of the strong and pure.
When I’m in the mood for a good vs evil sci-fi adventure where I get to walk through the streets of a ruined city and save the day by blasting the bad guys I reach for FO3. When I’m in the mood to be a dusty gunslinger baking in the sun, caught up in a complex tale of intrigue that will force me to weigh the consequences of my choices I reach for FNV.