After dozens of hours in the province of Skyrim, I’ve done a lot. I’ve plundered tombs, slain dragons. I’ve picked a point in the landscape and gone there, full of manly purpose. I’ve listened to many personal stories and stuck my mailed fist of intervention into more then a few faces. Though my adventuring might someday come to an end, it will never truly find a conclusion. Yet, through all of it, I have reached one conclusion:
I like Fallout: New Vegas better.
It’s not a beautiful beast. New Vegas is a cluttered game, mechanically and aesthetically. It’s not just diverse, but outright unfocused at times. The interface, as broken as anything compromised for a controller can be, breaks under the weight of the added survival and crafting modes. Nor is the ham-fisted way the intro exposition is handled a compelling start. Sometimes it can be an outright ugly game.
At the heart of New Vegas is something that you’ll never see in an Elder Scrolls game: a real, dynamic plot. A score of forces all compete for the heart of The Strip. The NCR, the Legion, the Brotherhood, Mr. House, maybe even you. Each faction is well developed and thought provoking. The NCR isn’t the shining beacon of democracy and freedom you’d expect, nor is the Legion pure evil (well, they are, but have very good reason for being so).
Playing through the main storyline involves picking winners and losers, shaping the political dynamics to your liking. The wasteland is not for the weak. Eventually, you’ll have to step on some toes and anger (or outright kill) factions you’d rather not. Make the choice. If you don’t, someone will. In the end, you cut a swath through the wasteland, reshaping it in your own image. It’s this blending of stories that elevates it above Fallout 3, which polarized its players into Paragon or Villain story branches.
Perhaps we can forgive Skyrim for its failures in plotting; Elder Scrolls has always focused more on world-building than story. Yet, I can’t help but find its world boring. It’s far away from the bland European realm of Oblivion, but I can’t help but feel that I’ve done it all before.
Skyrim’s bandits are typical thieves and murderers, while the enemies in Fallout are shaped and broken by the nuclear-charred world in which they live. Murder and theft are necessary actions to survive, be you bandit or homesteader. Why plunder identical ancestral tombs when you can explore ancient nuclear vaults and uncover tales of experiments gone wrong? Why adventure with Illia when you can choose Lily?
I’m not ready to say that New Vegas is a better game then Skyrim. Elder Scrolls V offers far more coherent aesthetics and sensible mechanics, but New Vegas just clicked better for me. I’ve never given Obsidian much credit, but I think that they might’ve bested Bethesda by creating a huge RPG that has a sandbox and thought-provoking plot developments. I’m 30 hours into Skyrim, yet I’m already hunting down more mods to toss into New Vegas for yet another playthrough. After all, when the forgotten realms are quite explored, why not dose up and go to Gamma World?