Getting back into Fallout New Vegas after a roughly 18-month break, I’m only realizing more and more how well it handles the relationship between the player character, NPCs, and the world at large.
With so many games trying to offer some semblance of player choice in the storyline, New Vegas is the first RPG I’ve played where endgame choices have felt difficult, and where those difficulties spread throughout a large part of the game. It accomplishes pretty much exactly what all these branching storyline advocates have been trying to do, and it works precisely because the choices and branches permeate every corner of the narrative and mechanics.
As of this typing I’m fairly late in the main quest – at a point where I basically have to decide which faction I’m going to help gain dominion over the land. Typically choices like these are made quickly and at most might affect one quest at the end of a game. Looking back and looking thorough the Fallout wiki though, I’m impressed at how many directions the main quest in New Vegas splinters into fairly early on.
I’m further impressed by how nimbly the player can swim through those branches. Most of all I’m impressed at how there actually seems to be a central theme behind the overall story that you’re affecting. At my current position in the game, my choices in the immediate future won’t just affect the game’s ending, but will also have repercussions specifically because of choices I made in the past, altering faction allegiances and switching sides myself. It feels less like branching paths and more like an actual dynamic web of decisions which is what interactive storytelling is supposed to be.
Even though the game came out back in 2010 I’ve decided not to spoil any major points about the plot, but I can still talk about what New Vegas is really about – civilization. Everybody who’s heard of Fallout knows it’s a game about post-nuclear war America, the breakdown of society, and the breakdown of the land. New Vegas takes the society aspect and examines it on a bit of a deeper level.
Faction systems have actually been fairly common in open world games since the PS2 era, and back in 2010 I applauded how I could skillfully play them against each other in New Vegas. For some reason I’m only recently realizing how New Vegas uses the system to basically display the tribalism that has grown on top of the ruins of America, as well as the juxtaposition between those tribes and the march of civilization in ideological terms. That’s what I call using gameplay mechanics in order to convey a narrative theme. That’s what video game storytelling is supposed to do.
That said, my options this late in the game are strange ones in my opinion. I’m essentially playing as a single character that holds the fate of an entire region and several factions in his hands. That’s kind of a lot of pressure.
I’ve expressed some disappointment before at how so many RPGs set the stakes so high and pin them all on either the protagonist or his immediate peers. You always seem to be a veritable messiah – the center of all major events in the world, the guy who has almost total power over what happens to whole populations of people. In New Vegas I liked it when I could just play my character off as a simple mercenary drifting through the world, but how he’s being forced to take a direct hand in its fate, and it’s kind of heavy for him.
The Witcher and its sequel are praised similarly to New Vegas for the complexity and finality of the narrative decisions they give players. Although the Witcher games probably aren’t nearly as complex as New Vegas in that area, their advantage is that they don’t thrust the protagonist into the absolute center of events. Geralt gets thrown in the middle of things alright, but in both games he’s simply wading his way through situations larger than himself in order to reach more personal goals. There are definitely other RPGs like this, but I feel like they are too far in between.
I’m sort of trying to play one of my Skyrim characters like this by not initiating the main quest at all. The Nord/Empire conflict could be compared to the conflict in New Vegas, but in Skyrim I have the choice to pretty much ignore it (and it technically isn’t part of the main quest). I’ve chosen to do that in order to turn the game into my character’s personal journey. I think that kind of dynamic world to set your choices into, instead of a relatively straight storyline, is the logical conclusion of what Bethesda is trying to do.
- See this is one way Steam just keeps getting better: http://t.co/VgtIx5y0 Y’know that grid view you can select to display your whole Steam library? Y’know how non-Steam games just show up as little icons in that grid view. Well with the latest Steam beta update now you can set custom images for Steam games in grid view to fix this problem. It’s a bunch of little things like this that make Steam the best service for online gaming and digital distribution.
- If EA needs to sell 5 million copies of Dead Space 3 either they’re trying to make the franchise bigger than it is, or they didn’t do a good enough job expanding the audience for horror games.