It’s too bad that Fallout: NV had such a rough launch, because after playing it a bit in recent weeks, I am coming to think that it is, in fact, a better game than Fallout 3.
There are a couple of reasons for this. For one, VATS quickly unbalanced the gameplay in Fallout 3, and they’ve made it a riskier tactic in Fallout: NV, which adds a nice layer of complexity to the game. The factions in Fallout: NV are better. The Legion is a bit monochromatic, but they make pretty great villains all the same. The Fellowship of the Apocalypse is a nice faction; it’s nice to have an unaligned faction, it really fleshes out the world, I think. There’s a good mix of humor and darkness in the game– a lot of things that are funny but also melancholy, and a number of amusingly random things, like Creeper in Morrowind. FO3 had some of all of this, but the humor felt unearned and just wasn’t funny a lot of the time.
I think a big part of it (at least at this point) is simply that it feels like a real place. Fallout 3 started to feel samey and uninteresting as a place after a time. (This may be an accurate reflection of the DC suburbs, however.) Much of Fallout: NV feels like a place, or approaches that feeling more than Fallout 3. It’s funny how your sense of place works, though. I have a much stronger sense of place in a lot of IF than almost anything else. A close second is Morrowind, and all of the distinct kinds of landscapes they managed to cram into Vvardenfell. (I can remember the surprise of coming upon Suran and Telasero for the first time, or running around in Vivec– those felt like real places.)
As with any Bethdesda game, there are definite kinks. For one, it’s silly that the game as shipped has so many invisible walls, particularly given that one of the joys of the game is simply exploring. It kills that joy to have to find a decent mod to be able to explore in an organic way. The encounters can be randomly difficult, it seems: most of the encounters on the main quest line seem pretty easy, but random encounters seem surprisingly difficult (though maybe that’s a kink of the leveled encounter system).
To talk a bit more about quests, NV opts for a somewhat unhappy compromise between the open world of previous Bethesda games and the elaborate quests and writing of a Bioware game. The problem, however, is that the game doesn’t actually have the extensive railroading that makes Bioware quests run smoothly. I was just trying to play through the ‘Beyond the Beef’ campaign, and came up with a whole series of ways to break the quest, many of which resulted in the PC and important NPCs getting killed. This kind of thing breaks the immersion of the game, for one, but it also means that the ethical/role-playing dimensions of the game are limited or constrained. A GM would be able to see or determine what you are trying to do and the ethical balance you as the player are trying to strike, but the computer is just confused. It’s funny to think back, though: Morrowind was a gem of a game, but the quests were largely very simple, very rudimentary fetch quests. But the simplicity of these quests meant that interacting with the world was largely uninterrupted by constantly trying to figure out how to run a particular quest.