Game Overdose: Fallout 3 vs. Fallout: New Vegas DLC face-off PART 2
Apologies for the lateness of this everyone, life got in the way and I got a little bit discouraged by being messed around a bit, but I’m back to finish off what I started, an overall comparison between Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas’s DLC.
Now first of all, you might be wondering “why do we care? Fallout 3 came out years ago and no-one really cares about New Vegas anymore!” Well, the simply answer is Skyrim.
Skyrim is Bethesda’s next big game, one they’re developing themselves as opposed to simply publishing. They’ve been in charge of all the DLC for both modern Fallout games, and you can bet there’ll be DLC for Skyrim. As such, Skyrim should show their learning experience from both games and the last installment of the Elder Scrolls series, namely Oblivion.
See, game designers always work with from what they did before, whether it’s a sequel or not but especially if so, and in the age of the super-internet highway they have no excuse for not harvesting the bounty that is player-feedback. It’s the same in any industry, make a good blender, get lots of positive feedback and a little negative, use the negative to improve upon your already good design. Games work the same, or at least they should do, and any good game designer learns from past mistakes and from prior experimentation.
So, here’s the main differences between Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas DLC.
Self Contained story vs Over-arching story.
Apart from Broken Steel, each and every DLC for Fallout 3 was a self-contained mini-story that didn’t really have any impact upon the main plot, but helped to round-out and add flavour to that world. It did this by exploring certain new diverse areas and asking a few questions, and while it did nothing for the story of FO3, it did plenty for the overall Fallout world.
Broken Steel was a direct continuation of the main plot, and as such showed many changes to already established locations. The worst part of this DLC for me was that it removed the “ending” of the game, where previously you had a nice outro cut-scene and a bit of an epilogue there was just… Nothing. Like a stage performance where the actors just stop and stand around looking a little bit confused. It also takes some sting out of the original ending, as you could essentially martyr yourself, but if you’ve got Broken Steel you character “got better” and lives to fight for another day.
Fallout: New Vegas doesn’t have that problem, as none of its DLC occur past the end-point of the original game. They also adopted a different idea with their DLC, where each one is a chapter in a larger story that’s meant to help round-out the world and even give some history for the player-character. Overall, I commend their effort, as it breathed new life into the game, but later on I’ll talk about the short-comings.
Player character power
Avatar strength is and always will be a massive thing with RPG’s, as it’s essentially at their core. Taking a character from their first baby steps (quite literally in Fallout 3) to becoming some unstoppable engine of death through the gear you‘ve given them, choices you‘ve made for them and the skills you‘ve learned while building them is always a gratifying experience. Of course, it depends on what you want to achieve, and making player choices purely for “roleplay” is a completely valid argument if that’s what you choose to do. And if it goes wrong? Well, you can replay, re-optimise, make them a more real character.
I believe there’s 2 very simply ways of instilling engagement in a game. 1) leave content/abilities/weapons locked until later on, and periodically reward players with this content and/or 2) make things incredibly balanced, so that multplayer is fair, or that as difficulty increases the player has an oppurtunity to learn skills that’ll help them defeat these new obstacles.
Most games borrow from both aspects, especially in the modern day, but RPG’s more so from the first rule, and this is what I mean by “avatar strength”- improving the strength of the player’s character over making the player learn new skills to deal with issues.
As such, extra content for the game that doesn’t give an opportunity to make additions or changes to your character (or team) has failed in the context of an RPG. If there’s not even some slight lasting effect on the game, then that DLC really hasn’t had the impact it should have done and will be considered weak.
Thankfully, none of the DLC for either FNV or FO3 really suffer from that problem. They all add extra gear to the game, all add more character options through the use of perks and tend to add new areas or a new facet to the world, even if it’s a one-shot visit.
Now, I’m going to specifically talk about 2 areas where they differ massively, in the use of the level-caps and perks.
As I’ve already said, perks are extra abilities that add to your character, and can be anything from unique dialogue choices or crafting schematics to extra damage or exploding when on low health. Perks are the life-blood of character customisation in any fallout game, and while skills allow for certain actions perks are what really create a unique character.
They mostly come in 2 types, Earnables and Chooseables. Earnable perks are unlocked by completing quests, completing certain challenges and even buying them in some cases. Chooseables are the same perks you choose on level up, and tend to have pre-requisites based on skills and attributes.
All the FO3 DLC aside from Broken Steel only contain Earnable perks. This is because none of them raise the level cap, meaning that if you were to include new Chooseables, max level characters would be left out. Overall, it was a good decision, as it didn’t massively impact on the ability to just “pick up a DLC and go”, which is exemplified by the self-contained nature of them all.
Broken Steel is the only exception, as the Level cap is raised by 10 so too are more “over level 20” perks added. This works both thematically, as it literally reflects the continued story and therefore continued experiences, and practically, as it means that over 20 perks are only available if you’ve got the DLC that lets you go over 20. Tautological much…
FNV takes a different approach however. Each DLC raises the level cap by 5, and adds new chooseable perks, and often a few earnables as well.
Now, this might sound A-ok but think about it. The perks added can ONLY be up to 5 over the max cap, as doing more would mean that people having only purchase one DLC can’t access some of their content (not without cheating). This means that if you have multiple DLC there’s a hard limit of the maximum perk-level you can obtain.
Additionally, 5 extra levels is only enough for 2 or 3 perks, and there tends to be several new perks per DLC. This means that you’ve put a limit of the number of perks a max-level character can obtain, and as these perks are scattered throughout the levels, there’s some low-level perks that a character might have been able to use but couldn’t because the DLC wasn’t yet out.
They actually broke the “max perk level” rule in Lonesome road, by adding some Level 50 perks. 50 is the max level obtainable with all DLC, but that means people that don’t have all 4 DLC are missing out.
This might be very specific to me, but I hate how they handled the DLC in New Vegas. Not the individual DLC, not their story, not even the content they added, but the general treatment of them.
Essentially, the DLC in FNV added an extra plot-line to the main events of the story. They did this by injecting extra content within the game, and each DLC is meant to carry on from the one before. Nothing wrong with that in principle.
But they still sold the DLC seperately, and the release was so long after everyone had completed the game that the only way to get the most out of the DLC content was to essentially restart the game. Sure, now that all 4 DLC (and a few bonus) are out you’ve got a very well rounded experience… From a level 1 character. But at the time? replay the game each time? Reload a save each time? Put the game down for months between each DLC? All of this is horrible, it’s unweildy and it didn’t fit in as easily as the Fallout 3 DLC.
I’m a little biased because aside from Old World Blues I found all of the FO3 DLC’s more enjoyable than the FNV’s, and I generally consider FO3 the better game, but even ignoring these facets FNV’s DLC were still badly handled.
I did also say this is specific to me. One of the things I tend to do a little bit obsessively is spec characters. I’ve got spreadsheets and documents full of both character statistics and plot-points. My end goal? To create a character that works both thematically and mechanically in the world in which they exist, where mechanics and actions help define the character.
You might think it’s a bit obsessive, and I’ll agree it is, and I’ve even had people say “just play how you want to”. The problem I find with that is that I might “want to” be an 19th century writer, but within the context of the Fallout universe if there’s no way of using my writing skills to kill a Deathclaw he’ll end up dead in a ditch. And dying in games is rarely fun. By balancing mechanics with plot with personal choice I make a character that not only feels real in the world but was fun to play.
So, with that in mind, do you know how FUCKING irritating it is to respec a character for each DLC? I loved playing New Vegas but god, I dreaded each DLC announcement. They could have done a few things to ablate this issue, such as offering a free respec when a DLC was installed, but they didn’t.
Also from a plot-point it sucked. The FNV DLC was meant to added a sub-plot to the main game, which meant that logically it should be occurring parallel, so again the release times and dates of the DLC kind of… failed.
This is a point I’ll come back to in my BIG BAD (maybe video) comparisons of FO3 and FNV, but one of the main ideas with the FNV player character was to make it so that they weren’t too powerful. I’ve mentioned this in passing before, but the FO3 character, even without DLC could have maxed every skills, and with the DLC could have “perfect” attributes, I.E a character with no weakness.
RPG’s are unique in that choices you make for characters are often limited. As awesome your character might be in one area they’ll be limited in another. My Arcane Warrior mage in Dragon Age: Origins could go toe-to-toe with most warriors, but they’d never be able to lockpick a chest, weren’t as powerful spellcasters as other mages and lacked the talents of the warrior, they were just good at absorbing punishment. It was all cost-benefit, and sometimes the characters weakness makes them just as endearing to play as their strengths. It makes them unique.
It didn’t impact too badly on FO3 because it wasn’t really that type of game, they valued exploration over raw stats, and would often reward one with the other.
Now, with that in mind, an extra 20 levels, 40-odd skill books, free attribute points, additional perks (some of which were greatly overpowered) and stat-boosting gear added through the 4 FNV DLC, that’s not overpowering your character? I’ve already mentioned this, but in Old World Blues you’re given a free 1/2 Strength points, which in Fallout is a MASSIVE boost.
Basically it was against the original intention of the game, to the point it completely overwrote it.
I could go on, but I’ll keep from boring you. Next week I’ll hopefully have a new subject to talk about!
See you all soon guys, I hope to be able to do this again weekly but hopefully life won’t get in the way!