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The Elder Scrolls vs. Fallout: Why I Like One and Not the Other

by on February 12, 2011 3:00 PM 14

The Elder Scrolls vs. Fallout: Why I Like One and Not the Other

I’ve been thinking for quite a while about this, and that thought process dates all the way back to around the launch of Fallout 3. I was a huge fan of Oblivion, playing it for 100+ hours per platform on both the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions. Recently I’ve gotten back into the game again, this time on the PC. I’d reckon I logged probably 250-300 hours into this game in total over the last five years. I love it for what it is – a sandbox-style Western RPG.

The funny thing is – this is exactly what Fallout 3 and New Vegas are, as well. The difference? I’ve tried Fallout 3 on numerous occasions and just can’t get into it. I feel the reasons I can’t get into the recent Fallout titles run deeper than setting, which is what I usually tell myself. When I think deeper about this, the major reason I may feel this way is because, to me, Fallout 3 didn’t feel like an RPG, but a shooter.

Here’s what you’re thinking: “Wait, wait, wait…you’re calling The Elder Scrolls games RPGs, but the recent Fallout games shooters? You’ve finally gone off the deep end!” Yes, that is what I’m saying…sort of. Remember, this is just my opinion tossed out in a sort of “stream of consciousness” manner. I thought it would be cool to delve deeper into the huge separation between these two games which have an otherwise rather similar framework. OPINION people, everyone has them.

The Elder Scrolls vs. Fallout: Why I Like One and Not the Other

The biggest thing that always stuck in my mind as the reason I could never latch on to Fallout 3 was just the setting. Fallout 3’s post-apocalyptic wasteland was dull to me, plain and simple. It was colorless, muted and just boring. However, when I think deeper about it, this setting seems to be the catalyst for any number of differences between Oblivion and the two recent Fallout titles. Granted, I have not played New Vegas, and I do hear it’s more lively than Fallout 3 was, which is great. But, now that I know Skyrim is on the horizon, I have no desire to try out New Vegas simply because, that’s right, I don’t feel it’s an RPG and I’m horrible at shooters.

The modern, post-apocalyptic setting alone seems to require, by setting, the usage of projectile weaponry instead of melee or magic. While there are some blurry lines and each game does have a bit of a mix of melee and projectile weapons, you have to look at it in context. How many first-person RPGs to do you see? Not many. How many first person shooters are there? Quite a lot. Guns + first person = shooter. That’s the line of thinking my mind takes.

In recent times, the lines between what is and isn’t an RPG seem to blur a bit. Call of Duty, of all things, has RPG elements. Guitar Hero (R.I.P.) has RPG elements. Hell, frakking racing games have RPG elements in them. This does not make these games RPGs.

So, beyond the technicalities of what exactly defines a video game RPG (which, these days, seems to be highly subjective), I’m going to throw this out there. Defining a game as an RPG has a lot to do with atmosphere and how the game itself feels. When I pick up the controller to play Oblivion, I’m wielding a sword, shooting a bow or flinging fireballs at the enemy, which is a goblin, dragon, necromancer or the like. When I pick up the controller to play Fallout 3, I’m wielding a…gun? How is this different from Call of Duty?

The battle mechanics and the – how should I say this – skills required also could go toward distinguishing one from the other. If I go up to an enemy and start whacking at it with a sword, I don’t have to be accurate, I just have to keep hacking away, and it’s almost a scenario of kill or be killed, at the very least. Yet the bulk of the time in Fallout – aside from the V.A.T.S. system – it requires the skills of a shooter. Remember, I’m horrible at shooters.

The Elder Scrolls vs. Fallout: Why I Like One and Not the Other

Now, you do have character stat building, leveling up, inventory management and some semblance of a story in each, and this is where we start getting into sort of a gray area. If you want to go down a checklist to see if Fallout 3 is an RPG, then yes, you’re most likely going to lean in that direction – and frankly, if that’s the way we’re doing it, so would I. Bethesda believes Fallout 3 is an RPG the same way Bioware believes Mass Effect 2 is an RPG. If that’s what they want to call it, then by all means they have that right.

However, I don’t think Fallout 3 or Mass Effect 2 feel like an RPG, they feel like shooters. And that, my friends, is where the distinction may lie in my mind. Go down a check list of what is and isn’t an RPG mechanic if you like, but if the game doesn’t feel like an RPG in some way, then it just isn’t – to me.

Ultimately, I think this is the reason I just can’t get into the Fallout titles, while I love The Elder Scrolls games. And, before you ask, I love Mass Effect 2 and dislike Fallout 3 because the story structure is very, very different. If ME2 was designed the same way as Fallout 3, I probably wouldn’t latch on to that very much, either.

So, may question to all of you is – does how a game feels to you distinguish what genre you would firmly place the game in, or are you more of a check list type of gamer, who will call it like they see it and if a title has all the pieces that typically make it fit into a certain genre, that’s what it is? I’d love to hear your opinions in the comments!

Join the Discussion

  • Anonymous

    I’ve played over 100 hours in Fallout 3 (and watched my roommate at the time play a lot of it as well), and then one day I finally borrowed Oblivion from a friend of mine. I played it for about an hour and put it away, never to touch it again. I just couldn’t get into it.

    Fallout 3 is without a doubt an RPG though. The choice of weapons has never come into play in defining RPGs, and it definitely shouldn’t in this case. By that definition, Oblivion is a First Person Action game.

    • Anonymous

      Yeah, that’s what I mean by if you’re making a mechanics checklist, they both are RPGs. But it’s how one feels over the other – setting and weapon have a lot to deal with how a game feels – that makes me think one is an RPG and the other isn’t, as far as my perception.

      • Tyler Christensen

        Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. I don’t really consider Fallout a shooter. I mean, it has shooter mechanics but it is way more of an RPG than shooter.

  • http://coolstufftheblog.wordpress.com/ Romudeth

    I posted something similar to this in the comment section of the last Dualcast (Level 14) with regards to how RPGs have a certain “feel” to them. You can check out my rant there if you want since most of it has to do with this topic.

    Anyway, I, like you Chad, am horrible at FPS games. I can beat Uncharted 2 or God of war 3 on the hardest difficulties with no real problems but struggle to play an FPS demo on easy. How people can get good at FPS games is beyond me. I can never tell what is going on since I cannot see my character on screen. FPS view simply sucks imo.

    Crap, I just went off on a tangent. Sorry lol

    Back on topic…kind of…

    You can change the view in Fallout 3 to make it 3rd person if you want but the problem is that then you’d have to watch your character floating above the ground. This is going to sound extremely shallow but my biggest problem with Fallout 3 was the game engine. It is one of the worst looking and running engines out there. The graphics are terrible, nothing seems to have weight, everything has a “floaty” feel to it, the animations are cartoonish and as everyone knows, it’s buggy as all hell. I never bothered to try out Oblivion because I’m not really a fan of western high fantasy (except Lord of the Rings of course). But after I played the first Mass effect I was willing to try out Dragon Age Origins (go Bioware!) and now I am a little more open to the high fantasy stuff. With that said, I still have reservations about Oblivion because it runs on the same engine that the recent Fallout games do. I also originally wanted to get New Vegas but that engine is a real turn off. Skyrim looks pretty cool and I think I may check that out. Hopefully they will be gentle with newcomers.

    Sorry about that last rant…I’m feeling ranty today for some reason.

    But to FINALLY get back on topic, I agree that RPGs tend to invoke certain feelings in me and Fallout 3, as well as Mass Effect 2 do not do this. I’m not really sure what it is but perhaps it’s the combat mechanics. Fallout 3 and Mass effect 2′s combat relies on quick reflexes and skill with shooting. Traditional RPGS (re: JRPGs) are more about strategy and thinking several moves ahead. It’s two totally different mind sets and perhaps this is why western RPGs don’t feel like real RPGs most of the time. Dragon Age Origins, while being a WRPG, still feels like an RPG because even though the combat is real time it has cool down periods between attacks which make it feel slightly turn based. This time in between the attacks is when you formulate your strategy and decide what to do next. In Fallout 3 or Mass effect 2 there is no real down time. It’s pretty much kill everything that is in front of you. That is the mentality that one has when playing an FPS game and not an RPG. Perhaps this is why Fallout 3 doesn’t “feel” like an rpg.

    Thanks for reading my madness. :D

    • Anonymous

      Yeah, I agree. Your point about how Western RPGs, especially those like Fallout and Oblivion, needing quick reflexes and FPS shooting skill pretty much hits the nail on the head, and that’s what I was trying to get at in the article when I mentioned that with swords and magic that has AOE explosions and stuff, it is still in the FPS style, but you don’t have to have the FPS skillset to be decent at it.

      When I play Fallout 3 I can’t help but feel lacking because I’m an RPG gamer, not an FPS gamer, and the combat system caters HEAVILY to the FPS gamer, even though the mechanics that build the game are more RPG-centric.

      Mass Effect and Dragon Age are similar and more “traditional” action RPG (read: action JRPG) in that you can pause the action and issue commands accordingly, giving more of a semblance of that strategic, methodical feel that we’re used to.

      Fallout, while an RPG by strict definition, is more geared toward the shooter/FPS fans than the traditional RPG fans, and I’m 100% sure this is by design, so it isn’t wrong per se. Borderlands does the same thing – it’s an RPG shooter mash-up that tries to get shooter fans interested in RPG mechanics and loot. Nothing more.

      With that mindset, it’s hard for me to consider Fallout 3/New Vegas and even Borderlands an RPG, because the bulk of the game (the battle system) caters SO MUCH to the shooter fan, and they toss in all these RPG elements to say, “Look, see, we’re an RPG!”

      • http://coolstufftheblog.wordpress.com/ Romudeth

        It’s hard to argue with the guys who make the games when they say that their games are RPGs. On the one hand, you don’t want to disagree with them since it is their baby. On the other hand, in your heart of hearts, you know that they aren’t entirely correct with the label. Too many games now have RPG elements. Does that make them RPGs too? I know that Call of duty games have leveling up and weapons upgrades but does that make them RPGs? No way.

        Fallout 3 has almost everything in it for it to be a proper RPG. You level up, you have an inventory of weapons and armor, you have a safehouse, towns in which to buy things, people to talk to, basically the essentials of an RPG. But because the combat is reaction based and not strategy based, I cannot call it an RPG. Maybe my interpretation of what makes an RPG is too narrow but that’s how I feel about it. I’m glad that I’m not alone in thinking this.

    • Anonymous

      Yeah, I agree. Your point about how Western RPGs, especially those like Fallout and Oblivion, needing quick reflexes and FPS shooting skill pretty much hits the nail on the head, and that’s what I was trying to get at in the article when I mentioned that with swords and magic that has AOE explosions and stuff, it is still in the FPS style, but you don’t have to have the FPS skillset to be decent at it.

      When I play Fallout 3 I can’t help but feel lacking because I’m an RPG gamer, not an FPS gamer, and the combat system caters HEAVILY to the FPS gamer, even though the mechanics that build the game are more RPG-centric.

      Mass Effect and Dragon Age are similar and more “traditional” action RPG (read: action JRPG) in that you can pause the action and issue commands accordingly, giving more of a semblance of that strategic, methodical feel that we’re used to.

      Fallout, while an RPG by strict definition, is more geared toward the shooter/FPS fans than the traditional RPG fans, and I’m 100% sure this is by design, so it isn’t wrong per se. Borderlands does the same thing – it’s an RPG shooter mash-up that tries to get shooter fans interested in RPG mechanics and loot. Nothing more.

      With that mindset, it’s hard for me to consider Fallout 3/New Vegas and even Borderlands an RPG, because the bulk of the game (the battle system) caters SO MUCH to the shooter fan, and they toss in all these RPG elements to say, “Look, see, we’re an RPG!”

  • Jon Oddur Halldorsson

    I kind of disagree with you there Chad (for the first time, so far).

    The way you define RPGs is just a bit too subjective to be useful. Genre definitions aren’t very useful unless you can, most of the time, determine from the game mechanincs whether an RPG is an RPG. It has nothing to do with the settings, dialogue choices or an epic storyline . The only element that all computer (whether western or eastern) possess, is that they have experience points and leveling systems.

    Fallout is an RPG but it’s not just an RPG, more accurately it’s a RPG/shooter hybrid.

    Of course, you are free to regard Fallout as a shooter rather than an RPG

    Here’s an interesting video which attempts to explain what defines computer RPGs:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mfom6Yb6NaI

    Here’s another one which explains why wrpg and jrpgs are not, strictly speaking, subgenres (not exactly related to the topic but I’m sure you are interested):

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LDTjJTfJgwM&feature=channel

    • Jon Oddur Halldorsson

      One thing we can agree on. Elder Scrolls IV is alot better than Fallout 3 ;)

      I also suck at shooters and fallout doesn’t quite feel like a “real” RPG to me either (although it is)

      • Anonymous

        In Fallout you shoot bullets, in Oblivion you shoot spells. Doesn’t seem like that big of a difference to me… .

    • Anonymous

      Well, like I said in the article, I agree that, from a mechanics point of view, they are certainly RPGs. Fallout 3 is. Borderlands is. Oblivion is.

      The whole point was what you mentioned in your 2nd comment, actually. Fallout doesn’t FEEL like an RPG to me because of what it requires from the player and the way the “battle system” is designed, which includes the primary use of guns. When you have a free-form, true action, twitch-based, no pause menu battle system, you basically have an FPS game with RPG mechanics. This also describes recent Call of Duty titles (with experience systems), as well as any number of other shooters in recent memory.

      So, it is certainly a gray area and, as you say, highly subjective. The definition of video game RPGs has certainly changed over the years and gotten us to the point we are now, with genre mash ups. You can’t say that a game is an RPG just because it has some RPG-centric mechanics. Racing and other sports games have RPG mechanics.

      By that definition, just about every game we play can be defined as an RPG. You have to draw the line somewhere. In my own opinion, I tend to draw it based on how a game feels, and titles like Fallout 3 and Borderlands – while still awesome games, no one is denying that – just don’t fit the RPG bill.

  • Colincole96

    well I have some disagreements with you here. 
    First, i have fallout three and new vegas and you can choose to play with unarmed or melee weapons and if you pick stats well it is effective enough to play through the game (with the exception of using an overpowered gun to shot a faraway deathclaw) 
    Also you said 1st person + gun = shooter. well you can make the game third person if that is how you prefer to play. Also how can you not say its an RPG when you have stat distribution, leveling up, free roam map, a complex branching story, and options in how you react? You keep comparing it to CoD but really the only thing they have in common is that you use guns and can level up. In CoD all your decisions are made for you, and there is one set point-to-point story. I definitely get the color scheme thing; i was depressed playing it but new vegas fixed that. 
    If you don’t like using guns, just say that, don’t start making up reasons for the game to be bad.

    • Anonymous

      Please don’t misquote me: I never said the Fallout games were BAD, I said I don’t like them and they don’t FEEL like RPGs to me. They are great games in their own right, but that doesn’t mean I have to like them.

      This was about how the game feels, not about the mechanics, as I clearly state in the article. Give me a gun and a first person perspective and it FEELS like a shooter, not an RPG.

      Lastly, Bethesda’s titles ALL suck in 3rd person, so that is not an option (even in Skyrim, which I am currently playing, it isn’t as improved as they would like you to believe).

  • Javis

    Personally I love Fallout, it is my favorite game series if not just my favorite series of anything, of all time. I just love the idea of a Post-Apocalyptic wasteland caused by nuclear war.

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