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 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.

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!

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Chad Awkerman

Chad joined the DualShockers staff in mid 2009 and since then has put much of his time into covering RPGs, with a focus on the Japanese side of the genre, from the obscure to the mainstream. He's a huge fan of iconic games like Secret of Mana, Final Fantasy VI and Persona 4 yet enjoys the smaller niche titles, as well. In his spare time he enjoys experiencing new beer, new foods and keeping up with just about every sci-fi show on television. He's married to an intelligent, beautiful Southern Belle who keeps his life interesting with witty banter and spicy Cajun cooking.

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