Thing is -- and I say this with the caveat that, yes, I love this game -- my opinion of this game, graphed as a function of playtime, has formed a neat parabola. You may remember that I had a tough time getting over some of the quirkier aspects of the game when I started, but eventually gave myself over to the setting. Well, after however many hours of play -- 30? 40? -- some of those annoyances have come back. I'm not talking about the crashes and disc read errors that continue to plague the experience, none of which occurred while I was playing Prince of Persia at the same time. Rather, Fallout is so ambitious and unwieldy that it can't help but trip over its own shoelaces at times.
Sometimes, this takes the form of confusing and unfortunate conflicts between quest lines and the karma system. I've been doing a good job of choosing the positive karma path most of the time, but sometimes the game likes to trick me into getting myself into situations that seem only to have a negative-karma solution. "Tranquility Lane" is a good example of this. There is a positive-karma solution to that quest, but it's so obtuse that I never would have figured it out on my own. (No, I have no shame about consulting walkthroughs, particularly with RPGs.)
There's a good argument to be made that Fallout is simply trying to make the player's choices matter, by giving them the freedom to do anything in this world except escape the consequences of their actions. It's the sort of thing I like on an academic level. But when it comes to playing a video game, though, what I really want is the chance to do something over again in order to achieve my desired outcome.
In pursuing Dave as part of "You Gotta Shoot 'Em in the Head," I found out only too late that I had boxed myself out of the positive-karma outcome thanks to my dialogue choices. Now, if I want to finish the quest and gain XP, I'm going to have to kill him -- a negative-karma outcome. If I'd even realized this was a possibility, I might have saved my game immediately before talking to him, but why should that be necessary? One of the cherished traditions of games is the opportunity to try again.
(This is taken to the other extreme in the new Prince of Persia, with some success and also with its own problems. By the way, anything interesting I might have thought to say about the difficulty level and gameplay philosophy of the new PoP is rendered instantly irrelevant by Shamus Young's awesome video on the topic. You must watch this.)
Oh hey, this post got pretty long. Let's pick it up again tomorrow.
*Briefly: Isn't the challenge of a game like Fallout simply finding the time to play it? It's hard enough to feel like you're getting to everything without also having to worry about dying. Exploring and completing quests is so time-consuming that adding difficult combat seems like overkill.