Monday, January 05, 2009

Falling in and out of love, part 1

After the past week, it's safe to say I've now played Fallout 3 as much as any other game I played in 2008, except for Rock Band 2. Not that I'm anywhere near done. I took a timeout from "Picking Up the Trail" on the main quest line weeks ago, deciding to put my effort toward sidequests and reaching level 20. I'd probably even be at level 20 by now if I hadn't spent most of my time on easy mode, costing me precious XP with each mutated beast I crushed with my Super Sledge -- but that's a discussion for another time.*

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.


Unknown said...

I loved Tranquility Lane right up until the point I couldn't figure out how to do anything without getting bad karma. Neat idea though, definitely the most memorable part of the main quest for me.

Alex said...

i figured out the positive karma solution for tranquility lane all by myself...I feel so smart now=)

Nels Anderson said...

Huh, interesting. I'm playing Fallout 3 again with a new character and I'm trying to keep Neutral karma (first go was Good, as I usually do), and I'm actually finding it hard not to earn positive karma. I've taken to enslaving people now and then, along with being a total kleptomaniac, to stay in the middle.

Granted, I avoided some of the more bastardly questlines in my first go. I'm about to tackle them and might be needing some more positive karma when those deeds are done.

Mitch Krpata said...

Sean, I agree that it was an awesome sequence. But ultimately I think that the player choice that's so integral elsewhere in the game actually undermined this particular sequence. There is something to be said for keeping the player on a tight leash.

Nels, I probably have enough positive karma at this point that I can whack Dave without any problems, but that's no excuse. I've been trying really hard to be virtuous throughout the game. I don't want to undermine that just to gain some XP -- but that's probably the whole point.

Travis Megill said...

I didn't have very much trouble with the combat, except for a specific enemy familiar from past games. In a certain area, I was constantly attacked from behind and killed in one hit.

In the Fallout games, dying is almost a relief. It's usually the only time I can get myself to stop playing.

Denis Farr said...

This is odd to read, as I've been keeping up weekly with Cap'n Perkins's progress on the game. He'll call me and relate what he's experienced, asking me questions, followed by us discussing what this all 'means.'

Tranquility Lane I had no problems with, but I cannot recall why. Perhaps I asked around and was able to surmise solutions, but it seemed fairly obvious to me. From Perkins's summation, it does not seem that it was, which makes me wonder what I picked up that did not translate as easily to others.

As for the rest, I'm finding it hilarious to hear the good ol' Cap'n's recounting of his tales. Much like you, his character is on the good karma path (I think it's easier by default to stay on that particular path) and occasionally he'll earn negative karma. It doesn't bother him because of the way he's playing: sometimes the world gets to him and, likewise, his character. She has slowly become jaded and more cynical.

From the vault she was full of ideals and that is slowly tarnishing. This has led him to just shoot people instead of converse with them at times (what do you do with a slaver?) and other such activities. Overall, he's still good, but he's refusing to backtrack, instead asking me how I finished certain tasks (my character talked his way out of most things and was always on the path of good except when he was rifling through other people's possessions).

Nerje said...

Maybe it's a reflection of character, I mean, my character (not the player character, the character in the game... geez, convoluted much?) that I found it hard to avoid negative karma. I needed caps desperately, so I broke into everyones house in Megaton and went a-lootin'. In every dialogue tree I would gravitate towards the funniest, most antagonistic option just to see what sort of reaction I'd get. I still wanted to save the world, but in more of an anti-hero fashion, so I would still disarm the bomb and save the girl etc. but I can't tell you how many times I got killed my the sherriff, for demanding his hat.

If he wasn't a slightly pudgy latino man with a handlebar moustache, my character would be an exact facsimile of myself.

But who am I kidding! Since I got Banjo-Kazooie, that's all I've been playing.

Jonathan Mills said...

I've only played Fallout3 for a few hours so far, but one of the things I loved about the gameplay was that I wasn't making decisions based on what outcome I wanted, I was deciding based on how I felt. During the Vault escape, when the gang kid begged me to save his mother, I didn't respond as the noble hero. Instead, I said I would save her even though he was a dick. While my attitude may change once those dialogue choices have in-game consequences, I'm grateful that for the first time in a game my decisions are emotional and visceral, not based on some external gameplay goal.