I finished Fallout New Vegas (or as much of it as I was willing to finish), and as we had some spirited discussion last time I mentioned it, I figured I’d give my final thoughts.
FNV has one major strength and one major weakness. (Well, using the damn Gamebryo engine is a pretty major weakness, what with all the crashes and crap animations and such, but I’ll evaluate this assuming everything is working properly.)
It has more than a ‘good’ and ‘bad’ ending. Most games these days claiming to offer Tough Choices are really about being Mother Teresa or a baby eater, to quote Yahtzee. Mass Effect offers you a choice of a Mother Teresa or Dirty Harry, but that’s still a binary option. Generally you’re always asked to either be a fully upstanding do-gooder, or a selfish douchebag who messes with people for the lulz and the money.
FNV has these paths — they’re called “supporting the NCR” and “supporting the legion”. The NCR are the arguable good guys, despite everybody you run into saying they’re stretched too thin and incapable of managing the Vegas region. All their endings are positive ones, where they bring peace and prosperity to all, run out the gangs, be big heroes, etc. The Legion… well, arguably they civilize things, but they do it by murdering and enslaving everyone and being generally vicious, heartless bastards, so there’s no gray area there.
But FNV also offers a third and in fact fourth option. It’s not a middling “neutral” where you just step out of the way of the plot, either. You can elect to kick the asses of the NCR AND the Legion and keep Vegas independent. Plus, you can do this in two ways — by solving the problems of the groups in Vegas to show them hope of a better tomorrow as you take command of the situation, or you can let Mr. House get greater control and rule by the iron fist of law. Good AND evil third options, very nice.
This is the game’s greatest strength. It lets the players pick from more than a two party system (cough cough political subtext cough) and shape the wasteland the way they want it shaped. I haven’t seen too many games in the past offer this many routes to the finale, especially across the moral spectrum. Good show.
Unfortunately, this is also a bit of a weak spot, because so many quests assume you’re going the NCR or Legion route and totally ignore the Independent route. Good example. My companion Arcade Gannon wants me to round up his old friends to help in the battle. In the end… I’m only given two options. “I want you guys to fight for the NCR” or “I want you to fight for the legion.” not “I want you to fight for me.” I checked the fan wiki to see if I was doing something wrong, but it said to get them to not shoot you dead in the finale, you have to pick NCR. Which makes no real sense.
Many other quests fall along the same lines, making assumptions about the player’s goals and motivations and providing no options to you. My favorite is helping the isolationist Boomer faction, who are, basically, ordinance-obsessed psychopaths who feel everybody outside their camp are “savages”. They’re nice enough folks, but their core philosophy is that one day they’re going to bomb the living hell out of everyone else. And the game expects you to smile and help them arm to the teeth for the good ending. You don’t even get a chance to say “You know, my actions should prove we’re not all savages out there” or “I’m establishing an independent Vegas and I’d like your support bombing its enemies.” Nope, just RAMIREZ, GO GET US A BOMBER PLANE and damn the long term consequences.
But other quests are even weaker, because there’s no reason you’d want to undertake them. Nearly all of them assume you’re willing to just stumble across a totally new situation and say “Hey, what incredibly dangerous odd jobs can I do for you even though I have no real reason to want to do them?”. Find a new village? Time to fix their generator, run off the bandits, and help their cats out of trees.
Good motivation: “ME AM DO GOOD” Evil motivation: “ME AM WANT MONEY”. That’s just not enough. Even a good oriented player would want at least a nudge of motivation; maybe “If I do this, will you support the NCR / independent vegas?”, a sort of wandering handyman building up a power base for future use. Very few of the quests allow for that. Sure, you get faction reputation, you’re “liked,” but all that means is they won’t shoot you in the face on sight and you might get a discount at the local shop. La dee da.
In fact, the entire game is founded on the principle of doing quests Just Because They’re Quests. You start out shot in the head and left for dead, your cargo taken. Do you want the cargo back because you feel the burning need to complete the delivery? Do you not want to get stuck with the fine for loss of cargo? (250 caps, big whoop.)
The game never provides motivation options, nor expects you to have any particular motivation. Just get out there and start questin’, big guy, because that’s what you’re supposed to do in a game like this.
And we’re talking some duller than dirt quests here, folks. Literal fetch quests — go here and get this thing / click on this guy and come back. Go to these FIVE places and do a trivial task and come back. In the end? “Thanks, have some caps, goodbye.” Wheeee. No twists, no turns, no storytelling worth note, no reason to do it, nothing changing around you as a result of your actions, boring. I skipped the vast majority of these and decided to go right to the ending.
For every brilliant innovation, there’s also a lame and lazy old-school RPG standard waiting around the corner. Is the game worth playing for the moments of brilliance? Well, I finished it, so yeah. But 20 hours in, the laziness grated on me, and I ended up skipping a lot of content as a result. Probably the best way to go in this game. Play the parts you like; ignore the rest. End result, fun. Just a shame they wasted so much potential elsewhere in the game.
EDIT: See comments, where I clarify some things; it’s less about the core functionality of the quest system and more about the boring presentation of the quests. Lazy setup writing vs. immersive scenarios.