So, E3 is over. The gaming press has seen Fallout 3 and they’re all giddy with the pretty graphics and talking about how the game was one of the best in show. Everyone is excited and happy and looking forward to it, which means that now is the optimal time for me to kick the piss out of the thing.
I have other games here on my shelf. Games that are stupid, bland, boring, shallow or inane. Some of them were the most “exciting” titles in the E3’s of yesteryear. I know it’s easy to impress someone with a twenty-minute playthrough on a jumbo monitor at a convention when you can overwhelm them with spectacle and nobody has time to measure the depth of the gameplay. A good showing at E3 means your game doesn’t have any obvious fun-killing issues, but it doesn’t mean you’re ready to step into the shoes of a legendary franchise like Fallout.
The original Fallout wasn’t a sexy tech demo. It was an ass-ugly isometric game with cheap 2D sprites that offered incredible freedom, immersion, atmosphere, story, characters, and dialog. None of those attributes are things which can really be conveyed or measured within the ephemeral context of E3. I remember how things went with Oblivion, which was the last game Bethesda put out, and it’s only because of my great love for Fallout that I’m even entertaining the notion of paying attention to this game.
If I’d been at E3, here are the questions I would have asked the guys from Bethesda, probably right before I was escorted off the premises for being a pain in the ass and a killjoy:
1. Will this game run properly on the computers available on this planet?
Yes, all that E3 game footage looks really sexy, but I’ve never been anywhere near a PC capable of that. One hopes the game will scale down to include terrestrial machines owned by humble mortals like myself. (Although I have recently upgraded my graphics card.)
Fallout did not push the limits of the user’s machine when it arrived, and it managed to become a beloved classic anyway. People complain about how poorly PC games sell, but the amazing thing is that the market gets a lot bigger if you would just take a single step back from that damnable bleeding edge.
2. Is the game going to be infected with auto-leveling foes?
Auto-leveling more or less ruined my enjoyment of Oblivion once I realized it was there. Everytime you gain a level, so does every monster in the world. Their gear is upgraded as well, which sort of raises the question as to why you bothered leveling up in the first place.
Moreover, this system punishes you for focusing on non-combat skills. If you spend a level putting everything into non-combat stuff, then you’ll lag behind your foes in power. The game gets harder, and because of the auto-leveling, you can’t ever close that gap.
You (almost) never just run into a foe that’s too much for you. There’s nothing to really be afraid of, because you never get the feeling you might be in over your head. You never get the satisfaction of leveling up enough to overwhelm a previously formidable foe. The entire experience is uniform and bland. If foes are designed to be as strong as you are, then why not just dump all the leveling busywork and make a straightforward shooter?
Or better yet, take out auto-leveling foes and give us a proper RPG.
3. What kind of DRM are we talking here?
Yeah, I know. Nobody cares about this but me. But I really care about it, really extra super-hard, in an effort to compensate for everyone else ‘s apathy.
Thankfully Oblivion didn’t have online activation, but that seems to be all the rage these days and I’m wondering if Bethesda is going to jump on that bandwagon.
If you’re going to make me come to you, hat in hand, asking to play my game, then let me know now so I can cross this game off my list. Sure, you’ll lose my business, but think of all the money you make from the pirates who will magically repent when presented with the activation screen that they’ll never see.
4. Do you have any plans on playtesting the game this time around?
The minimum system requirements in Oblivion were an outrageous lie, and I haven’t forgotten that it took a user-made mod to get the game working. If you want to sell to people on the low end, you have to actually make the game work on their machines.
5. Will you be supporting the game after release?
If my questions seem a little mean spirited at this point then I apologize for not being nearly mean enough. To wit: In Oblivion you released a buggy game and never fixed it. The mod community ended up fixing the bugs while you guys made new content, which is an inversion of how this is supposed to work. Making us little $5 download packs of content while the game itself is riddled with scripting errors and broken quests was a really sleazy move.
The hype phase of an upcoming title is an excellent time to bring up all the flaws with the previous title, since that’s when the developers and publishers are most PR-conscious. After release these sorts of complaints end up in forums where they won’t reach the undecided buyer. Once the review scores are up the publisher can go back to ignoring the general public and turtle in until they’re ready to trot out the next game for E3. Bethesda has poked their head out of the turtle shell, and while everyone else is gushing over their ZOMG GRAFITHX!! I want to take this opportunity to give them a few whaps on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper and encourage them not to screw this one up.
These guys have obtained the much-beloved Fallout license. Fan support is strong. I’m even open to the heretical changes they’ve made to bring the game, kicking and screaming, into the world of realtime 3D. All I ask is that they not repeat the obvious mistakes of the past.
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