Sunday, December 23, 2012

Fallout: New Vegas doesn't railroad you at the beginning (rant)

Okay, I know it's at least two years old at this point, and in video game dog years is thus an ancient game, but I want to talk about Fallout: New Vegas for a minute.

Fallout: New Vegas is one of my very favorite computer RPGs ever. It's up there with Torment and Baldur's Gate 2. I really really really love this game. It has an interesting story, ample opportunity to explore (despite some delusional gamers' claims to the contrary), and it is one of few games where I truly feel like I go where I want when I want, and my decisions have real consequences. Plus lesbian monk punching monsters for the win.

I realize not many people love the game like I do, and I accept that people have different tastes and different preferences in games. All I ask is that if you dislike the game, dislike it for reasons that are not just plain wrong.

One of the wrongest reasons to dislike Fallout: New Vegas is the claim that the game "railroads you" because the characters and world design encourages you to travel east instead of north from your starting location. A good friend, whose opinions I usually respect, made this claim just recently, even stating it was a reason he never finished it, which makes my heart break, because if you like good RPGs, it is a game so very worth finishing. He said, "It forces you to follow the main plot and won't let you go straight to New Vegas." (Spoiler: New Vegas is what lies straight to the north of your starting point.)

Here's the thing: if you go straight to New Vegas, you TRIGGER THE PLOT FASTER. There is a reason why certain major plot characters are in New Vegas (your first hint that this is going to happen: the game is called Fallout: New Vegas), and you can very easily skip past early elements of the main plot (which are largely inconsequential) and suddenly find yourself right smack in the middle of the main plot before you are actually ready to be.

The truth of why the game strongly suggests (but does not force) you to go south or east instead is in fact, to encourage you to explore the game and get a feel for the world. The closer you get to New Vegas, the more you get wrapped up in the goings on in the world. If you are the kind of person who likes Fallout games because you can explore and find weird locations and fight monsters and talk to people in little towns and get a sense of what's going on in the world before you get involved, it's actually better to follow the game's advice and go any direction but north. It's in fact much easier to leave the game's main plot by hanging out in that central eastern/southern region and discovering the very many areas around there and doing the very many sidequests you find there.

But the thing is, you want to dive straight for New Vegas, you can! Yes, the game design does border the northern roads with several swarms of giant death flies, to discourage you from going that way. The game ALSO puts not one but TWO Stealth Boys in easy reach of you in the area you start in. You do the math. If you're determined to go north, you can do it. You have to be careful, you have to be observant, and you have to have good timing, but you can do it, and it's not that hard, because I did it, and I am the farthest from leet ninja game maneuverings as you can be and still be able to play video games at all.

I am in a game right now where I have a 4th level character hanging out in Freeside. She got that way by going straight north from Goodsprings and being careful. Levels 3 and 4 were earned in the New Vegas vicinity. She has a crappy Stealth score, for the record, as her frequent head injuries inflicted by Fiends with plasma weaponry will show you. But she is there, and she's alive, and she's slowly gathering the friends, caps, and supplies needed to do the various quests she's picking up in and around there. She's not ready to charge Fiends in head on quite yet but she's getting there (she can certainly pick off stragglers easily enough). And I'm sure someone who plays ballsier than me could be past the Vegas gate by now.

Could they have designed the game where you started in a different starting point so you'd have to travel far to get to New Vegas, forcing you to explore on the way one way or the other? Sure. But I think that'd actually be more railroady. Interesting thing is, this way gives you a choice--take the hard but fast road to get to the plot (and bigger guns and such) faster, or take the slow and easy road and take in the sights along the way. I guess if they made a mistake, it's that they didn't make it clear enough that this was in fact a choice, not a railroad. At least, that's how I see it, and I'm living proof you can play the game however you like.

I can count on my hand the times I felt deeply railroaded in F:NV. Once was through a single particular plot late in the main plot, where you are forced to give up an item and not given options to try and sleight of hand it or whatever. The other is through the majority of the Dead Money DLC, and especially the way the endgame works (there's a character who is unkillable until a certain trigger, and there's no good reason for it). (Mind, I loved Dead Money, but it is what it is.) Most of the DLCs by their nature are also "railroady" because you have to get to the end before you're allowed to return to the main game area, but that's also kind of the nature of the beast anyway.

But it was definitely not in the beginning.

So: hate on F:NV if that's what tickles your fancy. But not because the "beginning railroads you" -- because it doesn't, and you're wrong. And if you don't like it, I'll send Veronica in to punch you, so there.