So, I’ve been playing Skyrim. I missed it the first time around and generally thought it wasn’t worth my time since I wasn’t overly keen on fantasy role-playing games. But I was very, very wrong.
For those who don’t know, Skyrim is a game that came out half a decade ago and because modern games are now just monotonous and boring “future war shooters” like contemporary Call of Duty or Titanfall. It doesn’t come as a surprise that one of the best new games of 2016 is actually an old one!
Skyrim was produced by Bethesda, the same studio that brought us the last two iterations in the Fallout franchise (Fallout: New Vegas was developed by Obsidian Entertainment) and when it comes to massive open-world, role-playing games that are full of bugs then Bethesda is the best fucking developer in the world!
I’m a big fan of post-apocalyptic fiction, I even included some P-A shit in my own stuff and I’ve never really had an idea on why I’m so interested or intrigued by this particular subject matter.
Post-Apocalypse and Science-Fiction are two of my favourite hyphenated phrases and it strikes me as odd that my form of escapist fantasy is based in a realm where nuclear devastation has decimated civilisation.
It goes without saying that in terms of gaming; there is one franchise that has remained a pivotal name and that is Fallout.
From the moment I left the safety of the underground bunker of Vault 13 in the original game, to the conclusive moments of Fallout 4… we’re talking about a long time, here!
Fallout was released in 1997, I ended up discovering it in 1998 along with the sequel; Fallout 2, then I played Fallout 3 on release day in 2008, followed by the better; Fallout New Vegas in 2010 and then more currently; Fallout 4 in November 2015.
Yeah, that’s pretty much two fucking decades of playing a game about fucking about in a post-apocalyptic wasteland… actually, I’m kind of undermining it.
You see, the original first two were not made by Bethesda, the studio that had created the two more popular titles in the series (in terms of gross sales); Fallout 3 and 4.
Both are excellent titles and I certainly agree with some of their review scores at the time of release but they are not better role-playing games compared to the original games from the late 90’s.
I know, any opportunity to state that the 90’s was so much than today! … But yeah, what’s the point of the article again!? Oh yeah, I’m not going to spiral off into a review of an episode of Twin Peaks… Though I am supposed to do that… the episode 6 review is in the pipeline, I promise!
No, I’m going to tell you the reasons why Skyrim is better than Fallout 4 (despite me, not liking the shitty “Fantasy genre” because fantasy is really shit).
Our story begins at E3 2015 when Todd Howard, Director of Bethesda games announced that not only was there a new Fallout game but it was going to be fucking released in less than 6 months time!
Over a decade ago, I remember seeing a poster at the cinema I worked at and it displayed a teaser for a new Grand Theft Auto game but I wouldn’t get to play it for… TWO… FUCKING… YEARS!
Here was Todd Howard, standing on a stage with familiar soundtrack music playing (of the Fallout variety) and he was telling us that not only were they working on Fallout but yeah, you can play it in November.
I, figuratively, shit’ myself.
The hype continued as they divulged further details on the creative aspect of Fallout 4, namely the settlement and build functions of the game. Now you could grow communities in the post-apocalyptic frontier of nuked Boston, US.
Build entire structures from the shit that you find.
Do you need a bed? Well, apparently that takes two packets of cigarettes and the wooden handle of a hammer according to the resource manager user interface…
Wait, can I just say that the previous thing I mentioned doesn’t sound overly “post-apocalyptic” or “role-play gamey”. you’d be right!
Discounting the action element of the game, Fallout 4 is a resource management game first and a role-playing game second.
Yet, I’ve been playing Fallout 4 a hell of a lot over the past year and then suddenly Skyrim: Special Edition was released and my curious-self thought that maybe, I should give it a go.
After all, it was made by Bethesda and I thoroughly enjoyed their games so why not lose myself in some naff fantasy realm full of “dragons”, “orcs” and “elves”.
Obviously, I’m totally aware that Fallout has the same staple of characters, it’s just that “orcs” are now “super mutants”, “dragons” are now “deathclaws” and “elves” are… well, Elves just suck anyway. Who seriously likes fucking Elves?
You don’t see black Elves do you?
Why is that? It’s because Elves represent white-supremacists, the so-called “master race”, “aryans”… etc.
How wrong was I! I didn’t know that Elves had their own diverse spectrum of ethnicities. There are Wood Elves and Snow Elves (though, they’re now rendered blind and they live like cannibalistic vermin in caves), then you have Dark Elves… they have darker skin, erm… then there are High Elves and they have blond hair and… shit, they’re the “master race”… okay, Elves are like arrogant humans on steroids and they have slanted eyes… shit.
Maybe, I should write a different article entitled; Why Skyrim is racist!?
Yeah, gonna digress a bit here.
Let’s look at the fundamentals! I’m going to utilise the older Fallout 3 instead of Fallout 4 because of the third entry is from the PS3/XBOX 360 generation whereas Fallout 4 is of the current console generation. It wouldn’t be fair to compare the two because of 4 having greater graphical fidelity and it is obviously, technically superior though I will mention Fallout 4 anyway.
Fallout 3 starts with an ill-conceived introduction. Your character is born and the first person you kill is your own mother while Liam Neeson looks on. That’s right! Liam Neeson is your father, well the voice actor of the protagonist’s father anyway. It is at this point that you get to embark on the arduous and boring process of creating your character.
First you choose what you look like and despite being a baby, apparently, you get to confusingly model your future-self or something? That’s nowhere near as confusing than the fact; that regardless of the race you model your character as you’re still going to have a white Liam Neeson as a father. What if I wanted to be an African American or Asian? I guess I have to be half-black then…
As a baby you are then given a book to look through, this is basically the part where you choose what S.P.E.C.I.A.L stats you start with. “S” stands for Strength, “P” for Perception etc. and you’re given a load of “points” to allocate to these attributes. So, if you’re strong then you have more carry weight and you’re able to carry larger weapons, that kind of thing.
Shortly after, you learn the basic shooting mechanics because it’s now your birthday and you’re given a BB Gun as a present.
Later, years have gone by and now you have to sit a fucking exam because that’s what most people look for in a game, right?
Then a plot-thing happens and your father, Liam Neeson has buggered off and left the safety of Vault 101… nobody has ever left Vault 101! But the twist is, people have and even your character was born outside of the Vault so yeah… enjoy obviously telegraphed twist! It’s so blatantly obvious, it’s like Bethesda thinks you’re fucking stupid!
Anyway, it is at this point that you have no choice but to murder a load of your fellow Vault dwellers because Bethesda probably didn’t play the first two Fallout games.
In those games you had choices and if you dumped a load of points into the Charisma attribute then you could talk your way out of most situations.
Instead of looking for a water purification chip, like in the first Fallout, or looking for the Garden of Eden Creation Kit, like in Fallout 2… you’re looking for Liam Neeson.
A surprising role reversal because usually Liam Neeson is looking for his fucking daughter (he’s even looking for his daughter in the English dub of the amazing Japanese film; Ponyo!), so you leave the Vault after an hour of being spoon-fed some plot.
Compare this to the opening moments of Skyrim, where you’re given an actual blank slate of a character to work with. You’re not the son or daughter of Liam Neeson, you have no predetermined backstory. You’re just a prisoner sitting in the back of a horse-drawn cart, awaiting your execution at the hands of the Imperial Legion, Skyrim’s answer to the Roman Empire. Why you’re there? It’s up to your imagination. Maybe you were wrongfully accused of a crime? Maybe you’re a vicious criminal? It’s up to you.
After a few short minutes, a Legion soldier asks you your name and it is here that you get to make your character. Do you want to be a Lizard-person? Cat-person? One of three different flavours of Elf? Orc? Scandinavian (Nord)? Fantasy-African (Redguard)? Fantasy-Italian (Imperial)? Jeremy Kyle guest (Breton)?
You’re not just confined to be the son or daughter of Liam Neeson and isn’t that what makes for an immersive role-playing game?
I don’t know who my parents are supposed to be, I don’t know what I’m supposed to be and that’s the interesting aspect here, I can be whatever I want. Later I could be a vampire lizard dude or werewolf black woman, it’s a choice that we’re handed and it is this choice that puts the “fun” into fundamental… fucking can’t believe I wrote that and that I’ve decided to not delete that sentence.
Another thing I’ve noticed involves the way you progress through the game. I’m talking about the Levelling system and between Skyrim and Fallout;, Skyrim makes so much more sense.
I never really noticed it before until I started playing Skyrim but let’s shift focus towards Fallout 4 for a moment, in Fallout 4 I can wipe out all the super mutants in the Medford Memorial Hospital, I’ve used my silenced pistol to shoot the mini-nuke that one of the mutants is holding, he explodes and takes out a few mutant hounds, then his friends start to shout expletives at me as I fuck them up with my assault rifle and their blood and guts splatter against the walls of this run-down and apocalyptic hospital. When all is done, I’ve gained an extra rank and apparently now I can choose what skill I “level up”? Huh? How does that make sense?
So, I’ve killed a couple dozen enemies and now I’ve gained the ability to pick harder locks… sounds like bullshit to me.
In Skyrim, I’m free to attempt to pick really hard locks, I’m not told by some omnipotent text in the corner that I can’t. I even improve my ability to lockpick by… actually picking locks!
Now that’s a relatively simple Boolean value that I can get behind! It just makes sense!
My super sexy stealth archer is amazing at shooting arrows because she shoots a lot of arrows. She’s good at smithing because I’ve been exploiting a minor flaw in the game by making a lot of gold rings at a smithing station or whatever they’re called. I did this so I could improve my light armour skill because now I’m so good at smithing, I can make better armour. It makes sense!
In Fallout 3 and especially Fallout 4, I murder every radioactive creature in the Glowing Sea and now I’m an expert hacker or I find more bottle caps (the standard currency in the Fallout franchise) whenever I look in a container.
You may notice that when I talk about Fallout 3 and 4 I usually mention the words; “kill” or “murder” because that’s basically all you do in those games.
Each mission is, go there, kill everything, come back and get a reward. Or a variation such as; go there, kill everything and grab the thing. Sure, you can stealth your way through an environment but it’s more fun to use those bigass guns right? You’re not really given any other options and that’s all well and good because I love killing virtual things, it’s like, my favourite thing to do!
Skyrim is certainly different, you can still kill everything and with mods, you can kill the fucking annoying child in Whiterun that tells you that she’ll fight you and she doesn’t care that “I’m her elder”. You can go and murder that solitary giant and his two mammoths, you can be a dick and use your Shout Power(TM) to throw your companions off bridges and/or mountains but I’ve actually come across quests where utilising stealth or using your “Speechcraft” is beneficial.
Even the variety of quests feel more diverse.
Hell, I went to a town I’ve never been before and a blacksmith asked me to find his dog.
Why not? I thought.
My sexy stealth archer likes animals, she shoots a shit load of them and I thought it would be some easy experience points…
3 Hours later and I’ve been on this massive quest that has taken me from the south of the land of Skyrim to the north. I had no idea that the dog I was looking for could actually talk and that his owner was a god. It was weird mini-adventure and it was both interesting and fun.
Nearly every quest in Fallout 3 is, “can you get me the thing”, “can you kill that thing for me” and it’s no wonder that the most fun thing you can do in that game is to ignore the fucking quests and just go and explore the vast environment for yourself.
All my fond memories of Fallout 3 involve exploration. I remember finding the settlement called Little Lamp Light. It’s a community of children and they have one rule, once you become an adult then you have to leave Little Lamp Light.
Fuck knows how they replenish their population but one of the best aspects of this community is that there’s another nuclear fallout shelter (Vault) next to this settlement of children.
When you venture inside the Vault you may find a computer terminal and on the terminal is some guy’s diary entries. This guy had lost his own child and had no knowledge of the outside world, he ended up going mad because he could hear children… he had no idea that there was a community of children living right next door to this sealed Vault.
Fallout has some amazing world building and though I’m more interested in the aesthetic of Fallout, I can’t but help feel that Bethesda has forgotten what made Fallout so great.
It is also strangely coincidental that aspects of the original (non-Bethesda) Fallout games can be found in Skyrim. The quests that end up sprawling into the unknown appeals to me and it seems unwarranted to be spoon-fed a back story.
In Fallout 4, no matter what you call yourself, no matter how you model yourself, you will always have a default character. You will always be Nate the soldier or Nora the lawyer and you will always have baby Shaun. You will always be frozen for centuries, you will always witness your spouses’ death and the kidnapping of your own son.
What if I don’t want to be Nate or Nora?
Skyrim allowed me to be whatever the fuck I wanted to be. I could be a necromancer and instead of fighting enemies, I could call on the undead to do my bidding.
If I don’t want to do the main quest I could join a faction and enjoy their quests.
Fallout 4 doesn’t allow that. You can, if you want, join one of the four factions (Brotherhood of Steel, The Railroad, The Institute or The Minutemen) but their quests halt until you’ve progressed through the main story.
You can’t even properly join the Brotherhood of Steel until you’ve avenged your wife or husband’s death! Where’s the freedom in that?
Skyrim allows you to complete one of the many faction’s quests without being forced down the main plot. Don’t want dragons? Then don’t retrieve the Dragonstone from Bleak Falls Barrow. What to become a badass assassin, the most powerful wizard without being forced down the main plot, then you can. But if you want further proof, let’s use numbers as to why Skyrim is better than Fallout… well, Fallout 4, at least… in err… this example.
In Fallout 4 (according to a strategy guide) there are only 12 main quests, 54 factions quests and 20 side quests. Want to know how many is in Skyrim?
What were Bethesda doing?
Easy, they were turning Fallout into a resource management simulator.
Now, you can build settlements!
It’s basically The Sims but instead, everything is dirty and rusty.
Building settlements is awesome, it’s pretty damn fucking incredible but what if you’re not interested in that? What if you haven’t got the creative flare of YouTuber; norespawns (check his stuff out if you’re interested, it’s pretty damn impressive). Or, like me, you wanted to play as a complete and utter arsehole? Well, you can but you’re still looking for your fucking baby.
I started an entirely new playthrough of Fallout 4 where I tried to ignore the main plot quests. The first thing I did was head straight to Abernathy Farm, it isn’t far from where you start and it looks really cool. Every time I’ve played it, the farmer asks me, take a wild guess…
“kill people and get a thing”.
Well, fuck you Blake Abernathy and your dead daughter, I’m not going to kill those raiders for you and get your daughter’s locket back… no, Blake, your awesome looking house built around an electricity pylon is just what I need for my own base of operations.
So I murdered the fuck out of him and his remaining family.
Though, I kept his pet cat alive and his two-headed cow.
But this victory was a little bit hollow because I knew at some point I would have to (yawn) avenge the murder of my spouse and find my son etc.
I didn’t feel like I was free and Skyrim provides that.
And isn’t that what a role-playing game is? It grants wish fulfillment, it gives you the illusion of freedom when you really don’t have any.
Now, I’m going to talk about what Fallout does better than Skyrim and I’ll exclude personal bias. Man, I really want to run around Skyrim with a fucking massive gun but where Fallout excels is with its companion characters.
Skyrim’s interchangeable selection of followers/companions is shallow in comparison to Fallout 4.
One of the first companions I was given in Skyrim was a lady in Whiterun, she’s my housecarl or bodyguard but she is no different to a whole host of other follower characters. Not like in Fallout 4 where I had Nick Valentine, Cait, Piper, McCready, Curie or Danse… the point is, I actually remember their names. I don’t remember the name of that Elven archer in Riverwood but I do remember the quest that involved the potential to gain him as a companion.
There was this guy in the tavern and he’s besotted with some maiden, she was friends with the Elven archer and this dick in the tavern wanted me to break up their friendship by utilising subterfuge but I’m all for interracial relationships so I thought that this Elf was a better guy than this knob-end.
And he ended up helping me out when I was still finding my feet in the early game… yet he didn’t really have much of a memorable personality but again, going back to what I mentioned paragraphs ago; Fallout 4 is just over a year old and Skyrim is five years old.
It’s still an immensely enjoyable game and with the Special Edition that was released earlier in the month, this console version has been given more life.
Visually, it is beautiful.
I love just walking around and finding dungeons and forts, discovering little cottages in the middle of the woods, getting killed in one hit by giants and seeing the occasional woolly mammoth as he stands on thin air thanks to the bugs.
But most of all, I love the way that Skyrim reminds me why I enjoy playing computer games and why I like being critical of said games.
Skyrim, in my opinion, is better than Fallout 3 and 4 but Fallout as a franchise is still my favourite.
And there’s always Fallout: New Vegas… fuck, that game just pisses all over EVERYTHING!
Anyway, Twin Peaks episode 6 review is coming so please check that out and please, donate oxygen on my non-existent internet-begging page.
I’m going to fulfil my destiny, fore I AM THE DRAGONBORN… or something… whatever.