I love RPGs, in theory. I love the idea of embarking on some grand adventure, whether it be to recover a lost magical crystal, or to replace a broken water chip. With each new release I find myself planning far in advance how my character (or characters) will be kitted out in their quest to save their world/hometown. Will they be magic users, or will they live by the sword? I envisage myself so immersed, engrossed in the dance my tiny avatars carry out as they destroy the latest in an endless supply of randomly spawned enemies. I love RPGs. In theory.
In reality, more often than not, I find myself not immersed, but bored. The tale is not as nuanced and finely spun as I was sure it would be when all I had to go on were screenshots. I am bogged down in how artificial the world is. It isn’t a world. It’s a game-world. I find myself disconnected from my avatar. Hit Points? They don’t make sense, when you think about it. I almost always end up disappointed.
But it was still with boundless enthusiasm that I approached my two most anticipated games of this season, Fallout 3, and Chrono Trigger (remade for the Nintendo DS). Fallout is a western-developed game, and is made for the current generation of consoles and PCs. Chrono Trigger is a handheld port of the Super Nintendo original. Each offers very different styles of role-playing. First then, to Fallout 3.
I was really looking forward to Fallout 3. The Interplay developed originals are some of my favourite games, with their darkly comic atmosphere and superbly realised vision of life after the apocalypse. When I saw how Bethesda had turned the lovingly detailed 2D world into a possibly even more lovingly detailed 3D world, I was ready to spend however many hundreds of pounds on a new PC just to play this game. And when I finally saved enough, and the game came out, I hurriedly obtained a copy and delved straight into the ruins of Washington D.C. I wanted the old games wrapped up in a souped up Oblivion engine, and that was by and large what I got.
But I don’t really like it all that much. Why? Well, I’m just daunted by the sheer size of the game, mostly. The sheer amount of stuff to do isn’t that much more than the original Fallout, so the difference is psychological. Faced with all this choice, I’m finding myself choosing nothing. Exacerbating this problem for me is the travel system. Almost all the missions would be far more interesting to me if to get to them I didn’t have to wander for several minutes across a uniformly grey wasteland with almost nothing in it. In the Interplay games, going from one town to another took all of three seconds, whereas in Fallout 3 that journey is more likely to take 5 to 10 minutes of walking. There is a fast travel system, but it only allows you to travel to locations you have already visited. I really feel it would be much improved if there were a few locations unlocked from the beginning, allowing for shortened travel times.
In fact, there are a lot of reasons I don’t like the game. The game’s much vaunted opening started to grate after my third go at creating a character. I would really like an option to create my entire character on one screen and begin. If this is available, it certainly wasn’t made clear. Characters haven’t made the best transition into the 3D realm. As with the Elder Scrolls games, the way everyone just looks straight at you and don’t move anything save their mouth is just plain unnerving, and ruins any sense of immersion I had. Equally illusion-busting is the level of violence in this game. Watching someone’s head being taken off by a baseball bat is amusing the first couple of times, but it quickly becomes tiresome. In 2D, it was necessary to over-stylise things. In taking the franchise to 3D, however, Bethesda should perhaps have employed a little subtlety. Another problem with the switch to 3D is that environments I had no problem traversing before now feel dark and oppressing, creating a game world I really have no desire to spend much time in.
But I shouldn’t end this on the bad parts. The game is beautiful, if a little monotonous. The combat system makes fighting far more enjoyable than the painfully slow turn-based system of yesteryear (No more patient waiting for vagrants to run away in panic). Sound design is also spectacular, and dialogue is serviceable. Plus, there’s all that choice. What puts me off others will no doubt love. I wish them all the best, but I couldn’t leave Megaton.
Until I blew it up.
Stay tuned for impressions of Chrono Trigger DS