Which is best? WHICH IS BEEEESSSST?
With the official announcement of Fallout 4 (opens in new tab), the internet has been split into three camps. The first cannot wait for Fallout 4. The second wishes it was was a successor to Skyrim (opens in new tab), Bethesda's other massively successful, free-roaming RPG. Oh, the third? Those who don't care. But even they need to read the following argument. It might change their minds.
Why? Because this is a heated argument between the two longest-serving GR+ staff, as they champion their chosen game. It's Fallout 3 vs Skyrim. It's Dave 'the mouth' Houghton (opens in new tab), in favour of Fallout, vs. Justin 'they call me speed' Towell (opens in new tab), backing Skyrim. Which will emerge triumphant? Vote at the end and we'll decide once and for all which Bethesda RPG is best.
World - The case for Skyrim
Skyrim's fantasy setting is one of the entire industry's finest accomplishments. The Spielberg-esque moment of looking out across the plains and seeing giants plodding along, clubs in hand, makes you feel like you're truly in another place. Another time. And, unlike Fallout's grey/brown world, there's massive variety whichever direction you set off in. Icy peaks and the lightly snow-dusted College of Winterhold contrast with sunny valleys and babbling brooks. Cold-feeling tombs with undead corpses lying in wait form a patchwork of tunnels beneath you. It can be achingly beautiful one minute and convincingly dangerous the next. All of it riveting.
I don't believe anyone could stand in one screen of the game and not set off exploring. And, crucially in terms of this argument, it's teeming with beautiful wildlife. By comparison, Fallout's post-apocalyptic wasteland has very little beauty, instead assaulting you with relentless rubble, exposed steel and that constant uneasy feeling that you're soaking up a deadly dose of radiation just by being here. There can be no contest; Skyrim's world is a better place to be in.
World - The case for Fallout 3
Ive played a lot of RPGs, from Secret of Mana, to WoW, to The Witcher, and over the (many, many) years, the main thing Ive discovered is that diversity is key. RPGs, for me, arent just about creating killing grunts and levelling skills. Theyre about immersing myself in a wondrous, alien place, and through my actions, learning its rules, its culture, and exactly how I can interact with and have an effect on it. Its that infiltration process I find most exciting, so I crave games that give me radically fresh, off-the-wall locations to experience and learn about.
The Capital Wasteland, is one of the finest Ive found for that. A unique blend of Mad Max desolation, darkly skewed 50s Americana, deliciously black satire, and flat-out slapstick lunacy, what it lacks in colour variety it more than makes up in identity and intricacy. It delivers a fantastic relatability through its modern-world starting point, but then delivers a wonderful, increasingly screwball extrapolation, in which anything can and will happen. There are few recognisable tropes or expected clichs out in that blasted desert. But hell, its real-world roots still give it heaps of scope for playing around with that, in a brilliantly self-aware, post-modern way. Big, funny, and smart, Fallout 3 is an anarchic, multi-genre theme park.
Story - The case for Skyrim
Past and present collide in the most spectacular fashion as centuries-dead dragon skeletons heave themselves from the earth. It makes the fact there's a fully politically explored civil war going on seem trivial. You can even take a side and end the war one way or the other. This game world has its own issues that aren't directly your own, but you can step in and influence the outcome. In a fully voiced game, that's really quite remarkable.
Add in artifacts and enemies from a bygone age of incredibly advanced civilisation and you've got multiple layers of story, all interweaving and co-existing. It's superb. And, unlike Oblivion before it, it actually pays to play through the main plot instead of wandering off immediately to do your own thing. Fallout just can't compete with any of this with its clichd 'bible passage' plot device and massively exciting 'giant water purifier' around which its story revolves. I'd rather have the return of dragons to deal with than someone inventing the Brita Water Filter.
Story - The case for Fallout 3
Coming back to my personal priorities in RPGs, freedom to carve my own path is another big one. Im the guy who spends far more time on sidequests than the main story. Im the one who spends even more time crafting his own mini-narratives through dynamic action, throwing rocks in the pond to see what kind of ripples I can make. I need a game that respects that, and wants me to have fun with it.
Fallout 3s philosophy? Do what you like. I dont care, whatever. Its even right there in the manual. Its main plot thread isnt exactly incendiary, but its threaded through the world with deliberate subtlety and deftness, to the point that I actively ignored it, went off to find my own story, and eventually caught up with it, entirely by accident, when doing something else 20 hours later. That is organic narrative. And Fallouts writing is just so much fun. From one minute to the next I could be fighting serious oppression, dealing with 50s greaser vampires, discovering horrific cannibalism in the midst of suburban bliss, or cry-laughing at a shit superhero. Fallouts fiction allows greater tonal and creative variety than almost any other RPG I can think of, and Bethesda absolutely runs with it.
Combat - The case for Skyrim
Fighting is not Skyrim's strongest aspect; nevertheless, it offers a wide range of interesting ways to off your foes, all developed at will via its exemplary skill tree system. Of course, it's massively fun to shout someone off the side of a mountain and watch their rag doll body smash on the rocks below (and the frozen snow bear will be talked about for generations), but there's so much more fun if you get hands-on. A decent block system makes melee work well, and even the simplest stab attack can be laced with poison or a devilish spell.
Speaking of which, there's magic too, with destruction magic allowing you to summon bolts of fire to char your enemies. There are slow-motion kill-cams that show arrows burying themselves into the eye socket of your opponent. Falls can kill. Ethereal beings can be summoned to help you. There's more depth than most solely combat-based games manage, and yet it's one of Skyrim's weakest elements? What a game this is.
Combat - The case for Fallout 3
Ill concede here that neither game has stellar combat. In fact Fallout 3 initially has less breadth, being focused more on the range and explosive power of your firearms, and delivering some very chunky mobility challenges. But then you use VATS.
What you lose in immediacy (no bad thing, given that Bethesda is not great at immediate combat), you more than make up for in strategy and sheer spectacle. Slow-mo kill-cams are always fantastic, but in Fallout 3, the slow-mo kill-cam is an actual weapon in your arsenal. Seamlessly blending the cerebral nature of old-school RPGs with the explosive joy of the modern era, VATS is as stimulating to the intellect as it is the adrenal gland. In what other RPG does ten minutes of taught, tactical plotting end with a pay-off like this (opens in new tab)?
Likelihood of addiction - The case for Skyrim
You can almost approach each session of Skyrim as an interactive addition to the Lord of the Rings movies. There's a beginning as you set out on your quest. New characters being introduced. Backstabbing. Intrigue. Spectacle. Scale. Even very human moments of emotion, like a note from a dead traveller to their lover. You'll get so sucked up in it, you'll start to do unusual things. Like realising the sentimental value of the ring you just took from a corpse and returning it to said corpse's inventory. That's a sign that the game's getting under your skin.
Hours tick by and this rich, layered experience doesn't really have an end like a film does. And for every one quest you complete, three seem to spring up along the way. Even if you manage to and berries you pass and consider picking them in case you need to make a potion (as pictured). You appreciate the light on the leaves of trees. Skyrim will take over your life for as long as you allow it to, and you won't care. And even when it's finished, there are still guild quests to do and approximately 8 gazillion incidental threads to explore. Skyrim never really ends. And it still feels like it only came out last year, not four years ago.
Likelihood of addiction - The case for Fallout 3
The Bethesda guys are masters at creating living virtual ecosystems, pathologically structured around an innate factor of Ooh, whats that over there?, to keep you exploring, and questing, and growing, and exploring some more. Its marvellous. But underneath it all, were still talking about mechanical, video game infrastructure. After a while, in almost any game, you can see through the faade. And at that point, the immediate, experiential stuff becomes vitally important. For me, Fallout 3 is just fantastically compelling in that regard.
Its a combination of everything Ive said previously. The unique, witty, funny, consistently surprising world, with satirical roots in reality and a head dreaming in the clouds of retro science fiction. The greater variety of characters and situations, not restrained by hoary old D&D clichs, and thus free to deliver everything from biting class commentary, to nerd-baiting parody, to flat-out, dread soaked horror and socio-economic grit. The admittedly narrow, but deeply considered, strategic combat. The gloriously visceral fanfares that accompany big wins. Also, as important as anything else, no RPG but Fallout has ever so proudly promoted the case for having glorious 1950s robots stomping about all over the place. Its positively full of the buggers.
You tell us
You've heard both sides of the argument. Did either editor sway your opinion? Probably not. You already know what the deal is, and you know what? You're right. So let's settle this once and for all. Tell us: