posted by Thom Holwerda on Sun 21st Dec 2008 21:27 UTC
IconNot too long ago, I was convinced that the modern day gaming world was a rather empty and shallow one. If you grew up with games like The 7th Guest, the Keen series, Metroid, adventure games like Monkey Island or Full Throttle, and so on, more modern games seemed to have little to offer, besides yet another nameless hero in a grey space suit killing aliens in a grey world with the same set of twelve weapons. However, a little speck of hope was flickering on the horizon, a game seemingly made by people who could read my mind; a game about a post-apocalyptic wasteland, filled with quests and epic stories, where you were free to do whatever you wanted. Yes, I looked forward to Fallout 3, and since my computer was too old to run any game more recent than Wolfenstein, I decided to buy a game console. Read on to see how my venture into the world of modern gaming turned out.

I decided to settle on the XBox 360, mainly because it's so much cheaper than the PlayStation 3. The Wii was obviously not an option because Fallout 3 won't be ported to it, but apart from that, I think the Wii is an overhyped useless gimmick - and yes, I've played with it a lot. A few of my friends have one, and they all seem to agree that while the Wii was kind of fresh and cool when it was released, it lost its shine pretty quickly. The Wii-mote motion sensor thing is fun when you first use it, but when you realise that every game that uses it basically amounts to frantically waving a plastic rod in front of your face, it quickly loses its novelty factor. One of my best friends - die-hard Nintendo fan - sold his Wii in favour of an XBox 360. And it snowed in hell that day.

The XBox 360 itself is a nice device, convenient with its wireless controllers, albeit ridiculously loud fan-wise (luckily my audio/video cabinet covers everything with black glass). Connecting the XBox 360 to my HD TV via HDMI, and to my scary Pioneer VSX-709RDS digital receiver via optical cable enables games to really suck you in via the high definition graphics and the digital surround sound. Considering that the last console that I actually used extensively was the NES, you can imagine the leap forward that I made.

I played Fallout 3 rather meticulously. The gameplay, the setting, the storyline, the fantastic graphics, the impressive scenery, and the funny and well-written dialogues with the NPCs really sucked me in, sucked me in so deep it started to scare me. I remember a Sunday evening, after a whole day of frollicking about in the DC Wasteland, when I left my house to visit my parents, and the first thing that popped into my mind as I shut the front door behind me was "duck, and where's my Chinese assault rifle?". That's how immersive Fallout 3 is. Still, it left my with a feeling of incompleteness.

After being done with Fallout 3, I bought several other games for my XBox, and as I finished each one of them, I slowly started to realise that gaming today is seriously crippled because of a number of different factors. I bought some of the major XBox 360 titles, and all of them - including Fallout 3 - left me with a serious sense of not being done, of leaving obvious things out. Let me explain what I'm missing in modern games in more detail.

Content

Reviewers more or less unanimously agree that Fallout 3 is one of the best games in a long time. They went on and on about the immense sandbox you can play in, and all the various choices you can make that will affect the way you play the game. They went into great detail to explain all the things you can do in the game, and how it will keep you playing and exploring forever and ever. Bollocks. I think all those reviewers are either 14, or paid by Bethesda. Let me explain.

Fallout 3 takes place in a large square playable area known as the DC Wasteland, an area so large you'd need to pack some extra crisps and coffee if you want to venture from one side to the other without using the fast travel option. There are tons of sights to discover, tons of buildings to explore, and lots of beautiful scenery to drool over. Yet, there's absolutely bugger-all to do.

As I was marching up and down the Wasteland, I could literally think of hundreds of possible quests and NPC storylines, but yet, Bethesda chose to only include like 3 quests, and then hoped that we players would never grow tired of killing the same 4 enemies over and over and over and over and over again. The problem with that is that as a gamer looking for depth and story, you will quickly start to feel bored. Maybe I'm too old (I'm just 24!) for this stuff, but killing the same party of raiders or super mutants 25 times in a row gets real old, real fast. VATS saves the day somewhat, but there are only so many ways you'll enjoy blasting someone's head off with a shotgun in slow motion. Maybe 14 year olds never get tired of this, but I do.

Fallout 3 lacks content. It actually only has 17 side quests, which is simply too little for such a huge playing field. The main quest is well-written, but also isn't particularly long or difficult. This means that most of the time exploring the wasteland you're just wasting your time, because there's no story to be found anywhere. Some might say that writing good quests is hard, but I disagree. All quests in RPGs basically come down to "you are at location A, now go to location B, and grab object C. Oh, and there's a whole boatload of baddies between A and B". It's really not that difficult to come up with vast numbers of stories to drape over this basic skeletal structure.

The end result is that in Fallout 3, there a lot of locations that seemingly only exist for the sole purpose of housing the same types of enemies over and over. Fallout 3 really lacks in the different types of enemies, and this only reinforces the repetitive nature of the story-less wasteland.

This is what I mean by modern games lacking content. Games have great visual and audio presentation, but lack in the story and depth. This works great for arcade-style games like Ninja Gaiden 2, but for games that call themselves RPG, I expect an in-depth story, with so many sidequests you're almost drowning in them. In something like the DC Wasteland, every character should have a story, something to tell me, some errand that I can run for them. Sadly, most NPCs in modern RPGs are absolutely pointless and only seem to exist to mindlessly walk in between the barrel of your laser rifle and the face of the nearest baddie.

A very good example of a game with astonishing visual presentation, but a total lack of content is Bioshock. Praised as the second coming of Christ, I finished this game in 10 hours (try that with the Bible), without being in a hurry. Remember, I'm new at this whole thing, I barely know how to hold a controller - yet, Bioshock was so easy and so short, it left me totally unsatisfied. They give you this great underwater city, this interesting concept of Adam and gene splicing, yet they fail to capitalise on it by actually giving you anything to play with.

And I just have to mention Assassin's Creed as the epitome of form over function. Best graphics ever, but there's no gameplay at all.

Sure, you say, but isn't the character customisation and good/bad karma thing of many modern games in-depth enough? No, it isn't, and this brings me to my second point.

Table of contents
  1. Introduction; Content
  2. Replay Value; Gratification; The Cause
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