These two games have a lot in common–not too surprising, as they’re both open world RPGs made by the same company. And ultimately, other than the differences between a fantasy and post-apocalyptic setting, they offer similar types of experiences.
The games don’t have deep characterization or detailed plots, so much as you go around in the world, meet a lot of people–generally never getting to know them beyond some surface details–and complete missions. There’s often not much variability in how you can complete these missions, though sometimes there is. But the point is the freedom to go out and explore the world, doing what you want when you want.
So I’d recommend them for someone looking for exploration and freedom and atmosphere, rather than character and narrative. The things that really make the game are wandering around and happening upon some random NPC in the middle of nowhere. Or walking into a new town, then figuring out the problems in the place and whether or not to get involved.
As someone who enjoys character and narrative above all else, both games were interesting enough that I got through significant portions of them, but ultimately not deep enough to really suck me and make me love them. I did appreciate the exploration factor, however, especially in Skyrim.
Verdict, for both games: Decent.
Genre: Fantasy RPG
Synopsis: Skyrim is in the midst of a civil war, and to make matters worse, dragons have begun attacking various cities. Into this mess steps you, with a newfound power you know nothing about, and the ability to change the face of the country.
Series: Standalone in a series of games.
This game is good until you become disillusioned with it, whenever that might happen. After that, the magic is gone (or at least it was for me), though it might still be interesting to continue progressing every now and again.
Plenty of quests were the standard go-into-a-dungeon-and-clear-it, but some of them threw in interesting twists or altogether different scenarios. I appreciated one where some mystic being commands you to go into a dungeon, and the interactive aspect spiced up the scenario. Other quests might optionally be completed by sneaking instead of fighting, which is a nice change of pace.
There are several quests where you join an organization and go through a long plotline of advancing through the ranks–this is both a pro and a con. The positive is that they’re generally a fun series of quests, each tailored to the organization in question, that increase the feeling of being part of this world. The negative is that going through the ranks of multiple organization like this, ultimately becoming the leader of various scattered institutions in the world, destroyed my suspension of disbelief.
When I first started playing Skyrim, I was pretty into it, and got a good amount of time in. I enjoyed joining the College of Winterhold, a decision that made sense for my mage character. Then I decided I needed a warrior follower, and went to join the Companions to have access to those characters. And suddenly everything felt so contrived, that I stopped playing the game entirely for a good few months. The Companions quest line was plenty interesting in its own right, but in conjunction with the other organizational plotline, it just didn’t make sense. The game is still fun to play, so long as you don’t expect a cohesive narrative.
I also appreciated one big difference in gameplay between this and Fallout 3: skills level up when you use them, not when you put points into them. That’s actually kind of cool, and allows your character to grow in whatever way you play them, using whatever disparate skills you’ve been using.
Genre: Post-apocalyptic RPG
Synopsis: You grow up a vault protecting you from the outside world, not knowing that there might be anything out there. Until one day, circumstances force you to leave, and you find there’s still a civilization out there, and people are fighting to determine their future. And you can join in.
Series: Standalone in a series of games.
Sometimes interesting, sometimes boring. I was very into it during the introductory components, but then the main part of the game began, and it slowed down quite a bit. The atmosphere was nice, with crumbling, half-destroyed buildings and highways. The depictions of biology/mutation are standard for fiction, though not exactly accurate–I’ll leave that alone right now.
My main companion (in addition to Dogmeat) was Fawkes, the sole supermutant who wasn’t a automatically turned into a thug by his transformation. This game doesn’t have a lot of characterization in general, because that’s not what it’s about, but the basic aspects behind Fawkes–a supermutant meant to be a brute but actually an intellectual who wants to do good–meant I had to have him along. (Also, every time he spoke, I couldn’t keep myself from reciting ‘Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, twas his intent, to blow up king and Parliament.’)
So, it had a good, engaging intro. I appreciate having a bunch of different skills to put points into, and that allow the game to be played in different ways. I also like the computer hacking mini-game, and a decent amount of the quests were fun. I enjoyed getting to explore areas and figure out how I wanted to approach the problems.
However, the game could be too open world. Sometimes I was walking around for long periods of time, coming across nothing interesting. Especially before a decent amount of locations are opened up for fast travel, this is frustrating. Partly because of this and partly because not all quests are listed as such, quests can be hard to find. Sometimes, I have a few stocked up, but too often, I look at my journal and there’s nothing besides the main quest. These things made the experience of Fallout 3 a bit more uneven than Skyrim.