Bethesda Roundup: Skyrim and Fallout 3

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.


Borrowed from

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.

Fallout 3

Borrowed from

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.


5 thoughts on “Bethesda Roundup: Skyrim and Fallout 3”

  1. Nice review, it’s been a while since I played either of those games, but both were fun. Although the learning-by-doing thing is so exploitable I usually have to restrain myself from going crazy and becoming way too powerful. At least they took out the spell creation crafting that existed in previous games, boy, that was gamebreaking for people like me…
    One thing you don’t go into at all are mods – both games are quite modable, and skyrim is known for its huge modding community. Though your point about the incoherent plot of skyrim stands, there is a variety of mods that spice the game up a great deal (also in terms of difficulty, which I found really great). Especially worth mentioning in my opinion would be hardcore/survival mods for fallout – in the next game of the series, fallout NV this was actually built-in, and it adds so much to the atmosphere of the fallout series. It basically adds human needs into the game, so you need to eat, drink and sleep or you will become more and more sick and eventually die. This is not something I usually like in my RPGs (like skyrim) as it basically turns into an inventory management minigame, but in fallout? It turns the wasteland into an actual wasteland, and gives a whole new impact to the radiation mechanic – do you drink from that obviously irradiated puddle of water there, or risk dehydration in the hope of finding a better water source? is that bedroll under the ancient highway really a good place to sleep?
    For me, the survival aspect made the fallout games a lot more fun to play, it adds that inevitable threat of nature that you can’t just shoot in the head from 300m away with a sniper rifle.


    1. I did try a few mods for Skyrim, though not extensively enough for me to comment on them with any amount of expertise. But my impression was that the changes didn’t alter my overall experience, at least not with respect to the things that tend to pull me into a story. Granted, I do tend to hold games to weird standards.

      I’m going to be playing New Vegas in the future, and I had no idea that I was going to be in for that. I don’t know if I should react with curiosity or trepidation…


      1. Not to worry, if you don’t like the survival thing you can just turn it off, its basically a built-in mod that you can use but don’t have to. It just seemed to me that you’d be the kind of player who appreciates the added immersion 🙂
        I guess mods are rarely overhauling the story/existing quests to a point where you’d notice a big difference in game experience, though there are some that give companions a lot more depth, and/or add more.
        For me, I tend to play the elder scrolls games not like the hero they’re trying to make you into – a conceit that inevitably crumbles when you spent weeks of ingame-time travelling around collecting herbs and searching caves while thousands die in the conflict you are supposed to resolve. Instead, I like to think that my character is someone bent on acquiring god-like powers to get rid of whatever prophecies and ancient enemies try to push them around. A powermonger fits quite nicely with the game mechanics and it makes a lot more sense that way around to become a vampire, and leader of the assassins guild, the mages guild and the thieves guild, and also help daedric deities in exchange for artefacts, then turn around and back the empire. After all, you got your hands on those powerful items, you got what you wanted.
        I’m not too crazy a roleplayer, but some immersion is nice, and this way I can wrap my mind around the more contradictory storylines… why not play both sides on your quest for power? 🙂


      2. Yeah, I tend to play Skyrim as someone who really doesn’t quite believe the whole ‘hey, you’ve suddenly the only person in the world with these mythical powers that haven’t been around for centuries’. Someone who doesn’t trust where this power suddenly came from, and certainly doesn’t believe in the prospect of making decisions for the rest of the world just because you can force people to do what you want.

        Playing an RPG as a character that doesn’t want control or believe in making decisions for other people can be an interesting experience, given that the game is usually working very hard to give the character that control.


  2. That is actually a quite excellent point, the decision-making and far-ranging consequences that are very often part of modern (say, post-2005 or so) RPGs. I totally get why it is done, and some scripted actions in older games were rather jarring – I’m thinking of Diablo I at the end: “So this crystal is the thing that made this man right here into the archdevil I just defeated? cool!” *jams it in his own skull*.
    But at the same time, there is very often a moment in modern decision-driven games that completely breaks my immersion, and that is when you have to decide between two bad options, while there are obviously more (and better) solutions to a problem. Skyrim has a few issues on that front, like the Stormcloaks vs Imperials question (do you feel like supporting the racist dickbags or the militarist puppets of an evil conspiracy?) but at least there isn’t really that much emotional investment to it (for me at least). Other games are a lot worse, where there is significant emotions involved, and the I get those moments where I find myself in front of my screen, shaking my head and muttering “why not just do x?”. Its not that I have a problem with hard/ambiguous choices, but oftentimes it seems like the developers only offer bad options to *make* it ambiguous.
    I do understand the work involved in changing a game-world to show the effects of a players choices, and that it is impossible to acommodate every crazy solution a player might come up with… Some games work around this quite well and unobtrusively, but sometimes, I fondly remember the good ol’ days of “kill the red spiky tentacle thing” plotlines.


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