Welcome back to Player Versus Player, your bi-weekly debate column where two MMORPG writers go head to head to debate the issues you care about. Hot on the heels of the Fallout 4 announcement, we’re taking up our banners to make our case for which Bethesda franchise is the best. Is it the irradiated wasteland of Fallout or the Oblivion melding reaches of the Elder Scrolls? Find out in this week’s PVP!
Chris “The Dragonborn” Coke: Chris has been an RPG players for as long as he’s been a gamer. Give him dwarves, elves, and a spare dragon or two and he’s yours forever.
Bill “Wasted” Murphy: Bill’s a fan of Bethesda games, through and through, but he’s of the mind that the studio’s best bet is to go forward with relish into the Wasteland, and not always rely on Tamriel.
Chris: Welcome back, Bill! Long time since you’ve manned the podium, and I’m glad you’re here for this one. You’re a big Fallout fan, and I’m here to tell you why you’re crazy. Well, not quite, but at least why Elder Scrolls is the better of Bethesda’s two franchises. Let’s just start with the world. Isn’t the world of Fallout… a little bleary? I mean, it’s post-apoc and it’s supposed to be, but if the developers used any more brown and green we could turn the screenshots into one big nature mosaic. Is it weird that I’m thinking of the Lion King’s Tree of Life right now?
Bill: Well, judging from the trailer we were shown last night, it’s at least going to be a more colorful world this time around. I can definitely agree that previous games, especially FO3 have been a little drab. But it’s a nuclear wasteland! Isn’t that what we’d expect? I think FO4 will be a far more well-rounded look at the Wasteland, by both its colorful backdrop of New England/Boston, and by the sheer virtue of not being on last-gen consoles (no holding them back there).
Chris: Here’s another thing, Fallout might be interesting, but Elder Scrolls is all around less depressing. I mean, the game borders on oppressive with its cynical take on humanity. And yeah, we can chalk that up to classic post-apocalyptic themes of kill or be killed and the ever-trending throwbacks to The Road, but Fallout is a game you spend dozens of hours in. There are times when you walk away feeling drained. That’s not an issue with Skyrim or Oblivion.
Bill: Skyrim was a very bleak world, all snow, all brown, and all strife. If anything, I’d wager there’s far more humor and levity in the Fallout universe, with things like Nukacola, the perk system, and overall much more leeway for the strange in a setting that’s all about the mutated and grotesque future humanity has forced itself into. The only times I’ve laughed at an Elder Scrolls game has been when the game glitches, whereas the story and tone of the writing in the FO series lends itself well to dark humor.
Chris: One area that Fallout just doesn’t come close to is giving you real freedom over the type of character you want to be. The Elder Scrolls reacts to your actions in a way that Fallout just can’t. If you kill too many people, The Dark Brotherhood finds you in the middle of the night. If you want to be a warrior, wizard, rogue, or thief, you can do all of them in many different colors of each. In Fallout, you get some control but you’re still the wasteland wanderer, picking up power weapons, heading into VATS at every turn. The Elder Scrolls just supports roleplay better.
Bill: I might have to concede to you here. TES games by their nature have been very welcoming to the player in terms of character progression. But I think FO3 and New Vegas did a great job of taking what’s so great about character progression in TES and adapting it to FO. Perks, skill-use based leveling, and loads of side quests made FO3 and NV far more interesting in terms of story than Skyrim or Oblivion to me. Morrowind was a fantastic tale, but the series has gone downhill in that regard.
Chris: On that note, let’s talk about worlds and possibilities. Elder Scrolls is the clear choice here. Both games are exceptional, but Fallout’s setting is far more limited than The Elder Scrolls. I mean, not only is the world huge and incredibly deep with it’s lore (Skyrim had more than 500 books with backstory, plus all of the character stuff and hidden bits), but it’s also captures every fantasy trope under the sun and ties much of it with gameplay. I mean, think about it, raiding a vampire den was possible, and if you got injured, you would become a vampire! Same thing with being turned into a werewolf in Skyrim. Fallout’s realistic science fiction just doesn’t allow for that kind of freedom.
Bill: That’s where I think you’re wrong. TES has always relied so heavily on the guilds in the game to tell the stories. Whereas FO has such a strong narrative throughout FO, FO2, FO3, and FONV. The main story is the big reason I get involved in an RPG. Side quests are fine and good, and TES has some of the best. But the main narrative and characters of the FO series are above and beyond more interesting than TES. Plus, all that TES lore? Doesn’t mean a damn unless it really has an impact in the game. I love reading lore, but it’s just fluff.
Chris: To end, I’d like to make it perfectly clear that I think both games are exceptional. There are few, if any, franchises that can rival the amount of content in either game. The free-form questing in both is also something special. But if I had to choose, I’m going Elder Scrolls all the way. It’s the same reason I love all high fantasy: underneath it all, there’s a hopefulness; things can be good again, even if they’re not the same. In Fallout, the world is still dead. You will not live to see it return to life, even if you do everything right. The best you can hope for is to start something, like a snowball rolling downhill. Me? I prefer a little more light in the dark.
Bill: Both games rule. And yes, I’m in the camp of wanting a true Fallout MMO. If I had to pick though, it’ll always be Fallout. I love fantasy. I love Tamriel. But I can get my fantasy fix from a million places. And while Wasteland 2 was an awesome RPG, it’s the Fallout series that has and will capture the post-apocalyptic vibe I need and crave.
That’s all for this week. Now it’s your turn. Which of these venerable RPG franchises has won your heart? Let us know in the comments below.