Fallout 4 is still a very popular game. Bethesda keeps fans engaged with new downloadable content like the most recent package that lets you build your own Vault. Mods that either enhance or break the game in hilarious ways also keep players coming back. However, I can’t help but think that Fallout 4 wouldn’t exist, even without the additions, if not for Fallout 3. While dated, that title moved Fallout as a franchise from the realm of cult following into the mainstream spotlight. When the third installment hit the market, especially on home consoles, it exploded in popularity winning critical and consumer acclaim.
Fallout 4 is definitely an improvement over the previous installment, and I think that goes without saying. However, no one who has played Fallout 3 can ignore that the fourth is standing on the shoulders of a giant. I think, to fully grasp what I mean, we should compare and contrast mechanics, plot, and a few other things between the two titles.
Mechanically, both games are sound. Fallout 3 and 4 are not masters of shooting or melee or even role-playing mechanics, but they do them all well. Both games can be played in first or third person, have an aim-down-sights feature, contain robust dialogue options for the player, have a detailed leveling system, and use Fallout’s signature V.A.T.S. tool. The games differ most in the areas of dialogue and V.A.T.S. Dialogue options at your disposal in Fallout 4 are no longer spelled out for you. You choose from a group of “moods” rather than a list of statements and then you’re character spouts the appropriate line. Personally, I mark this as an improvement. You have no idea what’s going to come from your character’s mouth next and that makes talking to people in Fallout 4 a little more exciting, assuming you’re not consistently choosing the sarcasm option. V.A.T.S. (meaning Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System in the game’s lore), pauses the game entirely in Fallout 3, but only causes a slow motion effect in Fallout 4. For me, this was a bit of an annoyance. I appreciated the ability to pause the game and plan out all my attacks carefully. This isn’t to say Fallout 4’s version is bad, it’s just not what I would call a marked improvement.
The plots of both games are deep and drive you towards an end goal in a seemingly endless world. I think Fallout 4 comes out on top on this category. While Fallout 3 tried to force you into morally grey decisions, Fallout 4 hit the nail on the head. Your initial quest for revenge is only a subplot and then the game throws you for a loop into a war between factions seeking control over the future of the Commonwelth. Do you side with the son you’ve been looking for, the militia trying to protect the small guy, the crusaders who want to wipe out all evil and preserve the past, or the freedom fighters who want to give synthetic humans equal rights? The choice you make is never just placed in your lap and is instead made by your choices. That’s what puts Fallout 4 on top in the plot category, but it couldn’t have done it with Fallout 3’s initial attempt. Both games could have very easily turned into a “you vs. the world” event in which you aimlessly roam a large map being everyone’s hero. I’m glad Bethesda put more thought into it than that.
If you’re only experience with Fallout so far has been Fallout 4, I urge you to try Fallout 3. Yes, the game will feel old, but old games aren’t necessarily bad ones. You’ll see what I mean.