I own Fallout: New Vegas, along with all of the DLC, on both PC and Xbox 360. In the time since its release in 2010, I've logged hundreds of hours exploring the Mojave Wasteland. On paper, I should love Fallout 4 just as deeply, but I don't. Instead, I ended up playing Fallout 4 for a little over 40 to 50 hours before getting bored with it.
Just to be clear, both games have roughly the same characteristics. So what makes the difference? Well, these are the 3 reasons I love Fallout: New Vegas, but not Fallout 4.
1. Society Has Progressed
Imagine the world 200 years ago. The 1800s were a completely different era altogether. Automobiles, computers, radios, and lightbulbs didn't exist. Now consider that the Great War in the Fallout lore started in 2077, and the first Fallout game begins in the year 2161, while Fallout 4 and Fallout: New Vegas take place in the 2280s.
Why is this relevant? Just like in Fallout 3, the societies in Fallout 4 haven't developed much at all. Nation-states haven't come into being like they did on the west coast in the Fallout universe. Instead, the societies that exist on the east coast have subsisted on scavenging and light agriculture. There's little organization or government that crops up at all, which is puzzling when you consider that the east coast is home to the United States' seat of government. How can anyone from pre-war society not have organized into a government, especially considering the state of things in the ruins of Boston and Washington DC?
Compare this with the way things have gone on the west coast. The citizens in California organized into the New California Republic in an effort to enforce law and order, and rebuild. How can the people on the east coast still be so far behind after 200 years? It's almost like Bethesda lacks the imagination to create a somewhat believable history. Either that or they'd rather keep the aesthetic of a nuclear wasteland in lieu of creating a believable setting.
2. Compelling Story
This part veers further into subjective territory. To me, Fallout: New Vegas had a far superior storyline. I remember starting off with the immediate desire to kill Benny (the man who shoots the protagonist in the head), but stumbling into the middle of a power struggle in the process. What made the story interesting to me is that the stakes were raised over the course of the plot, slowly but surely.
The key here is that the plot moves forward constantly, while you're still free to move on at a pace that suits you. While there's a sense of urgency to your quest, your tasks are generally of the sort that can wait. The story is structured in a way that the plot can't move forward without the player's input. You're important to the story because the stalemate in the Mojave can't tip in any side's favor without outside influence... and you are that influence.
Fallout 4 on the other hand, tries to instill in the player a sense of parental duty to find his or her child as a method of driving the story forward. The urgency of the situation is lost if the player strays from the objective of finding Shaun. Even more detrimental to the designs of the story is the chance that the player may not care about the parental link between Shaun and the protagonist at all, like what happened with me.
This may seem cold, but I didn't care to find Shaun at all. That I was supposed to care about finding a child that I had no emotional attachment to was lost on me. I'm not a heartless person, and I love emotional stories, but it's difficult for me to develop an attachment to a character that has no involvement in the plot other than simply existing. The fact of the matter is that Bethesda attempted to instill in the player a sense of importance in finding Shaun in Fallout 4, but failed because Shaun has no emotional value as a blank character.
Fallout 4's story didn't change much as it unfolded, leaving it to feel stagnant as you continued to track down your son. The majority of your time is spent simply trying to find Shaun, with the remainder of your time is dealing with the Institute. Fallout: New Vegas' story was far more interesting because it drip-fed the story to the player while continuing to progress. You progress from being a courier and getting shot, finding your attacker and retrieving the Platinum Chip, determining the side you want to take in the looming war, and breaking the stalemate at the Hoover Dam.
3. Tabula Rasa
An important factor in most RPGs like the Fallout series is the creation of a player character. The roleplaying aspect of the RPG genre relies on the player's ability to create a character that allows them to roleplay. Seems pretty straightforward, right?
Fallout: New Vegas gives you that creative freedom by giving you the chance to come up with a backstory for your character, as most RPGs do. Is your Mojave courier a former NCR soldier? A Legion spy? Just a mean guy whose only concern is money? A woman that took a job to see new things? You're free to come up with any explanation for why your character does what he or she does, and Fallout: New Vegas doesn't box you in at all during the events that unfold. This freedom is a staple of the RPG genre, and is even available to players in Bethesda's Fallout 3.
Fallout 4 doesn't have the same freedom in it. No what you have in mind for your character, you're still a parent and your past is the same; You're a loving spouse with a newborn. If you're the husband, you're a military veteran. If you're the wife, you're a housewife with a law degree. Do you want your character to be single? Have a same sex partner? Be a selfish person? That's too bad, because Fallout 4 locks you into playing a married person in search of his or her son. This may not be a problem for most players, but for those of us that like roleplaying, it is a major constraint.
What Do You Think?
My stance should be obvious on this. I did enjoy most of my time with Fallout 4 despite my lack of interest in the narrative. However, I can't overlook the glaring issues I have with it when there's a vastly superior experience to be had with Fallout: New Vegas.
Is there anything that I may have missed? Am I simply wrong that Fallout: New Vegas is better? What is your favorite Fallout game? Tell me in the comments below!