One can’t really fault Bethesda for screwing with the general style of Fallout. They were not the ones who birthed it, and a style is something that, well, if it doesn’t come naturally, then just don’t.
Not to imply that I regard either of the first two Fallouts as literary masterpieces, but when something like humor is as nuanced (mostly due to its’ subtlety) as it was there, it’s a terrible thing to try and emulate. One could argue that even Fallout 2 failed somewhat, in that department. A further (and much more drastic) deviation with Fallout 3 was very unpleasant, sure, but Bethesda were right to embrace a direction that they were more comfortable with. Unfortunately, they also went ahead and killed the setting, while they really didn’t have to.
Now, let’s be fair here and admit that the original Fallout was quite known for being batshit bizarre but the overall tone stayed dark and serious throughout. At its’ wildest, the game managed to keep some levels of its’ grit, because the overall experience oozed with brooding desperation. The music, the art direction, the pacing and all the rest of it relentlessly kept the wasteland of old an eerie place, where anything seemed possible because of its’ almost mystic mystery (pardon the pretentiousness).
The zoomed-out perspective helped a great deal to keep things more-or-less on track. As most of the details came from the description box, the overall events were more implied than ‘real time’, sort of like in strategy games, where structures get built because a goblin pounds earth with a hammer. So even throughout the craziness, this setup let you mentally steer the on-screen occurrences to the ‘proper’ base by filling in the blanks.
You could encounter a ghost in Fallout, and your Pip Boy would give you a few important details and you could see a ghostly image on screen but was it really? You couldn’t be sure and thus, everything worked and everything made sense, even when it didn’t.
The new Fallout lost that advantage when it become first person. Now, things that make no sense, blast you right in the face, as obvious as a hardon in tights. It now leaves nothing to the imagination of the player. What you see and what you hear in this new format is generally what actually supposedly happens.
If you walk across metal, you will appropriately hear your feet tapping metal, and your father will convincingly look like your character (I suppose) and so when you point your shotgun in a kid’s face and pull the trigger just to watch it run off without a scratch, it’s as noticeable and as bothersome as a fart in a steam room. It’s an awkward moment that has no justification or reasoning of any kind in the given general environment, it’s just you staring at the screen and the screen staring back, both of you knowing that it stinks but neither braving to mention it out loud.
Such an occurrence would have gone down a lot better in the ‘old’ overhead isometric view. One could always argue that the character simply missed the kid, since nobody actually saw the crosshair in the middle of an irritating little face before the shot was fired. In such situations, we didn’t really know the details of what happened, we made them up to our liking, perhaps without even realizing it, and perhaps there was a good reason for that approach. The level of plausibility that those older games achieved might not have been possible without engaging a player’s imagination to the extent that they did.
Unfortunately, Bethesda did not get this. They went into it ready to cut corners with things like immortal NPC’s and they did not make sure to dial down the general craziness to make up for the change in perspective; they actually kicked it up quite a notch. The ridiculous weapons, the funny music, the wacky characters, and the silly societies made the wasteland a world where anything was possible because it was a crazy funland, a world that is now impossible to take seriously.
Despite taking things back to the West coast, dialing down on exploding nuclear cars, bombarding us with references to the first two games and even playing the original soundtrack, New Vegas just couldn’t bring back the setting either because Obsidian would have had to redo and outdo Fallout yet again. Since they had to build on Bethesda’s Fallout 3 (in a limited time), they had to reference its setting to cater to the new expectations, and they definitely had to keep it an open-world first person game, where attention to detail just cannot be all inclusive, if only for the obvious technical reasons, now or in the near future.
Even for those most “Fallout-y” of moments that New Vegas was able to achieve, it couldn’t erase our knowledge that we are in a world where stabbing someone in the face detaches a limb and shooting a nuclear bomb at a guy makes him rub his side and yell “what was that for?!” And I realize that the new-found massive fanbase loves the setting of Fallout 3 and there is nothing wrong with that, guys. What is a shame is that the old setting no longer exists, and it was worth keeping. Unfortunately, as long as Fallout remains the series that it has become, you will have to take my word on that.