Musings: I’m Sorry Bethesda. It’s Not You. It’s Me

I love the last two games from Bethesda Softworks. Last summer I sunk around 90 hours into Fallout 3 and in the spring of 2006, my junior year of high school, I somehow logged over 150 hours in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. My Oblivion binge started at day one, March 20, and lasted well into June.

Fallout 3 was different. I got it as a gift in early November, only a week after the game’s launch. To call me excited for it would be an understatement. I tore open the shrink wrap and proceeded to slog through the first nine hours.

I use slog as negatively as possible. My first nine hours in the wastes were torturous. There were bandits waiting to kill my Conan O’Brien look-a-like around every corner, guns broke faster than I could use them, health restoring items were in very limited supply and occasionally I would run into a monstrous creature that could tear me apart in just a couple of hits while living through an assault from every round in my inventory, all 20 of them. I wasn’t having any fun, so I stopped playing.

Sometime in April of 2009, nearly a half a year later, I made a promise to myself that I would revisit Fallout 3, and not just to finish the main quest. No, I would see everything there was to see. Every corner of the wastes, every side quest, every special weapon. But this time I had a plan.

I knew that the Operation Anchorage downloadable content provided the player with some powerful items, namely an indestructible set of some of the best armor in the game, so that was the first step. I finished the quest, got my armor and superior weaponry and soon I was an unstoppable killing machine. I was starting to have fun.

I needed to break the game to be happy. In a world like that of Fallout 3’s, I don’t want to be challenged, I just want to take in the sights. Were it not for the Winterized Power Armor, I may never have seen Oasis or the wacky feud between the Mechanist and the Antagonizer.

What about Oblivion? Well, I had no intentions of playing it the “proper” way either. I caught wind of a strategy for making the game incredibly easy early on by killing a tough enemy in a dungeon near the start of the game and keeping her unbreakable, weightless and very powerful sword. Combine that with an infinite gold glitch from the curing vampirism quest and I had it made in the shade. As we covered earlier, I then went on to play this game for over 150 hours.

So, what have we learned? For one thing I can’t seem to have fun in Bethesda’s games without becoming a monstrous bringer of death. What I enjoy about their last two projects is interacting with the world and characters they’ve created. I don’t want to be over-encumbered. I don’t want to use what little money I have to repair my crappy short sword. I don’t want to be bothered with countless potentially deadly bandits attacking from the side of the road as I’m just trying to make my way to the next point of interest.

The greater question is: is this a problem with Bethesda’s games or with me? In the case of Fallout 3’s early game, I’m going to blame the developer, but I recognize that their products are at odds with my taste in games.

I long to be swept away when playing games and Bethesda’s, judging by my play times alone, are some of the best at achieving this. Constantly being sent to a game over screen or having to stop and repair every bit of my equipment, however, only serves to pull me out of the experience.

Some players want that struggle to survive in the wastes or to worry about their supply of clean water and arrows. Me, I just want to assassinate someone by dropping a trophy deer head on them all Looney Tunes style. Is that too much to ask?

About Matt Gerardi
Matt Gerardi is a journalist and musician. He also happens to write about video games.

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