Game trumps story
April 21, 2009
At a press event in London yesterday, Bethesda's Pete Hines announced the latest expansion to Fallout 3: "Broken Steel." This third DLC pack is sure to please fans of the game - Xbox 360 fans, that is; none of the expansions are available for the PS3. I've yet to complete either of the previous packs, but I'm sure I'll be drawn into the Bethesda DLC vortex yet again when Broken Steel arrives. What can I say, Bethesda? You had me at Horse Armor.
One remark Hines made at the press event caught my attention, and it amplifies something I heard him say at GDC a few weeks ago. In response to protests from fans, Broken Steel removes Fallout 3's ending. Once installed, the expansion essentially re-writes the game's final chapter to enable the player to continue playing indefinitely. If you like, you can even send a companion to complete the game's final task, instead of doing it yourself.
"Broken steel doesn't have an ending," Hines said. "There are no more endings. We got the message."
The message Hines and Bethesda received loud and clear is that players don't want a narrative-driven conclusion to supercede their gameplay. As HInes noted at GDC, the team at Bethesda was committed to telling a story with a dramatic arc and a resonant ending (the game actually contains 3 possible conclusions to the main quest). But a persistent and vociferous outcry from players persuaded them to change their minds. Hines hinted the then-unannounced expansion was meant to accomplish two things: add content to the game, and respond to players demanding the removal of the ending. He called it a "lesson learned" and suggested it's unlikely Bethesda will make that mistake again.
I'm not bent out of shape about this decision because I've had my shot at Fallout 3 as it was originally conceived, and I enjoyed it. I admire Bethesda for drawing their RPG to a meaningful conclusion, especially considering how much easier it would have been to set a level cap, scatter end-game items/loot/creatures throughout the world, and let players wander around finding them.
I understand why fans wish to continue playing the game, and I can't fault Bethesda for enabling them to do so. But it does serve as yet another reminder that storytelling in narrative games takes a backseat to gameplay nearly every time. Fallout 3 exists in the minds of most players as a game with a story; not a story you can play. Bethesda may have originally thought otherwise, but as Hines says, they got the message.
I get it too. But it makes me a little sad.