I’m really hooked on Fallout 3 at the moment, exploring away, roaming the wasteland, meeting interesting new people, shooting them with interesting new weapons and nicking their stuff. Like many CRPGs it follows the familiar Main Quest / Side Quests model, and as per usual I’m doing as many side quests I can find and generally exploring the world. Fallout 3 manages a nice balancing act in this respect; some games, Mass Effect and Oblivion being a couple of examples that spring to mind, make the main quest a Big Deal. The world/galaxy/universe is under MORTAL THREAT! You must ACT NOW, with ALL SPEED to SAVE HUMANITY! And you say “sure!”, and you have a little potter around the local town/starbase, browse the shops for souvenirs, postcards and weaponry, then talk to someone in the pub/space pub who’s a bit miffed because they lost their favourite teaspoon. “No worries!” you say, recognising a side quest when you see it, “I’ll spend a couple of hours searching for it, it’s bound to be a teaspoon of insane death which you’ll offer me as a reward at the end of it.” Now really the moment you start to do a bit of shopping, the village elder/starbase commander should be running after you shouting “What the fuck? Weren’t you listening just then? MORTAL THREAT? GET OUT THERE AND KILL THE DEMONS/ALIENS!”, and the bloke down the pub should say “yes, I’ve lost my favourite teaspoon, NOT THAT IT MATTERS BECAUSE OF ALL THAT MORTAL PERIL AND EVERYTHING”, to which of course you reply “yo, chill dude/space dude, nothing’s going to happen on the main quest until I go to The Dungeon/Planet of Zarg, then a cut scene kicks in and we’re on to Chapter 2”, which doesn’t really help with immersion.
Fallout 3, at least so far, has a nicely structured main quest that’s clearly important, but not so GALAXY THREATENINGLY VITAL that you feel guilty when poking around some interesting ruins instead of saving the universe. It’s got that “tight but loose” vibe, enough structure that it never feels aimless, but bags of freedom as well.
One thing that’s managed to drag me away from Fallout is a good bit of War. Not Warhammer Online so much (jumping in now and again, especially if there’s some big RvR going on, but otherwise waiting for 1.2 there really), or indeed slightly different Warhammer, though I’m mightily tempted by all the good things people are saying about Dawn of War II. War of the Month is the demo for Empire: Total War, containing a land battle and naval battle to show off the new game. I loved all the previous Total War games, and the land battle is that familiar Totally War-ish goodness, with lashings of extra gunpowder. Naval battles are new in Empire, and the first thing I was staggered by is the detail of the ships, zooming right in you can marvel at the officers strutting around in their finery, ordering sweating sailors to load cannon and adjust the sails. I’ve only played the naval battle once so haven’t entirely got the hang of it yet, but it promises to be a fine addition to the game. I think I’m going to have to buy the full thing, which means I might be a bit busy for a little while what with the grand campaigns in Total War usually lasting as long as an actual war (and not The Six Day War; if you don’t resort to auto-resolving some battles, we’re talking The Thirty Years War).