The Witcher 3 Vs Fallout 4 – What Makes A Good RPG?

The Witcher 3 Vs Fallout 4 – What Makes A Good RPG?

With 2015 almost drawing to a close, we decided to look at the best releases this year. We noticed a curious thing in the RPG genre. Although both of the biggest RPG titles of 2015 – The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Fallout 4 got great critic scores, The Witcher 3 received an overwhelming amount of better reception by the users and was considered a good RPG while Fallout 4 wasn’t. Why is that?

It has been a common complaint against Fallout 4 that it over-simplifies the RPG mechanics which were present in previous games, and which made Fallout a classic long before Bethesda bought the rights. Of course, Bethesda fans might argue that with time, the concept of RPG mechanics change with time. The very existence and popularity of Witcher 3 challenges that outlook. Let’s take a look, shall we?

At core, what separates RPGs from other games are the choices. While other games would have you play a pre-generated character with set abilities, make you walk fixed levels with set outcomes, RPGs simply offer you a lot more choices in various aspects. You do not just play a character, you also choose how to play it. Instead of being railroaded into one journey from start to finish, you have several ways you can branch out. This is heavily reflected on how Witcher 3 and Fallout 4 handle their RPG elements.

Character

Character

Let’s start with the most noticeable one- the character you play. While Bethesda lets you design and plan your character, you are forced to start the game as a happily married, heterosexual parent. You would think that afterwards you get more options on how to play your own character, but no. If you want to play anything other than the classic ‘good guy’, you are out of luck. Sure, you can steal and murder innocents, but when it comes to quests and dialog, your choices are between being helpful and kind, or not doing it at all. Most dialog options paint you as a selfless messiah of a human being, and that is why the occasional out of the blue sarcastic or extortionist options seem so ridiculously out of place.

Witcher 3 has similar limitations, but we have to keep in mind that the protagonist of Witcher 3- Geralt has several novels, short stories, and two previous games that feed into his backstory. Players do not suffer from the illusion that they will play a character which they can tailor completely. Instead, they are offered different ways to react to the world and its people, hence building up the character according to the player after the game begins. You want to play a honorable and noble Witcher? You can. You want to play as a materialistic douche who would sell his family to get rich? You can. The dialog is so skillfully written and woven into the Witcher way of life, it doesn’t feel out of place when Geralt asks for more money to kill a particularly terrible monster.

Story

Story

By now, it is common knowledge that the goal of Fallout 4 is to find out what happened to your son. But, there doesn’t seem to be any sense of urgency in the plot or in the surrounding NPCs that reflect that. Where in Witcher 3, all side quests seemed to enrich the main quests and the world around, in Fallout 4, everything distracts you more and more. Want to find your son? But wait, let’s build a village for some poor people. Are you done? You are now the general of an entire group of soldiers, and there are more people telling you to rescue random villages from random enemies. Sure, you can postpone the side quests until you find your son, but shouldn’t side quests feel organic and rewarding, rather than mechanical and punishing?

Quests

Quests

Along with the aforementioned qualities, even the most staunch Fallout 4 fans will admit that the majority of quests in Fallout 4 are poorly written, and boil down to fetch and kill quests, and they have no noticeable choices or consequences whatsoever. Many times, a farm or settlement would tell you to get rid of a bunch of enemies that have a base ‘nearby’, and then you go and see that ‘nearby’ base is halfway across the map. This is because Fallout 4 uses the same ‘radiant’ quest system, which is another fancy word for ‘randomly generated quests’. It means there would be less work for writers to actually write quality lore or quests, and at the same time players would be happy with a heap of content.

In comparison, each one of The Witcher 3’s quests were crafted with great care and detail, and they seemed like an extension of the crisis of the main story, rather than random distractions. When you finish a quest in Witcher 3, you feel like you have done something worthwhile, because the threat is not randomly generated. It is real. Many of the side quests had lasting choices and deep consequences that would affect the world as well as the main story. The Carnal Sins quest in Witcher 3 might be one of the most emotionally heavy quests I have ever seen in a game.

Gameplay

Gameplay

While both the Witcher 3 and Fallout 4 is a bit too action-heavy in combat, in Witcher 3 you actually need to plan and manage your character builds, because you will be limited by experience points and skill points gained. In Fallout 4, there is no level cap. You will gain XP as long as you play, and there are enough enemies (thanks to respawning random encounters) to give you more than enough perk points. You can even improve your SPECIAL scores by spending perk points. By mid to end-game, you will be a demigod walking the streets of the Commonwealth Wasteland, which you are re-building single-handedly (if you’re into settlements). It kind of breaks the illusion of it being a harsh world, full of perils. Here, once again, Bethesda seems to be bent on removing the aspect of meaningful choices.

World

World

Anyone who has played The Witcher 3 or any of the previous Witcher games can attest to the skill of CD Prokject RED in building a game world with the right environment, be it the creepy village outside Vizima in Witcher 1, the majestic forest outside Flotsam in Witcher 2, or the marshes of Velen in Witcher 3. While the horizons of Skellige, with snow white mountains and endless oceans look like the real thing, I am not talking about scenic beauty. It is the NPCs, their surroundings, their uniqueness, their architecture, their society- everything taken together.

In Fallout 4, the world is no doubt beautiful, but it is filled with NPCs and quest givers who either feel generic, or actually are just that. There are well-designed, great, big maps, but they feel lifeless, even with the post-apocalypse taken into account. I could not stop feeling that my character was suffering from a severe existential crisis, always crying “What am I doing here?” in his head.

Conclusion

Fallout 4 is not a bad game. You can keep yourself busy in it for a long, long time. But it is not a good RPG; rather it’s a disappointing one at that, especially considering The Witcher 3 was released just a few months ago. Bethesda tried to include a lot of improvements in the shooter aspect, decided to include a simulation aspect of settlement building, and as a result ended up diluting most of the RPG elements that was the identity of the Fallout series, and which made even the last entry, i.e. Fallout: New Vegas, such an excellent RPG.

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  • Setanjan Roy

    Nice article. I have yet to touch fallout 4. But everything about Witcher 3 I agree

  • Tousif

    from my point of view i will say to find a balance between both the world and lore, as i explored more into RPG’s i discovered that An RPG focuses heavily on the World to be thematic and gritty and immersive and the lore to indulge your craving for more backstory .In short an RPG is more like a movie where the character and you are bound in a journey witcher does this perfectly it is incredibly immersive whether it is form the technical side or the thematic side of the coin that is an RPG.

  • Shubhojeet Sen

    *sarcastic clap*
    Nicely done. I’m in agreement.

    • A Terabithian Blue Phoenix

  • Stretch Laymo

    I really appreciate your honorable mention of new vegas… fallout is the ish tho. But witcher 3 and fallout 4, Theyre two different styles of rpgs tho… i rarely play witcher 3 bc its not as customizable as elder scrolls or fallout… self customization… thats what i love.

    • A Terabithian Blue Phoenix

      Among the new generation of Fallouts, New Vegas remains my favorite still. I agree about Witcher 3 being a different game, but they both identify as RPGs, so the parallel had to be done. 🙂

  • Jordi Geerts

    People are debatting left and right on what games deserves GotY
    It’s ofcourse all opinion based (or sorta) but for me, Fallout 4 just doesn’t earn it.

    Far more bugs and glitches, streamlined to appeal to more people, an outdated engine, really bad optimisation on consoles and pc.

    It’s just not in a state that you release the game PERIOD
    Bugs and glitches are to be expected in these games, but just because Fallout 4 doesn’t have as many as Fallout 3 or New Vegas, doesn’t mean that you can make excuses for it!

    It’s the same debate when it was Skyrim vs Batman Arkham City and I just cant believe that Skyrim won! It’s a great game, but the same situation we have now. A very open game that runs and looks like shit vs a focused game that runs and looks beautiful

    But I gues each has their own opinion about what makes a game, the game of the year and IMO The Witcher 3 more than deserves it. Specially more than Fallout 4

    • A Terabithian Blue Phoenix

      I agree. And don’t even get me started on Skyrim…

      • pcarsphyxexpert

        I liked Skyrim, not perfect, but better than FO4.

  • Roku Toto

    This shouldn’t even be debated, Witcher 3 is far superior to Fallout 4 which is just dumbed down shooter with nice exploration, crappy store and even worse main protagonist [yeah, you can make him, but he’s still a dumbass, “hurrr durrr where my son at”], choices are meaningless, even when you don’t want to do smth in a dialogue you still may get forced to do it anyway, so what’s even the point of giving me the chocie? SMH.

    Fallout 4, overall is a mediocre game, and even worse RPG. Whereas Witcher 3 is a great RPG, with still some room for improvement, but still, one of the best I’ve played in recent years.

  • Alan B. Rose

    Right)) Fallout is just shooter with skills and crafting in open world – not RPG at all

    • A Terabithian Blue Phoenix

      I wouldn’t go as far as to say that it isn’t RPG at all. It has perks (no skills), exploration, crafting, quests (albeit poor excuse of that), so they have the right to technically call it an RPG.

    • all paws

      I know that one makes me laugh. Opinions are just that. FO4 did well and will continue to be played because of skills, crafting, options and best of all modding.

      • A Terabithian Blue Phoenix

        It’s not an opinion, but an objective analysis (for the most part). That’s why the entire article was written.

        And since when is modding an RPG feature? Of course, at this rate, in a few years a creation kit will be called a successful Bethesda game.

        • all paws

          RPG is a very broad class. I’m glad you like Witcher 3. However, like some have stated not everyone wants to play a set character or even cares about the Witcher story. Customers choose what they want to play. Replay value and flexibility is big for many customers and that is why Skyrim was so successful. FO4 is more in-line with Skyrim and doesn’t have much in common with the Witcher style game. I have two sons that love Skyrim and FO4. They were never interested in the Witcher story.

          • A Terabithian Blue Phoenix

            I would argue that Fallout 4 also has a set character, to a large extent. You can’t change your origin, you can make no significant choice during side quests and only a couple of times in main quest. You are basically railroaded into playing a fixed character with some awkward non-significant dialog options.

            I also wouldn’t call Fallout 4 a success comparable to Skyrim. See the Metacritic user score for Fallout 4 and then see Skyrim’s. I agree that taste and preferences matter. Witcher 3 is not for everyone, and neither is Fallout 4.

          • A Terabithian Blue Phoenix

            I would argue that Fallout 4 also has a set character, to a large extent. You can’t change your origin, you can make no significant choice during side quests and only a couple of times in main quest. You are basically railroaded into playing a fixed character with some awkward non-significant dialog options.

            I also wouldn’t call Fallout 4 a success comparable to Skyrim. See the Metacritic user score for Fallout 4 and then see Skyrim’s. I agree that taste and preferences matter. Witcher 3 is not for everyone, and neither is Fallout 4.

  • all paws

    What makes a good RPG is a game people want to play. Sorry but i won’t touch Witcher 3 but love FO4. It is called different stokes for different folks. FO4 open world sandbox design spells replay value. I can care less about Geralt and his story. My two sons don’t care about Geralt as well. Modding is big in the gaming community and FO4 will be played/modded for years to come

    • A Terabithian Blue Phoenix

      Nobody denies Fallout 4 is a good sandbox game, but I wonder how you call it a good RPG when it doesn’t have the defining features of the RPG genre, compared to Witcher 3 or other RPGs in the market.

      If you want inconsequential choices and repetitive fetch quests, Fallout 4 is a masterpiece, but RPGs are generally known for meaningful choices, focus on story, and characterization.

      You need to recognize the difference between preferences and objective facts. You have a preference for the Fallout 4 protagonist but you don’t care about Geralt, and that’s fine. Similarly, I can’t care about a father and a family man with inconsistent values. That’s fine too. We are allowed to have preferences. That doesn’t magically make Fallout 4 a good RPG, though. It still lacks major RPG elements.

      • all paws

        RPG just means Role Playing Game. It is very broad. Different skills, builds and crafting are also part of RPGs. Don’t like fetch quest don’t do them. Comparing these two games doesn’t make much sense to me. They seem to have different goals.

        Open world and sandbox has been around for some time now under the heading of RPG. Join whatever faction quest you want and change the group you join the next time around. This goal is very different from what Withcer offers and yet both are under the heading RPG. Players should have an idea what a Fallout, Elder Scroll, Witcher or Dragon Age may offer. They should pick what they like.

        • A Terabithian Blue Phoenix

          I haven’t made a statistical list, but the overwhelming majority of side quests in Fallout 4 has no significance whatsoever. They are all just fetch or kill quests, with very few exceptions. Compare it to side quests of other RPGs and see how shallow these are.

          I agree they are different types of games, but when they fall under the same genre, I don’t see a problem with a comparative analysis. If there was no point in comparing them, I doubt people would come here and read the whole article.

          • all paws

            The fact that they are under one genre could be the problem since they suit a different audience.

            The group that likes faction quest open world sandbox may not care for a Witcher 3. It might just be that the RPG genre is just too broad a description.

  • newlander

    I think the problem is that we all have a very different opinion on what a RPG is or should be. I think Witcher 3 is one of the best game ever made, but I’m not sure I think it is very good RPG. For me in RPG world it is important to able to choose character and create your own backstory. Not so easy in Witcher 3. However since Geralt backstory is quite good and I feel interested in his story, I really enjoy the game, but do that makes it a good RPG….

    • A Terabithian Blue Phoenix

      Very good point, and I wanted to talk about it, but couldn’t due to size constraints.

      If you look at the history of RPGs, a lot of them have been per-generated character focused. Knights of the Old Republic, for example, or the Gothic series. Sometimes one needs to sacrifice the element of choosing a backstory in order to have a more fleshed out plot or characters, like the Witcher series. But interestingly, they somewhat make up for it thanks to the many choices that you need to make throughout the game. These small, but detailed quests help shape the character you want to play as.

      Fallout 4 tried to the best of both worlds- to have a deep backstory as well as custom character build, and somehow could not do either. The fleshed out backstory does not make much sense when the player is building villages and doing side quests instead of looking for his son. You can spend 100 hours away from the main quest and when you go back, the voice acted lines say you are desperately looking for Shawn. It heavily breaks the immersion.

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