Your role in the sandbox done right

Recently I finished my first playthrough of Fallout: New Vegas (yes, 2010 does say hello, thanks), and in addition to being an amazing game, it shows how to do a player-story in a sandbox amazingly well. Possibly better than any game I’ve ever played, actually (this feeling is very likely enhanced thanks to just finishing the GW2 player story, which, um, F:NV it is not…)

The key is that while what you do matters and is important, the world does not simply wait for you, and it feels like things are happening around you rather than always because of you. It’s fantastic the more I think about it. Some of the examples here around going to be spoilers, so if you have not played the game and hate spoilers… well read the post anyway.

The first half of the main story is finding out who the guy that shot you in the head is, and why he robbed you of the platinum chip. It explains why you are in a small random town out in the waste, and connects you with one of the game’s more important characters (you were hired by Mr. House, the big guy in Vegas). It gives you a goal, but the goal is not immediately “save the world”. Compare this to Skyrim, where in the first 5 minutes dragons happen and after 30min, you are The One.

While you are chasing the guy who shot you, you very quickly notice that the real big event in New Vegas is a war between the NCR and Caesar’s Legion. Some characters really care about this, others just don’t want to be in the crossfire, and some can’t be bothered at all. In a way, this very much reflects how you can approach things as well. You can strongly side with either faction, or screw with both and do your own thing. The game’s story handles all three choices very well, and in very different ways.

Once you reach Vegas itself along the main storyline, things switch from finding the guy who shot you to figuring out how the war is going to affect Vegas and its many factions. Rather than becoming the savior here, you instead play somewhat of a side role and align things based on your decisions. The war, and the big battle, is going to happen regardless, but you can help shape it. That to me is quintessential sandbox vs the solo-hero design of most sRPGs or even themepark MMOs.

Another small example that really stuck out to me was meeting Mr. House. If you go against his plan, he first tries to logically explain why you are making a mistake, and only when you REALLY insist on being a dick does he somewhat lose his composure and start getting angry. It’s a great example of you not being The One, but just some random person in a very big world with very big characters. Mr. House just wants you to play your little part so he can move on with being important, rather than shaping all of his plans around you (again, contrast this with Skyrim and being The One, and how all city leaders react to you).

If you decide to kill Mr. House, his final words are that all his planning is undone, and the area is doomed because it is losing someone special and retaining some small-fry (you). (Which ends up being accurate as Yes Man ultimately reprograms himself at the end, which was a great twist I just spoiled for you.)

There are countless other examples, but hopefully you get my point. Fantastic game overall, and made more so by the brilliant design of the world, and what role you play in it.

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
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12 Responses to Your role in the sandbox done right

  1. jellydonut says:


  2. Azuriel says:

    I preferred Fallout 3, myself. Although the story is arguably weaker (not by much IMO), I very much preferred the ability to step outside the Vault and suddenly have the ability to go anywhere. With New Vegas, if you try heading North, you encounter level 25 Giant Radscorpions, SW are super ghouls, SE is a Blind Deathclaw that can see through a Stealth Boy, and so on. It is incredibly annoying on later playthroughs having to make the exact same counter-clockwise circuit before the game actually opens up.

    That said, I have found the New Vegas DLC to be uniformly amazing.

  3. Mekhios says:

    Fallout 3 and FNV are two of my all time favorite games. I hope Bethsoft does not abandon this legacy for the Skyrim MMO.

  4. coppertopper says:

    My reservation has always been that combat became unbalanced quickly – like all Bethesda games. Fixed by mods of course. Did you use any mods in your playthru?

    • SynCaine says:

      I didn’t, and found the combat to actually be alright all the way through the game (used guns, mostly long-range rifles with SMGs for short range).

      Any mods you recommend?

      • coppertopper says:

        I should have been clearer – I have read that combat became unbalanced quickly. Never been a fan of the Fallout setting, but your post has me intrigued – will definately grab it on the next Steam sale. Am a modaholic with Skyrim though, and it really makes a difference in gameplay, if not the story.

    • Anonymous says:

      I wouldn’t say combat is unbalanced. I’ve used extensively all the weapon types and run tests in the deathclaw quarry, both for my character and for followers. IMO all weapons offer viable playstyles.

      • SynCaine says:

        The combat reference was to Skyrim. In that game after lvl 20 or so the combat kinda breaks down IMO. F:NV stayed enjoyable all the way to 30.

  5. Hong WeiLoh says:

    So…you mean I SHOULDN’T be the nigh-invincible Chosen One of EVE, vanquishing NPC and PC foes alike with impunity? :-/ Damnit.

  6. Anonymous says:

    @Syncaine – glad you tried it. Overall, New Vegas + Skyrim + Deus Ex made such a better showing than all the hyped contemporary MMOs that…I’m at a loss for words to describe this quality gap

    @Azuriel – Yes, New Vegas is more restricitive, but only to the first time players. My second game at max difficulty I was able to go NW, dig up the named knife, dodge the cazadores, peel and kill the armored flamethrower bandit leader SW of NV, circle NV to the north till I got to the upgrades clinic, and shortly after that I was able to take the named gauss rifle off the northern mercenaries. The challenge this path provided to an experienced player was the fun.

  7. AndurDC says:

    You lost me at spoilers. But I’m staring this on google reader for when I play and finish this game in 2022.

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