Procrastination Amplification: Punditry on MMOs and games in general.

Post-Apocalypse This Ain’t

All four of you who follow me on Twitter might know that I’ve been longing to play something post-apocalyptic for a while. I played through Fallout 3 again a few months ago and now finally got around to reading Larry Niven’s Lucifer’s Hammer. Add to that the news about Fallout: New Vegas and you’ll have me absolutely stoked for a new post-apocalyptic game to get my hands on. Well, since STO didn’t really manage to lure me in again after the beta, I was in the market for a new MMO anyway and decided to check out Fallen Earth. A lot of things can be said about the game, good things too, but one thing is for sure: This isn’t the apocalypse.

Looks a lot like Fallout 3. If you ignore all the resource nodes on the minimap, that is.

Oh sure, there is a coating of post-apocalypse on the game’s lore. A virus has killed most of humanity and mutated both local wildlife and humans, gathering is called scavenging, and there are broken down cars all around. Many parts of the game distinctly remind me of Fallout 3 thematically – though without the cool 50s vibe – but it gets an essential part of the apocalypse all wrong: scarcity.

Resource gathering works just like in your run-of-the-mill MMORPG – there are nodes scattered in the terrain that you can click on to harvest. The gathered materials can then be turned into more or less useful items via crafting. There is absolutely nothing scarce about the resources in Fallen Earth, you can just go out and farm as many of them as your time permits. Spend a few hours hunting mutated chicken (or any other animals – apparently they all taste like chicken) and you can supply a whole town for years. Gathering nodes respawn on fixed timers and vendors in towns have unlimited supplies of goods. This is not the post-apocalypse, this is World of Warcraft with a dust coating.

Compare that to Fallout 3, which left you constantly (well up to a point) scrounging for bullets and med-packs. Finding non-irradiated food or water was a rare treat indeed, and crafting weapons required such odd (and scarce) ingredients as toy cars and motorcycle handbrakes. Fallout 3 had starving people, mutants, cannibals, slavers, even vampires of sorts. Fallen Earth, as far as I’ve played it, has none of that. Well, it does have slavers but they are just your generic human-type enemies, standing around in camps one-by-one waiting for you to pick them up.

What fascinates me about the post-apocalypse is the need to make due with what’s available and the effect that has on human beings. In Fallen Earth, pretty much anything is available, hell stuff is so common that people don’t even bother to harvest resources right next to their houses. “Go get me some fried vegetables.” the quest giver says. You know, if this was the real post-apocalypse you would a) have picked those veggies yourself by now and b) not care about them being fried. As for what fighting for survival does to humans, the game fails completely. At some point I had to make a moral choice which I missed and I ended up on a questline that involved me killing the town’s sheriff and massacring her deputies. The repercussions for my despicable actions (or the town for that matter)? None.

I shot the sheriff, but I also shot her deputies.

I think it would be possible to make an actual post-apocalyptic MMORPG, but that would require parting with the old ways. Gathering must take a completely different form and items you scavenge have to actually be rare. There can’t be copper nodes to mine, you’ll have to be happy if you find a spool of copper wire somewhere in a pile of junk. And if you do, you should be pretty much the only one in town with such a treasure. Crafting makeshift weapons and such is a cool thing, but a makeshift weapon can’t follow a schematic that I’ve learned from a book of all things! I should be able to find a long object, a sharp object, and something to combine them with and make myself a real makeshift spear that has properties defined by the materials I used and my general skill at combining them. For heaven’s sake, don’t give me instructions to gather a specific piece of wood and some iron ore to build it.

I’m not saying that Fallen Earth is a terrible game, but the whole shebang about it being post-apocalyptic and 100% elf free is bullshit. They took run-of-the-mill fantasy gameplay and changed the models and some quest text, that’s it. This leaves me hungering for Fallout: New Vegas even more.

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