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As I stepped from the vault and took in the barren and desolate sights of the Capital Wasteland, I was completely sold into the idea of Fallout 3. It was a relief; after all, I had entered the game with some concern that as an old Fallout fan, I wouldn’t be able to set aside my stony old ways and just enjoy the game. It was at some point shortly after that my fears became realized.

At the start I was prepared to divorce all my other games and devote my time to a richly developed world full of emergent gameplay and endless distractions. After a night or two, I began to feel the hollowness of the relationship running ragged at the edges, and by the final climax with a bad guy I cared nothing about – a trivially simple encounter – I was just glad to be done with the whole thing.

It’s not you, Fallout. It’s me. I was just looking for a different kind of relationship right now, and sure we had some fun for a few nights, but I don’t think you’re really the kind of game I’m looking to settle down with.

Here’s the problem. Like I said, I’m a Fallout fan, and along with my occasionally ill-tempered peers I remain unable to get past my infatuation with a PC gaming industry that is by all measures entirely different. I realize the popular thing to say here is that PC gaming is dead, but if we’re going to impart anthropomorphism on such a nebulous concept, perhaps we would be better served by saying that PC gaming has had plastic surgery, hormone therapy and new age psychotherapy. For those of us that liked PC gaming’s old identity and personality, disfiguring scars and all, this new and clinically improved identity is tough to reconcile. After all, it’s sleeping with the consoles now, and I’m a jealous and jilted lover of the more traditional concepts of isometric viewpoints and turn-based play.

Bethesda was unapologetic in saying that it wasn’t really making Fallout 3 for Fallout fans, exactly. To be fair, the Fallout community, already known for being a tad on the unstable side, reacted with a kind of venom and incredulity that only reinforced the validity of Bethesda’s decisions. Even now, combining the ideas of Fallout 3 dissatisfaction and being a Fallout fan runs the risk of seeming anachronistic and hysterical, so let me say this: Fallout 3 is not a bad game.

It’s just not that great.

In the days leading up to Fallout 3‘s release, I replayed Fallout 2 and even Fallout Tactics, both games that hold up surprisingly well over the years, so when I entered the wasteland in the third person view I was well primed to play a Fallout game. On the other hand, exposure to the older titles also made the contrast that much more stark.

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And yet I wonder if I’m being entirely fair. After all, Fallout 2 was widely criticized as a quick cash-in on the critically acclaimed original Fallout, a rushed to market product that suffered from a clumsy launch. This game which is a hallmark to me of the “old days” of PC gaming, a stark contrast to the commodity product that is Fallout 3,was burdened with the same qualities at its own release.

As I try to reconcile my discontent with Fallout 3, I am forced to ask whether the problem is one with the industry, or one with me.

I am a dinosaur, a relic of a dead era. I have strong and enduring memories of playing games like Ultima, Zork, Wing Commander and Wizardry on a PC that would be catastrophically outclassed by the modern cell phone. This is the equivalent to being lost on modern indie bands because I’m so busy listening to Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd. It’s not just t that tastes and desires have changed since the advent of the cassette tape, much less the CD, but is there really much benefit trying to reinvent the past?

Do I really want a Fallout 3 that is just a coda on the already outstanding symphony of the first two games? What is left to do in that vein? When I think about it from that perspective I realize that my true desire for Fallout 3 and, frankly, the revisiting of a bygone PC gaming era is a virtual impossibility.

I want to do it all again for the first time.

There is a reason that sequels usually have a property of diminishing returns, and it has little to do with the illusion of creative bankruptcy or the fallacy of lazy development. The problem is that the traditional sequel is trying to recapture a moment that is only valuable because it had never been captured before. It’s not just that developers and gamers are trying to recapture lighting in a bottle, they are trying to capture the lightning that has already struck.

I don’t mean to suggest that everyone who played earlier Fallout games should necessarily feel disillusioned with the latest iteration. I think perhaps that initial instinct of the past when the Fallout fanbase was up in arms over Bethesda’s tenure was probably correct, that the less I cling to the past the better equipped I will be to enjoy the game. In the end, I wasn’t really able to do that. The more the game tried to convince me it was a Fallout game, the less I believed it; mention of G.E.C.K.s and water purifiers didn’t invest me in the gamespace, it transported me to the first time I played.

Nostalgia is a wonderful and terrible thing.

Sean Sands is a freelance writer, co-founder of gamerswithjobs.com and addicted to those miniature hot dogs that get wrapped in tiny croissants. Delicious!

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