The first game I can recall playing that had equipment with durability is Diablo. At the time, it annoyed me more often than not and I did not see it as trying to immerse me in the world by putting real life mechanics in the game. When someone made such an argument, I usually liked to point out that our characters in games often eat and drink, but we never require them to go to the bathroom.
However, I was a wee lad at the time and did not appreciate the overall effect of that game, which did a very wonderful job in setting tone and mood through art direction and gameplay. The deterioration of my equipment early on, while I was fighting plain skeletons and zombies, gave me a contrast to when I would find indestructible gear later, while I was ripping through succubi and demons. Since then, I’ve paid much more attention when my equipment starts degrading and accepted that some games wish to implement this for varying reasons, and in a game like World of Warcraft, I saw it as two things: a chance to take a breath so you don’t go into instance after instance and are required to go to town and a gold sink.
So, enter Fallout 3, with which I spent a good amount of time yesterday. While I could easily go into many different subject areas, the one I felt like actually exploring was the equipment and the effect it had on me. In this game, Bethesda did something that makes so much sense, I wonder why it wasn’t in the original Fallout games (while somewhat being thankful, as the games are difficult enough as is). In this game, your equipment degrades with usage–something to be expected, especially in the Gamebryo engine. While there are usually merchants in town that can repair your gear for you, you also have a skill called, simply enough, repair.
Not surprisingly, this skill allows you to repair your own gear (whereas in previous games it allowed you to repair faulty equipment in the game world). How, you may ask? Simple. If you have a similar item, you salvage pieces from it and bolster the desired equipment. With armor, you gain more damage resistance; with weapons, you gain more damage up to 100%. I have not progressed past Megaton (and Super-Duper Mart) yet, but I’m already noting how it has changed my behavior in gaming. I’m a hoarder (as evidenced by completing Fallout 2 with $40,000 on hand), and this rewards me for such.
Because you come out of Vault 101 a poor, destitute outcast who has no idea what he or she is getting him or herself into, you are suddenly presented with the problem of how to survive and advance yourself. So, picking up gear and then piecing it together provides a neat gameplay issue that makes me really appreciate how this world is constructed so far. I keep all the armor and weapons I pick up, repair them together, and then have more valuable equipment that weighs less. This makes sense, but you need a high enough repair skill to do so. If you don’t want to bring up this skill, again, you have the option of doing so in town.
While I do not profess to have the most extensive gaming knowledge ever, I cannot recall a system in which this has occurred before in my own gaming history. Hellgate: London had a salvage system, but its use was not immediate in aiding you. When I very briefly discussed my initial impressions with Cap’n Perkins last evening, he mentioned that it seems a more advanced version of a common occurrence in FPS games. When you walk across a gun someone else has dropped, you chuck the gun and keep the ammo. While I can understand why not every game would do this (maybe you don’t have characters with an interest in smithing or crafting), it is a system by which I am very intrigued.
Now, I understand why this differs in an MMO landscape. It serves as a way to make sure the economy isn’t constantly inflating, as it introduces a system of fixed price to repair your gear. Yes, you may be able to get more money in the next section of the game you enter, but you’ll likely also need new, better gear, and when that gear is damaged, you’ll be paying a larger portion of your gold again. It’s a tiered system that doesn’t quite cripple the player, but also makes sure that a dynamic economy is not periled by introducing money into the system out of nowhere. Just because you can print more money and throw it into the market, that doesn’t mean you’re actually helping anyone (an issue most games face to some degree).
With Fallout 3, my initial impression is, “Why wouldn’t I pump points into the repair skill?” Again, while I have not progressed very far (aided by the fact that I’ve made three different characters in the one day I’ve played so far), the world seems both more expansively barren and populated than the previous games in the series. This is for a number of reasons: with every person having a face and voice, their impact is much more apparent and cannot be avoided (even if the models don’t act, so to speak); walking around in this world and seeing the horizon is very imposing, a ruined DC skyline is very devastating; it’s been two hundred some years since the war, the world has had time to settle itself more than previously possible. The last point makes me want to eventually create a character who has a different sensibility than the self-sufficiency I normally imbue in my characters’ personalities.
My goal is to make a character who, because he or she grew up in the Vault, craves community and codependency. This, of course, will be a ‘good’ character, but I wonder how that character will fit into this world. Instead of ignoring the barter skill as I have in the previous games, I want this character to depend on a trading of goods to get what he or she desires, and exchange goods as such. Have I mentioned I love a barter economy where I don’t just need money to purchase things?
You know what, the fact that I can create this type of character has me extremely excited. Unlike Oblivion, where I would make up my past in much the same way that I would write a character bio for any role I took on various stages, the introductory section of this game gives me a small taste of what has existed in this person’s life, and the grand scale of the world makes me wonder about the place my character can hold in it. That’s what I would call powerful–the ability to evoke thought on that level.