To start the new year off on a controversial note, there's a two-page feature over at Cinelinx that attempts to point out why Obsidian's Fallout: New Vegas is a better game than Bethesda's The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (and Fallout 3, for that matter). And, yeah, I'd certainly agree with the overall sentiment:
New Vegas commands some serious factions. The New California Republic (NCR) - a paragon of the old world, where democracy and government reined supreme, Caesar's Legion - a neo-fascist, anti-democratic army of hyper-reactionists, and Robert House and Yes Man - paradigms of technological evolution and the threat they pose to society, to name but a few. Each, along with a series of recognised '˜families' and gangs, go up against each other amid the New Vegas power struggle. You must discern and decide who is fighting for a cause, or for themselves; who is worth fighting alongside, and who is likely to betray you. You can feel part of a family, like when eventually welcomed by the Boomers, or realise you are being used as a tool, as with Caesar's Legion.
Similarly, Skyrim has the Imperial Legion - a loyalist faction representing conservatism, up against The Stormcloaks - the would-be socialists of the realm. To be quite honest, the all-conquering, anti-religious attitudes of the Imperials whilst castigating ancient god, Talos, pale in insignificance when compared with the inherently bigoted and out-rightly racist behaviour of Stormcloak leader Ulfric Stormcloak. Freedom fighter? Che Guevara would turn in his grave. You never truly feel aligned with anyone - even the characters you're forced to get along with.
New Vegas's faction reputation system allows you to manipulate each gang and play one off another, creating depth and several possible play-throughs and endings. Conversely, Skyrim's less significant factions' missions are too linear to ever create enough interest (The Blades quests - yawn).
Skyrim's ending has the potential to be epic. What we get though, is thoroughly disappointing. The Dragonborn's quest leads us to Sovngarde, the Nord underworld, where it is understood main antagonist dragon Alduin has fled, feeding on the souls of the dead. Immersed in the chillingly beautiful surroundings of this alternative dimension, Dragonborn and co. must defeat this mighty beast once and for all. That's right; once and for all...except, it's the same battle which occurred 20 minutes earlier, only differences being you're in a different location and Alduin doesn't bounce back this time round. The world is saved, sure, but it wasn't much of a challenge was it? Also, there is no explanation or guarantee that Alduin won't return- like he has in past- suggesting that all our efforts may in fact be in vein. Very disappointing indeed.
New Vegas on the other hand throws a variety of endings at you, and depending on the path you choose throughout the main storyline, depends on the outcome of the final battle. The most enjoyable - in my opinion, having played through several times - is siding with Yes Man, opposing the NCR, however holding '˜Infamy' with Caesar's Legion. You blast your way through battle-scarred Hoover Dam, until reaching Legate's Camp - home of Legate Lanius, the Monster of the East. What ensues is a showdown of epic proportions, as the courier is encompassed by Lanius's blood-thirsty troops. Once disengaged, the courier must take on and take down Lanius himself. Of course, this encounter is pre-scripted to ramp up the difficulty - Lanius is able to heal himself and his limbs and it is impossible for him to be disarmed to name a few of his attributes. Without a companion, this battle is extremely tough. Either way, I have struggled to find a more rewarding game ending in recent years. In true Fallout style, you are then treated to a narrated epilogue tying up all the stories and loose ends of the Mojave dwellers, hinting that no matter what happens, there will always be conflict in a post-apocalyptic America.