I was trying to think myself through a much more well reasoned post about my reactions to Fallout 4. I wanted to acknowledge the baggage I was bringing from my love of the original games, and try and decide whether I could step back enough to feel confident in making a negative assessment of the game - and even if I try and assess the game on its own terms I feel like I can't arrive at anything but a negative assessment.
I've played about 30 hours of Fallout 4, and quite early on I started to wonder whether I was actually enjoying it or if it was just Stockholm syndrome. The game is incredibly boring! Boring characters, boring story, boring combat (notwithstanding the improved weapon handling), boring locations (and this is something I've normally found Bethesda to be pretty good at).
But something about playing it this evening has broken it even more for me. It's not just that it's boring. It's that it feels sometimes like Bethesda have studiously avoided opportunities for interesting things, refusing to deviate from an incredibly shallow overall design even for a second. A lot of my issues with the game really came together for me when I came across East City Downs.
There's a kind of intriguing approach to the location - you here a very 1930s voice over a tannoy announcing a race of some kind. So you walk towards it thinking maybe there is an interesting quest. Except there isn't. Before you even get a chance to see what is going on you have to shoot a bunch of dudes. When the dust has settled, you see a whole bunch of robots racing round a track. That's kind of funny! You find a terminal that controls the bots. Wouldn;t it have been cool to have a quest that involved rigging a race? or even just to be able to bet on the races. But no. Shoot dudes and move on, or don't shoot dudes and move on. That is the limit of my responses to this situation.
The idea of fallout being a role playing game seems laughable when your only reaction to raiders is to shoot them. Maybe I want to role play a compulsive gambler, or even someone who just doesn't care, or even just someone who has a bit more guile than Bethesda wants to allow for - there is an option to turn the robots on their masters, but the reality of playing the game means this can only really be done in the hear of the moment, not with any satisfying subtlety. Are the raiders just so quintessentially raiderish that I can't help but reach for my gun? Is the very concept of robot horse racing so reprehensible that the game's absolute morality demands blood? Ok, so I'm sure some people will say "raiders are raiders, they shoot people on sight duh" but that is equally stupid anyway. Are they opportunistic hunters like cats? Why would raiders want to interrupt their down time at the tracks by ruining it with work.
This is sort of my second issue that this whole thing illuminated - a design choice for combat above all else leads to situations that trample over any kind of environmental storytelling, any kind of lore (not just "fallout lore"). Any sense of this being a world where people live and make choices to become raiders is obliterated by their presence as mindless attackers. This is a microcosm of the "gunners" issue. Numerous bits of "lore" info tell us they are simple, if ruthless, mercenaries whose only loyalty is to their job. Why do they kill on sight? It is senseless. The answer is because the focus on combat over all else required a differently armed enemy, I suppose. Incidentally, why are their triggermen at this place? It seemed like they were pretty localised to Goodneighbour. The answer seems to be that having triggermen their justifies the 1930s style race announcements. Much like their presence in goodneighbour seemed to be thrown in as a "well Valentine is a 40s detective so he should probs be fighting some 40s style gangsters, right?" sort of thing, which really just seemed like a bit of a stupid coincidence in the context of the wider world of fallout 4.
Maybe this wouldn't be an issue, but Fallout 4 just seems incredibly light on quests. I've got Radiant quests from Preston coming out of my ears but very few honest to god quests. It feels like they feel that the radiant quest system is fully fledged enough to take over that aspect of the game's design for them, but it seems like a pretty massive misreading of the response to those systems in Skyrim. I did two in a row earlier and got the exact same dialogue for both. It is not a substitute for writing.
And lets be fair, it's not like the honest to goodness quests themselves are actually very interesting or well designed. I came very close to putting the game down when a quest devolved into just following dogmeat while he sniffed some cigars. Just half an hour of thinking "why am I playing this game?"
It's not just me,right? Honestly, I want to like this game. I love Fallout as a whole. I may be an old schooler at heart, but I really enjoyed the bulk of Fallout 3. I didn't hate little lamplight, even. But this game is just bad. It's certianly a bad role playing game, and the ways in which it fails to be a roleplaying game make it a pretty bad open world game, too, I think. It's not even that good as a shooter. It's boring, it's drab, it's not fun.
Sorry for that rant, I realise that a lot of people like it and will disagree. I just needed to vent.