Fallout 4: Maybe only a half generation leap?
The first time I entered a building in Dragon Age: Inquisition was when I determined that the current generation had finally arrived. Not because it looked pretty (it did) or because it played in a novel way (it didn’t), but because I did not have to see a load screen at all. This small thing in an otherwise massive game made me incredibly excited for the power of the current consoles and how that would benefit gameplay design. Sure, when the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One launched there were some gorgeous titles available and the small improvements like streaming and rest mode really did improve the player experience. However, when push came to shove there was no big leap that could logically entice customers to upgrade their gear. But here in Dragon Age there was an indication that loading may no longer detract from the gameplay experience. I was further delighted when The Witcher 3 had minimal loading as well. You only would see a loading screen when entering one of the four major hubs and not see them again. Finally, the era where we would be unshackled from seeing a 30 second load screen simply because we wanted to enter a shop or inn! The power of the current generation was finally being put to use to actually improve the player’s in-game experience!
I mention all this to illustrate how Fallout 4 feels like a relic from the last generation. In Bethesda’s latest, all major buildings require a loading screen when you enter them. This is especially exacerbated when quest givers, your supply stashes, and power armor are all typically kept behind closed doors. You will see loading screens a lot in Fallout 4, as you did in Skyrim and Fallout 3. Of course, loading screens by themselves aren’t necessarily a deal breaker, but it is indicative of the lack of attention paid to the player’s experience that makes Fallout 4 a bit of a disappointment.
I should mention that I played my 25-ish hours of Fallout 4 on PC, where I was able to play the game at 1080p/60fps on Ultra settings off of a solid state hard drive. I had essentially the most optimal setup the average player would have for playing this massive RPG, and I still walked away shaking my head at the myriad of technical and presentation issues. Granted, Bethesda games are unique in the freedom they allow and for the fact that they essentially track the state of the entire world. Those two things alone does grant some leeway for Fallout 4 not having the most polish or best-in-class visuals, but to still be so far behind the curve is insane to me.
As an experiment, I popped in my Xbox 360 copy of 2008’s Fallout 3 and did a quick and dirty comparison against my PC copy of 2015’s Fallout 4. While Fallout 3 had some clearly muddy textures here and there, a lower framerate, and lower resolution, it stood up surprisingly well to its successor. Particularly jarring was how good 3’s character models were compared to 4’s. Sure they look like animatronic robots in both games, but at least that was more acceptable with the limited horsepower of the older systems.
Despite my disappointment, I did in fact enjoy my time with Fallout 4, as Bethesda’s core open-world gameplay loop remains intact and is as fun as ever. But I doubt that I’ll dump the 100+ hours I put into each of Bethesda’s previous titles dating back to Oblivion, seeing as I’ve done this whole dance over and over again. The new gameplay systems, which include the maintenance of settlements and expanded crafting, are well thought out but have not gripped me at all. I suspect it is to entice the Minecraft generation to purchase the game, and that’s fine. But what’s left are only subtle gameplay improvements, such as improved combat, that don’t do enough to differentiate this entry from its predecessors. If you liked these types of games in the past you will probably enjoy Fallout 4, and you may be able to look past the myriad of issues to enjoy the great core game. But like listening to an album you played constantly in high school, the good parts are starting to get more and more obscured by the march of time.