Bethesda games, Bethesda games never change
It’s been awhile since we last visited post-apocalyptic America’s wasteland, but Fallout 4 is finally among us, and it’s already made a significant splash within the gaming community. For the past month, the game has infiltrated the Reddit front-page on a daily basis and has easily become the biggest release of 2015. I have personally spent dozens of hours wandering the streets of destroyed Boston, and enjoyed every second I spent with it. However, beneath the sheer hours of thrilling joy you’ll put in into this lies a price of admission. A cost that requires you look past a certain amount of attributes that may not live up to what standards in the video game industry should be, but one that’s still absolutely worth playing through nevertheless.
Fallout 4 may have been the least surprising announcement for a AAA title I’ve ever witnessed. As far back as 2013, only two years after the release of Skyrim, a flood of information leaked about the game. This news quickly spread over almost every gaming media outlet, with countless rumors regarding when Bethesda would finally reveal the game. All of the information was almost undoubtedly true too, considering part of that leak was that it took place in Massachusetts, and members of Bethesda were spotted taking photographs around MIT. It took a few months, but Todd Howard finally commented on matter, but quickly said that “it was going to be awhile before [they] announced their next game.” Fast-forward to the summer of 2014, and now a Reddit post surfaces out of nowhere from a woman who claimed she was a former employee of the company. However, this post was probably made-up considering some of her information isn’t represented in the final product, like versions for the previous console generation on Xbox 360 and PS3. What that post did do, though, was to get people to start talking about the possibility of Fallout 4 yet again. Let’s go to 2015 now, and Bethesda announces that they’re going to be hosting their very own E3 press conference, but just a few weeks before the trade show the game would formally be announced in the form of an online countdown. At E3 itself, Fallout 4 was officially stated to be released November of that year.
It’s the year 2287, and once again war - war hasn’t changed. This time we’re not in DC or the ourskirts surrounding Las Vegas, but the territory within New England known as the “Commonwealth.” Keeping up with the long tradition of the Fallout franchise, its setting is a post-apocalyptic retro-future one. World War propaganda still persists in this unaltered society that never moved past those very tropes, and once again, everybody is at each other's’ throats to survive. The Commonwealth is perhaps the most expansive open world the Fallout universe has seen yet, with adequate detail placed into environmental attributes like the structure of Diamond City. However, while the open world may be large and expansive, this wasteland seemed even more dead and less extensive in terms of personality. In past Fallout games, there was always an overarching juxtaposition of satiric and grim world building. One play session you may have experienced the humorous GOAT exam, when another you may come across a dead man’s final writing. I’m not saying Fallout 4 is completely devoid of those instances, but I will say that seeing less of that kind of stuff wasted more potential of this game possibly further instantiating the world behind their fictional wasteland.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed that the Fallout games’ individual plots can be diminished to something along the lines of “go find.” Fallout 1, go find the water chip; Fallout 2. go find the GECK; Fallout 3, go find your father; Fallout: New Vegas, go find the people who tried to kill you; and finally Fallout 4, go find your son. Now the game begins before the bombs dropped, just like the E3 demo; in fact, the E3 presentation showed what was practically that entire sequence. It’s very short, very minimal, and very concise. Fallout 3’s opening section was around 45 minutes, which you could argue was a tad too long, but it was so effective because it really made you believe your character grew up in that vault. Fallout 4 doesn’t have that advantage over its predecessor, but that’s not to say it’s a bad setup, quite the contrary, but it's simply a bummer that Bethesda chose to present that part. Ultimately, the introduction loses the impact akin to what we got in Fallout 3, but it’s still a cool way to start the game nevertheless. From there the game spirals into a series of twists and turns that I can definitely get behind. The franchise’s roots in science-fiction have never more apparent, and I can say without a doubt that this is best narrative to ever grace a Fallout title. That said, it is extremely short. This has become par for the course for various games developed by Bethesda, mostly because its reliance on the player’s outgoing for side-quests, and Fallout 4 is no different. It’s around the same length as 3 or New Vegas, short, but sweet.
Bethesda has once again crafted the premiere game to just wander. From spontaneous ghoul attacks to interactions with commonplace NPCs, you never know what’s going to occur next. Perhaps that’s part of the charm Fallout 4 has going for it over anything else, because you have certainly seen this kind of game before. I was one of the eight people that did not play Skyrim back in 2011, but I’ve seen enough to know that this game follows that same template, also seen in Fallout 3 and Oblivion. It’s a great outline for the large worlds they present, but we’ve seen it all before. Even the (mostly) harmless amounts of glitches can be pervasively found yet again, they admittedly add a bit of character in the process, but they’re becoming less “ok” as time goes on. I’m not saying there’s no enjoyment to be found in this template, I can’t think of a game type that has a more satisfying sense of exploration, but there’s not much here that has been altered enough to differentiate in my opinion.
I do not want be a complete bearer of negativity, because all the outline problems aside, Fallout 4 is still absolutely awesome. Just like 3 and New Vegas, the game takes principle as an RPG over being a first-person shooter. However, this iteration seems to be leaning more into the FPS category, as not only can you aim down the sights (a feature from New Vegas), but the staple VATS system now functions simultaneously with enemy movement. Not bad changes at all, as mixing up the execution of VATS was a good idea to keep some of these mechanics fresh. That said, I used VATS significantly less than I did in 3 or New Vegas, perhaps signifying that the next Fallout may dwelve farther down the FPS curve. Again, not a bad thing, it’s just a notable difference between games. The guns and various weapons you find along all parts of the wasteland can be exciting, and you’ll always yearn to try them out for your next battle. Combat in general is slightly more fast-paced than 3 or New Vegas, but I think this may come at disadvantage at times for the game, at least for my playstyle. For instance, I save a ton in these kind of RPGs in the middle of bosses, speech encounters, you name it. However, specific with this game, and I’m fairly sure this wasn’t an issue in 3 or New Vegas, the end of a load hides part of the game in action. What I mean is that if you save within a combat encounter, the enemy will get a chance to get a free hit or two because you can’t move for a second or too. This didn’t prove to be a problem enough times for me to mark it against the game, but it was frustrating the few times I had to deal with it.
A new game marks some new revamped systems as well. For instance, there’s now a further implemented companion system, as you can now develop certain relationships with your partner to grant special bonuses. This feature is nothing short of great, they’re essentially free extra damage, but warn you, keep track of where you send them if you decide to dismiss them. The game does not leave a marker or anything signifying where an unused companion is located, so if lose track of one’s location, you bet you're going to have trek across the entire Commonwealth. Also new to Fallout 4 is its leveling system. You’re back to choosing a perk at every level up, but gone are the individual spec raises. Now, you can add an efficiency up to your main stats in place of a perk. I’m fine with this system, it’s somewhat a breath of fresh air for series, but it’s not better than the other system, and if anything it’s another step away from its role-playing roots. However, the most apparent lacking system in Fallout 4 is the mystery of why there is no Karma. Karma was an essential part in developing your in past games, specifically New Vegas with its factions. Actions are still marked as red to signify something evil, but they only affect your companion’s opinion of you. So, at least as far as I know, evil actions have very little consequence, which just seems like a strange missed opportunity, considering it’s been in the series in the past. Also, I have to ask, what happened to the dialogue options here? It’s their first attempt at adding in a fully voiced character, so some changes had to inevitably be made. I’ll admit that the interface of it was fairly clunky in 3 and New Vegas, but the solution to that is not throwing this comically awkward “Sarcastic” selection.
The most advertized additional mechanism within Fallout 4 is the city-building system. It is exactly as it sounds, a mechanic where you construct your own settlement within the first-person Fallout perspective. Is this system good? Yes, it’s fun and perfectly manageable, and I see why people have gotten so invested in it. However, there’s absolutely no motive to do this, with the exception of the small experience points you get for your troubles. It’s nothing to complain about, but it would have been nice if there was an added benefit to keep you coming back.
One last aspect of Fallout 4 that I particularly found engaging was the use of factions, something introduced in Obsidian’s Fallout: New Vegas. However, the problem with New Vegas’ implementation was that character motivation was very one-dimensional. The Legion was very much the “come here to slaughter people” group, so unless you were purposely playing an evil class, chances are you knew you weren’t going to side with them. In Fallout 4, it was truly difficult to decide who to side with by the end of the game. All of them have their good and bad, but those qualities are never severely outmatched. Each faction presents a valid claim to side with one over the other. and I think this speaks to a design strength of the game.
Admit it, there’s no other way around it, Bethesda games have always been a technical mess since as far back as Daggerfall. Fallout 4 is no exception, and while the glitches have always been a part of the developer’s charm in a way, a game crashing can never be justified. That is why I can't stress enough why should definitely buy this game on PC over any console, given you have the option. On PC the game crashed on me only twice, but since I save often, this wasn’t more of an annoyance rather than an ongoing problem. The only other notable glitch I came upon was that my Pip-Boy would sometimes disappear randomly, and the only way to solve it was to reload a save. I’ve heard horror stories on consoles, particularly Xbox One, so definitely go for the PC version here. As far as the graphical content is, the environmental foliage and general landscape is actually fairly impressive and generally very visually appealing. The character models and animations, on the other hand, leave a lot to be desired. It’s outdated, there’s no other way to get around it, but graphics don’t personally matter to me so take that opinion of mine as you want.
Video games have changed a lot since 2008, and Fallout 4 almost seems like something of a relic right out of that period. A lack of significant evolution may its largest downfall, but that still hasn’t stopped Fallout 4 from objectively being one of the best titles of the year. There are tons of issues with it, perhaps more than a AAA game in 2015 should have in the first place, but it’s still well worth your time. Is Fallout 4 better than its predecessors? Not objectively, because I think I actually enjoyed 3 and New Vegas more, but if you're looking to get into the series at this point, look no further than 4. The Bethesda template is by all means fun, but it’s losing its luster with each Fallout and Elder Scrolls iteration. Here’s hoping they shake it up a bit next time around, but I guess I’m still good with taking out Ghouls in the meantime.