Fallout 4 - A beautiful world that highlights Bethesda's lack of attention to story
Being a fan of Bethesda's first-person Fallout games, I had been looking forward to Fallout 4 since the first announcement. I was eager to see what Bethesda would do with a new console generation and more refined engine. What resulted is a better Fallout experience that only highlights the increasing shortcomings in the Bethesda development.
Fallout 4 is a first-person shooter set in a post apocalyptic world. Extending on the Washington DC setting of Fallout 3 and Las Vegas of Fallout New Vegas, Fallout 4 is set in the greater Boston area known as "The Commonwealth". It is within this setting that Fallout 4 betters the games before it. The area is massive, offering diverse landscapes to explore. The world in general is far more vibrant than in previous games. Each settlement has its own personality and each mission location a nuance that helps to prevent a feeling of repetition. This is truly a Fallout that a player can spend hours upon hours upon hours exploring and never feel like the same thing is being shown twice.
Unfortunately, the bigger and better environment does not extend to a better story experience. The story, mission development, and options available to me as I played are bad enough that it immediately ripped me out of the setting that had been created. In the story, you play as a parent in search of their kidnapped child. Emerging from a protective vault in search of the child, the world is a different one for the character than when they went in, complete with new factions and perils. This, however, is where the impetus of the story ends. The mission options unfold so quickly that the idea of searching for a lost child is moved to the background of befriending factions, helping settlements, and generally exploring the land. Yes, the story of the child continues and has an end, but it feels second fiddle to the rest of the open world. Even the interaction with the factions is strange in writing. As the character, I can join two diametrically opposed factions and with all sincerity tell them what they want to hear. There's no inner monologue indicating I am tricking one or the other toward my own end. Instead, my character just changes tune whenever it is convenient for me to do that faction's mission. This failure in writing and mission structure caused me to constantly debate my playing of the game, wanting to enjoy it and finish while also wanting to just drop it for another game altogether.
The remainder of the game falls somewhere between the excellent environment and the lackluster story. The NPCs and dialogue sequences are more fleshed out then they ever have been, but still only focus in a limited direction. The enemies are certainly more varied and seem more imposing, but they quickly fall behind the capability of the character to induce carnage. The gameplay mechanics also improve with the introduction of settlement building, where I spent a lot of my 70+ hours in the game. However, there are few to no consequences to building a large or small settlement or even engaging with the feature at all.
I can only imagine that writing narrative into an open world game is exceedingly difficult. Those developers that barely try end up with a pile of garbage while those that do try often still see a hit-and-miss result. I had very high hopes for what Fallout 4 could be, especially given the refining of the open world genre by games like Far Cry 4 (released a year earlier). However, while Bethesda has done everything they can to improve and expand the Creation Engine that powers Fallout 4, they have let their storytelling chops wither on the vine. I can only hope that they spark the magic when it comes to their new IP Starfield (coming 2020 or 2021) and the next Elder Scrolls game beyond that.