While many games can be fully critiqued from launch, Bethesda games have historically earned themselves a 8-12 month pass until their usually extensive DLC has all dropped. Previous Fallout and Elder Scrolls games have received substantial expansions that boosted their parent games’ replay value and enjoyment factor tremendously. Fallout 3 and New Vegas had four large pieces of content each, where Skyrim only had three.
What’s more, each of those those games’ DLC was released over the span of 11-13 months after release, keeping people invested in the game for well over a year after release. This time around, it was all said and done 9 months later with not a single DLC of substance or significance to show for it. Ordinarily, a season pass for a Bethesda game would be a must have, but you can’t help but feel sorrow for people who paid for this one and got nothing that added to the existing game’s story or world.
Fallout 4 had the potential to break the mould for both its franchise and RPGs in general. In a year where The Witcher 3 was also released, stakes for the RPG of the year were high and Fallout absolutely had something to prove. It’s baffling, then, that Bethesda opted to stick with their old, shitty engine. It was shitty back in 2010 when New Vegas released, and shitty a year later when Skyrim released. Back then though, it was forgivable, because all games came out on the same systems. An entire four years passed since Bethesda released a new game, and for some reason they saw fit to reuse an engine that was, at best, passable back then. Okay, so it’s an ‘updated version’ of said engine – but in four years they could have, and should have done a better job. When compared to the sheer beauty and bug-free experience that was The Witcher 3, Fallout 4 is a measly attempt. The graphics are shinier, for sure, but gameplay was still as clunky as it ever was. Despite the game reviewing well and having positive ratings everywhere it’s sold, in retrospect it was a big step down from other Bethesda RPGs in almost every way.
A quick look through some user reviews can attest to that, with many reoccurring complaints that they took the ‘R’ out of ‘RPG’, and the voiced protagonist took away the player’s identity. Furthermore, the speech system was given a make-under. Rather than lengthy dialogue options that make use of skills, perks and stats, we got options like ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ or vague choices that actually led to much different lines, similar to Bioware games, only executed to a much lower standard.
Speaking of skills, perks and stats – much of it was straight up removed. In an RPG, the more progression systems the better – but Bethesda apparently saw fit to remove the old skills system (big guns, small guns, science, etc) and mesh it with the perk system – which itself was a cluttered mess. Because of that, using [Intimidate] or [Science] and the like wasn’t possible. Remember in Fallout: New Vegas when you could use your Intelligence, Science, Luck and a myriad of other skills and traits to sway dialogue in your direction? Gone. It stripped away our ability to mould a specific type of character, instead forcing us into the ‘good guy’ archetype and removing the karma system along with it.
That’s unforgivable. In any sequel, especially when there’s been a new generation of hardware in between, there needs to be enhancements to old systems or new ones ushered in, not two old ones clumsily forced into one. It made levelling feel like it had no effect on the growth of your character, since the only reward was to choose a single new perk that sometimes couldn’t even be taken advantage of right away.
Post-apocalyptic Boston, for the most part, was incredibly fun and engaging to explore – though it’s not a patch on the Mojave Desert or Capital Wasteland. As is the case with all open world games, the size of the map was a huge talking point leading up to release – and it didn’t deliver. People around the internet worked out that it was around the same size as Skyrim, a game that is four years older. Furthermore, take a look at the interactive maps for Fallout: New Vegas and Fallout 4 and it’s plain to see that, while Fallout 4’s looks larger, New Vegas’ was much more dense. While things like cell size, cell count, movement speed, unreachable areas and map density make it difficult to compare map sizes efficiently, many people on Reddit and Bethesda forums seemed to arrive at the same calculation – Fallout 4’s map is smaller than Fallout 3’s – a game that’s seven years older. Map size isn’t everything, it’s true, but I cannot even commend Fallout 4 for the locations to be discovered within its map. Whereas Skyrim and Fallout 3 were littered with towns and cities where you could find new characters and entire chunks of storyline, Fallout 4 was full of wide empty spaces that were intended for us, the players, to fill.
Ultimately Fallout 4 wasted too much time and space in its game world by dedicating areas to build-able settlement areas. While that was a cool prospect in Sanctuary Hills at the very start of the game, it got tiresome and painstakingly annoying by the time you found the third or fourth. It had a knock-on effect on the story, too, often pulling you away from the important ongoing matters in the Commonwealth and taking up time that would’ve been better spent exploring pre-existing towns and cities – which there were far too few of. Diamond City didn’t quite cut the mustard like the Vegas strip or Megaton did. Why, in an open world RPG, did Bethesda see fit to leave empty spaces throughout the game for us to build our own towns? Perhaps it would’ve been acceptable had our created towns and the people that moved into them had an effect on the story at all. The prospect of such a mechanic attracting certain followers or special quest lines would be hard to resist partaking in. Imagine if you had to build settlements to recruit an army of some kind to take on the synths. Instead, we got a bunch of randomly generated bodies simply named ‘Settler’, none of whom added a single iota of personality or story to the game.
Maybe the intent was to enhance immersion, to make us feel like we’re leaving a mark on the world, but instead all immersion was broken. Of course, the argument here is that you were never forced to build any settlements at all. True enough, except Bethesda still saw fit to focus four out of their six DLCs around it. A cynic might suspect that Bethesda hoped to capitalise on the ‘base-building’ survival games that have flooded on to digital stores in recent years and hoped to cash in with their The Sims style add-on packs. It would’ve worked, had there been any element of survival to worry about during the game.
Now we’ve mentioned the story, it’s probably fair to make the claim that the main story in a Bethesda game isn’t always the shining star. Skyrim’s main quest line was overshadowed vastly by the Thieves Guild, Dark Brotherhood and College of Winterhold chains, for example. Both previous Fallouts have had some incredible side quests that are still memorable years on, though each of their main storylines were weaker in comparison.
Fallout 4 suffered on both fronts. The story was predictable from the beginning – it was painfully obvious that Shaun was alive and that years had likely passed since he was taken. All the bullshit before you find him again just felt like a drag to pull you to that point. The wild goose chase wasn’t at all interesting when everyone had at least some idea of where it was heading. But the side quests weren’t great, either. Aside from a handful of cool moments, there’s almost zero quests or characters that are likely to be remembered a few years down the line. On top of that, the quests that were there felt too linear compared to what we’re used to from these games. Previous games had us make a lasting choice that had potential to impact further stories and conversation pieces down the line, but Fallout 4 simply gave the impression that you’d be pushed in the direction it wanted you to go, no matter your choices. The entire game is more characteristic of an FPS than an RPG – which coincidentally is where this game’s faults are really rooted.
During the marketing phase before launch, the game was touted as being much more friendly to non-RPG players. Whereas Fallout 3 and New Vegas relied heavily on the VATS system for combat, Fallout 4 is designed to play more like a first-person shooter. It’s possible to scope and put sights on weapons and fire them in real time. In fact, it’s encouraged, and they tweaked VATS so that it no longer completely stops time, disallowing any sort of combat strategy against multiple enemies. Bethesda seemingly wanted to increase their audience and had to find a way to attract those who are put off by heavy character customisation and progression, while simultaneously providing enough of it to please existing fans of the series. In retrospect, it had a massively negative impact on the game as a whole, and added more proof to the pudding that FPS-RPG hybrids don’t work well, as Destiny and The Division also found out. Pick one and build around it, because the mechanics that are so often found in one genre do not mesh well with the others. As a result, both portions were implemented halfheartedly, and what we’re left with is an average FPS that takes place in an average RPG open-world.
The next Fallout game is sure to still be a good few years away, but we can only hope that lessons were learned from this approach and that fan feedback was recognised and taken aboard, rather than full attention being paid to the initial reviews that praised the game so highly while still on their Fallout high. In the meantime, the next Elder Scrolls game should be rearing its head at any time, so fingers crossed that we get the true successor to Skyrim that we’ve been waiting for.