The Doc Speaks: Fallout 4 – Awesome Video Game, Disappointing Fallout title

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It wouldn’t be Fallout without a masked figure on the front, right?

Fallout is a series of many things; a deconstruction of classic science fiction, a direct homage to said classic science fiction, a now long running franchise that’s practically 2 decades old and so much more.  Above all, it’s a beloved series with an amazing and devoted fanbase.  Sure, there is much division over older and newer generations of games (which I myself will admit to taking part in); but we’ve had more than enough proof that fans have kept the spirit of Fallout alive.  Archive sites like the Nexus contain thousands upon thousands of mods, adding new features to the game or rewriting it in its entirety.  You may wonder what this has to do with Fallout 4?  While others have focused on traversing the world of the wastelands and following a story, this one allows you to customize the weird wastes ahead.  So, why do I praise it as a great game, but comdemn it as a poor Fallout title?  More ahead.  (Warning: Spoilers)

Many complain about Fallout 4 feeling antiquated, a sort of dated novelty.  To be honest, Fallout has always been this way.  The early games were clunky and had a dated aesthetic, considering how far video gaming was in the mid/late-1990s.  Whether it’s visuals that look last gen, control schemes that feel far from fresh or “new ideas” that have age old roots; it could be argued that such a thing isn’t new to Fallout.  So, why does Fallout always feel dated?  I couldn’t really say.  In the case of Black Isles, you had the spiritual successor to Wasteland in the hands of a smaller studio, even though it was produced by the creators of Wasteland.  The game also set out to emulate a GURPS-like RPG system (as Fallout was originally planned as a GURPS book) while channeling a lot of the original Wasteland’s qualities too.  In a sense, the game had a traits of a somewhat quirky indie title, retaining a dedicated cult following.  In the case of Bethesda, they brought the series back to life utilizing their gamebryo engine.  This engine was created for the Elder Scrolls games of the new millennium, which proved to be flexible enough for a game in the Fallout setting.  But, enough time passed for it to feel a bit stiff and clunky, in comparison to other then-current RPGs and shooters that handful either aspect with much more grace.

All in all said, 4 realizes many of its flaws and tries to make up for it, by trying to give the player the chance to play with the world itself.  While you don’t have that freedom in terms of storylines, you can still tinker and craft to your heart’s content.  And with in-game mod support, Bethesda is encouraging you to not only build your own fortress, but truly remodel 4’s Commonwealth in all sorts of truly fantastic ways.  The world in 4 doesn’t look as sharp as many games out today, but still looks pretty damn nice.  Whether you’re checking the Institute’s experimental, sending hoarded technology Maxson’s secret base for the BoS, or  pretending to be a Baseball Fury (from The Warriors) in Diamond City; The Commonwealth gives you a world to make your own.  You build your base in some of the base places possible, you hook up with whoever you want, you hire companions for all sorts of jobs.  To be honest, when you ditch the main story for the sandbox, the game becomes a fantastic experience that you can dump countless hours into.  This is all without the need for extra mods too.  Now, when the community provides even more content to play with, the realm of Fallout 4 will probably never get old.

As for the nitty gritty bits of gameplay?  I could label 4 as an Action RPG, with predominant focus on the combat experience.  Less focus is brought to SPECIAL stats, skills and the like.  In fact, perks replace what skills were used for previously.  This streamlines the game to focus more so on the player’s direct actions rather than RP mechanics.  A bold choice and fun for interaction, but misses what Fallout is.  That said, the combat mechanics feel much more fluid than the Gamebryo system of 3 and NV.  Sure, there are a few hiccups, but the combat in 4 felt more real to the world.  Jumping into a power suit, unleashing heavy slugs, hiding while reloading a bundle of weapons like a maniac; it lead to an awesome experience that Bethsoft only improved upon since their previous titles.  Now, since I come across as a stiff old grognard, you may be wondering if I miss the turn based mechanics of old.  Yes and no.  I think it would be possible to do a turn based Fallout game in this day and age and make it much more thrilling than “the old days.”  To be honest, the way the olden games play out is kinda boring.  I much prefer the layout of Baldur’s Gate in terms of combat and user interface in general.  It’s far more streamlined than the mess that Fallout 1 and (to an extent) 2 have.  While the classics have some level of nostalgia, that clunky UI as well as combat feeling like a grinding chore are things I don’t miss.  All in all, the new combat experience feels solid.  Now, what I’m sure everyone’s expecting me to bash is the social interactions.  Gone are the days are arrays of speech choices, now you have a boring speech wheel that further shoves you into Bethesda’s box of bland bunk.  It’s a disappointment to say the least.  In fact, one of the first mods greatly altered this aspect.

Now let’s talk story.  Here’s the part of Fallout 4 that suffered the most.  Being a bitter old bat, I’ve always found BethSoft’s Fallout stories to be trite, half-baked, lacking emotional and intellectual depth and so on.  They’re mainly dressing for the shooter action they aim to focus on.  While 3 attempted a story, it was a rehash that tossed away much of the continuity and canon of past Fallout so Bethesda could truly have a Fallout of their own.  A commendable idea, but flawed in execution.  Fallout 4 tries to sample from both past and present, to allow you a little more leeway in choosing a story arc.  But, you are locked into one story, their story.  While you don’t have just a single story pertaining to The Synths of the Commonwealth (and whatnot), you still play their story.  Sure, DLC will probably open the gates to explore new things, but I doubt it will affect the main story too much.  To be fair, 3’s DLC was probably one of my favorite aspects about it. It gave side-stories which I found much more fascinating than the main ones.

At a certain point, not even Fallout 4 cares about the main story!  It becomes as cynical and jaded as the audience, brushing much of Shaun away until the end, more or less.  You go on your journey to find you kid, after you discover your spouse was killed and the kid being stolen was one of the last things you see.  You travel to the Institute to see your child has grown up into an adult and more or less control them nowadays.  You’re put into conflict over a Synth who resembles your child while contending with the angry and confused old man that was originally your kid.  While it’s potential grounds for a compelling story, it doesn’t really go anyway that grabs the player.  And after the plot twist, you’re given only a small handful of factions to play around with.  They tried to emulate the NV model of faction politics, but didn’t really go too far with that either.

To be fair, none of the BethSoft Fallout main stories have felt that fresh or compelling, it’s been more about the side quests.  And even them, only a small handful truly stuck out.  Many were still garbled messes are hastily looted from either past Fallout titles or from documents (like the Fallout Bible or Project Van Buren.)  You could argue that even the classic titles suffer quite a few plot hiccups along the way too.  Some quests feel unfinished and you don’t get the chance to fully explore ramifications of your actions from every angle; whether that be exploring all angles of the West Coast Enclave or facing the Master’s super-mutant army.  But those games allowed you to explore a character and develop them, rather than forcing their story down your throat at many turns.  Bethesda is that cheap and petty D&D Dungeon Master who railroads your party at every turn and chastises you with threats when you break away from their masterwork campaign… and by all means Fallout 4 is proof of that.  As a response, some of the first few mods have completely disabled the spoken dialogue from your character, as they felt like character creation was removed outside of aesthetics.  This is in addition the aforementioned speech mods, of course.

So, 4 has told us what Bethesda wants from a Fallout game.  But, it begs the question if it’s what the Fallout fans want from the franchise?  Sure, there’s a lot of great things the newer games have brought us.  It gives a streamlined combat experience with an awesome world to explore.  We can roam around and see countless sights as well as meet plenty of interesting characters.  It will take you a long time to run out of things to do.  That said, Bethesda is gaining a bad habit of making us play their story, while toting it as simply the best.  We’re constrained onto a railroad, where we have a small set of options to choose from; few of which feel remotely satisfying.  Before, we have Bethesda not trust gamers by using Immortal NPCs to tell their story, now we have many of the other mechanics doing the same to keep you on an on-rails ride.  So, please don’t assume I think Fallout is a bad game.  It’s not, it’s an amazing game.  It’s a game I’m going to play for a while, especially as more modding comes out.  That said, it doesn’t deliver the experience I want out of a Fallout game.  Thus, I don’t take it seriously as a Fallout title.  Just like with 3, I will mod the game into a goofy and fun filled farce of its former self.  Granted, I feel that Fallout has also become a farce of its former self already.  These are my thoughts and mine alone.

Do you feel the same?  Do you identify more with 4 than others?  Are you a staunch defender of the olden ways?  Is BethSoft the key to everything?  Let me know below!

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