Fallout 3 was one of those rare triple A titles that among slogs of copy-pasteable game mechanics, those detestable ‘hide behind this shit and then shoot’ games, actually felt unmistakably unique. Too unique almost, to the point where you’d half expect Fallout 4 to tow the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ line, but begrudgingly play it anyway because ultimately it’s a good game.
Now we’ve all had the chance to fully explore Fallout 4, there is a sense of playing through gritted teeth for many fans. It’s not because Fallout hasn’t changed enough, it’s because it has lost what made Fallout 3 (and New Vegas) great and replaced it with mediocrity.
Initially I set out to make a character inspired by what I remembered of Fallout 3’s ability to completely fabricate a unique character in an immersive world. After playing most games as the default good guy who helps everyone and speaks to them respectfully, I decided to play through Fallout 4 as a baseball bat-swinging charmer with a shit-eating grin and a penchant for pissing people off.
Immediately I realised this wasn’t going to go the way I planned, as the perk system and lack of level cap would mean my character would pretty quickly become God of the Wasteland. The extremely limited dialogue also prevented my character from coming to life. The shit-talking character I was hoping to build was offered a ‘sarcastic’ option which initially seemed exciting but often felt like it had been lifted out of an 80s action B-movie, so I was left choosing the “yeah okay sure I’m a good guy I’d love to help” option because ‘sarcastic’ was just pointless filler dialogue.
The good/neutral/evil karma scale has been ditched, and there’s no major events that make you feel as though your actions have an impact on the Commonwealth. At a certain point in the Main Story Questline you choose a faction, but it’s really not cohesive and adversely affects the quality of the story. It doesn’t feel as though once you choose a faction, that is the path you will follow and there’s no going back. It’s not completely obvious where each faction’s moral compass points either. One faction seems evil but isn’t necessarily and you could probably remove another faction from the game entirely and it would be no different.
It feels as though a group of teenage boys have been told to come up with a post-apocalyptic script in a minimum of 500 words and they’ve delivered a hurried and excitable presentation complete with vocalised sound effects of WHOOSH, BOOM PSHHHHH etc. and ended with “so…yeah, Fallout 4.”
Possibly the most frustrating thing about Fallout is that it tells you NOTHING. I’m all for a bit of digging in order to find some cool things out, but Bethesda have handed us an incomplete game, tutted like a Yorkshireman and said “ta for t’fifty quid, ‘ere’s yer game now FUCK OFF.”
My Google search history goes a little something like this:
How to find companion Fallout 4
How to do supply lines Fallout 4
How to build houses Fallout 4
Where the fuck has Dogmeat gone Fallout 4
How to even Fallout 4
One thing Fallout 4 does do well (to an extent) is when it acts more like a survival horror game. Travelling through the Glowing Sea, you get the choice of being blasted by the radiation storm and nearly dying but being better armoured against the barely visible enemies, or donning your hazmat suit but running the risk of getting battered by a roaming pack of radscorpions. One way or the other, it feels legitimately dangerous and tense to the point you feel your shoulders seize up. Entering an abandoned military training complex that is crammed with feral ghouls and attempting to stealth your way through at low levels without any relevant perks feels like walking on the edge of a razorblade, and getting spotted is that special “fuck… fuuck… FUCK FUCK FUCK!” moment that really legitimises a gaming experience.
This is all well and good, if you can get past the fact that within the first 10 minutes the game throws you in a power suit and pits you against the previously terrifying Death Claw, which now looks like a pathetic pile of mash thanks to your minigun. It happens before you have a chance to come to terms with the Commonwealth and what treasures, dealings and horrors it holds, potentially ruining the fearfulness of a post-apocalyptic wasteland for those who aren’t fanboys or apologists already excusing Bethesda for giving us a polished turd.
Fallout 4, taken at face value, is a good game. Managing your settlements and building post-apocalyptic havens gets pretty addictive once you know what you’re doing and the weapon/armour upgrade system is intricate and interesting.
It ultimately fails because its predecessors are unforgettable examples of a franchise that really hit the mark. Amongst games like Borderlands, Far Cry and the like, Fallout 4 sits comfortably and even excels, but to accept Fallout 4 for what it is, is to accept mediocrity. For a franchise that seemed destined for next-gen greatness, that’s a depressing thought.