Fallout 4 is coming. Are you? If you’re still here, which I don’t blame you if you aren’t, I’d like to discuss the things Bethesda seems to be doing right this time round, as well as those unavoidable other things. At this point, we know very little, so we’ll limit ourselves to the three most probable changes, which have us excited and worried the most.
Note, that the best anyone can do at this point is an educated guess so some assumptions may be wrong. You know, don’t up and boycott the game because I mentioned somewhere that Dogmeat lacks testicle physics or something, as that might not be the case in the final product. Anyway, let’s start on a negative note so that we may end on a positive one.
Fallout 4 will introduce the voiced protagonist and the most remarkable part about that is how some view it as a sign of technological progress. Let me just quickly go ahead and blow their minds here: it’s not. Some developers just want to tell stories that revolve around a specific character, and others don’t [or don’t have Nolan North‘s number]. If they can voice everyone else in their game, voicing the player character is more a question of immersion or atmosphere than the supposed lack of access to this insanely classified know-how.
Bethesda voicing Fallout 4’s protagonist is not them getting with the times, it may actually be a very bad idea. Even assuming that it feels natural and the voice actor is not irritating and the constant commenting on shit is not annoying and is well written (yes, that’s a lot of ‘ands’), it’s giving your character his/her own personality, which may be very different from whatever you’d prefer. I mean, if you read comics, you’d probably had something else in mind for the ‘Batman voice’ than the way Christian Bale did it, and you probably like your way better. So why enforce this possibility:
Fallout 4 will have you play a character who talks his or her own way, not yours, but why? This is not the Witcher, which offers you your version of some other guy’s story. In Mass Effect, you are still your version of Commander Shepard, the great [though possibly massively dickish] hero fighting for the universe.
In a Fallout game, you are supposed to be your version of literally whoever the fuck you want. You get to create the character, name him, mold his appearance, set how smart and strong he is, make him a she, do good or fuck shit up worse than the nuclear apocalypse, and through it all, you hear the game refer to you as ‘you’…
…and now, you’ll be hearing this ‘you’ talking in the same random person’s voice. I’m not sure what that’s trying to achieve. Remember that Bethesda, famous for their dedication to immersion, does want the character to remain you, in Fallout 4, going as far as recording thousands of names so that NPC’s can address you by name. It seems that they are attempting to make the game both immersive and cinematic, which will result in the smashing success of neither.
There is a number of other considerations, which make this choice far from ideal, Fallout has historically encouraged replay and different character builds. Will your character sound the same regardles of his stats? How will this system affect quest modding? Can this be simply turned off by playing in first person? And if yes, then nevermind, as it’s all good and we’re just talking shit.
I’ve heard people state that Fallout 4 looks ugly, plasticky, and even too colorful. Rest assured that we’ll touch upon that last point shortly but let’s address the first two… ahem, first.
People who think this game looks ugly, need to remember two things. One is that it’s an open-world anything-goes RPG. Two, they need to remember what ugly looks like:
Fallout 4 might not be the best looking game this year – maybe not even last year or the year before it – but it’s quite a leap for the series, actually. People in Boston might not look any more ‘real’ than they did in DC, but they do look a hell of a lot more alive, with actual facial expressions that don’t always have that ‘I wonder if they can tell how stoned I am’ look of Fallout 3.
There is something everyone needs to understand about the new visuals. What they are really bothered by is the exaggerated, almost cartoony look, which isn’t due to the graphics being bad; it’s a conscious visual direction, which is very historically consistent with the art style of Fallout.
This art style flows well with the unique tone of the world of Fallout, particularly its’ crazy elements and the whole futuristic retro design to the mech and tech. And I have to say that I absolutely fucking love how that design style is more pronounced now, in everything from the ‘cleaner’ cars, to the wedgie-tight vault suit, to the smoother Pip Boy itself, and especially to the proper bulky Power Armor. That thing no longer looks like a few sheets of metal someone’s cool dad welded together from the crap behind the garage, it looks like a piece of advanced and dangerous technology, as it damn well should.
Fallout 4 looks like it’s bringing plenty of color as well, which might seem weird for a Fallout game. I realize that the series have always skimped on hues, for the sake of its’ bleak themes, but will you honestly miss the green tint? Why would you? I’m no physicist but I can tell you one thing with relative certainty: radiation is not green and it does not make things look green.
Don’t you panic, Fallout 4 does seem to feature devastated areas that are devoid of color, with dust and ash making things look like shit, but there is no reason the world shouldn’t have red and the sky shouldn’t be blue in all other places. Color will go a long way in offering variety to all the cool futuristic 50’s goodies we encounter and all the different places we visit.
From the looks of things, Bethesda is set on delivering an emotional, epic tale of a talking ‘you’ and your immortal dog (gee, I wonder if it will end up being important to the plot), which I admit, sounds like the most wonderful thing imaginable. Hell, I’ve always said that they needed to step their game way up in the story department, at least, so that there are no nonsense endings, even after they are fixed by DLC.
However, you might see a problem here after you hear Fallout 4 producer Todd Howard comment on the voiced protagonist choice: “We know we sacrificed some great storytelling [in Fallout 3 by allowing] the player to do whatever they want.”
Note the truly disturbing part: how he makes “do whatever they want” sound like a bad thing, as if to say “we’re not making that mistake this time.”
The worst thing Bethesda can do is have us choose between elaborate pre-set storylines, a la the Witcher, as opposed to letting us make entirely our own, as has been the case in Fallout. A thing about this series is that it’s not about a good story per se. Hell, more than one game has had the main plot revolve around a suitcase, which could rebuild civilization, if you “just add water and stir”.
Call me crazy but I’d violently argue that Fallout is at its’ best when it offers compelling, well written content, which reacts to the player in interesting ways, if one bothers to seek it out. At least so far, the series has been about the intriguing uncertainty hiding behind every crater and the thrill of discovering the post apocalyptic weirdness.
I don’t think that this is the right setting for a stirring emotional story arc, definitely not one to warrant the epic score presented in the trailer. The games have usually given you a reason, any reason, to go out and explore a world full of interesting characters and situations you wanted to get involved with, while a shitstorm loomed in the background. Your story were your actions, your choices, and the interplay (no pun) between you and the reactive world. It was precisely about giving you the freedom to do whatever the fuck you wanted. I really hope that it remains so.
Here’s one you need to approach with an open mind. I completely understand the fact that simplifying game systems by removing features is like whipping a bald eagle in the nuts with a burning American flag. It’s the worst thing ever. It’s dumbing down a game in order to appease the dumbass casual pre-teen shit-head, which is known to be shallow and disrespectful to the existing fanbase. We have that established. At least, the fact that it’s the common immediate reaction.
This is one of those rare cases when this reaction is wrong. It’s a crazy thing to say, considering that Bethesda is [probably] removing something so significant and complex looking…
… but I fully agree with their apparent decision to get rid of skills altogether [or redo them beyond recognition]. Now, look, I would prefer it if the new Fallout found a way to make better use of skills instead, but truth be told, the good ol’ Fallout skill screen stopped making sense the moment this became a real-time first person series.
Riddle me this, mr. old school gamer, what exactly does a number next to a ‘Small Guns’ skill mean in a first person shooter? Would a high number mean that the bullets would… what, go straighter? You are the one aiming, so what sense does a gun [in a good condition] disagreeing with your aim make? Will it wobble, despite the game asking you to rely on your own skills, just to insist that you suck, only to justify the skill in the game? Personally, I found that rather irritating in Fallout 3 and nothing but detrimental to the gameplay.
Do the bullets hurt more? How the hell do your skills with a weapon affect that? In the first few games, you could chuck it up to your little toon becoming more precise, but now? It should make no difference whether it’s me who shoots someone in a specific spot in their forehead or if it’s the world’s most skilled pistol handler. I don’t care how amazing the redneck is, he won’t make the poor bastard more dead by shooting in the same exact spot.
Even hacking is done by you, using your own brain and your own reflexes, so your character’s skills shouldn’t really affect how difficult a given hackable security system is. It should be easy or difficult depending on whether you’re hacking a nuclear missile or a calculator.
It’s really been just a question of whether you can attempt to hack into something [you have the level for it], or you can’t [your level is too low], and this can just as easily be accomplished with Perks, which is what Bethesda seems to be doing in Fallout 4.
Please, do remember, that I’m not claiming that whatever system Bethesda is planning for Fallout 4 is going to be perfect, but the existing Fallout skill system [although it has changed a lot] was originally created for a very very different type of game. Even in its’ altered state, it has not supplemented the gameplay or the overall game world for a very long while now. It’s time to move on.
For the life of me, I can’t figure out why the fuck the ‘dialogue wheel’ has become so popular. It’s another one of those odd things that’s suddenly the new norm for a modern video game, without a good reason for it. I can see why BioWare experimented with it for Mass Effect. They tried to create a cinematic spectacle at all costs, so they needed to make things seamless, without interrupting your attempts at sexing aliens.
Overall though, this system creates more problems than it solves, especially in a game like Fallout, where we expect to get some shit done via conversations. There are two possible side effects to expect here and both of them are diarrhea bad. We will either struggle with our characters saying a lot of unintended crap [as is usually the case with this system] in situations where we’d really rather they didn’t, or the game will only allow us to set a general course for our responses, as opposed to dialogue being a real role playing tool. Think about it, this is a series where you could [SPOILER] verbally convince a final boss to lose the game and kill himself! How would you imagine something like that, with responses like these?
Another thing to keep in mind is that we can’t have actual meaningful options for each conversation, so RPG’s have to disguise responses that yield the same results. And that’s fine, but with this ‘short answer’ wheel type of system, it becomes pointless.
In the responses above “Vault-Tec” and “Go on” (and maybe even “Good morning”) each will probably prompt the same exchange, but that’s while implying almost no difference in verbal style or attitude for the player whatsoever, whereas a full sentence response can convey a very different emotion or mood, still allowing us to roleplay, regardless of the actual effect it has.
This is possibly the most concerning of changes in Fallout 4, so far. Bethesda went after the cinematic feel to the interactions, sacrificing some of the most important features of the series. Again, if this is only the way things work in third-person, then I applaud them for offering options, and nevermind.
Ever since Fallout turned into a real-time first person action RPG – a fact we should all come to deal with by now – the gameplay has been half-assed to say the least. Bethesda has always had some sort of an ill-advised company tradition of making shitty combat, but they really outdid themselves with Fallout 3. My personal experience involved a lot of awkwardly slow strafing to no beneficial effect, while pessimistically pointing a weapon in a general direction of a target, then making a toy-gun sound, and checking the bottom of the screen for enemy health bar to see if the bullet actually hit close to where I was aiming.
No more, apparently. The suckage has been acknowledged by their creative director, Todd Howard. He claims that Bethesda are embracing the fact that there is a first person shooter in there and the fact that it should be [above all else] an enjoyable activity in the game, without any ‘RPG’ compromises. I say, excellent move.
Now, look, Mr. old school gamer, I’d much rather they turn combat into X-Com, and I’m not the biggest fan of first person shooters anyway, but if you are going to go for a certain type of gameplay, make it the most enjoyable version you can. And if you can’t, consult a professional or even hire one… which is exactly what Bethesda did: they consulted id Software and hired some people from Bungie!
The result is that people who got to see Fallout 4 at Gamescom 2015 claim that the combat already “… feels a lot more fluid, responsive, and quite simply fun than in previous two games. It also appeared to be fairly challenging…” We’re talking solid gunplay, terminal ballistics on character models, environmental factors like exploding barrels or what-not, and a brand new VATS.
VATS is no longer a blatant combat shortcut, being a cheap way to pause a fight and then pretty much end it. Fallout 4 simply slows time, instead of stopping it, making it a combat option, rather than a combat finisher. This means that you must plan a little more carefully [and quickly] when facing that rocket launcher wielding Supermutant, since he can still shoot back.
I haven’t even said anything about crafting. Bethesda lost their mind there. Not only can you now craft all sorts of weapons and trinkets, you can build entire fucking towns. If this game doesn’t grab you with its’ RPG elements and it’s place in the Fallout timeline and lore, you can be sure that you’ll find something to do. See for yourselves: