Did Bethesda Play It Safe With Fallout 4?
Unquestionably, Fallout 4 was one of last year’s standout games, and perhaps one of the most eagerly anticipated sequels in the last decade. Though gamers had little doubt that Fallout 4’s release was imminent, confirmation by way of Bethesda’s press conference during E3 2015 sent fans into a frenzy. Bethesda absolutely nailed their release announcement, and the competence with which the reveal was handled played a central role in garnering attention for the game. The conference had everything; grandeur, surprise, the anticipation of the inevitable announcement, and it even that quintessential “and it’s available right now!” moment as Fallout Shelter was revealed in tandem. Excitement for the game post E3 was elevated to near fever pitch, and Fallout 4 looked certain to go on to become an instant classic.
Commercially, Fallout 4 obliterated its competition, destroying Call of Duty Black Ops 3‘s 2015 sales record, and going on to earn an astounding £750,000,000 in 24 hours. Those numbers are astronomical and shouldn’t be underestimated, but given the franchise’ huge fanbase, the 7-year wait, and the superb marketing (Dion’s The Wanderer has to be up there with the best trailer music choice in recent times), Fallout 4’s record-breaking figures were almost an inevitability. What is perhaps a far more interesting outcome was the games somewhat mixed critical reception. To say the game was received poorly would be a gross overstatement, but the game was divisive in that many felt it merely met expectation, rather than exceeded it. Essentially, Fallout 4 is more Fallout 3, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just didn’t move the series forward to the level that some were perhaps expecting.
Nobody would deny that Fallout 4 added some detailed and entertaining new mechanics, and that the game expanded what we had seen in prior Fallout games to a truly impressive scale. Indeed, the staggeringly detailed settlement building system added a dimension we hadn’t seen before in an open world RPG. Fallout 4’s building mechanic might not quite be at Minecraft level, but it still had enough depth that one felt an ability to creatively express themselves with their own unique design choices. Perhaps more to the point, the notion that every interactive item across the entire world map could be broken down into materials and serve a purpose, where in prior Fallout games they had just existed for the sake of simulation, gave a whole new meaning to loot. Managing and collecting resources had never meant so much in a game before, and the ability to build settlements certainly gave players a new incentive to engage in the familiar RPG level progression.
Similar to Fallout 4’s comprehensive settlement building, the games weapon modification system also featured customisation on an epic scale; the various available modifications made possible an almost baffling number combinations. Fallout 4 Weapons could all be broken down for materials as well, suddenly giving the collection of weapons and items, even ones already possessed, a new value. It was a hoarder’s nightmare!
Certainly, Fallout 4 gave gamers a virtual smorgasbord of new mechanics and systems to add replay value, but these did little to improve on Fallout’s core gameplay other than simply padding out an all too familiar RPG loop. In many ways these complaints echo a similar issue that many gamers take with Ubisoft titles such as Far Cry Primal and Assassins Creed, the latest versions of those games enjoyable and entertaining experiences, but hardly a drastic step beyond what has come before. Of course, the difference here is the time between those games is comparatively short, whereas Fallout 4 carried the weight seven years of expectation, and a reputation for innovation after Fallout 3 moved the franchise forward to stunningly. Gamers might not have been asking for such a stratospheric shift in perspective and gameplay as we had seen during the jump between the series’ first and second titles, but were we right to demand something more than just Fallout 3 on steroids?
Fallout 4’s narrative too, which was solid but hardly ground breaking, felt a little lacklustre and conservative in its execution. Yes, it was an enjoyable playthrough, and some of the moments, particularly the reveal of Father, felt poignant and memorable, but for the most part it followed a familiar path. The games various factions also represented rather generic ideals, never quite delivering any sort of meaningful message or provocative actions. Ironically, the up and coming Fallout 4 DLC expansions look far more inventive and interesting than the main game’s narrative; the more whimsical and entertaining themes of Fallout 4: Automatron, and the mysterious locale of Far Harbour almost make the main game seem a little bland. It’s a shame that some of these more alternative and somewhat more risky themes were not included in the main story arc of Fallout 4.
To question a game that features such hugely impressive depth and scope in the manner that Fallout 4 does almost feels a little brattish, but the inescapable truth of the matter was that, in many ways, the game felt formulaic and predictable. Ultimately, in almost every department, Fallout 4 felt like Fallout 3. Granted it was an improved, updated, and better overall game, but similar to its predecessor absolutely. After the superbly detailed and immersive worlds seen in recent titles such as The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Fallout 4 felt comparatively outdated and stale. There is very little that is compelling about being given fifty side quests that all feel exactly the same, with not even varying dialogue to disguise repetition. As a result, the world of Fallout 4 never felt all that reactive and engaging in the same way as other open world games have in recent times.
Fallout 4 is very good game, in fact it’s right up there with the best experiences, not just in 2015, but across the whole current generation. Frustratingly, it just isn’t one of the great gaming experiences of all time, and that really is a shame because after the immense popularity of Fallout 3, and Bethesda’s ice cool handling of the games marketing and release, we all really wanted it to be the Fallout series definitive title and the instant classic that it should have been.