In my last piece I confronted Fallout 4’s unfortunate bout of sexism. Part of why this is so problematic has to do with how Bethesda billed the piece as, essentially, a ‘gender aware’ game. Part of why this is so problematic is about how incredibly easy it would have been for them to avoid that gaffe. There are so many other ways Bethesda could have handled character creation and prologue that DON’T make the egregious error of stripping a female main character of the soldier’s identity. I’m not a published fiction author or game dev, but I can write three superior openings, in one sitting, in a couple of hours in front of my desktop machine at home. Continue reading Fallout 4: How She Should’ve Been A Soldier
Bethesda made a big deal about how romances wouldn’t differ in Fallout 4 based on your character’s gender. I was intrigued enough by the claim, and fresh enough from my 2nd playthrough of Mass Effect (this time as FemShep, who I agree delivers a better experience), that I decided my first playthrough of Fallout 4 would be with a female Sole Survivor. The character-creation experience was encouraging at first. The banter of a married couple in front of the mirror reminded me of the banter between the Lone Wanderer’s mom and dad during the birth sequence in Fallout 3. After modeling my Sole Survivor after my FemShep, I settled into the prologue ready to relive my Mass Effect glory days, only this time with more power armor and ghouls, and less Krogan and Asari.
I saw a uniform on a closet shelf and while the dress you wear by default was okay, I was keen to get the fatigue-action on. Mouse-over, click…
“I’m so proud of him.”
I talked before about how game mechanics need to support the themes of the game, the same as story, visuals, and all the other pieces do. When I heard you could build settlements in Fallout 4, I was very excited. Fallout games of yore featured settlements that had cropped up, towns made of junk that became important oases for travelers and merchant caravans in an otherwise desolate waste full of violence and danger. Being able to take a hand in building one? That’s a genuinely new gameplay experience, and an entirely new role never before seen in a Fallout game. The potential to explore the same themes from a fresh perspective is incredible.
When I first started working with Sturges to improve Sanctuary? I was, again, super stoked. I spent about an hour running around on my own initiative, clearing debris. Then all my work was swiftly undone by a crash. That’s right: I was so excited by the possibilities that I’d forgotten to nervously quicksave every few minutes, even though I was playing a Bethesda game in launch-condition. The potential for town building was that amazing, that engaging.
I talked last time about theme and how the various mechanics in the game need to support the same themes that are being driven by the visuals, story, and other parts of the game. Now I’ll discuss five specific mechanics in Fallout 4 and how I feel they do or do not get this job done.
Mechanics and theme are two parts of a game that need to work together, along with others, to give us a coherent experience. In addition, we approach subsequent titles in a franchise with certain expectations based on prior titles. In this two-parter, I’m going to dig into Fallout 4, which I previously reviewed as a decidedly inferior Fallout title, and discuss the mechanics of the game and how they contribute to the game’s thematic elements (or detract therefrom).
We know, before we start playing Fallout 4, that it’s going to look a lot like Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas. Fallout 3 broke the mold for Fallout games, but it was also the first title in the series from the new IP owner, Bethesda, so making a splash like that isn’t uncalled for. But this is Bethesda’s third go at the Fallout IP, and let’s face it, Bethesda is known for making one type of game. A lot of people like to call Bethesda’s handling of the Fallout universe “Oblivion/Skyrim with guns.” Yes, they’re busting Bethesda’s chops a bit when they say it, but it’s also said with a fair bit of affection. Oblivion and Skyrim are solid, well-loved games.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is an older title at this point and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided will be shipping next year (we hope, it’s been delayed until August now). I recently replayed Human Revolution in preparation for Mankind Divided’s eventual release, and because the director’s cut version which included the Missing Link DLC went on ludicrous Steam sale.
I bought Deus Ex: Human Revolution, originally, because of how much I adored the original Deus Ex. The sheer number of moments in the original game where I’d take an action I’d assume would be curtailed by the game’s design (as was so often the case in Half-Life or other titles) only to be rewarded by a fork in the story just utterly blew me away. Gaming has had branching storylines for a long time. My first encounter with it was Wing Commander. But Deus Ex had this uncanny ability to predict the moments when I might interfere with what was otherwise scripted events, and be ready for whatever I could throw at it. What it did especially well, was give me non-lethal, and indeed non-combat options to resolve conflicts.
I enjoyed parts of Fallout 4. I live in the Boston area, so playing on my home turf was a uniquely relatable experience. I enjoyed the witty, sassy, snarky one-liners from my companions. The shootout in Concord is probably some of the best storytelling, pacing and quest design in a Bethesda title. I loved the little touches, Fenway Park’s wall being kept green out of respect, the use of the old-school MTA logo, and so on. There’s a lot of great stuff in Fallout 4.
Unfortunately, the whole package is decidedly lacklustre. There’s a real danger that the runaway success of Fallout 4 will convince Bethesda that they did a good thing here, but Fallout 4 sold on the quality reputation of the past two titles and their DLC. Fallout 4 is a huge let-down, and I’m hoping they take a serious look at what went wrong with this game.