Hold onto your butts people. All of the signs are pointing towards a Fallout 4 announcement and the gaming community is collectively peeing its pants with excitement. Fallout 3 was a defining game of the last generation of consoles and it has been years since our last foray into the Fallout universe. But will it live up to this massive expectation and hype?
Bethesda has this bad habit of scaling back games in a series. If we look at the choices between the Elder Scrolls games, from Morrowind to Oblivion then Skyrim, we see a massive decrease in the number of weapons, armour and skills. Everything about Skyrim feels like babies first RPG. Morrowind has 22 types of weapon for each material group while Skyrim has only 8 in the vanilla game. Even Alchemy is restricted to designated tables rather than the portable kits used in prior games and weapons and armour have no durability.
Even the story and setting feel sub-par. In Morrowind, you step out from a boat into this alien world of strange landscapes sand monsters. The Siltstrider is one of the first things you see and the foreignness of it all really draws you in. There are no scripted events after the character creation through the first building. You are thrown out into this world to explore and survive. In Oblivion we begin underground where we get involved with an escape from evil cultists as you try to protect the Emperor. Then you hack your way through goblins until finally emerging out on the surface to a beautiful sight of lush forests that took everyone’s breath back when the game was released. This reveal of the world is also used in Fallout 3 to great effect. From there it is a fair walk to the first story mission in Chorrol, allowing you to get distracted and explore. Then we have Skyrim. You’re on a cart, unable to move, driving down a path through forests. There are no beautiful vistas or alien sights. Just trees. Then we get to Helgen, are saved by a dragon and run a gauntlet of heavily scripted tracks without deviation until we emerge from a cave into the main game. From here it is a two minute walk to Riverwood, the first location we need to go, then another short walk to Whiterun. This offers little opportunity to wander and absorb the world.
The quests themselves are pretty bland. The main story is: you are saved from certain death by a dragon and discover that you are actually a Dragonborn. For no real reason you decide that the best course of action is to kill the dragons. You then learn about your powers, find out how to kill the big bad boss dragon, find where said dragon is, then proceed to kill him. There are no plot twists or emotional characters. It feels more like a side quest than the integral essence of the narrative. The civil war story felt tiny, no where near the great conflict that the characters spoke of and every single guild quest-line was identical. You become a new member of the guild, are sent on a routine mission that turns out to be something greater than anyone involved imagined, things escalate and the current guild leader gets killed, you fix the problem and then get chosen as the new leader. In previous games you really had to work for your ranks. If you were leader of a guild in those games then you had travelled back and forth across the land a hundred times and had butchered an entire army of hostiles to work your way up the rank ladder. It meant something.
But I’m digressing. This isn’t a Skyrim review. Also, I’ll add that Skyrim isn’t a bad game. I’ve racked up over 300 hours on Steam from Skyrim, (Though that is solely down to mods). Without context, Skyrim is a good game. When compared to its predecessors, it is a hollow experience unless supported by a whole host of mods.
So what does this mean for a possible Fallout sequel? 3 was the first game developed b Bethesda so we cannot look back at the series’ history and New Vegas was developed by Obsidian. There was never a massive choice of armour parts like in the Elder Scrolls and weapons crafting was already restricted to workbenches. Looking back, Fallout 3 was an indicator for how Skyrim would be streamlined mechanically but since it was not stripping back on features, people didn’t care. Mechanically, there are not many features that could be cut back in 4. As such, I am not concerned about 4 being reduced down for the lowest common denominator like Skyrim was as 3 was already geared toward a casual audience without being insulting to ‘hardcore’ gamers.
I am also not concerned with the main story falling flat. Where in the Elder Scrolls games it has always been about cataclysmic events involving gods, demonds and the potential end of the world, Fallout has always been about the simple act of human survival. The end of the world has been and gone, leaving the characters to pick up the pieces and rebuild. We as players relate to it because the Fallout games are very, well… human. The quest is to survive. To find clean water, to wipe out raiders and mutants who threaten life and to find areas free of radiation. The simple act of finding a plant is a big event, achieving drinkable water a goal that people fight and die over.
It is also a personal story about your character. You are still a custom character like in The Elder Scrolls but in both 3 and New Vegas, you are working toward your own goals completely outside of what others want. In Skyrim and all of the Scrolls games, you really are a nameless shadow. You do quests for others and save the world time and again but you never have agency or motivation. In Fallout 3 you are trying to find your father and in New Vegas you are trying to piece together your past while searching for the man who shot you. Your character has their own goals that makes their actions believable. As long as Bethesda sticks with these themes, I have no doubt that 4 will have a great and engaging story.
I am cynical and jaded, both about modern games and life in general. But you know what, I have seen a few examples that good games can still be made. I am playing through The Witcher 3 at the moment and that proves that you can still create great RPGs that are accessible to all yet still a challenge and an enjoyable experience. Bloodborne and the Souls games have shown that new ideas can work and that having a challenging game will not mean that the game will not sell well. I am surprisingly optimistic about how Fallout 4 will turn out. Bethesda certainly can make great games and we as gamers have begun to show producers that we are a mature, intellectual audience and not simply the cash-laden inbreds that we have been taken for over the last few years.
So, of course be down to earth and rational, but also do not fear to be excited about something you love. Grab your ticket for the hype train but understand that all trains can develop faults. Just keep your fingers crossed and hope.