Fallout 4 Review - Bethesda's Formula is Not Aging Well
Fallout 4 is not a bad game. In fact, it's a really good game. It's just not good enough when you consider who made it. Bethesda's unwillingness to adapt with the ever-evolving open world role playing game dynamics, improved upon by their competitors, will ultimately be their undoing should they not find a way to innovate.
Bethesda Games Usually Have Uninspired Stories
Fallout 4 is no exception to this rule. Fallout 4's story has the strongest start compared to other Bethesda games I've played. But, just like all their other games, it ends with a whimper.
To avoid spoilers, I'll describe the story in general terms. Fallout 4, like other Bethesda games , is a meshing together of choose-your-own-adventure scenes that feel more obligatory than engaging.
When you couple this issue together with contrived dialog scenes that are parochial in their delivery and clumsy in their control, you end up with yet another Bethesda RPG that fails to make the player care about the characters or the world around them.
An Unbalanced Leveling System
I was extremely excited to hear that Fallout 4 was removing the obligatory level cap found in previous games. I thought I'd finally be able to explore the wasteland, fight enemies and level my character to the max. Although I applaud Bethesda for making this move, and hope they sustain it in future games, they ultimately struggled with balancing and providing the player with the proper incentive to max level their character.
Like Witcher 3, Fallout 4 gives very limited experience points (XP) for killing enemies roaming the world, regardless of how powerful they are. This forced me to spend time playing through the story before I was ready to in order to achieve my leveling goals.
I spent roughly 40 hours simply roaming the wasteland trying to level my character. Friends who were playing alongside me as part of our community's RPG Club were able to level their characters higher in half the time by simply playing the story. This problem is made worse by the fact that Bethesda games are still married to dynamic enemy control algorithms that don't allow you to have many enemy encounters as you traverse the world at large.
To make matters worse, even if you are willing to put in 100 hours grinding your character to level 52 like me, you'll find that the game begins to lack challenge at an increasing rate. By the time I reached level 40, most monsters couldn't really hang with me. Sure, explosives could still take me out quickly and Deathclaws still packed a punch. But all of those scenarios were easy to avoid with ranged weapons.
The Crafting System Showed Promise
Overall, Fallout 4's crafting system was a solid first attempt for Bethesda attempting to incorporate other AAA gaming trends into their games. It certainly gives the player incentive to actually collect the materials they come across as they explore the world around them. Despite some of the tedium that comes with carry limits (carry limits which I modded because I hate carry limits in RPGs), Bethesda did a solid job of adding some meta game to the experience.
The crafting system did lack some intuitiveness; a problem that could have been rectified with some on-screen prompts. But, it was never overly difficult to figure out how to build the things I wanted to build.
We Need Better Combat
I understand that Fallout is an RPG first and a first or third-person-shooter second. But the dynamic dice rolls associated with killing enemies often works against the immersion Bethesda tries to create with Fallout 4.
For example, if I target a huge Mirelurk Queen with a Fat Man Mini Nuke Launcher at 100 meters away, I expect the nuke to at least do some damage (if not completely melt the monster to mush) once I fire. Unfortunately, thanks to RPG dice rolls, I can't tell you how many nukes I fired that not only missed the target, but flew through it's body without hitting it or at least doing any splash damage. These type of RPG mechanics just don't fit with an FPS.
In the future, if Fallout games are to include first person shooting, they need to employ some of the physics associated with FPS games and tone down the dice roll dynamics to make the game feel more grounded.
The Vault Tech Assisted Targeting System also felt under-powered. Even after leveling as necessary, I still found my character missing shots from 25 meters away. This basically relegated me to going full-on FPS mode even in situations where I preferred a more tactical approach.
Exploration Needs the Element of Discovery
This is a concept that Bethesda can't seem to get right. If you're going to throw me into an open world, you have to give me enough incentives to explore it. Games that get this right provide incentive by rewarding the player with XP or gear that entices them to explore beyond their current surroundings. I may be willing to brave an area with Radscorpions at a low level if I know I'm going to get a sweet laser rifle in the process. For some reason, Bethesda has never really understood this and they make rewarding loot drops too rare for my tastes.
While playing Fallout 4, I remember finding an abandoned lighthouse at one of the far corners of map. I thought for sure I'd find some really good gear after braving the hostile territory to get there. Once I reached the top, I picked a master lock, excited to retrieve my reward. All I was given was a revolver pistol that was no where near as strong as any of the weapons I was already carrying.
This was not an isolated occurrence. It happened repeatedly as I played through the game (partially because of dynamically designed loot drops). As a result, I was discouraged from doing one of my favorite things to do in all of videogames...Explore.
As I said in the beginning, I believe Bethesda's going to begin struggling to attract players to their RPGs if they don't evolve their formula and the engine that supports it. Fallout 4 would be an amazing game if it weren't made by people who could have clearly done a better job than Bethesda did here. If anything, I hope Fallout 4 was just a holdover game designed to wet our appetite while they work on something truly remarkable. If not, I expect developers like CD Projekt Red to take the lead with open-world RPGs in the next five to ten years.