Sorry, but I liked Fallout: New Vegas better than Fallout 4
So, it’s been almost two months since Bethesda graced the world with yet another open world masterpiece in their grand tradition. The latest gem from Bethesda Softworks, Fallout 4, has been wowing critics and destroying the personal lives of fans since it was released on November 11. Finally, enough time has passed that the initial awe of any Bethesda release has worn off and people have begun trying to place this newest opus in the catalog of great Bethesda titles.
Certain new additions to the gameplay, like extra layers of weapon customization and the ability to construct a settlement from the ground up, make Fallout 4 a unique (and frickin’ awesome) addition to the canon. However, the game isn’t without it’s flaws, and fans have been quick to point them out extensively and at great length. Seriously, just check out r/Fallout if you want a healthy dose of critical commentary.
When the dust settles, though, how does Fallout 4 compare to the previous entries in the series? If you’re literate (and why would you be here if you weren’t), then you already know my thoughts.
Most people would probably praise Fallout 3 as the pinnacle of the series, but New Vegas and Fallout 3 are so close in their construction that it’s really a quibble. To say you preferred one of those titles is just expressing a preference for branching narratives verses something more carefully constructed, it’s the choice between a gray-scale color palate or a sun-soaked wasteland. I personally prefer things a little ring-a-ding-ding-ier if you catch my drift, but Fallout 3 is still an equally worthwhile title.
Fallout 4, however, is a whole other beast entirely, and while it’s exceptional, it still doesn’t quite meet the same level of perfection in Bethesda’s previous Fallout games. Here are my thoughts.
Real quick: The list below isn’t inclusive. If I missed something, or you totally disagree with me, please feel free to explain why you’re wrong in the comments below!
A Quick (But Obligatory) Note Before I Bash a Bethesda Game
Folks, Bethesda Softworks games are all universally amazing. Fallout 4 is no exception to this rule. It’s important to make that clear before we go around talking smack about a Bethesda Game.
Think of it like this: when compared to The Godfather and The Godfather II, Godfather III is totally lackluster. But it’s still a fantastic film. It’s the same way with Fallout 4 when it’s compared with Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas. Heck, Fallout 4 is probably better than Godfather III when it comes down to it. But, I digress.
The point is, no matter what negative things are said about Fallout 4 below, it’s still a wonderful game one of the best titles released this year.
Now, on to the abuse.
HEAD’S UP: IF YOU HAVEN’T FINISHED THE PLOT OF FALLOUT 3, FALLOUT: NEW VEGAS, OR FALLOUT 4, YOU MIGHT WANT TO TURN BACK NOW.
The Plot Is Just a Cobbled Mish Mash Of Both Previous Games
In Fallout 3, you play a worried son striking out into the Wasteland of D.C. to find his father. Along the way, your personal quest to find your family is enveloped by a battle between the noble Brotherhood of Steel and the nefarious Enclave for control of the Capital Wasteland’s water supply. While the rest of the game offers the same variation on quests as the rest of Bethesda’s properties, the main quest follows a strict path that sees you ultimately deciding between providing clean water to the citizens of D.C. or killing everyone but the bad guys.
In Fallout: New Vegas, you play a courier who — in the opening credits — is shot in the face and left for dead. By some miracle, you survive and set out across the Mojave in search of the man who put a bullet in you. Along the way, you become embroiled in a turf war between several warring factions.
Your job is to shoot the a-hole who tried to off you and then determine the course of events that will alter the future of the Mojave Wasteland. You can actually choose between several end games in New Vegas, deciding between various shades of evil as you pick and choose which faction to side with.
Now, personally, I prefer the irradiated, blackjack-filled corners of the Mojave Wasteland. Playing as the unattached courier made it easier for me to take the game at my own pace, as opposed to having an overarching quest that feels so urgent that ignoring it seems like a real dick move. Since New Vegas’ courier had no family and only a purely personal stake in the events at hand, playing him or her as various characters both good and evil felt more natural. Meanwhile, when you’re a kid searching for his pop, making amoral decisions seems out of character. That’s my personal preference.
Also, I liked the gambling in New Vegas. Maybe a little too much.
Now, in Fallout 4, you embark on a heroic quest to save your stolen kid, a reverse on the plot of Fallout 3 that — quite honestly — seems just lazy where it’s supposed to feel poignant and nostalgic. Again, though, the player is confronted with a quest that feels like it should take priority over, you know, having fun. Save your kid. If you let yourself get sidetracked, you’re a bad parent and a worse human being. However, like
However, like New Vegas, at the turn, your story shifts from personal quest to another turf war, this time over the charred remains of the greater Boston area a.k.a. the Commonwealth.
In other words, the story of Fallout 4 is a mixture of 3’s hero’s quest and New Vegas’ narrative structure. Another way to say that is that in Fallout 4, they took the most popular bits of the previous two titles’ stories and slapped them together with a new coat of paint.
And that's boring, guys. Boring.
Can We Get a Tiny Bit Of Instruction, Please?
It’s a good thing that I’ve played a lot (A. LOT.) of Bethesda games in my history because Fallout 4 is not a game for newcomers. As a veteran, things like V.A.T.S. and customization and even building settlements made a kind of sense to me. Had this been my first Bethesda experience, however, I would have spent most of my time perusing Google in the opening hours so that I could learn the game from benevolent players willing to explain what the heck was going on.
V.A.T.S. Of Use
V.A.T.S., in particular, is essential to the Fallout gameplay experience. As players are aware, in order to compensate for the garbage gunplay, the developers a one-button mechanism that slows down time and allows players to pick and choose where there next few shots go. Since the game’s combat is determined purely by under-the-hood dice rolls — as opposed to actual skill in combat — this slow-down mechanic is absolutely necessary to avoid pulling your hair out while storming through the wastes.
And there’s zero mention of V.A.T.S. in the game’s tutorial.
A Clean, Well-Lighted Place
While those players willing to follow up with the Minutemen quests and then hunt down Sturges for the Sanctuary mission do get a tutorial on base building (i.e., you’re shown the basics of keeping your settlers alive), there’s no way to seek extra instruction on the incredibly in-depth process of building the perfect settlement. Players are expected to learn the finer points of construction through a process of exhaustive trial and error. When the building process itself is pretty tedious (at least on consoles), the combination can make one of Fallout 4’s fairly unattractive.
Okay, the entire Perk system in Fallout has always been a touch convoluted, but in Fallout 4, you’re given zero instruction on what to do when you’re confronted with an entire poster of possibilities. For lots of players, it’s taken several character builds (again, largely trial and error) to finally get the hang of the new perk system. That’s dozens of hours lost to fidgeting with a system that should be explained clearly from the beginning.
You Can Be An A-Hole, But You’re Still A Good Guy
One of the biggest complaints from players (at least from the lone wanderers who lurk on Reddit) is the inability to play the game as a Raider. These folks want the option to bring death, destruction and fear to the Commonwealth, thriving on a wave of murder and conquest. Sounds pretty cool, right? Well, not if you’re working at Bethesda. The Fallout developers have limited a player’s ability to control their own morality to greater lengths than ever before.
The Karma Equation
In previous games, you could never be super evil, but Bethesda did employ a karma system in Fallout 3 and New Vegas that offered different bonuses for reaching various checkpoints on either end of the spectrum. This allowed some players to be total a-holes whose evil would prohibit them from even interacting with some NPC’s; of course, the goody-two-shoes in the game playing population would never be able to interact with local scum and villainy.
In Fallout 4, however, no such system exists. Players are never really ostracized because of past behavior. Feel free to mow down everyone in that settlement. Preston Garvey is still your buddy. Murder your way through Goodneighbor and the Brotherhood of Steel are still down to hang with you. In other words, there’s no behavior that will limit your options. Unless of course you kill a player who would have otherwise given you a mission. Then you can’t play that mission. Beyond that, though, no matter how despicable your actions, the world will always greet you as a savior.
See No Evil
From a plot standpoint, previous titles also employed certain factions whose ruthless tactics appealed to more evil-leaning players. The Enclave was pretty mean, for example, and New Vegas’ Caesar’s Legion worked from a hierarchy of strength and brutality. These groups allowed players to access their darker side. After all, the Fallout universe has no Dark Brotherhood equivalent with which to sate your wicked tastes, so some folks need an outlet.
Fallout 4 has no outlets. Not even the game’s supposed big bad, The Institute, is truly diabolical. Sure, they have that whole complete control (and mild slavery) thing going against them, but the Brotherhood of Steel are fine with genocide, and the Railroad is a group of radicals who devalue human life. Every faction, though, has their positive points, too.
In other words, there are no real clear cut evil options to side with in the game, which limits a gamer’s ability to craft the character they really want.
You’re Weren’t Really Into All That Reading, Anyway
Maybe blame this development on Bioware …
In keeping with the simplified dialogue wheel popular in other open world games, Bethesda dropped the popular interaction system of Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas in favor of something that looks like this:
The option wheel, here, basically equates to:
- (Y) = get more info
- (X) = the player spurs the guy to keep talking
- (B) = the player says something rude, the guy responds, keeps talking
- (A) = the player says something polite, the guy responds, keeps talking
That’s essentially how every conversation in Fallout 4 plays out. The player is allowed to add some flavor to their “yes” responses — flavor that ranges from “sarcastic” to dickhead — before the NPC plunges forward with their thought. There’s no illusion of interaction, here.
Meanwhile, both of the previous Fallout games featured dialogue that looked like this:
Quick side note: Remember when you could simply load points into your Charisma skill and reliably breeze through conversations as opposed to languishing on load screens as you save scum your way to positive dialogue outcomes?
See, there were sometimes as many as six, seven, or even eight possible responses to an NPC’s prompt, and each was a complete sentence that provided total context for the player’s response. Everyone had character, and (maybe best of all) the player was allowed to read and consider the ramifications of every response before moving forward. That last bit — the “considering the ramifications” bit — was extremely important if prior games because, remember, it was possible to actually alienate your colleagues and potential allies through your actions and dialogue choices.
The result is a Fallout game where the conversations have little to no weight, they merely a prelude to the action, which, if you’ll remember, is not this game’s strong suit.
We’ll keep it short, because, sheesh, this got lengthy. To summarize:
In Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, players were compelled to watch their step and commit to their choices because those actions had real consequences. They had the freedom to act like total monsters if they so chose, because they’re adults and that’s how they want to play their game.
In Fallout 4, Bethesda has opted to strip down the role-playing aspects of the title and with it has gone the sense of choice and the general excitement behind most conversations. Even further, this shift has destroyed the players’ ability to channel their inner dark side. The result is a huge game with multiple branching plot lines that still feels somehow confining.