Falling out with Fallout

I love Fallout. The series manages to pull at so many strings and not fall too far short of expectations. My first foray into the world of Fallout was Fallout 3 on the Xbox 360. It was an odd leap for my brain to make and for me to go on and fall in love with. The cover of the game doesn’t suggest a first-or-third person open world RPG set in an alternate universe in which nuclear bombs and nuclear power became the norm.  The back cover suggests a game similar to the plethora of cover based shooters set in various wars – CoD, Battlefield and the like. Games that aren’t my thing at all. Having fallen head first into Bethesda’s Elder Scroll series, I started branching out and ended up at Fallout. On a whim I picked it up.

Why did I wait so long? I was hooked almost as soon as I pressed New Game. It starts you at the beginning, your birth, and grows the player and the character at the same time. As I worked my way out of the Vault, I was experiencing the same things my character was; the confusion of the Vault system, the problems with confined spaces, and one of the most memorable moments in my gaming life – stepping out of the Vault. You and your character are both blinded by the sunlight. You are both astounded by the Wasteland. And you both go running towards Megaton for fear of being killed in those first, early minutes. And so it went on, the hours flying by as I sank deeper and deeper into the Fallout universe. Much like my time with the Elder Scrolls, I found myself hunting out more and more information, this time about Vaults, the Brotherhood of Steel, or perhaps the Big M.T.

A few years later I bought a copy of Fallout: New Vegas, not technically a sequel, but for all intents and purposes, a sequel to Fallout 3. Set in a different area – New Vegas, your story is entirely different. You begin with your death. Or your not quite death. You aren’t thrown headfirst into a world you know nothing about. Except you are because it seems your character has forgotten everything, including their name. Pre death you were in the middle of an important delivery. Interrupted, you now set out to find out just what the hell you were supposed to deliver. Although I prefer Fallout 3, I was still sucked into the New Vegas lore. I’ve started new game after new game in both, playing different factions and character builds, ignoring major questlines to seek out hidden places, and still return if I need a 50’s atomic kick.

Skip forward to the E3 announcement of Fallout 4 (see the official trailer here). The gaming world went semi-wild, despite there having been information leaks in the weeks prior. I watched it, absorbed it all, got chills, and then felt a sad twinge of disappointment. It was good to see a new Fallout, in a new area, with new allies and things to see. What surprised me most in that trailer was the colours. Fallout and, more generally, atomic annihilation, isn’t associated with colours other than atomic yellow and a nice shade of radioactive green. But with Fallout 4, it seemed we were going to see reds, blues and every shade under the sun. The justification seemed to be that Boston (the new area) wasn’t hit as hard by the bombs as the DC Wasteland from Fallout 3, and we weren’t in the Mojave Desert of New Vegas.

On release, my laptop was just about able to run Fallout 4 at its lowest settings. I would occasionally use my brothers more robust PC but I generally didn’t play much of it. One of the patches wrecked my laptop’s abilities to play it and so Fallout 4 went unloved by me until recently. I finally bought a PS4 and joined the current generation of console gamers. I paid a handsome £1.70 for a copy of Fallout 4 and ploughed through the parts I had played before. Something felt amiss, but I put it down to having played that part before.

Since then, it hasn’t left my PS4 disc drive, and I haven’t really played much else. And yet I still have this sense of disappointment and ennui. It doesn’t thrill me in the same way Fallout 3 did, and doesn’t have the faction, karma and personality changes New Vegas brought with it. The ‘innovations’ Fallout 4 contained were too similar to the progress Skyrim had; changes to the way conversations are had, more ‘Radiant AI’ missions, smoother and refreshed graphics, changes in items, crafting, houses, romance to name a few. No longer is it the only post-apocalyptic, post nuclear RPG – its a sequel to two of the most well loved games on the planet, and there are alternatives if its not quite what you are looking for.

Crafting for me, is a change/addition to the universe that I’m not hugely keen on. I find it an annoyance to be honest. It makes little sense in terms of your character – their priories flick between finding their kidnapped baby to suddenly constructing farms and buildings. Preston Gravy  Garvey has very little to say other than send you to do his dirty work. Yeah sure Preston, I’ll go save a settlement from raiders that live most of the way across the map. I don’t have anything else to do. After all, that’s exactly why I’m kitted out to blow a Super Mutant Behemoth up. Crafting does make use of all the junk and ‘salvage’ lying around the wastes. Junk that you otherwise wouldn’t pick up. Junk that you now have to carry around with you until you can dump it on a companion or at a workbench. Junk that you wouldn’t have picked up in Fallout 3 or NV where the crafting system didn’t exist beyond some basics. To those defending crafting and settlement construction; great, you do you, but I don’t see what it adds to the game beyond forced longevity and me not being able to fill my pockets with valuable stuff. Also having to build a stealthy character with more strength.

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Building beds is not what I want from a Fallout game. From: http://cdn.mos.cms.futurecdn.net/541cc1db6b3f74223007eda4b05e3a8e.jpg

I find the Commonwealth to be an odd place. As I mentioned above, it’s very colourful (compare the screenshots above of Fallout 3 and 4). Cars and advertising boards lay broken and scattered around, and Red Rocket fuel stations have left Red Rockets (ugh) poking into the sky. The first major city you come across (in fact, most of the larger towns) have boarded up but colourful houses in tasteful shades of blue and green.Compared with the various shades of grey in Fallout 3, and the vast brownness of New Vegas, Fallout 4 is a shock for the system. Do I resent it being so cheery and bright? No. But I’m not entirely convinced by it either. Given how long those colours have been sitting in the sunlight, and the radiation they were exposed to, and the lack of upkeep, how are they so bright still? It feels like a falsehood. Petty thing to moan about but its something that bugs me.

My final major disagreement with Fallout 4 is the writing. The main plot is so buried beneath the sheer amount of stuff to do that it lost any grip it had on me the minute I was given a side quest. What the storyline wants you to do and what you are pulled towards doing aren’t the same thing. Conversations with characters often end up with my character saying something I wasn’t intending on saying (a la Mass Effect) or in a tone completely different to how I wanted to hear my character say it. Many of the people I came across seemed to have sticks up their asses without me having said one word. In general,  when it comes to the story and character writing, I feel like ideas and decisions have been thrown at the game and forced to join up with Wonderglue.

I appreciate what the game does do, major bugs and all. I appreciate that I can mod it on my PS4 if I so choose, and I appreciate the way in which it adds and expands the Fallout universe. It just hasn’t grabbed me the way others have. Why am I still playing it? It’s a comfort thing. I know and love the previous games so I don’t feel out of my depth – I know the worst and best things to come across in the Commonwealth. It’s a game I’m not scared by, it’s not new, and I can pay as little or as much attention to things as I like. Want a bit of action? I’ll go scout a new area out. Need a bit of down time? I can sit and build some stuff.

Do I think I will stop playing any and all Fallout games, including  this one? No. I’m more than likely to keep playing 4 and play any others that come out. If I didn’t have a List of Shame, I might even venture into Fallout’s history and play Fallout and/or Fallout 2. I adore Bethesda and many of their franchises and I think Todd Howard is a magician.  But Fallout 4 has left me underwhelmed and with a distinctly metallic taste in my mouth.

All of the opinions and thoughts spewed out in this article belong to Khinjarsi and are hers and hers only, and do not reflect those of anybody else at Upon Completion, or gamers in general. Khinjarsi would like to point out that she has no current associations with any of the factions involved in The Commonwealth and has largely forgotten those she had in the DC Wasteland or the Mojave.

Hail Caesar!

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