Make no mistake, Bethesda's Fallout is not Fallout at all. At this point the series has been reduced to a set of audiovisual features which previous Fallouts brought to the video game popculture - the Vault Boy, the Power Armors, the Super Mutants, the Deathclaws, that classy 1950s music. The core game is almost indistinguishable from modern The Elder Scrolls titles and revolves around first/third person perspective exploration of an open world, killing, looting and dressing your character in fancy new clothes. What Bethesda has done with Fallout 4, however, is beyond redemption.
The game starts with the most unimaginative introduction to the Fallout world I could possibly think of that beats the bland and tedious "growing up in a Vault" scenario from Fallout 3
. It's a post-apocalyptic game, remember? Wouldn't it be cool to start the game with player seeing the world BEFORE the apocalypse? Well, yes and no, but considering the talent of Bethesda's writers we've ended up with the latter, a bombastic, cinematic AAA linear opening they've done ever since Oblivion (I seriously sense no ambition in them whatsoever). The player lands in the main character's bathroom with him repeating the iconic "war never changes" phrase ("surely you do remember that famous Fallout quote? hehe, here it is for a nth time in the first 5 minutes"). Yes, the main character has a voice-over, apparently reading a few dialogue lines is too much of an effort for a modern gamer (or at least that's what I presume drove Bethesda's motivation behind this drastic change). Not only the main character is voice-acted, but also has a spouse, a kid they named Shaun, a personality (loving spouse/parent type, we can get a feel of him/her from from the first moments) and overall is a pretty well-off middle-class war veteran/lawyer (depending on your sex choice) living in an idyllic suburban area. You don't need to strain your mind too much to imagine how it affects the role-playing aspect of this, well, role-playing game and how it compares to previous games in the franchise.
After bonding with your son by pressing A on your controller you're being visited by a Vault-Tec representative that informs you about being pre-selected for entrance to a nearby Vault, but more importantly he introduces the player to the new dialogue system. I've played quite a lot of cRPGs in my life, but I have never experienced such a basic dialogue system that borders on insulting the player's intelligence. As usual for the cinematic AAA dialogue-wheel system, you need to choose between a couple of abstract two/three word dialogue options. You know, because barely knowing how your character is going to react has such a meaningful and positive effect on the RPG side of the game. If that wasn't bad, remember it's a fully voice-acted game, that fact alone sets a limit to the number of dialogue lines due to time/budget constraints. To make matters worse your choice is limited to the maximum of 4 options which more often than not boil down to "yes", "no", "more info please", and "sarcastic side dialogue". How about the skill checks then? They've given so much variety and added replayability to the previous games. Well, forget them, they're pretty much non-existent - the Charisma checks were the only ones that I remember but they occur so rarely that I wouldn't even notice their lack. It's unclear to me why this design choice took place, it seems that the only reasonable explanation is a purposeful dumbing-down of the system to make it appeal to a wider audience. In effect, the freedom of approach to a particular situation is severely crippled, if not almost completely took from the player.
It's not like these choices would have meaningful consequences anyway, remember it's a Bethesda game, even the ones we have are almost exclusively cosmetic
The introduction ends with sirens going off, people panicking and your family descending into the safety of a conveniently placed Vault with an atomic bomb flashing before your eyes. PHEW, that was close and so emotional, my heart was literally pounding against my rib cage. Shortly after you've been given the official Vault-Tec attire you and other inhabitants of the Vault are being put into cryosleep, but then something goes wrong and bad people get in and your spouse is getting killed and your son taken away and it ends with you shouting his name in a dramatic manner. The main character kills a few mutated bugs while making a comment on their size and leaves the Vault. The quest is obvious now - the main character needs to find his/her son. Bethesda writers at their best, people. Who in their right mind would think this introduction was a good enough motivation for the player to go through the main storyline? The only form of bonding with the player's son was to press A on a god damn crib, there's no emotional attachment buildup involved. Yet, because the main character seemed pre-made to me, as his/her past, personality and motivation are known from the very start and reminded in every second dialogue line, every single moment not spent on seeking the son felt like a distraction. I wasn't role-playing, I was following a goddamn quest marker to accomplish the only task that drove the main character.
What a terrible way to ruin what's supposed to be a sandbox game.
The search for the main character's son begins. We visit our old neighborhood, get in touch with our old robotic butler ("what happened to the world?" - you just saw a mushroom cloud a few minutes ago, you doofus, connect the dots), listen to a maudlin holotape recorded by your spouse ("bye honey, we love you" - d'aww, now you should REALLY feel the need to avenge your family) and get pointed to a nearby settlement. You follow your quest marker like a smart gamer you are, but your journey gets interrupted by a dog that played such a big role in the game's marketing. It quickly turns out that he is a useless gimmick and a great annoyance (apart from dealing some amount of damage, which is always welcome) - he blocks your way in narrow areas, appears in your crosshair when you try to pick up/activate an object so you need to send him away, gathers trash items, etc. When you arrive in Concord, the first town inhabited by humans that the quest marker points you to, you need to fight your way through a gang of raiders and make your way to the civilized survivors. Now, in a well-paced game like Fallout
you discover and upgrade your equipment gradually, the gameplay options branch out to give the player a sense of direction and progress - they're the marks of a well-designed game
. In Fallout 4 Bethesda simply doesn't fuck around. Just a few minutes after you've been introduced to the game's world you're gunning down the most fearsome enemy in the series, a Deathclaw, while wearing the iconic Power Armor equipped with a minigun. I mean, what else will be there in the game, what other surprises, challenges and achievements await if I've easily survived combat with (arguably) the most powerful foe? How unbelievable and downright idiotic it is to put a newbie, an undeveloped character in such a situation? Whoever is responsible for this section obviously went for a wow factor (to keep your average hamburger consumer interested in the game, I guess) and dismissed the negative implications.
As the game went on I grew apathetic to its story and, indeed, the gameplay. The popular consensus among the fans of Bethesda's games is that the main storyline is just filler content that's there to provide some context as to why you are put into the game's world and should be just brushed aside - the REAL game begins when you start to explore what lies beyond, otherwise you're just playing it wrong. The great bullshit mantra they've taught themselves to believe. It's nothing more than admitting that the game is terribly designed and finding a way to go around its huge flaws.
As mentioned in the previous paragraph, the pacing is absolutely dreadful from the very start, the Concord section sucks so much out of potential challenge and reward that the game drags on indefinitely. It also comes as no surprise that the players label the main plot as unengaging when the writing is so poor, bland and ridden with cliches. The writers barely spent any time or thought on trying to create a bond between the main character and his/her son. The whole intro section that served as a premise to the story was rushed, the only real moment of interaction between the player and the kid is pressing action button on his crib mobile. Are these people socially and emotionally inept? I couldn't care less about that kid if it wasn't for the main character's apparent affection towards him ("SHAAAAUN"), which created a huge disconnect between me and the character I control, something that should never happen in a goddamn role-playing game.
Besides, why would I feel immersed and engaged when each and every quest revolves around chasing the quest marker ? I don't need to pay attention to my surroundings to solve a problem, I don't need to know what the hell is going on, the game quite literally sticks the solution under my nose by placing a floating marker on the screen. Using the magic compass is not even optional, the game is build around that feature as an overwhelming majority of the quests don't give the player enough information about how to progress. The quests themselves are mostly an excuse to go into an area and mow down everything in sight, very few of them offer any kind of choice besides which weapon to use to annihilate your enemies (one of the more interesting quests I remember was The Disappearing Act, but it was nothing more than a rehash of Blackmail Iguana Bob from the first Fallout). The endless radiant quests are even more bland, but with even less context and motivation, I felt like a fool when, after completing third Brotherhood of Steel quest in a row, I realized they're literally randomly generated filler content.
"Good game, bad RPG" my ass, another sentiment common among the damage-controlling fans. While I fully agree that the gunplay is a step up from Fallout 3
it's not necessarily making a huge compliment, it was the clunkiest FPS I've ever played. Shooting mechanics in Fallout 4 are nothing more than serviceable, the game does feel more like a fully fledged shooter, but the weapons don't have any distinct look and feel or kick to them (maybe except the makeshift laser musket with its cool hand-crank). Bethesda experts at enemy AI once again proved their worth by littering the wasteland with kamikaze halfwits that swarm and attack the player on sight, outmaneuvering, flanking or any other tactics are out of question. Not only are they dumb and predictable, but also absorb bullets like sponges before they lose a limb or two or explode into a bloody mess of body parts. Other than that it's (surprise, surprise) just a typical bug-ridden Bethesda experience, a theme park with hundreds of attractions, barely distinguishable from each other with the player jumping from one ride to another. On the surface there sure is a ton of exploring to be done, there's always some location you haven't been to, or a pretty sight you haven't seen, but there's nothing more to it than being a tourist in an empty world where there's really nothing to do, nowhere to go, nothing to be, and no one to know.1/5