So this is probably going to get me killed. But alas I hold it as my sacred duty to tell the truth even when I suspect that truth is not wanted—even if others may disagree. I think Fallout 4 right now is being massively overhyped and there are a lot of points to look at as to why.
Before we get to far into this, I do want to provide a bit of context on how I’ve approached the Fallout series under Bethesda—that as someone who played the first two games and loved them. I also adore Morrowind and still believe it is Bethesda’s best game. I prefer Fallout: New Vegas to Fallout 3 when it comes to the modern Fallouts as I find it to have significantly better world building, writing, quests, among many other points.
So I know this company but also do have something of a background of issues with the way it’s been going as of late.
There are a lot of reasons to be skeptical of Fallout 4 at this point, starting with the fact that all we’ve seen is about 30 minutes of E3 presentation that also included talk of Fallout Shelter. However, that can be said for a lot of games, so lets tear into Bethesda’s history, and what was talked about.
The cycle of game making lends itself a lot to exaggerated promises, re-characterizations and various other things. It happens with each one, and Bethesda is no stranger to it, nor to significantly overshooting what would happen at release—though perhaps not to Molyneux or Alien: Colonial Marines levels.
Still let’s get into the meat about past promises here. Oblivion is going to be one I’m relying on a lot here, in part because its examples are so very, very clear and that there’s enough distance from the game to be able to look—though if you want to remember how Skyrim was bugged up at launch, you should check out this video.
On Oblivion, I have two particular words that come to mind” Radiant AI. Namely, it was the promised great non-scripted, scheduled AI that was basically stripped right down leading to Oblivion’s infamously stupid NPC’s. Beyond quotes, let’s take a look at the 2005 E3 presentation they showed off with Radiant AI.
Anyone who has played Oblivion knows that definitely didn’t hit the final product, despite the fact that it was highly advertised in the lead up. There are a lot more I could point out but this would be a story years out of date and not really do much to point out other than what this does: Bethesda has a history of over the top PR speak without delivering.
The Engine and Combat
Fallout 4 is going to be running on the newest iteration of
Gamebyro … I mean the Creation Engine. It will be based on the technology Skyrim used while adding new buzz words to the power list like
- Full Physical Based Rendering
- Dynamic volumetric Lighting
These are new additions, but so was Radiant AI back in 2006, and we saw how that turned out, in addition to the vaunted shadows the Bethesda kept touting before its release.
Fallout 4 will be using an updated version of the Creation Engine, their in house update of the Gamebyro engine, which Fallout 3 had served as a building block towards, modifying the Gamebyro engine in ways that would become standard Creation Engine techniques. This means that much of the core code and systems will be carried over, including the hangups and areas where the engine is lacking. Tweaks to how things like gunplay or physics require a lot of work to adjust in-engine, making it more likely to be iterative and build upon what was already there.
Look at how VATS looked in the preview, for example; it’s now bullet-time instead of total stop and charges up a critical hit meter. From what we’ve seen, that’s all the changes to the notoriously over powered VATS mode and that seems unlikely to deal with it being essentially a cheat mode.
Now they have said they are putting more focus on combat, especially on being good as a shooter. As part of the ever continuing Bethesda cycle, whichever game just came out or is going to come out is or will be a master piece and the last one (or ones before) had some major issues. With Skyrim, we saw some bashing on Oblivion, with Todd Howard at one point saying for example, “But in that, we sacrificed some of what made Morrowind special; the wonder of discovery.”
In an interview with GameSpot, Todd Howard said the following when talking about Fallout 3’s shooting:
GameSpot: I wanted to talk about the VATS system in Fallout 3. People loved it, but they also needed to rely on it, because the baseline first-person shooting was…
Todd Howard: It was mehh…
GameSpot: It was a little… I’m being diplomatic here.
Todd Howard: It was a little… I think we’re on the same page.
GameSpot: Have you made changes to it?
Todd Howard: We started out with Fallout 4 knowing that, look, we can’t apologise for being a role-playing game. We have to build a first-person shooter, and it needs to be a really, really good one. We spent a lot of time on that.
GameSpot: So it seems like, you can use the VATS system, but if you prefer you can play Fallout 4 as though it was an FPS.
Todd Howard: Yes, absolutely, although we want players to have the edge if they use the VATS system. If you’re building your character for VATS, it’s really powerful.
That also shows a change in focus on the game here that may worry some, especially tied in with RPG elements getting hacked away at. They are talking about building it as a shooter … whether they have the skill to do so, or the engine given Bethesda’s history with ranged combat in their games, is another question.
Removing RPG Elements
For years, Bethesda has been cutting down the number of skills in its game. Ever since Morrowind in fact, skills have been pulled out of the games they create, and it appears based on what we’ve seen, Fallout 4 will go the furthest by removing them entirely, instead using some sort of perk based system.
If you take a look at the top, the place where skills should be is not there, instead merely Status, Special and Perks. Additionally, under Agility where we’ve screenshotted it from the presentation, it directly affects sneaking which previously had been a skill.
Instead, in the crafting section we get a few hints that there are perk levels, presumably that are in the Perk Chart hinted at above – Science level 1, Guns level 1 perks that may do things. Fallout before Bethesda got its hands on it had some issues with its skill system, namely not all skills were worthwhile, but it was a much deeper situation than what Bethesda’s 0-100 system for Fallout 3 had. In the first two games, the skill system went up to 300 points to allow for a greater variety of challenges and modifiers on any particular challenge, while making it difficult for anyone to be a master of everything like you could be in Fallout 3.
So we’re witnessing a further simplification of the system at best; at worst, they’ve just essentially stripped it down to an upgrade system more like you’d see in an open world Ubisoft game. The old Fallout games were known for their great uses of many of the skills and skill checks in the games. Fallout New Vegas showed how even with this system one could make dynamic, engaging and interesting skill checks, which one might have hoped Bethesda might have learned from.
It appears, instead they have opted for simplification.
That Crafting System …
The Fallout 4 demonstration awed many people when it showed that players will be able to create buildings and towns, in addition to an in-depth crafting system. There are a lot of things to look at here directly and indirectly.
The settlements interaction plan will be relying on the Radiant AI and Radiant Story. Radiant AI was much improved in Skyrim, though it didn’t reach the promised heights, and still leaves some rather incredibly stupid AI at points, like being unable to take buckets off heads. Radiant Story on the other hand was a disappointment, being basically different NPC’s able to give fetch quests to the player—the most boring sort of quests in existence.
So, given the chance to show off what the AI could choose to do to attack a settlement, how does the AI look?
Bethesda, Bethesda never changes.
Large Areas of Nothingness
Todd spoke of multiple areas being able to build settlements or towns in, and send caravans between them. However, once I got over the hype of the idea of building towns there was one big thing that stood out to me: where are you going to build them?
Well, there obviously needs to be multiple large areas with little to nothing there. You have to have the spaces there for people to build the towns, and, unlike set strongholds, the player gets to build these multiple regions.
So yes, we’re getting hyped at the confirmation that Fallout 4 will include patented Bethesda large empty areas with nothing in them! It looks like it will be another shallow but wide world from Bethesda.
Dialogue, Writing and Story
Speaking of shallow things, let’s get to Bethesda’s writing. I’m going to save my treatise on Fallout 3’s writing and issues for another time, but the writing for that game was … less than stellar. It included such gems as is seen in the following screenshot:
That line is illustrative of a lot of issues in Fallout 3—the dialogue rarely was good. In this particular piece, there’s no illustrating who your father is, and middle aged is such a general term that it does nothing to describe the person in question. The lead writer for Fallout 4 is going to be Emil Pagliarulo, also known as the lead writer for Fallout 3.
Fallout 3 and Fallout 4 show a lack of grasp of the Fallout timeline as well. Both are taking place well past 200 years after the bombs fell. That makes the lack of settlement, trade and communities less believable, countering the spirit of the first two Fallout games, which were closer to the Great War and showed the beginnings of the rebuilding of civilization. In Fallout 1, you see the villages form, some trading from areas like the Hub and the remnants gathering together. By Fallout 2, you’ve got the New California Republic beginning, Vault City, New Reno, and other towns rising up from the ashes. Fallout 4’s reliance on having the protagonist as the catalyst in the rebuilding counters the idea that the people of the world are actually doing it, meaning that not a lot happens without him/her there.
Of course, for Todd Howard this is nothing new. Oblivion, as well as Fallout 3, was noted for retconning or ignoring past lore. The most blatant example in Oblivion’s case was that in the first edition of The Pocket Guide the Empire, where Cyrodill was explained as a jungle … and then in-game Oblivion was essentially normal medieval locale. The Pocket Guides were used in-game for serving as the basis for lore books in many cases.
From there though we can go take a look at the addition of what appears to be the new Fallout 4 Dialogue wheel? Dialogue Cross? Well here’s a screenshot of it:
Thanks to the joy of voice acting, we can no longer see what will actually be said; rather, we get short Bioware-esque descriptions. This also serves to cut down on the amount of dialogue options because there can only be 4 per section, something probably also made necessary by going to voice acted dialogue. Oh, I mentioned Bioware didn’t I; like the Bioware dialogue wheel, it appears each of the spots has a particular type of “remark” on it as seen in the image below.
Thus the dialogue here is forced so that you can’t know fully what you’re getting, you have a gutted out list of options, and the set up is no longer about providing interesting and entertaining opportunities to talk as a character but filling out a set of quotas.
So, perhaps despite all of this you are hyped for Fallout 4. I’m actually happy for you to some degree—that you are able to be excited for it, and it is something you think you will enjoy. But consider this a bit of a general PSA about Fallout 4 and some warning signs that are there.