WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS!
I want to take you back to 2015-era me, I am visiting my family over the summer and we are watching Bethesda's E3 conference. I have heard rumblings of a Fallout sequel forever, and I was ecstatic! Fallout 3 had been my favorite game for a long time, and it's spin-off, New Vegas, soared to the top of my list as one of the best games I'd ever played. They had their problems, sure, they all did! But that didn't matter - the content was there, and that's what counted. I saw the trailer in June, and I was hungry for more!
I watched the whole panel, and at the end, I couldn't wait. This game would be a huge leap forward in graphics. The gameplay looked smoother, and there was an interesting new setting! What could possibly go wrong.
Oh, how naive I was.
So, for those of you who live under a rock, Fallout 4 is the latest installment in Bethesda's revamped Fallout Series. The series is adapted from Black Isle Studio's isometric RPG series of the same name.
In Fallout 4, you take control of the Sole Survivor of the cryogenic testing Vault 111. During your time in the vault, you witness a mysterious man steal your son, Shaun, and kill your wife/husband. After a mechanical failure releases you from cryosleep, you journey out into the Wasteland to find said stolen son. As you move through Post War Boston, you realize the world has changed beyond imagining and you'll not only have to fight for your son - but your own survival.
When I finally got my copy that Christmas, I must've logged about four days worth of gameplay during my entire Christmas vacation. I remember my first steps into the beautifully crafted Post War Boston. Its vibrancy enamored me. Instead of the dusty Capital Wasteland and the deserts of the Mojave, we got treated to one of the more living places in the series. Boston had trees and grass - sure, it wasn't Oasis levels, but it was definitely a step forward.
The gameplay was also a pleasant surprise, the gunplay was not perfect but solid enough so I did not have to rely on the VATS system (which I was grateful for). I could actually aim and hit people with my guns - a huge step in the right direction for a first person shooter-RPG. Plus, the gameplay was just fun. It's part of the reason I still play the game to this day - mechanically it mostly works really well. Even if everything else gets annoying, I can at least travel around and mindlessly kill things.
Another thing that works surprisingly well is the cast of companions they have built. As I traveled through Boston, I made sure to recruit everyone that I could - and they were all well worth the trouble. Each companion had real characterization and their own strengths. Some of them you could eventually quest for, and even fall in love with. My favorites were Preston, who I also have a lot of problems with, and Paladin Danse, who had one of the more compelling characters arcs in the whole game.
There are a lot of great things in this game - unfortunately... well, they are all lost in everything else that's wrong. And there's a lot wrong. So, so much.
I don't understand what happened with this game compared to the others - I don't know if the writers were pressed for time or maybe they had a lot of pressure to get the game out, but it feels so unfinished? It definitely wasn't the complete experience that Fallout 3 and New Vegas managed to be. And, I think a lot of this rests in the main character and their relationship with their son being the main crux of the story.
In the previous titles, the games were basically huge chases. In Fallout 3, you were trying to find your father, and travelled across the Capital Wasteland to do it. In New Vegas, you wanted revenge against person who shot you and information about why you were shot in the first place. Fallout 4 was no different, but there was an odd lack of emotion in this title - due to the fact that you find out the son you've been questing for this whole time is actually the leader of the big bad evil organization that literally everybody hates.
It's a weird twist - or I should say a bad twist. You spend this whole game finding the man who took your kid (who is kept alive through synthetic implants), and questing to find out what happened to him, only to find out that you've been asleep a lot longer than you thought. And your kid is an old man with literally no real attachment to you. I mean, you could argue that he does - but not really.
This and the whole Synth storyline is also so familiar. Like, I've seen it a million times - and it's not familiar in a "oh, what an homage" kind of way, just like a "oh this is really lazy" kind of way.
The twist also robs your character of any real closure. The person that you meet, the Shaun of the Institute, is not your kid (well, he is, but not emotionally). Meeting him was definitely a surprise, but not a good one. At least in Fallout 3, you got to meet your father and (mostly) grow up with him, and you share a moment with him before he dies - and that moment makes his death justifiably sad. With Shaun and your wife, you were given a rather short opening - at least compared to Fallout 3 - and the death of the wife and the theft of your son was hard to watch, but it's never really resolved.
You find out that Shaun, as he is, holds no real attachment to you or your dead wife. He was raised by the Institute and he is responsible for a lot of the horrible things they've done. Some people say that morally, the things he's done could be misconstrued as good - but he had people killed and replaced with synthetic copies - so that logic is out. Had there been more of an effort made to make Shaun care more about seeing his biological mother/father, it would have worked more. Had there been more of an effort at fine tuning Shaun's motives for doing what he did, other than 'they're not civilized enough,' it would have worked more. Shaun just didn't work.
And when that character is literally the entire reason the Sole Survivor does anything, not working is not an option.
This ruined a lot of the game for me, because the story felt half-baked. The world had been built so much up to that point - and I wanted to do so much more, but it didn't happen.
And then you top that off with the tedious settlement construction/protection mechanic, and you've got a recipe for disaster. Seriously, making settlements could have been so much fun, if they weren't so obnoxious to maintain. Like, if I'm deep, deep, deep into a side quest, I don't want to interrupt that to go and fight a few ghouls for you, Settler! Plus, the missions to get each settlement were so repetitive, to the point where I dreaded visiting Preston - who was literally a Settlement Machine. To this day, he still comes to me with new places or new problems for each Settlement - as if I didn't side with the Minutemen and recruit a crap ton of people.
Then you've got the character models, which definitely didn't match the rest of the game's graphical mastery. I mean, they were fine for a Bethesda game, but honestly, it seems like Bethesda is becoming the Alyssa Edwards of video games. They look bad, but it's okay, because it's Bethesda! Sorry, but no.
Plus, there isn't much post-game content. Once your finished with the side quests and the main story - that's pretty much it. Even the DLC (which is pitiful enough to have it's own article, which I will write later) didn't add enough to this unfinished mess!
THE BOTTOM LINE
Fallout 4 is an incomplete game. Despite it's amazing setting and fun cast of characters, they are all lost in a derivative main story. Sure, you could say that the story doesn't matter, but in an RPG - it most certainly does. Gameplay is but one fraction of the puzzle, if the story sucks, then the game is bad. It's that simple. And this story sucked, and the game suffered for it.
Was it one of Bethesda's worst games to date? Yes. I'm never one to sing Bethesda's praises, but they've been consistent with a lot of their content. They've had interesting stories, and fun game mechanics. Fallout 4 felt like an afterthought at best - and that's a problem. I only hope they give their next Fallout title to Obsidian, so we can get a good title.
Shann Smith is a lover of video games and has played RPGs since he could hold a controller. He is a freelance writer, playwright, screenwriter, and also writes the Video Gay-Mer column on Popdust! If you have any RPGs you'd like him to unpack, hit him up!
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