Wednesday, June 3, 2015

These newfangled Fallout Games...

So out of the blue Fallout 4 gets announced today by Bethesda. Here's the new trailer:

 Here's some unsolicited opinions of what I think...

Yup, that's definitely Bethesda's style of Fallout. And they really try and pluck the heartstrings with good ol' Dogmeat, don't they? Watching that I'm excited but, to be honest, a little ho-hum about it. And not just because the graphics look a little dated (seriously, it looks like Fallout 3 DLC from 2008 rather than a game being released in 2015! But I'll stop being a PC snob for a second and just talk about the 'vibe' I get from it). I think its because of the after-taste of Fallout 3 I still have. Now, 'Fallout 3' was made by Bethesda (and they'll be making the aforementioned Fallout 4), while the marginally superior spin-off 'Fallout: New Vegas' was made by Obsidian. I, like most people, liked New Vegas more than Fallout 3, but both were a little disappointing to this devout Fallout follower from the late 1990's. They weren't entirely disappointing, I finished them, after all. But I had to force myself to do it. Just like with Skyrim. At some point with Bethesda games you just think to yourself "I should probably just get this main storyline done already."

I'll admit I was happy to see anyone pick up the Fallout license after the dissolving of Black Isle/Interplay (or whatever happened there), but I think Bethesda's Oblivion style just doesn't mesh well with the Fallout universe I remember that was created with 1, 2, and Tactics. I don't think its the First-Person Shooter aspect they changed it to, but that may be a part of it. The earlier games were isometric Baldur's Gate-view, sure, but there was something about the writing that was so good. The people you interacted with really seemed like they had their own lives, and you only had a limited window to make an impression. But at the same time the impression you could make was dramatic, and once you had done it you moved on, like some Mad Max wanderer of the Wasteland. Even in Fallout 2, where you were considered the "Chosen One," you still felt like just a rebel without a cause. Or maybe a rebel with Power Armor and a Flamer. In any case you would change some villager's lives, jump into your Highwayman 3000, and move along. But you still always felt you were moving forward toward your goal, and when you stopped to help someone you made an impact in their lives (and gained valuable experience towards leveling). When you hit a zany random encounter you were excited because they were SO rare (like the overturned bottle cap truck or crashed Alien spaceship).

Wow! I'm glad I put all my points into my Luck stat, or I'd never have seen this!

In Fallout 3 you walk around but get distracted by random encounters all the time. And everywhere there are zany random encounters that have nothing to do with your adventure. I remember walking out of like the sixteenth office building I'd cleared of mutants or ghouls that had its own little lovecraftian or evil corporation-vibe to it that you could read about on the computer terminals in Fallout 3 and finally thinking "Well, that got me nowhere." Sure, I got XP and maybe leveled up, but through Bethesda's Gamebryo system SO DID EVERYTHING ELSE! I think that's the crux of it, Bethesda uses a "dynamic game balancing" engine, so important bad guys are always only a few levels above or near the player level. Yes, they put limits on it for monsters (lower level limits for big mutants and upper level limits for mole rats), but YouTube speed runs have shown people completing Fallout 3 in just 25 minutes in their underwear, because the main quest bosses are all scaled to the player level!
Okay, this is a little harsh I'll admit. I still enjoyed it, but it wasn't the Fallout I remembered for sure.

I'm not saying that the level scaling is necessarily bad, I get the point of it. But I think because it exists it gives the excuse for the Bethesda designers to jam-pack every nook and cranny of the Fallout world with their own zany encounters, rather than focusing on making the world look real. For example, maybe throw a few Cows (er...Brahmin) or fields of wheat around a village or city, eh Bethesda? Don't those people have to eat something other than cans of Pork n' Beans? The Fallout 3 map doesn't make any sense at all, and couldn't possibly feed the population that they inhabit it with. They'll cram the world with little cabins with skeletons in them with humorously-named cereal boxes on the table and totally disregard focusing on things like realistic living conditions for a surviving post-apocalyptic population, or making the environment look interesting. I'm all for zany gonzo lasers and robots, but if the people I'm helping are obviously made of magic pixel wishes, and not concrete pixel food sources (because adding those would take up too much space on a map that they want to jam with a 1000 uninteresting encounters), well, that's where I lose the verisimilitude.

Now, I'll buy Fallout 4 and I'll play it, and probably really enjoy it for a time. But I won't pre-order it. And that's about the harshest claim I can make. I'm sure Bethesda doesn't care at all (and they probably shouldn't, because like I said, I'll totally still buy it).

For the Vault-Dweller!

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