Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Problems I've Noticed with Fallout 4

Up-front disclaimer: I don't actually own a copy of the game, and I haven't played it through any other means.  I have, however, been watching two LPers on YouTube (Vechs and ArchmageMelek, both of whom you should totally subscribe to) who are playing through it, so everything in this post is based on observations I've made from their videos.

Narrative Dissonance

Vechs very neatly spelled this one out in a rant in one of his episodes.  I'll link you to the episode with a timestamp just before the rant, but I'll also paraphrase here in case you can't be bothered to click a link and listen to it directly.

Basically, the main character's motivation to be out there in the wastelands doing anything at all is because they're looking for their son.  Seems kind of urgent, doesn't it?  Main character's son was kidnapped, main character desperately wants to find him, and is ready to go on a murderous rampage to make that happen.

But wait, fifteen minutes into the game, all this side content and settlement management and stuff gets thrown at you.  So suddenly it's "gotta find my kidnapped son at all costs" with a side of "...on my own schedule as I dick around with side quests and helping random people".  You see, despite the game having a day/night cycle, no story time actually passes unless you're out there doing the main quest line.  To be fair, though, very few RPGs include any sort of time pressure on the player.  When they do, it's typically only on a specific section of the game.  For a story like this one that implies a sense of urgency, though, the game conveys zero sense of urgency to the player.

While looking for your kidnapped son and trying to bring those who did it to justice is a perfectly fine story plot, it just doesn't work with the only kind of RPG Bethesda knows how to make: the open world.

Lack of Direction

Skyrim had this problem as well.  The player is simply given zero motivation to continue with the story, because after doing anything, you can go anywhere in the game world and do anything else.  The game actually incentivizes this in that dicking about in the game world ignoring the story and doing side quests will get you lots of experience and items.  This means your character gets a nice power boost, and whenever you do decide to return to the main story, it'll be easier than perhaps they originally intended.

Bethesda, in claiming that Western RPGs are so much better than Japanese RPGs, holds their games' lack of direction up on a pedestal and claims it as one of the reasons why they're better.  Maybe you just suck at telling a story that draws the player in, and are creating open worlds to try and mask that fact?  JRPGs might give the player less choice in the development of their characters, but their stories are absolutely on point.

JRPGs also use music to help draw the player in, which is sorely lacking in Bethesda's open world RPG formula.  You could put any music you want to it, to the point that Fallout 4 offers the player several in-game radio stations to listen to.  You're not going to be able to say things like "oh man, the theme song for the Glowing Sea is so amazing" because it has no theme song.

Choice is an Illusion

Another reason that Bethesda touts when claiming that Western RPGs are so much better than Japanese RPGs is that, when you play one of their RPGs, you can level your character up however you want, and choose a play style that fits you.  From a gameplay perspective, that's totally fine.  I've played the original Dungeon Siege, where your characters level up according to how you use them, and it's a totally viable facet of game design.

Except when the game is blatantly designed for one specific playstyle, as ArchmageMelek is slowly beginning to realize in his melee-only, no power armor playthrough.

Very early in Fallout 4, your character is given a complete set of power armor and a minigun, and immediately sent into an encounter that's basically impossible otherwise.  If you're trying to play melee-only, or avoid using power armor, you're kinda boned.  Okay, whatever, just equip it for that one encounter and then abandon it afterwards, right?  Well, later on in the game, you encounter all sorts of areas, whether on the main quest line or not, that are also basically impossible for a melee-only character.  Also, there's the Glowing Sea, which is a giant radioactive area that power armor gives you a hefty resistance to.  The main quest line sends you through it.  Not going through it is not an option.  So much for choice.

Required Settlement Micromanagement

One of the side plot points in Fallout 4 is that the people are trying to band together and survive in this post-apocalyptic wasteland.  Managing the vast majority of this is entirely on the player, and while you initially start with just one settlement, that number balloons as you play the game.  It's a turnoff to me, because I don't find those portions of the videos I'm watching to be very engaging.  If I were to actually play the game, I'd want some sort of mod to enable macromanagement instead, where I can just hit a button and the settlement's defenses get upgraded, or more living quarters get built, or bigger, better farms get planted, or whatever.  I'd make my own bases in the obtainable yet unpopulated Red Rocket "gas" stations strewn throughout the game.

You could just ignore the settlement management entirely.  The game gives you that freedom.  But it's so tied into the gameplay that you'll encounter it whether you want to or not.  I'd be fine with it being an optional gameplay element that gives extra bonuses or whatever, with very few if any downsides, but having to manage all that?  No thanks.


Don't get me wrong, Fallout 4 looks like a great game.  In terms of RPGs and levelling up and getting new abilities and equipment, there's a lot to do.  I'm sure that if I had the game I could very easily lose several hours of my life to it per gameplay session.  If you can get past its gaping flaws, perhaps using mods to assist in this, you could have a good time.  So long as that good time is with firearms and power armor, because the game isn't designed to be played any other way.

No comments:

Post a Comment

I moderate comments because when Blogger originally implemented a spam filter it wouldn't work without comment moderation enabled. So if your comment doesn't show up right away, that would be why.