The Top 5 Reasons Fallout 4 was Disappointing
It’s impossible to deny that Fallout 4 makes some significant improvements to its predecessors. The game’s enhanced engine brings the devastated ruins of Boston to life in a way the previous Fallout games couldn’t hope to achieve, while dramatic improvements to combat make encounters with the wasteland’s motley crew of raiders and radiated monstrosities more visceral than ever before.
Unfortunately for series fans, the areas Fallout 4 chooses to develop are not ones that feel core to the experience. In many ways, Fallout 4 represents a dramatic regression from the design choices made in our most recent foray into the apocalypse — Fallout: New Vegas, Obsidian Entertainment’s fondly remembered 2010 entry to the series.
Here are the top 5 reasons Fallout 4 might make you wish for a nuclear winter.
Reason 1: All Style, No Substance
It’s no secret — Fallout 4 looks incredible. With stunning lighting, sublime environmental design, and more detailed visuals than Bethesda has ever produced, the latest in the Fallout franchise is easily the truest and most beautiful realisation of Fallout’s deranged, retro-futuristic world yet.
It’s just a shame that Fallout 4’s beauty is only skin-deep. While Fallout 4’s strong visual design effortlessly evokes — and in plenty of ways, exceeds — the iconic aesthetics of Interplay Entertainment’s 1997 original, the true core of the game — its strength as a roleplaying experience — is frustratingly diminished.
Carrying on a design trend that first reared its head in Bethesda’s colossal 2011 title, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Fallout 4 eschews the consequence-based gameplay that the Fallout franchise built its name on. While Fallout: New Vegas hinged its design on player choice, culminating in a meaningful narrative that felt responsive and dynamic, Fallout 4’s cast of characters are endlessly forgiving; all too ready to put aside their misgivings in the name of giving you access to content.
Examples abound — take Doctor Amari, resident practitioner of the Memory Den. An ally of the Railroad, Amari makes a display of ostracising the player if they side with her enemy, the Institute. Yet, when approached later as part of a companion’s questline, Amari readily relents and vows to help you — seemingly forgetting your slaughter of her circle. Lacking the confidence of games such as Dark Souls 3, The Witcher 3, and even New Vegas before it, Fallout 4 is afraid to lose you after the first playthrough. As a result, it sacrifices its own internal consistency for the sake of ensuring you never miss a beat on the Whirlwind Wasteland Tour.
Reason 2: Over-Reliance on Radiance
Forget radiation sickness — spend enough time in Boston’s ruinous environs and you’re more likely to get sick of Fallout 4’s incessant radiant quest system. Already troubled by a dearth of memorable quests, Fallout 4 is padded with a number of Bethesda’s patent “Radiant” quests. An endless stream of randomly generated objectives devoid of any story or import, the radiant quests dispensed by a variety of NPCs are nothing short of mindless busywork, and are no substitute for the finely woven stories that feel shockingly scarce in Bethesda’s latest entry.
Even Fallout 4’s loot suffers from Bethesda’s decision to swap hand-crafted content with an algorithmic assembly-line of hodge-podge, randomly generated gear. Though unique weapon variants still exist — albeit in short supply — gone are the memorable weapons that felt lovingly, decisively placed in the franchise’s earlier instalments. Weaving a story of their own, unique loot infused locations with a sense of history and place, while Fallout 4’s randomly created “Legendary” equipment feels throw-away and commonplace. All of this is to say nothing of the inexplicable displacement of populated towns and settlements with blank areas, replete with audacious invitations for players to generate their own content in lieu of Bethesda’s efforts.
Reason 3: Vaults Feel Like a Wasted Opportunity
Put simply, the vaults scattered throughout the Wasteland are supposed to be the *Daedric Quests* of Fallout. Singular in nature, their one-of-a-kind stories hark back to Fallout’s darkest roots and exude a quality that signposts their status as the series’ *signature* quests. Giving pause to ruminate on the sinister machinations of Vault-Tec and humanity’s misplaced hope in “the system”, vaults are the very fabric of Fallout.
What a shame, then, that Fallout 4’s vaults are lacklustre fare, paling even in comparison to Bethesda’s previous efforts in Fallout 3. The worst offence lays with Vault 95, whose drug-dependent inhabitants meet their demise following the discovery of a hidden cache of Jet, a potent chem. Though in-game terminals depict Vault-Tec as the perpetrators responsible for stashing the chem in Vault 95, Jet was invented long after the Great War. The result is a setting that meshes poorly with the canon of the series. Instead of reminding players why Fallout is a definitive roleplaying game, Vault 95 gives the impression that not even Bethesda are following the story.
Reason 4: SPECIAL isn’t Special
In previous Fallout games, players created characters by distributing their SPECIAL points. Once allocated, the SPECIAL attributes of your character were relatively set in stone- though some items could grant passive boosts to their effects. Important in distinguishing the identity of your character, the SPECIAL stats you picked would pervasively inform the nature of your play-through. The wasteland would react to your character based on how their attributes had been allocated, making the world feel responsive and alive. Different avenues would present themselves depending on your character’s strength’s and weaknesses: charismatic characters could talk themselves out of difficulty, while characters with high intelligence could persuade inferior minds.
Because Fallout 4 allows players to level up SPECIAL points continuously, that sense of dynamism is reduced. The player begins to react to the world instead of the other way around, boosting special points to meet the requirements for perks — which, this time around, are about the only thing SPECIAL points are used for. In the end, SPECIAL has been transformed from an absorbing, play-defining system into a run-of-the-mill stat dump.
What speech checks the game does have are always based on charisma, while previous entries offered checks dependent on a range of skills — skills that were all removed from Fallout 4. Because these speech checks are percentage-based rather than static, they encourage the exploitation of Fallout 4’s save system and offer no incentive for players to actually invest in charisma.
Reason 5: Fallout 4 Does Nothing with Its Premise
The idea of a pre-war survivor experiencing the wasteland from an outsider’s perspective is filled with promise. Aside from a scattering of remarks, however, this narrative angle is left curiously unexplored. The Sole Survivor acclimatises remarkably quickly to wasteland phenomena, including shaking off an early encounter with a ferocious Deathclaw.
When the nature of the Sole Survivor was revealed, it seemed possible that a pre-war presence would diminish one of the most compelling parts of Fallout. The wasteland is a distorted, surreal vision that disfigures echoes of the past, bending them to suit its own cultural myth-making. With so much of Fallout’s world hinged on the death of one society and the emergence of another, where could a character from the past figure?
Thankfully, Fallout 4’s out-of-time protagonist serves to highlight Fallout’s post-nuclear society instead of lessening it. Upon reaching Diamond City, the Sole Survivor can engage with a rabid baseball fan whose wildly off-base description of the game is a prime example of the wasteland’s propensity to reconfigure the past. Though the player can choose to correct his account, the vendor will invariably resist: “I like my version better.” The interaction is one of Fallout 4’s more memorable encounters, demonstrating the wasteland’s attempt to reinterpret history as its inhabitants struggle to coalesce an identity from the scattered remnants of a forgotten world.
This is something Fallout 4 gets very, very right, but aside from these brief moments it seems to drop the idea for the majority of the game. Had the premise of Fallout 4 been more rigorously acted upon, series fans would have enjoyed an even deeper insight into the Fallout mythos.