Fallout 4 Fridays: Part One — Perfect Pacing and Focus Set the Stage
Getting off on the right foot
Welcome to Fallout 4 Fridays, my continuing saga of my long-overdue journey through Bethesda’s seminal game, Fallout 4.
Unlike in last week’s installment, I actually have a screenshot of my character this time.
The opening of Fallout 4 is the most economical and beautifully-paced opening in any of Bethesda’s modern output. It feels like it’s practically sprinting to get you to the big open world part, and the story setup goes hand-in-hand with this.
The design of the opening hours is exceptional.
Gone are the days of elaborate skill allotment screens and careful decisions with unknown consequences. Systems are breathlessly introduced and just as quickly vanish back into the ether. You’re taught how to interact with the world, how to talk with characters, how to use the menu system, how to fight battles, and all of the setup for the sprawling story in about 30 minutes.
Bethesda’s last hit Skyrim pretended to have a quick opening.
You’re in a cart full of prisoners, and then a dragon attacks a town. And then you’re running away…
Except first, you have to create a character. This just sort of…happens. (In Fallout 4, character creation is integrated directly into the story).
After the dragon swoops down and kills lots of unimportant NPCs in Skyrim, you quickly make friends with a person you don’t know and only just met, and then…you get to spend some time leisurely exploring a dungeon.
Gone is all the urgency of a few moments ago. Skyrim suffered from this problem throughout. “This big thing is happening! But sure, go ahead and do those side quests. It doesn’t matter.”
Fallout 4 establishes the stakes very early on, and then pushes you to get after it. You were frozen for 200 years. Someone took your son and shot your spouse, who you knew for just enough time to get attached. You probably even created their face!
Here’s some weapons. Go get the bad guys. GO.
And then, the first dungeon is really short and linear. It’s impossible to get lost, and everything about it instills a sense of dread and a desire to get out. The level design and the story design work together to push you through the door of the vault and into the game.
And the pacing never lets up from there.
Fallout 4 has an exceptional sense of focus that’s rare in big games.
Most large RPGs have a main story that exists more or less in a suspended animation sandbox, and then you have to mentally elect to pause it to go off and explore the world looking for side stuff. It’ll wait there for you to return.
In Fallout 4, this still sort of happens…but every quest and side location pushes you to go find the next one.
You’re always doing something that feels important in some way, and you always know where you want to go next. It’s a smart design decision that corrects the pacing issues that often plague this sort of game.
I always followed the storyline at the outset in my previous stunted attempts at playing through the game, and this time was no different. I found my old home in tatters. I set up my own workshop at the Red Rocket factory. I fought the first boss of the game, a mighty Deathclaw who is hounding the remnants of the Minutemen (one of several factions you can align with).
And then I reached the moment that tells you, right to your face, “No look, this REALLY is going to be a different sort of thing than our previous games!”
The Corvega Factory
The Corvega Factory is a sprawling industrial complex, and it’s the site of the first major combat encounter in the game. Oh sure, there are some fights before this…but nothing can really prepare you for the sheer scope and impressive difficulty of Corvega.
The storyline wants you to go there, and it’s an enticing big building in the distance. It has multiple entry points. It’s filled with enemies of various skill levels. The enemies are much smarter than in past Bethesda games, too. They’ll regularly throw grenades. They’ll switch weapons. They’ll take cover.
It’s tremendous fun and I loved every second of it.
Never has combat in a Bethesda game been as dynamic as it is here. It rivals the best standalone shooters for its tactical complexity and fun. I took the direct route, using my collection of guns to brute force my way through the level, hoping my investment into Endurance would allow me not to die along the way. It was a pitched battle, and I died a few times. But I never got frustrated because I always had some other angle to approach a problem.
If I wanted, I could have snuck in through the sewers. I could have hacked all the turrets in the installation. Or I could have gone even louder and stormed in wearing my recently-repaired Power Armor. Lots of games like to talk about player choice in combat, but few deliver like Fallout 4.
The best part of Corvega is the sheer scope of the level. You can fight your way from ground level all the way to the top of those platforms in the picture above. You can see the whole world stretching out in the distance as you fight a pitched battle with several raiders on precarious rooftop platforms.
Verticality is a great trick to show off the expanse of your world. It also makes things feel more naturally impressive to the human mind. Random tip: If you’re making a low budget film, it’ll seem more expensive if you shoot as much of it as you can on rooftops.
The Corvega Factory is a perfect combat encounter, and in the past I’ve had playthrough attempts that halted right after I killed the last raider…because I couldn’t imagine the game continuing to deliver on that level.
Fortunately, it does.