For nigh-on fifteen years, Bethesda’s games have stood as my benchmark for the open-world genre—from Morrowind’s opening “Wake up, we’re here” all the way through the last minute I played of Skyrim. Even Oblivion’s obvious missteps mattered little to me at the time, given the scale of the game.
I expected Fallout 4 to do the same. Here we are, Bethesda’s first outing on the new consoles and freed from the obvious limitations of the Xbox 360/PS3 era. And...well, while it's a ton of fun, I guess I thought we’d see more of an improvement.
Civilization, I’ll stay right here
If you want to know what Fallout 4 gets right, look no further than its predecessor. Or any Bethesda game, really, but Fallout 3 is most pertinent. As you emerge from Vault 111 for the first time, momentarily blinded by the harsh sunlight and clad in familiar blue-and-yellow jumpsuit, there’s that familiar sense of possibility. You check the map, you walk for a minute, you check the map again, and then you estimate how long it would take to walk across the whole thing. You whistle. “Damn, this is enormous. Who knows what could be out there?”
It’s an intoxicating feeling, and makes up for a burdensome main story. Fallout 4 has some interesting ideas, but it’s mostly a convoluted mess. There’s a chance, if you join more than one of the game’s factions, you’ll find yourself on missions where everyone is shooting everyone—except you. Because they all somehow assume you’re on their side, playing double- and even triple-agent. Even if you’re in the process of explicitly betraying one faction.This isn’t a one-time thing. It happens multiple times in the story. And it’s silly every time.
It's a typical Bethesda main story, in other words.
But no, Bethesda’s games are built on surprise. On mystique. There you are, wandering through The Commonwealth’s (a.k.a. Boston) nuclear wasteland when you catch glimpse of the half-reclaimed ruins of an old church, quiet in the misty Concord morn. Or the cobbled-together stronghold of a group of raiders, torches beating back the night in Bunker Hill. Or the seemingly-untouched remnants of a long-dormant factory, half-submerged in a river and speckled by sunlight. You debate walking past and then...curiosity. What’s inside?
Fallout’s slice of 1950’s Googie suburbia is more than just a backdrop—it’s a character. It tells you stories, if you’re paying attention. Two skeletons, holding hands on a bed with a 10mm pistol lying between. The dry office memos and earnings reports that, when pieced together, form a compelling thriller about surreptitious backroom dealings and corporate espionage. The twisted experiments behind all of Vault-Tec’s seemingly good intentions.
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