Oh Fallout 4, you and I have had our ups and downs, haven’t we? You said some things you didn’t mean, I said some things I didn’t mean. You let me down, I talked smack about you to all of my friends. It’s been quite the emotional roller coaster. But, I think it’s time to finally put all of that behind us and move on. Because at the end of the day, I know you’ll be there for me when I get home.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, “it’s just a video game dude, stop creeping me out,” and you’d be partially right. But Fallout 4 is perhaps the most contentious game I’ve ever played. I both love it and hate it. I love it for its incredibly rich and detailed world, its unique mix of 50’s Americana and cheesy 80’s sci-fi, and its fun characters and creatures. But I hate it for its inability to live up to my (admittedly lofty) expectations, and some bizarre changes to the RPG makeup of the game.
Let me step back a bit, to when Fallout 3 first launched in 2008 was barely on my radar. I remember skimming over an article in PlayStation Magazine talking about its barren post-apocalyptic RPG excellence. I scoffed and skipped to another page, my taste in video games was less, shall we say refined back then. I was more content to spend my time with shallow, linear games that required little investment. Games that wouldn’t require me to put so much time and effort into a playthrough.
A few months later, I finally managed to save up enough money for an Xbox 360. I’d been doing chores around the house, saving pocket money, that sort of thing. I eagerly handed the cashier my hard-earned money and was elated to hear that I had a choice of free game with my shiny new console…and then he told me the options. Fallout 3, a football game, and a platformer even my little sister would have been embarrassed to play. My heart sank, I didn’t have the money to afford a game I actually wanted. I reluctantly accepted Fallout 3 as the lesser of three evils and went home. Little did I know that I had just lucked upon the greatest video game that I would ever have the pleasure to play.
From the moment my character stepped through the door of Vault 101, out into the blinding light of the Capitol Wasteland, I was in love. I spent hours scouring every inch of the map for every collectible, side quest and unique equipment I could get my grubby little hands on. I talked to every NPC I could find, hoping to squeeze that last little drop of content out of the game. My friends and I would do nothing but talk about Fallout. “Oh, dude you haven’t been to the Republic of Dave yet? You’re in for a wild ride.” We would draw each other crude maps on our workbooks to new locations we’d discovered, new weapons we’d found (We didn’t do much actual schoolwork, thanks Bethesda).
Through Fallout, I began to expand my gaming horizons towards such classics as Mass Effect, Fable, Deus Ex, and Skyrim (I could write a whole book about how much I love Skyrim). Fallout 3 was an awakening for me, it showed me just how far the medium of video games could go. It amazed me how such a fantastical world could be crafted using nothing but a few pixels and dedication from the creators. And then before I knew it, I was done with Fallout 3, I could no longer enjoy this masterpiece of a game, I’d simply seen everything it had to offer.
Fast forward to 2015 and Fallout 4 was finally announced. Words cannot express how hyped I was for this game. As soon as I heard it had been announced, I immediately ran to the bathroom at work to watch the trailer 27 times on my phone (I was a terrible employee). I let my mind run wild with possibilities of what this game would be like. Would they bring back Deathclaws? Who would you play as? Is Ron Perlman doing the intro again? (nope). I’d quit my job a few weeks before the release date, not because I wanted more time to play the game, but it certainly didn’t hurt.
Before I knew it, the time had come. The moment I had waited 7 years for had finally arrived. The sequel to my favourite video game of all time was about to grace me with its presence. I sat at my computer at midnight, willing the Steam download bar to move faster. And then it was ready, it was time to play, I booted the game up, hands trembling with anticipation, and then….it crashed. It crashed 4 times in a row, my disappointment was biblical. Fellow Fallout mega fan and HorrorGeekLife writer, John, was texting me, asking if I’d finished the game’s opening moments yet. I resigned myself to bed, heartbroken, hoping the developers would release a day one patch in the morning. But I couldn’t sleep, I had to give it one last try, maybe this time it would work. And to my delight it did, and at 3 AM I finally got to play.
I was blown away at first of course, Oh it was so pretty! Oh, my god Dogmeat is back! Oh, wow there are Deathclaws! It was everything I’d hoped for and more. That is, until is played a few more hours. Once my elation at the game’s epic opening few hours had died down, I started to see the cracks in its pristine armour. The game seemed very action heavy, and although Bethesda had heavily improved the previous games bland combat, that wasn’t what I really wanted. I began to see more and more lost opportunities as I progressed further and further through the Commonwealth. Oh, you can’t bet on the robot race track, it’s just another fight? Oh, you can’t participate in the Battle Zone, it’s just another fight? Oh, you can’t negotiate with Kellogg, it’s just another fight? These disappointments became more frequent. The game seemed like it was confused. It had shed its roleplaying roots to become an action heavy shooter with minor RPG elements. You seemed to have less agency over your character. I no longer felt like I was playing as my own personal wasteland warrior, I felt like an actor in a role I never wanted to play.
As the weeks turned to months and my enthusiasm turned to bitter resentment, I began to realise that this simply was not the game I had wanted. It had taken the things I loved about Fallout 3 (and New Vegas) and downplayed or outright removed them. It had gutted this once great series to appeal to the casual masses. I soon turned away from Fallout 4, declaring it a failure. It wasn’t until a month or so later, and the trickle of AAA titles had died down, that I made my tentative return to the wasteland.
As I played, I began to enjoy myself again. While it hadn’t captured the magic of the previous game, it still held my attention. I started realising all of the things that it did better than the previous game. The combat was snappier and more fun, the bulky, tank like power armour was a welcome change, the customisable weapons and armour were great for my fashion-heavy playstyle. The way the map got more dangerous as you went further South intrigued me, recalling my childhood playing Runescape and going to the dangerous Wilderness. And the DLC seemed to respond to many of the complaints I’d had about the base game. It was possible to play the high charisma, con man style character that I usually played. More situations could be solved without violence. Increasingly it began to feel like the Fallout I had once loved.
It was not until I’d sank a laughable number of hours into the game that I finally realised something. Just because Fallout 4 didn’t live up to my expectations doesn’t make it a bad game, and maybe nostalgia is a major factor. Maybe Fallout 3 wasn’t quite the flawless masterpiece I’d once thought it was. Maybe Fallout 4 wasn’t the next stage in the evolution of RPG gaming. Maybe it was just a fun game. And that’s okay. If I can play a game for so long and still find new things to enjoy and explore, how can I be disappointed? So, Fallout 4, I’m sorry, I was wrong. You may not be the one for me, but we can still be friends. And that’s enough for me.