I’m fully aware that in writing this article, I’m more than likely to lose my entire staff here on Cinelinx. Yes, I’m surrounded by team members who are absolutely in love with Fallout, and when the game was initially announced, the excitement around Cinelinx was palpable. Over the last few years, I’ve found myself more and more enamored with large scale open-world RPGs (a genre I used to avoid in my younger days), so was also excited about delving into the Fallout 4 world.
Bethesda was kind enough to hook us up with early copies of the game, and I wasted little time getting into the swing of things. Jason did our official review on the site, and I’m going to continue to let that speak to our general stance. This isn’t a review, but some of my observations on Bethesda’s latest game that I have come to sort of despise.
When I first loaded up Fallout 4, I was intrigued by the world I was walking into. The game thrusts you right into the middle of things and it snowballs quickly. It lets you get right into the action while showing you how the game mechanics work, providing a fairly solid mixture of hand-holding and letting you learn by doing. It’s something other games should take note of, but it’s not long before you’re on your own exploring the vast landscape.
To be entirely honest, it didn’t take me very long at all for my doubts about the game to pop up. After just 4-5 hours of playtime I found myself growing restless. Not long after that, I found myself thinking about playing other games, even as I was working through quests. I wasn’t making a strong connection to the game, yet I found that I kept coming back to play it. I was bored, but didn’t want to stop playing.
Jack of All Trades
This is the odd dichotomy that Fallout 4 brings to the table. There’s an odd compulsion to keep plugging along at this game, even when it ceases to be enjoyable. It took me a while to figure out why, and what was going on and came to a conclusion: there’s too much going on.
Seems like an odd thing to say since the point of the game is to be able to allow gamers the freedom to do virtually anything they want. From building a town, being an outlaw, or rebuilding the Minutemen, you can do what you please. Even quests follow a non-linear structure to the point that you can tackle anything in the game in a variety of ways. You can sneak into places all stealthy like, go in guns blazing, or even try to talk your way around things.
Then there’s the simulation elements, where you can build settlements for other survivors to inhabit. EVERYTHING about this comes down to your decisions. You decide where the doors are, where the beds go, and even where you want to put a light bulb. It’s incredibly detailed, allowing for a wealth of options to build your town in the way you want. I demolished entire buildings to make sure I had a dedicated space for farm ‘fields’, and even went to the trouble of decorating my “place” with pictures and stuff. But you don’t even HAVE to do that. By all accounts you can ignore your settlement (though they’re helpful) and be a lone badass in the wasteland, following your own rules.
For many, this isn’t a bad thing, and there are plenty of games out there which strive for this level of diversity, without quite reaching it. These aspects are a big part of the attraction it has for gamers…Yet it’s also why I had to stop playing.
When faced with all of these things to do, I find myself unwilling to commit to doing one thing or another. When I DO find something I really enjoy doing in the game (like managing my settlement) the only way to keep doing it, is by having to do the things I don’t care for as much. It’s hard to find the motivation sometimes to trudge through certain aspects of the game in order to do the couple things I actually find the most enjoyable. The end result is the amount of things to do feel overwhelming.
Master of None
The other major problem I’ve encountered with the wealth of things to do, is that none of them feel particularly compelling. While everything is generally well crafted nothing about them stands out. The combat is improved from previous titles in the series, but still aren’t as refined as other games with similar mechanics.
While Fallout 4 gives you a ton of options within the game, none of them are really any better than games out there which do the same thing. I had plenty of fun with the settlement part of the game and building up my town, yet even as I played around with it, I found myself wondering why I wasn’t playing ANOTHER game which did it better. If you’re all about building and doing whatever you want with your town (and we’ve seen some interesting creations), there’s always Minecraft. If you want to explore and quest with some solid shooting mechanics, there’s Borderlands. If you want a great story-driven experience that allows you to choose your own path, Bioware has a whole catalog of those games. Hell, if I want to harvest crops and battle monsters, I’m still plenty happy with Rune Factory on my 3DS.
While those other games don’t offer all of the extra content Fallout 4 does, the fact remains, by putting the focus of their titles into those specific aspects, they do things better. In allowing gamers to do so much within the one title, Fallout never feels like any ONE part of it is great. As such, I found myself having to do a bunch of mediocre things instead of a couple great things.
Fallout 4 does a lot of things okay, but nothing stands out above any other gaming title out there. As I said, there were several times in my playthrough where I found myself thinking of other games I could be playing, that did things better. If I’m 15+ hours into a game, I should be more invested than that.
Where’s the Connection
More than just not feeling like any individual part of Fallout 4 was really well done, I never felt like anything of the extra stuff I did mattered to the game overall. Harvesting crops and building a settlement is neat, but isn’t necessary to playing through the story. By all accounts you can leave them in the dust and be a lone badass the majority of the time. Checking in only to upgrade your stuff.
Helping out other survivors is good and can give you some bonuses, but aren’t necessary either. NECESSARY is the key word here, and Fallout 4 is lacking in it. While doing extra stuff can help in terms of stats and upgrades, none of those things felt like they added to the overall story or experience. This lack of connection made it hard to get motivated to do just about anything.
Take Metal Gear Solid V for example. You can build up your Mother Base, ‘recruit’ new soldiers to your cause, craft new weapons and upgrades, while also choosing the missions you want to do. In a lot of ways it’s similar to Fallout 4 in how open it is (though there are obviously more limitations), yet everything you do in MGSV serves a purpose to your ultimate goals. You NEED to recruit soldiers in order to craft better equipment. Snagging an interpreter is entirely optional, but has legitimate benefits/use if you do so. Sending out crews to handle other jobs are also optional, but the perks for doing so can nab you better personnel, equipment, or something else to make your next mission easier.
In Fallout 4, I never felt like the things I did mattered one way or the other in terms of gameplay. If I did none of the extra things, it didn’t impact how I moved to the next piece of story. Without a connection behind my actions, I have a hard time bothering to do anything.
Time to Move On
All of this combined has led to the decision to move on to other games. Will I come back to Fallout 4 later? It’s hard to say, but for the moment, I don’t see it happening. That’s NOT saying I think Fallout 4 is a bad game, or should be scored any lower than it has been. It still does some impressive things, and I can see why so many gamers become enamored with it.
I appreciate what Bethesda’s done in their attempt to craft an experience where you can “do anything”. In doing so, however, they’ve failed to make me CARE about doing any of those things. Rather than waste time in the wasteland, I’d rather play around with a game that’s more focused and does at least ONE thing really, really well.