Bethesda recently announced Fallout 4, the newest instalment in the Fallout series. The announcement has been getting some criticism from fans, but has mostly been met with rejoicing. One of the criticisms I saw on IGN was that Fallout 4 isn’t taking any risks… at all. When I first watched the trailer to Fallout 4, I was really excited, but there’s that niggling voice in my head that Fallout 4 isn’t the best game Bethesda could be making. Rather, it is the safest route to monetary success. That is disappointing. Fallout New Vegas was one of my favourite games from the last generation, and Fallout 3 was a miraculous revival of a long-dead franchise. Both were risks in their own way. Fallout 4 seems to be a cookie-cutter Fallout game. Will it be good? Assuredly. But the problem is that setting your sights to good, when great and excellent are in the corner of your eye is a bad thing. So, today I want to look at Bethesda’s lack of ambition, why it makes some sense, and why it doesn’t.
Fallout 3 is a good place to start this article. As a game, it is actually really generic. It took the base engine from Oblivion and adapted it for the Fallout world. The Fallout world itself wasn’t really expanded upon in Fallout 3 and the game completely lost its trademark sense of humour, and lacked actually interesting characters. For long-time readers of this blog, you’ll know that I attribute this to Bethesda’s inability to write. They make great games, but, since Morrowind, Bethesda has not been able to make a single interesting plot or character. But I digress. Fallout 3 was paint-by-numbers post apocalyptic fare. The world was huge and depressing. There was tons to do, and tons of references to past Fallout games were made.
This may sound like I’m dumping on Fallout 3, but the game was actually an extremely risky move. Fallout was long defunct by the time Bethesda revived the series. After a long string of court battles, Fallout felt like a dead property. Bethesda’s choice to not only make a game, but start a flagship series was very bold. If it didn’t pan out, millions would have been wasted. If there’s one thing you can say about Fallout 3, its that it’s a huge and expensive game. With this in mind, it makes sense that Bethesda chose not to innovate too much. They didn’t want to push the formula too far or risk alienating Fallout fans and Elder Scrolls fans. By keeping generic, they cast their net wide and gathered an impressive audience. It was the best way of minimizing the risks they were taking with a series that many, many gamers forgot and more ever knew to begin with.
Fallout New Vegas was made in light of the mammoth success of Fallout 3. While Fallout 3 was simple, New Vegas had many moving parts: interesting characters, better choices, hugely expanded gameplay options. Combine all of that with the specific wild west-inspired setting and you had a game that was certainly more ambitious than Fallout 3. However, this shouldn’t diminish Fallout 3’s feat of restoring the series. It did something few games ever think of, no less manage.
All of this is to lead to the point that, from what we’ve seen, Fallout 4 looks exactly like Fallout 3. The only difference is that this time there is no excuse for playing it safe. What we’ve seen is a word with no vision. I’m sorry, but just setting a game in a real world city does not amount to a vision. Fallout New Vegas wasn’t just about the ruins of Vegas. It combined the lawlessness of the wild west with the encroaching peace of federal powers, the bureaucratic NCR and totalitarian Caesar’s Legion. Though this was a theme fleshed out in the main game, it was immediately apparent from promotional materials. Fallout 4 doesn’t have a vision, or, if it does, Bethesda’s doing a bad job at showing it.
What I see with Fallout 4 is a game screaming from the top of its lungs “Hey guys! I’m a Fallout game!” Every single part of the trailer seemed fit to remind us what Fallout is. Vault tech? Check. Nuclear apocalypse? Check. Dog? Check. Power armour? Check. Vault Suit… you get the point. What I didn’t see was anything new, anything that would elevate this above being just another Fallout game. Good games can follow a formula. Great games show you what new things they’re bringing to the table. Bethesda seems to think that graphics and location are all they need. Playing around Boston will be fun, but why? What’s the point? I’m not disparaging Boston; I actually want Bethesda to explain this. I want to know that they didn’t just pick a random place far from California so they wouldn’t have to deal with Fallout lore. As for the graphics, who cares? Actually, Bethesda’s been getting a lot of heat for using a more cartoonish style. While I’m sure the game will look amazing, graphics are not a feature. They are not something to revolve your game around.
Bethesda needs to show us exactly why Boston will be different from the Capital Wasteland. Fans of Fallout 3 know that Boston is in the Commonwealth and its intriguing Institute, an advanced civilization (by Fallout standards). This could open up a whole world of interesting ideas. Unfortunately, Bethesda hasn’t shown us any of them. Everything I’ve seen could have been part of a trailer for Fallout 3. When the time comes and Fallout 4 is released, will it have its own character like New Vegas and Morrowind? Or will it be just an upgrade to Fallout 3? The fact I’m even thinking about this worries me.
In the end, Fallout 4 will undoubtably be a fun game to play. Bethesda has a good track record of making mechanically fun games that delight millions. But will it be something I’ll go back to year after year? Bethesda hasn’t shown me any reason I would want to, yet. There will be more, but I very much hope to see some character, some unique way of looking at the apocalypse that doesn’t simply end up being a rehash of Fallout 3. We need a Fallout game that feels fresh. With such a long development cycle, you’d think this would be easy. Don’t get me wrong; I’m still extremely excited and will be playing the hell out of this game no matter what happens. And my fears may be unfounded. I hope they are. But, for fans of Fallout, this announcement is serious business.
-Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer