Fallout 4: I am Disappoint

Fallout 4 screenshot showing an ancient wrecked airliner

Let me tell you my half-assed1 literary theory. It goes like this: plot is character. A story is what happens when characters are placed in a situation. The plot is extrapolated from that.

You let three suspicious acquaintences find a tote-bag full of money and you know it's going to end in gunfire. An angsty prince discovering that his father was murdered by his new stepfather will ultimately end up killing a bunch of people. And so on. The characters react to the situation, and that's the story.

At least, that's how you write a novel or play or film script. With story-based video games, there's a problem: the main character is the player, which means that you know nothing about them. You have no idea how they'll react, so it's not actually possible to write a plausible plot for a game.

(Okay, you can and lots of games do that, but the way they do it is by creating a main character and then telling the player that they are that person. When that happens to me, it stops being my story. And then I hate the game.)

The plot of a game should be a collaboration between the game's designers and the player. The designers have created the setting and secondary characters and it is up to the player to decide what they want to do with it. The story of the game becomes what the player does.

For example, in Fallout (i.e. the first game of the series), there's a quest you run into early in the game. Aradesh, the leader of a small town has a daughter (Tandi) who has been kidnapped by raiders. He asks you to rescue her.

Now, the obvious way to do it is to just go in with guns blazing and kill all of the raiders. This is possible and if you're good enough at combat, you can do it. Alternately, you can sneak in (if you're good enough at stealth) and free her that way. Or, if you're a persuasive speaker, you can convince the raiders' leader to just let her go. Finally, if all of that fails, you can offer to buy her from the raiders if you have enough money or if you're good at haggling2.

I ended up sneaking in and freeing Tandi, getting caught and shooting my way out, then escaping into the desert. Your game will almost certainly be different.

And this is not a special case. The Fallout series has been very good at colaborating with the player, Fallout 3's heavy-handed ending notwithstanding.

So, Fallout 4.

Bethesda merged skills (i.e. the way you determine what you're good at) and perks (bonus rule-bending abilities that you can get) and ruined both. Previous Fallouts would give me points to add to my skills as I progressed. So I could specialize in guns (and be a gunslinger), stealth (and be a ninja), speech (con artist), lockpicking and science (burglar) or just evenly spread them across everything (bleached skeleton).

But Fallout 4 replaces them with a bunch of perks3. Instead of adding points to (e.g.) my repair skill, I take a level of a perk that improves some aspect of repair (e.g. the ability to modify guns to a degree). And this will take a long time to maximize because the later levels of these perks also require a higher experience level. I will not be able to customize my weapons or armor to its full potential for at least the first 40 hours of gameplay.

This means that I'm no longer allowed to specialize. There are now fewer interesting things I can do in this game and fewer stories I can create4.

It is, in other words, less of a Fallout game.

Update: All that being said, Fallout 4 is still an amazing game. I'm currently 170 hours into my first playthrough and still enjoying it. Someday perhaps, I'll make another post detailing what I liked about the game.

  1. Half-assed in that I cribbed it from someone else without digging to see if there's more to it than that. 

  2. Alternately, you could also just turn down Aradesh's request or avoid his town entirely. 

  3. I'm mostly talking about skills in this post, but they're also doing perks wrong. A perk is supposed to be a special exception to the normal rules of the game. The best perks are clever and imaginative and can be used in interesting ways, and there are some of them in Fallout 4, because they were carried over from previous games. But the new ones are all mostly of the form you do X slightly better. Booooooooring! 

  4. I should mention that it's not just skills. There's the character's backstory as a married suburban parent, the reduced dialog options, the way they are voiced--all of that takes away from my part of the storytelling. 

#   Posted 2015-11-21 08:12:06 UTC; last changed 2019-06-25 13:32:08 UTC