In this special edition playthrough, FBT relives Fallout 3 *spoilers (FBT hates it)*
I loved Fallout 3. There was nothing like it. Okay, there were loads like it; Stalker, Metro and … others but this was from the makers of Oblivion. It was Oblivion after the bombs dropped. That’s got to be good. And it was. I lived in FO3 for an age, explored every irradiated pixel. The world was horrible but the experience was unforgettable. When FO New Vegas came out I explored the wasteland again, loving being back in the world from a different perspective. Sure, it was a little juvenile, a bit repetitive with huge areas of nothing but a radscorpion for company and its story was daft (Romans? Yeah, they’re a good role model) but it had some really good stuff in it especially with the factions, reputation and robot sex. And then it was five long years in the vault until I could strap on my Pipboy again.
Fallout 4 opening with a pre-war scene was interesting, clearly that was supposed to make me feel emotionally connected to the wasteland later but it hadn’t ever occurred to me during FO3 to picture the world pre-war. I didn’t really care then and I don’t care now cos the game is making me go through annoying mundane tasks to build suspense, as if what’s about to happen will come as a surprise during this perfect suburban domesticity.
Cracking wise with my clearly ill-fated other half, rocking a cradle with my sprog in it, watching TV, all I can think about is the scene in Saints Row 4 where The Boss is trapped in a 50s sitcom and you’re forced to ‘play’ eating breakfast and get the morning paper, itself a parody of games like Heavy Rain. How meta. Eventually I’ve interacted enough and we’re running for the vault. I don’t get much time to look around but I do pause briefly to see the bomb land which is amazing, but I’m quickly hurried inside before I can really take it in. Safely vaulted, getting a real sense of the panic and drama, I’m looking forward to starting a life in a vault. I wonder if this will be the first Fallout game to explore the Commonwealth before it started, adventure in a world where the bombs are still smouldering, but no; we’re tricked into being turned into an ice-vault-icle and the years pass. I helplessly watch as my other half is indeed ill-fated and the kiddiewink snatched. Another unknown period passes and eventually I melt and claw my way outside to catch my first glimpse of the world I’ve seen before.
One of FO3’s greatest moments is when you escape the vault and are awed by the world for the first time. FO4’s attempt at awe is seeing my perfect neighbourhood reduced to ruins. But this isn’t as affecting as Bethesda may have intended; I never made a connection to the neighbourhood, I saw it pass by as I was running for my life so seeing it now has zero impact on me. I’ve seen this before - It’s just another Fallout ruin. I go inside my house and because I assume the game wants me to and stare at the empty cot. Sads. I have no emotional connection to the place or what happened or even the kid, because it all happened too fast. To really have given this impact, the game could have done with a few more hours in the pre-nuclear environment the way you spend time in the Vault in FO3. You think you know the world, then step outside and gasp. It could have worked quite well with the right quests. It’s like FO4 forgot about FO3 and thinks I’ll be shocked by what happened to my home.
A short chat with my still operating Mr Handy then occurs and I uncover something startling; The voice is Jack in Mass Effect! This game had better allow tattoos. I adore Jack; Courtenay Taylor did a stellar job grinding out Jack-the-killing-machine’s dialogue with barely contained rage then slowly softening to reveal a fragile and hurting human underneath but in FO4 my voice stays largely the same; indifferent. I’m playing a mother who just saw her hubby shot, her baby taken and the world destroyed and I’m talking and acting like it's no biggie. The Handy gives Jack a waypoint to begin the search and so, filled with despair, determined to find my son and planning on playing ME2 next, I head Jack off in the opposite direction.
Before I’ve even met my first bloatfly, I’m already a little worried about where this game will take me. It’s forced onto me a very strong reason to drive forward and I don’t want one, I want to wander and discover. FO3 wasn’t about saving the world it was about taking the first steps towards a better one and until I did it, everyone just got on with life. In NV it was revenge and the key to that is preparation. Alongside it you got embroiled in a larger power-struggle, but one that didn’t need a resolution quick-sharp. In FO4 I am looking for my helpless baby lost somewhere in this nightmare world. How can that not overwhelm every other consideration? Why would I explore, roam, build some granny an armchair when my kid could be on a slab somewhere? It’s impossible to wander the wasteland and care about the main storyline at the same time. This is a Schrodinger’s cat of a main mission; the kid is alive and dead until I action it. So I’ll make a player decision not a character one, and ignore a kidnapped baby. Other open-world games have reconciled a dramatic main plot with freedom in far better ways. Far Cry 3 got the recovery of his friends out of the way quickly and focused on sacrificing your humanity in favour of revenge. Perfect for side-questing. Mass Effect 3 had arguably the biggest story driver of all time – a trifling mission to save the earth and then the galaxy – but it encouraged side-missioning because most if not all your actions added to your readiness; You were side-questing to prepare for the main quest. Another open-worlder that stumbled its main mission was Tomb Raider – why am I looking for Dream Catchers when my friends are being held hostage? In FO4 it’s worse; maternal instinct or material instinct?
Ignoring the baby and taking on what FO4 is, it’s interesting and brave that I’m a vault dweller with no knowledge of the war’s repercussions. I have no training, no survival instinct, no idea what’s out there. I’m a fifties housewife. Amazing. Everything my character sees should cause her to breakdown, every item should be a mystery, every challenge an impossible feat and every creature a lethal encounter - but we just merrily crack on, knowing how to read a Pipboy, pick locks, fire guns. I should have screamed the place down the first time I saw a ghoul. But no, I’ve gone full Rambo in one cut-scene and it’s a huge mistake because playing someone completely unprepared and incapable would have been more realistic, more frightening. Why create a character so woefully unprepared and conflicted, then have them handle everything like they’ve been doing this for years? It would have been compelling to find trainers, get experience, learn, barely survive. But no, we hit the ground running and gunning.
After a few hours of barrelling about lost in the world I so loved in FO3, I stop and look around. It does look amazing. It’s exactly how I remembered the post-apocalyptic world looking. Just how FO3 looked. Just how NV looked, when it wasn’t crashing. Exactly the same. Same landscape. Same items. Same everything... Everything the same... Maybe a little more pixel-sharp, but yeah … there it is then, the wasteland. Eight years I've been waiting for this. Just how I left it eight years ago. And within the next few hours, the worst thing that can happen in an open world game happens. I get bored. The problem is I’ve seen it all before. The thrill of discovery, of getting into and out of trouble, of finding deserted houses with skeletal bodies, venturing into buildings, we went through that in FO3; it’s just more of the same and the impact is lost. I’m deathly, depressingly nonplussed in a huge apocalyptic world.
Oh look, a factory. I wonder if it’s a nuka cola factory? Yes, it is. I wonder if it’ll be full of raiders. Yes, it is. Water, bring on the Mirelurks. A bog? I can’t even be bothered with the bloatflies. I’ll go around. It’s the same disarray, the same crap on the floor, the same super mutants. Even the Megaton replacement Diamond City just reminds you of Megaton. Bigger but not better, not different enough to get the wanderer juices flowing. Each Elder Scroll fundamentally changed the environment, the experiences, why did Bethesda keep going back to the irradiated well? Surely there could have been other ways to explore nuclear Armageddon; New Vegas was set in a location spared direct hits so NV explored how humanity would survive in an isolated world, not an obliterated one. FO4 could have gone somewhere else entirely but instead it feels like more of FO3. When you compare it to rival Sandbox games it comes across as lazy; Far Cry distinguished itself by never repeating itself, every Assassin’s Creed is unique while each Mass Effect subtly updated, changed and refreshed without becoming too distant from its predecessor; all the GTA’s stay safely within a city, but with new ways to explore it and Saints Row 4 rebuilt Steelport but gave you new ways to abuse it. In those you know which game you’re looking at; I couldn’t pick a FO4 screenshot out of a FO3 line-up.
The only part of FO4 that’s remotely fascinating is the Glowing Sea, a deadly ground-zero for the bomb we saw at the beginning. It’s a horrible place and ironically, given its deadly nature the only place FO4 comes alive. A sick and blighted place, full of seeping decay and absolute death, The Glowing Sea is thrilling, not just in the experience but because it's new. Had FO4 been set here entirely, it could have been something incredible. We’re constantly injecting radaway and the like, surely we’ve built up a resistance by now? Come on; in FO3 we purified water, no one’s built on that since? Setting FO4 in the Glowing Sea would have been stunning; it could have played like Bioshock - folks safe but rotting away inside great buildings with their own society and laws, surrounded by a lethal environment that only the brave (i.e Jack) will brave and bring the different houses together to fight some larger force or maybe eradicate radiation so everyone can leave. Having the Lone Hero find a city trapped by air would have set a new bar. Anything but just visit the place before returning to the rinse and repeat of FO3.
Worse, if not unforgivable, there’s so much reskinning and recycling going on I’m surprised CoD’s legal team didn’t sue. Who reskins a game nearly a decade old?! If you played FO3, NV or Skyrim then you’ve played in the world of FO4. This is more than just lazy art design on Bethesda’s part. This is wilfully cheating gamers who plonked down a TON of Nuka caps on a new fallout world and got something built in Skyrim’s Construction Set. In years to come, people will discuss FO3 and 4 interchangeably – that’s not good enough. And it’s not just evident in the art design. We’re still lock-picking the same way (and let’s not forget that was reskinned in Skyrim too); Sure, the locks wouldn’t have changed but the mini-game? Come on. Who in the fallout world is still manufacturing bobbypins?! I’m not talking about realism (I have a mini nuke, that should get a drawer open), just give us something new; anything but this again, I’ve been breaking locks the same way for at least four Bethesda games. Each Mass Effect had a different approach to hacking, why am I still playing Boggle in FO4 too? It’s all the same like a place-holder, a mega DLC.
Some creatures though do move in new and frightening ways – the same creatures but you can’t have everything. Deathclaws leaping over fencing and through buildings is pants-wettingly good/bad as is trying to sneak around them, and the ghouls are faster too. And then there’s the Legendary enemies. Random encounters with extra-tough opponents that weld unique and powerful weapons. They’re actually more of a frustration and a distraction than anything exciting. Sure there’s going to be ornery old coots out there that know how to take a hit, and they’re likely to be carrying good loot but they’re barely even an event moment, just ammo-sucking annoyances mixed in with regular bullet-catchers carrying rarely exciting but always heavy goods. Borderlands often battered the crap out of you then dropped something even bigger and nastier on you, but you knew BL was as trustworthy as it was insane. That creature will drop something sexy. You may spend a hundred mill on a reclone, but goddamn that loot will be worth it. So you suck it up and Jack Burton it; Gimme your best shot, pal. I can take it. In FO4 it’s not worth all the Buffout and ammo and they appear at frustrating times when you’re just trying to get some place.
And at first, it seems the place you want to get is home. Largely an improved version of Skyrim’s Hearthfire extension, you can stake a claim on multiple locations, rebuild and attract settlers. Sounds fantastic, and judging by some of the settlements gamers have created, the possibilities are endless. They’re also mind-numbingly boring. Setting up power actually requires you to do the wiring. Well, I’m kinda searching for my son but yeah okay, lemme just rewire a plug. And when I do get settlers in, do they get involved? Yes, if I force them to but only in support roles while I’m out trying to find more logs for their fricking roof. Had the building work been played through a mini-game where you could properly plan, like a Sim City or the way Black & White allowed you to train a foreman to direct the rest of the followers, it could have been amazing. Set plans in motion then return to see how everyone was doing, how your little fiefdom was coming along. It could encourage you to talk to NCPs, finding scavengers to find materials, track down a builder, a planner to design it, artists to decorate it, build a militia, become raiders and attract criminals or a peaceful settlement for families. It could have been incredible. Go from a ruin to a functioning town, become a force in the wasteland! No. And thanks to a build system that’s more infuriating and confusing than picking something up in Trespasser, just trying to put a rug on the floor becomes rage-inducing; my house looks like an art student’s Cubism project. I have to do this for the entire settlement?! I eventually lost it and walked off never to return. And I have to do this for every place I’ve secured?! I’m a slumlord and I’m okay with that. The Fallout society can rebuild itself for all I care. The tenants constantly ask for things to be built; how did they all survive this long without me?! I just woke up, how come I’m a DIY God as well as a survivalist expert? I just give up and let the settlers live in squalor. Get out of my bed.
We’ll leave FBT to his impression of Reg Prescott. Maybe he’ll cheer up when he discovers the romance sub-plot, so check out pt2 to see if FBT forgets his other-half who died a day ago and finds love in the wasteland. Oh yeah, and finds his kid. Keep forgetting about that.