I don’t think it would be hyperbole to suggest that Bethesda killed it at E3 this year – which, for their first year as an event headliner, is pretty remarkable. Out of all the megatons dropped this conference – the Last Guardian, Shenmue 3, and the FF7 remake – Fallout 4’s announcement was the easily the best for a few reasons: it revealed the most content, came with the closest release date, and addressed many of the fears provoked by the game’s reveal trailer. Yes, you could pick a different gender and ethnicity for your character. Yes, there would be a lot of content – and more importantly, this wouldn’t just be a rehash of Fallout 3. I’m going out on a limb here, but both the trailer and the e3 conference confirm for me that Fallout 4 is going to be themed around ‘leadership’ – at least from a gameplay perspective. I mean, from the Vertibird to the creation of trade routes, it’s clear the protagonist of this game isn’t a ‘Lone Wanderer’ anymore. Bringing civilization back from the brink of total destruction by organizing settlements was a major theme of the first and second Fallout games – it’s good to see this made a centerpiece in Fallout 4.
In that same E3 presentation, we also learned about a bevy of new features to Fallout 4: in fact, we learned so much it’s difficult to cram all the pertinent points into one paragraph! Think about it: we learned about the weapon mods system, the new VATS, the new power armor mechanics, the trade routes, the new dialogue system…it just goes on and on! And that’s just what we were told directly: sleuth-y youtubers have already uploaded videos dissecting every frame of the E3 show, uncovering even more information about the next Fallout.
But for all that revealed content, there’s still a few pressing concerns I have about Fallout 4 that have yet to be addressed in any way. I don’t fault Bethesda for not spoiling everything about their new game, obviously – but until I know for sure that Fallout 4 has these doubts assuaged, I’m going to wait to purchase a copy. Because to me, these features should be key for any Fallout worthy of its own name. And not-so-coincidentally, all of these were already pulled off pretty well by Obsidian’s New Vegas. So if Bethesda don’t come through on these, we know there isn’t really an excuse.
1. Interesting companions
Fallout 3 had a few companions that I liked playing with. Fawkes was a barrel of laughs – especially considering he was near-invincible and packed a minigun for a weapon. But that pales in comparison to the fantastically-written companions of New Vegas. Everybody from Arcade to Veronica to Raul were all fascinating and well-rounded people that, despite repeating the same lines of dialogue over and over again in combat, you (mostly) enjoyed having around. They each had their own cool side-quest to complete, their own set of traits and foibles. I’d love to see more companions like the ones we got to hang out with in New Vegas. Maybe some kind of robot or member of the Institute could keep our character company in Fallout 4? Yeah, that would be awesome.
2. More quests rooted in game lore
Fallout 3 was a great game, in its own way: but I have to admit I found a few of its quests to be silly, or just frustrating. It’s one thing to make a game with a sense of humor: but it’s quite another to build a majority of your side-quests around lore-suspending references and punchlines. Remember Arefu, the quest involving vampires? How about ‘The Replicant’, the quest that essentially retold the plot of Blade Runner? Not only are these lazy references, they are also hard to reconcile with the game’s lore. It’s not that vampires or androids aren’t interesting in their own right – but think about it: the Fallout world is chock full of unique characters, groups, and entities. Why depend on referencing other non-post apocalyptic media out there when you have the entire Fallout series to draw from?
That being said, I like what I see from Fallout 4’s androids. They no longer function as simple references to the work of Philip K. Dick – rather, from the trailers I assume they’re going to play a much more pivotal role in the game’s main plot than in Fallout 3. So long as Bethesda is adding stuff to the Fallout canon that feels in line with the rest of the series, I’m interested. But a small part of me is worried that they could easily get carried away with this stuff: I mean, how much advanced tech are we supposed to tolerate before the notion that this is a barren post-apocalyptic wasteland stretches past the breaking point? Mr. House was supposedly the most resourceful man in the Mojave, and maybe the world – and all he had were a hill-full of Securitrons! From the looks of all the floating airships, working Vertibirds, and other technological marvels seen in the trailer, Mr. House is starting to look pretty quaint in comparison. Of course, if all this stuff is as mind-meltingly awesome as it looks in the trailer, I’d be willing to suspend my disbelief a little further for Bethesda.
3. More thinking through the practicalities of a post-apocalypse
Remember the Cassidy quest line in New Vegas, where you helped sell her Brahmin Caravan to the Crimson Caravan Company? That was an amazing quest, because it shed some light on the minutiae of the Mojave wasteland; it showed how people got food, and other supplies. It showed us some insight into the way caravan businesses might operate in such a scenario, which all really boosted New Vegas’s immersion factor. The same goes for the Heck Gunderson quest, which involved the rancher trying to work out a deal to become the Royal Lux’s main meat distributor. These were little things, but they were so important to the world-building of New Vegas. They are part of what made the setting of a post-apocalypse so believable in that game. You actually saw farms, trade caravans, and a source of fresh water. This is pretty different in Fallout 3, which featured no real details on what any of the NPCs (other than the occasional guard or shop owner or doctor) actually do for a living… or what they eat…or how they get water. Yes, I know the main quest involves restoring fresh water to the Capital Wasteland. What the game never explains is how anybody was getting water beforehand.
That kind of thing might work in a different kind of game, but this is Fallout. This series has always been about the realities of trying to survive in a wilderness – in Fallout 4, we need to see some of the practical aspects of how these human beings are keeping themselves alive in the midst of a nuclear-driven disaster. Or, if Fallout 4 takes place slightly further in the future when society has rebuilt itself more, show us some of the practical sides of that setting.
4. More useful SPECIAL categories; a harder game overall
Ok, this one was actually bungled equally as bad in New Vegas as in Fallout 3. Provided you don’t sink your skill and SPECIAL points randomly throughout the game, by the time you hit level 13 you’ll likely be able to quickly dispatch with anything moving. And when you throw in the ‘steady’ drug from New Vegas, you basically become Shiva destroyer of worlds. What’s more, both games were super combat heavy; which kind of discourages from investing points outside Agility or Strength. So for Fallout 4, I’d love to see two things: a more challenging combat system, and an ability to survive while roleplaying with your character’s SPECIAL points. In other words, the game should be challenging no matter what class or character build you choose – but at the same time, it should be balanced as to not screw over people who want to play as a smart but weak scientist, or a charismatic but cowardly caravan driver.
Previous games did a decent job in this category: think about how in both 3 and NV, your dialogue choices changed depending upon your character’s level of intelligence. How in New Vegas, you got access to all kinds of unique dialogue depending on your character’s skills. These are solid examples of allowing the player a chance to feel like the points they spent actually made a difference on their gameplay experience. Fallout 1 and 2 are absolutely full of design choices that accomplish this feat beautifully – but in 3 and NV, I can’t help but feel some of the SPECIAL categories are next to useless. Charisma was basically useless in Fallout 3, since you could reload your game as many times as needed and pass every speech check in the game. I’ve yet to see a speech system in an RPG like in Fallout 1 and 2, which allowed you to use your speech abilities to resolve many of their quests without bloodshed. Something like that in Fallout 4 would be amazing –and true to the spirit of the original games, to boot! And even if you can’t resolve every dispute non-violently, at least give us some variety in how we can approach a situation! Wouldn’t it be awesome to use scientific know-how to slay your foes? Or talk your way out of being murdered by a bunch of debt collectors, as just a random idea? The possibilities are endless here – so let’s see some more RPG elements in the next Fallout, please!
Player choice that actually makes a difference
It was a big, big problem in Fallout 3 for me: what difference does it make? There were few quests in that game that didn’t feel outright strange to play as an evil-karma character. And for those that were reconcilable with an ‘evil protagonist’, little changed from the ‘good’ outcomes beyond a different line or two of dialogue, or maybe a different location for your new house. This is a far, far cry from the Interplay days of Fallout – in both Fallout 1 and 2, your decisions actually mattered. They had an impact that went beyond that immediate dialogue window – and this quality was brought into the 3D era by Obsidian’s Fallout: New Vegas.
In New Vegas, you are forced to choose sides: forced to change the face of the Mojave, and actually see a little blurb at the end of the game explaining how each big decision you made through the game worked out. We got no such level of detail in the Fallout 3 ending. What we did get was a very stock set-up: you could be the martyr, be the selfish neutral, or be the President’s hatchet boy and go full evil. Contrast this with the overall ending of new Vegas: which didn’t fit so neatly into ‘good’, ‘bad’, or ‘neutral’ endings. Whether the NCR, Mr. House, or Caesar end up holding the reins, none of these outcomes are all positive or all negative. That being said, they still manage to hold huge implications for the future. This is how a morally grey game like the Fallout series ought to handle player choice: not with a Knights of the Old Republic style sith/jedi meter, but with more neutral outcomes that make real ripples in the game world’s story.
For an example of how not to do this, let’s remember one of Fallout 3’s most controversial quest-lines: deciding whether to disarm or detonate the bomb in Megaton. Either way, you get a new house. Either way, Moira still works with you. Either way, it has little substantial effect on your character for the rest of the game (setting aside the hit to karma). Contrast this with how, in New Vegas, working with one of the factions automatically bars you from the trust of the other three for the rest of the game. Fallout, for my money, is at its best when your choices have real impact. Nobody would likely play these games if they were just sub-par shooters saddled with a ‘freeze time’ cheat and a grey/green color filter over everything.
So there you have it: 5 things Fallout 4 could stand to learn from New Vegas. I’ll admit I like RPGs more than action/shooter type games, so this list is certainly curtailed to my own specific interests. That being said, Fallout has always been an RPG – so I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask for more RPG elements, immersion, and uniqueness in the newest version.