It was game of the year discussion time once again, and boy has this been a year. With no shortage of games to play that means there's even more to talk about when narrowing down games to fit into articles meant to generate a lot of site traffic! But reasons aside, it does end up producing a lot of interesting discussion about games and nitty-gritty parts of critique that get skipped over even in game reviews. Plus, these talks have the added benefit of being outside of the hype-fog that surrounds a game's release and helps boost sales of otherwise "dull" games.
So I wanted to give my take on one such discussion I listened to. It was the Giant Bomb end-of-year nominations for various categories, and this one was for "Most Disappointing Game". The list included duds like Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5, shallow games like Star Wars Battlefront, and the big bone of contention: Fallout 4. There was probably close to an hour of arguing over whether Fallout 4 should take the top spot in this category, and a lot of it hinged on whether or the game was expected to be any more than it was.
Ultimately, all agreed that the game is buggy and that Bethesda games generally are always buggy or janky. Some felt that Bethesda games have set a long standard of this particular bar of quality all the way back to Morrow Wind and others felt that it's not an unreasonable expectation, and therefore a disappointment, to assume higher standards will be achieved when a game this derivative is released over such a long time.
My take, to finally get to it, is firmly in the latter camp. I believe that the expectation of Bethesda to have advanced the formula they've been working from for all these years is not only reasonable, but a healthier one for game development than the expectation that a development studio's continued output should never be challenged. It's important to note that no one at Giant Bomb nor I believe that a game's sales is indication of some objective measurement of quality. If that were so, Avatar would be the greatest movie ever made...
So, is Fallout 4 a "great disappointment"? It's a subjective silly thing on some level, but my opinion on the matter is: yes! Despite putting many hours into the game, I can't shake the feeling like I'm getting the same experience I would have gotten if I had just replayed Fallout 3 and that my time invested thus far isn't just a reflection of the fact that it's been a while since I've played a Fallout game and not that Bethesda has crafted a particularly amazing or even worthwhile continuation of the series. That means I just said I've been wasting my time playing a lot of Fallout 4, but guess what? I waste a lot of time playing games, for better or worse. Just like a game's sales numbers shouldn't indicate quality, the amount of time we spend in a game shouldn't indicate how much we really like it.
My inner Jonathan Holmes is frowning and wondering "why aren't you just playing something you'd have more fun with?" Well, I spent money on this thing and I'm already 50 or more hours into the experience -- I'm "invested" in this playthrough and I do have some interest in where the plot is going. Now, I am being harsh on this game but I don't mean to be harsh on people who would disagree with me. If you like Fallout 4 and continue to enjoy your time, that's fine. My argument, which I humbly put up for discussion, is whether or not we should consider the output of this studio to be a disappointment.
If during the course of the game's development, assuming due diligence (which I do), that the included bugs and general lack of advancement in the series is necessary because of the expense of building such a huge, complex and open world, then should Bethesda have scaled back what the game was offering? Should they have worked better within their means to produce a title that doesn't glitch out at an astounding rate? Maybe this means offering fewer features, spending less time on voice acting no one really asked for, but I'd rather see a Fallout/Elder Scrolls game working solidly than I would a games with a multitude of features that are all sort of wonky in execution.
The overriding feeling I get is that this studio, for its legacy, has cemented a place companies like Ubisoft wish it could have. People give this studio a pass, for one reason or another, and maybe that's not a problem, per se. But I think after seeing the same issues crop up in games that use the same physics engine over the course of a decade or more, that I can be disappointed they haven't ironed these things out. Unsurprised, perhaps, but disappointed nonetheless.