I emerge from another “dungeon” – or at least another underground sewer or shelter system – gun in hand and a couple of useless suits and weapons the richer. I check my Pip-Boy, leering at the map finding my next destination. Shit, I think to myself, I’ve still got like half the surface area of this map til I reach Diamond City. I equip my most powerful weapon (a shitty bolt-action pistol), click R3 to crouch, and saunter my way toward the great expanses.
As I approach the 9,000th set of feral ghouls hiding inside a broken-down shack (and more behind a tree, others face-down near a car, a few more inexplicably jutting out sideways from a nearby wall), I realize something; something I had suspected all along, but was too loyal to the $60 I spent on this game to admit out loud:
Fallout 4 sucks.
No, really. It sucks. It’s one of the absolute most dull and trite experiences I’ve ever had in my 25 years of wasting time with videogames. Three main culprits stand out, each having their root in Bethesda’s major development decisions: A total lack of urgency in story/gameplay, a dearth of engaging missions/activities in which to partake, and a stymieing reliance on brand identity and expectations to deliver what is essentially AAA Game – The Game! as far as “modern” games go. Each element contributes both superficially and at a core level to making Fallout 4 one of the least fun adventures I’ve ever had in gaming.
1. Lack of Urgency
From the minute you emerge from Vault 111 you’re burdening with an overpowering and depressing sense of, “What now?” Sure, the world is big, and sure, there’s lots to explore…but what’s the point? The game saddles on a banal “Find your son and avenge your murdered wife” story that fits in like they added it a week before launch, which does nothing to make me care about going out into the great brown and grey yonder.
Since there’s basically no reason to get out there and find your missing son/avenge your dead mailman/find the lost Tae Bo DVD production factory, the gameplay had better be intense and in-your-face and 90s marketing and all that jazz.
You wander the wasteland aimlessly with largely underpowered pieces of junk for weapons, constantly spamming the V.A.T.S. system. (If there’s a game mechanic more boring and insipid than V.A.T.S., I have yet to find it.) You sneak around the giant, horrible map (because running out in the open gets you attacked by those disgusting flies and trios of wild dogs) constantly mashing L1 to get the slip on enemies 100 yards away, only to find out that even from 10 feet out a hit percent of 95 still means you’re going to miss 1-2 of your seven shots to the chest of a charging foe. It’s fun the first two times to pinpoint the “weak” spots on an enemy to try and get an advantage, but by the time the third try rolls around you realize there are no real advantages to this system, other than to mask the frankly poor shooting mechanics outside V.A.T.S. It creates a boring and tedious game wherein neither brute force nor sneaky tactile movement plays a whole lot different than the other, a real shame for a game with no real point.
A game with no urgency in either its story or its gameplay can only get by for so long. For a game that’s meant to be an endless do-what-you-please affair, I find that the thing I want to do most at the end of a two-hour long play session is turn off my PS4 and make something of my life, just like Dad said to do.
2. Unengaging Structure
“But Wes!” all the Defenders of the Faith will shout, “it’s a video game! You don’t NEED a story, you just need to have fun!” This mentality went out the door with Bioshock, a game that successfully made me enjoy playing it and genuinely wish to continue past the first four hours or so. It’s 2016 now, which means that refusing to tack on a meaningful story simply will not cut it. It makes me wonder where the dev money went: The graphics are largely ok (never really getting beyond decent-looking for this gen), the mechanics are wonky (and seemingly completely untouched from 3 and New Vegas), and the world is sparsely populated. Bethesda couldn’t shit out a few extra grand to hire someone to write a compelling narrative (or at least one that isn’t clichéd to hell and back in video games)?
The aimlessness and total unimportance of the main storyline branches out into all other affairs, as well. Up until now, none of the sidequests I’ve encountered have been anything other than, “Go here, shoot that; go there, collect this” missions that have been done countless times – and better – in other games. Open-world games have the tendency to cram a lot of action into a large space, but face the same pitfalls of not having much disparity in the types of things you’re doing. Give me a 7-hour romp that keeps things fresh over a 100+ hour grindfest any day of the week.
Having a game being so abstract in its identity and goals makes for a totally unengaging affair. Since I don’t care about the story, and the shooting gets old after you pick up your first gun, there’s no real reason to shun life’s responsibilities and play the damn thing – something a good video game makes you want to do. Since I don’t care about what’s around the next corner (or in this case over the next mound of brown nondescript terrain) I have no reason to continue playing.
3. After All, It’s Fallout 4
This one is probably my fault. I had the same exact gripes about Fallout 3, and only moderately enjoyed New Vegas. What the hell was I expecting out of part four of a series I already didn’t particularly enjoy? I bought into the hype and allowed myself to think Bethesda would buck the trend and make something unique and memorable (a lot like they did with Skyrim). Instead, I got a slightly prettier (and somehow much more awkward and wonky) version of Fallout 3.
Part of the problem is that instead of adding anything of value to the core Bethesda Fallout formula, they simply made the same game from a few years ago. No, I don’t consider putting a shitty armor suit that you have to scrounge for power cells just to keep operational any sort of upgrade; and no, I don’t think a half-assed city building/mayor simulator really adds anything of depth to what is essentially a seven year old game. The fact that the game is content to provide the same post-apocalyptic experience as its predecessors without significantly (I would argue, “without even remotely”) changing anything the brand brings to the table is disheartening to say the least, as it more or less means no one thought innovating the series beyond, “Well, you can shoddily put together some buildings now, I guess?” was a good idea.
1200 words later, what I’m most upset about is my time. Sure, I regret spending $60 on this game as I don’t think $60/purchaser’s worth of effort went into making it a new experience; but what I’m most upset about is my loss of time. I can make $60 back at some point in my life, but will never recoup the ~20 hours I spent pointing a customized weapon that cost me half of my valuable resources at giant roaches in a browner, even-more-boring-than-real-life version of Boston.
I hate Fallout 4.
Am I too harsh on the series? Were my expectations too high? Why does it burn when I pee? Let me know in the comments below!