Alec: The answer, I suppose, is not really. As Adam says, it’s a system of triggers, NPCs waiting for you to walk near before they’ll begin their routines. And most of their routines are shooting you. Once in a while I would stumble across what appeared to be fresh corpses, and I wondered if they were the consequences of some unseen battle, STALKER-style, but I have yet to see any of those battles other than associated with a quest. Actually, post-campaign, I did have a sudden message flash up while I was just wandering around and stumbled near an old garage: “defend the checkpoint”. One of my allied groups was engaged in a skirmish with one of my enemy groups. Curious, I loaded up my brand new campaign and went to the same area – no fight there. So I really don’t know if it was randomly-generated or a script which specifically triggers after the campaign.
John: I did stumble on a fight going on between two factions, when I went into a building. So, again, it could have just been triggered. But it was robo-dudes fighting giant mutants, and made my life a lot easier as I just plundered the resulting corpses. I was on an ammo hunt at the time, so most grateful.
Adam: I’m hoping for something that lives up to my favourite Skyrim moment. I was hunting for no particular reason at all and I saw a fox. Followed it around for a while and it noticed me and ran away. I watched it run straight into a lake and then emerge from the other side a couple of minutes later, having fled across the lake’s bottom. That, but with a molerat would make me believe in many possibilities.
The big question is this: where do you stand on VATS? I’m finding the conventional shooting as rubbish as ever, but I quite enjoy VATS. Like the critical hit triggers and loved that I was killing raiders and their slow-mo deaths always seemed to coincide with a good bit on Classic FM.
John: Huh – I’m finding the opposite. I’m not bothering with VATS as the FPS is annoying but less tiresome. I haven’t pumped any points into the related skills, so I just get to take two drippy shots in the time it would take me to kill all the enemies anyway.
Alec: I dislike the real-time combat more and more each time I try it. It’s like firing a water pistol at puppets running across sheet ice. No substance, no weight. VATS at least adds a simulacrum of heft and response, and a slight element of tension. And when you get better weapons it’s more satisfying and effective too. I wish the stealth was a bit more robust, to be honest. I’ve got some silenced weapons but it doesn’t quite work, and certainly never feels like an assassination, but it may be that I’ve got to pump all my points into the right stuff. The open firefights are often so tedious, though. The Legendary enemies and larger monsters/robots are more of a giggle, which is at least partially because they’re so much bigger that they’re both easier to target in real-time and have more of a convincing physicality to them.
Adam: I started playing on ‘hard’ and have bumped that down to ‘normal’ because, as I should have expected, the higher difficulty mostly seemed to make enemies spongier in their relation to bullets. Killing the first Deathclaw was a drag. I think I’ve also come to peace with the fact that I don’t care about the challenge if it’s going to get in the way of my jaunts around the Wasteland/Commonwealth. I’m not enjoying the combat very much so might as well make it as painless as possible.
Alec: How are you finding characters, writing and dialogue? This was the most pleasant surprise for me, given how woeful even Skyrim could be in that respect, to say nothing of Fallout 3 and Oblivion; I almost don’t know if I just went in with rock-bottom expectations or if they really have done very well.
Adam: It’s a terrible thing to say, especially after all my claims of being a decent sort earlier, but I wanted to throw things at Mama Murphy. I haven’t spent enough time chattering with people to really say much on that front yet, but I look forward to seeing more.
John: I’m surprised you say that, Alec, as I’ve yet to encounter a line of dialogue with a modicum of wit, or a character who has depth beyond their predominant mood.
Alec: It’s not rock-bottom, is what I mean – by the standards of these games they’re doing pretty well. And there are far more fun and interesting characters who turn up later/elsewhere, though inevitably the vast bulk are achingly earnest, as always. Mama Murphy, incidentally, is full of shit, and there is very much a reason to to throw things at her, which you may or may not discover. But yeah, I suspect they wanted to make us sympathetic in addition to wanting to give her a good shaking, which is more concerning.
Adam: If my initial reaction to the settlement building interface was to close it and run as far away as possible, is there a chance I’ll be won over when I learn how it works? I’m already sensing that I’m not supposed to grasp it all at once and that the early missions might guide me through the beginnings of a settlement?
Alec: There’s no further guidance beyond what Sturges initially gives you at Sanctuary, really, but you should work most of it out through experimentation. It really serves two purposes, as far as I can work out. One is that, as you start sticking in the higher-grade stuff like trading stations and setting up supply lines, a basic economy forms, as well as linking together all your storage, which feeds into more efficiently upgrading your kit (as well as having more homebases around the place). The other is the vogueish, please-make-lots-of-YouTube-videos aspect, where people are building flashing space invaders signs from the programmable lights and that sort of thing. As someone who is too lazy and uninspired for such things, I don’t get that much out of it, though I do feel compelled to keep upgrading. That filthy old Skinner box at work, I guess. It’s just about better to have it than not have it, but it certainly doesn’t feel like something Fallout 4 needs.
Adam: For all of my reservations, and I have many, I know I’m going to keep playing. I’ll probably keep playing for forty hours and risk becoming one of those people who has played a game for ages and ages, and claims it wasn’t worth the time. I wonder if the excitement might fall away once I’ve explored the world though.
John: Make sure to leave a furious Steam review. I think it’s fair to say that my feelings of Fallout 4 can be summed up by my power suit having run out of power halfway up the big red modern-looking building, and I’ve had to abandon it on the balcony. Welp.
Alec: Just as a finishing thought experiment: though broadly positive, mine was one of the more qualified reviews of Fallout 4. We’ve seen an awful lot of breathless 9s and 10s. Why do you think that is – what is it about this game which makes some people go absolutely doolally about it?
John: I shall be the voice of unreason. It’s because a lot of people aren’t very good at this job, and are scared of big games, and big publishers. The pressure of expectation to give this a 9 or 10 is enormous.
Adam: That may well be true. I think people are often won over by scale as well – if so much seems possible, it can feel almost miserly not to celebrate that. It leads to funny disputes when a small, perfectly formed game like Downwell receives the same score as a big ol’ beast of a thing like Fallout 4. For some people, whether they’re critics or not, the size of the thing (and that goes for the hype and the marketing and the expectation as well as the world) is a thing of value in and of itself. And I think there’s a tendency that I’ve probably fallen into myself on occasion, of seeing the game you want to see, or have been primed to see, rather than the game that is actually there. Happens with films as well – the breathless praise for Spectre was a recent example. Some reviews made it out to be a flawless masterpiece and even if it’s a decent Bond film, it’s hardly going to live up to that.
Alec: Thing is I know people – and people we all know and aren’t entirely insulting towards – who I definitely wouldn’t say were bad at their jobs, but who absolutely loved Fallout 3 (which is probably Bethesda’s worst RPG), and were genuinely massively excited about this, and I don’t doubt will be delighted by it. There is something going on that, for whatever, we are not experiencing. It may be related to why we don’t generally play much COD, or even Borderlands. But hell, even I enjoy F4 much more than you two do. It’s pressing buttons somewhere, despite its many wobbles. I just really like being out there.
John: No – it’s that they’re not very good at their jobs, failing to do the basics of the task and observe when a game is released as a buggy mess with a terrible interface and scant instruction. You can enjoy it despite this – I certainly am – but it’s just incompetence to say “TEN OUT OF TEN!!!”
Adam: My sister, who is not a critic but plays a million games a year – is looking forward to this more than any other game released since Fallout 3, I reckon. I’ve been telling her about my experiences and she is dismayed by every criticism. I think she loves it because of the setting, because it appeals to her thematically in a way that The Elder Scrolls don’t, and because whatever No Mutants Allowed might think, she’s been playing Fallout since the nineties and still enjoys these trips back into its world, however changed it might be.
The game, as it stands, has all the tools needed to experience its world and I think it’s easy to underestimate just how much someone who is a fan will do to fill in the blanks. Obviously, I’d never trust her opinion on anything ever because, as I’ve mentioned before, she also loves Doom 3.
John: Absolutely, and if anything, that only makes me more cross with Bethesda because they know that. They’re well aware how a large enough base of people will do the work for them. But even then, it’s a critic’s job to not let themselves do that. It’s not your sister’s. Hers is to seek the help she needs to have her Doom 3 fondness removed.
Adam: God, I’ve tried. I was talking to her yesterday and she was worried that she might not enjoy Fallout 4 because I’d been banging on about the combat focus. I ended up telling her it was “good enough”. And I think that’s the thing that makes me slightly sad – it probably is “good enough” but I don’t feel particularly excited about going back to it this evening. It’s there, and I’m glad to spend some time with it, but I won’t be telling people who aren’t already converts to seek it out for the thrill of it all.
Alec: Fallout 4 with MGSV’s combat and stealth, that’s what I want. And non-combat dialogue options, of course. Also Doom 3 was quite literally OK. AND ON THAT BOMBSHELL?
Adam: Fallout 2 is still my favourite. I don’t even know if that’s controversial anymore.
John: I like Hexcells.