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Wot *I* Think: Fallout 4

A re-view

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I’ve spent a lot of work time playing Fallout 4, what with its being the biggest release of the year. It gave me the chance to write a couple of superhelpful guides, and a three-part diary about trying to approach the game differently from that of most reviewers. So I’m left with a whole bunch of opinions about it, which it makes sense to collate into my own little WIT. It’s worth noting I’ve nowhere near completed the game, approached it strangely, and not put in nearly as much work and effort as Alec did for his official RPS review. These are just my thoughts based on what I’ve experienced so far, as spoiler free as I can get it.

This is my first Fallout. Sort of. I never played the original Fallouts because I was busy, and turn-based strategic games have never been a strength. And I bounced off Fallout 3 like a bouncy ball on a trampoline – three times I started that game, and three times I reached Megaton, felt overwhelmed with choices about which I didn’t care, and wandered off. New Vegas, which I know I should play, got swept away with its predecessor. So Fallout 4 is the first time I’ve sunk my teeth into a game in the series. NMA, come get me.

However, being far more familiar with the Elder Scrolls franchise, it’s not like the game was a surprising mystery to me. So I knew what to expect. And not all of it good.

That bothers me. It bothers me a great deal that we don’t expect games from Bethesda to be well presented, have workable UIs, to not have enormous game-breaking bugs, terrible options, and an inevitable reliance on modders to craft something halfway comfortable to play. But expectation sure takes the edge of experiencing these things, and I think this is likely part of the reason there are so many poor reviews of the game out there lavishing it with 9s and 10s – critics who have forgotten that despite being expected, such things are not acceptable. So that tarnishes my experience enormously. That, on top of the way things were hopelessly explained, major elements like crafting just thrown in without introduction, and vital controls never mentioned – some not even changeable in the options! It all leads toward an experience that feels shaky, flaky, never coherent.

I think that holds me farther away from the aspects of such games that normally draw me in the most. The narrative, especially. I honestly don’t care a jot about anything that’s going on. The opening tale is reasonably well put together, the circumstances of your finding yourself in the post-apocalypse close to moving. And then that all feels instantly flushed away, as you’re pulled into RPG Memes #47 and #329, nothing to do with your personal crisis, running about killing strangers and aiding others, while stomping about in a giant robot suit and stealing potted meat from farmers.

I also found the writing singularly dull. It’s not bad, but that would have at least been interesting. It’s nothingness, just cardboard characters barking “RHUBARB RHUBARB RHUBARB” at you until they’re done, when you then look at the quest details to find out what it is you’re actually supposed to be doing. Oh no, Cardboard X doesn’t like Cardboard Y, and Cardboard Z is getting frustrated! I’d better speak to Cardboard A and B, and get Cardboard C to help. Or more likely, shoot Targets D through W until it says I’ve achieved something.

So it makes it weird that I’ve enjoyed playing it so much.

I’m hard-pushed to entirely justify it. It’s unquestionably a time-sink, constantly dangling interesting-looking (if not actually interesting-being) things on the horizons, giving me a permanent incentive to keep moving on. I’ve stumbled upon little bases, hidden bunkers, networks of tunnels, and formerly abandoned buildings, and enjoyed killing whatever’s inside and foraging for loot. I’ve been drawn in to exploring the various businesses of a town, seeing what can be stolen, who can be annoyed, and gathering up quest markers (if not paying attention to the purpose of the quest). I like just mooching about in the wild, looking to see what an abandoned building might contain, hacking and lockpicking into people’s private business.

There’s absolutely nothing I could say I’ve “loved playing”. I haven’t loved any aspect of it. I’ve tolerated much, enjoyed parts, and more than anything, sunk time into the rest. No regrets, no resentment, no rage. It’s a big, pretty, interesting world, that’s never quite so interesting when you look more closely. So I’ve just not been looking too closely, and from that perspective, had a mostly decent time playing.

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John Walker

Senior Editor

One of the original co-founders of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, I'm now a senior editor and general hero of humanity.

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