After three weeks of waiting for my Xbox One’s service order, I finally got my console back yesterday and was able, after a good five years, to play the next entry in the Fallout series. I’m a week late with my initial thoughts on Fallout 4, but I do want to put down how my first few hours of playing got me thinking.
It’s hard to judge a game like Fallout 4 after such a short time. With a game like Destiny or Halo I can kinda tell after a handful of hours how the game is going to shake out, especially with multiplayer. Fallout 4 is a totally different beast though. It’s a game where 40-60 hours is the low end of the expected spectrum. I’ve written in the past about my love for the Bethesda RPGs – the obscene number of hours put in with Oblivion and Skyrim and the two previous Fallout titles. Since my Xbox One went down, I went back into New Vegas and easily put in another 35 hours to my old save file. Really all that says is that the initial thoughts I’m having here with Fallout 4 aren’t really worth a whole hell of a lot.
That doesn’t mean that they are totally worthless. In truth, those first 10 or so hours have a pretty profound impact on how the whole playthrough will shape up. It’s hard for me to say with where I am in the game how it’ll play out, but from past experiences, I know that those first few areas and quests help define your character. In Fallout 3, once you left the Vault and entered the game proper, your first major Karma based decisions were all based around Megaton – the first true hub area in the game. In New Vegas it happens even earlier, with your decisions in the actual tutorial area of Goodsprings impacting your reputation with two different factions. Depending on how you want your character to evolve over the game, your choices in these places matter. That’s a big part of why when I started Fallout 4 I was going really slowly through those first few squares around Vault 111. I want to build up a few points to put into my S.P.E.C.I.A.L before I hit the meat of the game.
That meat, to me, starts with the Concord encounter and then back to Sanctuary. Which is where my current save is set – I’m currently in the process of rebuilding the town, which is a whole other topic to discuss this week. But in those first few quests, while you’re still learning the mechanics, Fallout 4 does a really great job of showing you just what world you’re in. Concord in particular is a perfect example of a Wasteland town – overrun with Raiders, and even infested one of the most dangerous creatures on the East Coast, a Deathclaw. You learn about lockpicking here, along with hacking terminals. You get your first chance to really enter conversation trees. You can start to decide what kind of weapons you’ll use. You learn how the new inspection mechanic works – containers and dead bodies no longer involve opening up a separate menu, it’s all very fluid – which is admittedly taking me some time to get used to. Then you get the Power Armor.
Power Armor has always been the Fallout mascot – there’s a reason it’s on all the packaging. It’s directly linked with the series, not only for promotion, but within the actual context of the game world. This is the first game where the Power Armor you wear feels special. It’s no longer just a piece of gear you put on to give you high damage and radiation resistance. Now it’s almost a character in and of itself. You actually have to power it with Fusion Cores. It feels like a totally different way to experience the game – and it makes me feel weird. I am a huge example of RPG anxiety in my playing. I worry about every item I find – if it is at all a little rare, I squirrel it away somewhere safe. In New Vegas I’m a Guns and Speech character – I talk my way out of sticky situations to try to make the Mojave more peaceful, and use my lead shooters to take out Caesar’s Legion. That means I should sell any Explosives or Energy Weapons I find, especially the unique weapons that are worth way more Caps. I don’t though – I have them all in my safe in Novac. I do that with armor too. So with the Power Armor in Fallout 4, my instincts all say to find some safe space and just leave it there, lest it get destroyed or lost.
Part of my worries with that seem like they don’t exist anymore – Bethesda took item condition out of the game. This is just one detail of a larger design ideology – you see it in the dialogue system too. Bethesda went the same route that BioWare has done with Mass Effect and to a lesser extent Dragon Age. They simplified all the RPG mechanics way down. Long dialogue trees with reputation and karma are gone, in favor of a more fluid system that leaves a little mystery to what you say. Item condition is gone to focus more on keeping you in the action. Individual Skills are gone in favor of everything being built around the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats. All of that can be a bit of a shock – especially to longtime fans. As someone who is coming right off of New Vegas, it’s certainly tough to get used to. It’s almost like going from a college class to high school. All the same ideas are there, just in a little less detail.
Here’s the thing though, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Streamlining all those complicated mechanics helps open the game up to a larger audience. And for RPG purists, there are other places in the game that still have a lot of depth. The new skill system actually does have a lot of depth – since you only get one point when you level, it puts a lot more impact in your choices early on. The weapon and armor modifications are pretty crazy in how many choices there are. The workshop/settlements are in that same boat – it’s not at all unlikely that working on them will be a major portion of my play time. There’s still a lot that I need to dig into with the game obviously, but early on, I have to say that I’m really enjoying my time in the Commonwealth. I’ll have a lot more to talk about with Fallout 4 in the coming days and weeks.