Fallout 4 Character Progression Thoughts

Fallout 4 Box ArtShifting gears away from Destiny for a bit, today Bethesda put out a nice little article about the changes headed to character leveling and progression in Fallout 4. One of the things that I’ve been really curious about was what kind of changes were going to be taking place with that. Prior to today, we knew that there was something happening, but no specifics. Now we know exactly how it’s going to work – and I really like what they’re doing.

In the past Bethesda Fallout games, you had three things to keep track of – your character level, your skill levels and your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats. Each one of those played a role in determining which perks you could select upon leveling up. In Fallout 4, that’s all being streamlined – character level still exists, and is still dictated by XP; but skills and S.P.E.C.I.A.L. are being rolled together. It sounds a lot more like you only will need to worry about your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats now – the perks you select will be gated based around the amount of points you’ve put into them. That seems like it could keep some players locked out of certain perks, but there are a couple things that should keep that from happening.

First, there isn’t going to be a player level cap. In that regard, Fallout 4 is going to be a bit closer to Oblivion. I would guess that certain enemies will scale with you as you progress, that way there’s always some challenge, even for end-game players. But it does give you even more opportunities to be able to grab, eventually, all the perks in the game. For a completionist like me, that’s a great aspect of the game. I already plan on sinking a ton of time into this game as it is, and the idea of being able to experience all the perks in one save file is a really nice thing. The other side of the coin though is that in order to put points into your S.P.E.C.I.A.L., you’ll need to use a top-level perk that lets you put a point into them. In previous games it was called Intense Training – with ten ranks. I would assume that there isn’t going to be a limit on the ranks this time around, but we’ll see.

Fallout 4 Perk Poster

What originally worried me about that shift was that it sounded like a limit to the number of perks available. The cap on S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats is still ten, which means 70 base perks. I was worried that would be it – 70 may seem like a lot, but in a game where 100 hours is bound to be the low end, that’s nothing. Luckily, today’s post cleared that up. Considering that a number of the perks have multiple ranks – many of which are where some of the classic perks will live now – the stat based perk count is looking to be right around 270. That’s a lot more appropriate for the scope of the game – and it gets better when you consider the likelihood that there will be quest-based and collectible-based perks. They confirm the latter by saying that the skill magazines now grant different levels of a perk, as you collect them. They used the Grognak the Barbarian skill book – a series mainstay – as an example, as it gives you the Barbarian perk.

Bethesda is saying that the pacing is closer to Skyrim‘s leveling, which I remember being pretty quick early on, before slowing down at the higher, more powerful levels. If that’s true, that should mean that we’re able to get a good base of perks early on, before we dig into the really tough sections (Deathclaws). From what they’ve been teasing with the perks, it looks like specializing in early game builds is probably in your best interest, while still allowing you to have a really well rounded character in end-game play. With the removal of skills, some classic perks have been looked at again and shaped into new forms that make sense with the new system. Gun Nut is a good example – it used to just be a boost to Small Guns and Repair, now it helps determine what weapon mods you can put together.

As we get closer to the November launch of Fallout 4, I find myself getting more and more excited for it. It was already my most anticipated game of the year, and while I am still trying to stay relatively blind as to a lot of details, things like this and the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. videos that they’ve been releasing each week really help keep the hype high.

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What Really Excites Me the Most About Fallout 4

Fallout 4 Box Art

Continuing my pattern here of trying to shoehorn in a post on Fallout 4 every week, today I want to talk about the aspect of the game that excites me the most. The easy answer is player freedom. That’s not it. The buzzword answer is the customization and crafting. That’s not it either. And the PC-turned-Console answer is the prospect of mods later on. That’s partially true – it could be the case by this time next year.

What I’m really the most excited about is the world that Bethesda is crafting for us. Not just from a visual standpoint – although I am looking forward to playing a Fallout game that doesn’t look super dated. What I mean really relates to every aspect of the game. Bethesda has an incredible knack for making these super expansive worlds still feel real. It’s all the little details that they put into the game. From the writing of the dialogue, to the way it’s delivered by the actors, to the very foundation of the world itself; they’re all so well done.

Fallout New Vegas The Strip

The writing is probably the easiest to point to. Dialogue trees and conversations play an incredibly important role in playing through any Bethesda RPG. From getting extra rewards upon quest completion, to getting out of some sticky situations, using your Speech skill matters a whole bunch. And it’s in those conversations that you probably will see the strength in the writing first. It’s pretty difficult to go through a Bethesda game without talking with a bunch of people. But the writing extends a lot further than that. If you’ve played a Fallout game, especially the Bethesda ones, you know that there’s a massive amount of flavor text in the terminals scattered about the wasteland. Add in the bunches of holotape notes that also appear and you get a good sense about the sheer amount of writing that goes into these games.

The next step then is the voicing of that writing. All of those conversations that are integral in the Bethesda RPG experience are all voiced. Granted, the player character hasn’t every been voiced prior to this year’s game, but still. The variety in the different characters in the games is staggering, even if they do use a relatively small voice acting pool. What always strikes me though is the amount of big names they’re able to snag for a role or two. In Oblivion it was Patrick Stewart, Fallout 3 had Liam Neeson, Fallout: New Vegas has Matthew Perry – it goes on. For Fallout 4, we don’t know a ton about the cast, other than Ron Perlman reprising his role as narrator; along with the player character actor and actress – Brian T. Delaney and Courtenay Taylor. Regardless of the celebrity status of the actors, they always do a great job bringing each character to life.

Fallout 4 Concept Bomb

Which really all ties into what I think has always been Bethesda strength. That’s making these worlds all tie in together and feel real. It’s more than just making the characters feel real through good writing and voice acting. It’s more than just putting little details in the houses to make them feel real. It’s much deeper than that. The best way that I’ve really been able to dive into this is by looking at the timelines that they’ve created for Elder Scrolls and Fallout. Granted Fallout was initially created by Black Isle Studios, but still, Bethesda isn’t exactly bad at this either. Just look at the two timelines for the games – you’ll see details that impact the games, but that won’t show up in actual gameplay, possibly ever. The Elder Scrolls timeline details the creation myths for each race, along with helping set the stage for each game. Fallout‘s timeline details out exactly what happened in the timeline after it split from our own – from the end of WWII on to the Great War. Little details like that just make everything feel like is has history behind it. And that’s really what has me super pumped for Fallout 4 – not only do we get another chance to fill in some blanks in the timeline, but this is the first time we’ve headed to Boston. That means that we’re probably guaranteed to learn a whole bunch more about that region – which also means a whole lot more writing and creating on Bethesda’s part.

Why I’m Excited to Play Fallout: New Vegas, Five Years Later

Fallout: New VegasMuch like the rest of the gaming world, I have been in major Fallout mode ever since the announcement last week of Fallout 4. With that came the opportunity for me to finally go back and complete Fallout: New Vegas – a game that came out five years ago. I actually bought New Vegas at launch – I even got the special edition with the sweet deck of cards and 7 poker chips. When it came out, I had played through Fallout 3, as well as two full expansions for it – Operation Anchorage and The Pitt, and was working through Point Lookout. But even with my excitement for the game, especially with Obsidian behind the development, I never actually completed the game. In fact, by the end of the year, it had fallen way down my playlist. So with that in mind, I thought it would be interesting to examine why that happened, and why I’m more excited for it now.

LOADING ANALYSIS…
The first and foremost issue I had with New Vegas was how long it took to load. Anyone who’s played the Bethesda RPGs using that engine knows that there are loading screens all the time. Entering and exiting a building, entering and exiting cities, sleeping, waiting, fast travelling…all end up with a loading screen. In Oblivion and Fallout 3, it wasn’t too bad – the load times always felt reasonable to me. But with New Vegas, at least at launch, the load times were terrible. Even after installing the game to my hard drive, they weren’t that much better. It was easily averaging a minute or more, per load. That alone made it really hard to get into the game, as the flow kept getting broken up.

Fallout New Vegas The Strip

GLITCHES, BUGS, AND OTHER WEIRD THINGS
Again, anyone that has experience with that generation of Bethesda games is aware that that engine was…interesting. It had a pretty standard habit of glitching out, potentially in game-breaking ways. In some cases it’s potential lockups with conversations, sometimes the game itself would overload the engine with particle effects. The environment itself was sometimes just as much a part of the challenge as playing the game – there were plenty of times that I clipped right through rocks, or walked up along an invisible wall. And the bugs aren’t limited to engine stuff – in the case of New Vegas, there’s at least one perk that is bugged, even now. The Shining Armor perk that was added with Dead Money actually provides no effects, as the coding calls the wrong variable to determine the effect. Some of these issues are avoidable, some are game dependent (I never really encountered a lot of the game-crashes) and some just become part of the game.

WEAK EARLY DLC, AND A HEAP OF BAD TIMING
New Vegas launched in the fall of 2010. If that doesn’t explain why I may have drifted away, allow me to elaborate. Fall 2010 also featured Halo: Reach, Call of Duty: Black Ops, and Rock Band 3. Each of those games were day one purchases for me, and two of the three are still games I would gladly go back and keep playing. Hell, I still do with Rock Band 3. Add to those games that this was when I picked up the GOTY edition of Borderlands, as well as Arkham Asylum, among others.

What helps keep games fresh these days is the DLC program they run with. Fallout had the potential for some seriously good extra content – Fallout 3 had five packs, of which I really love four (Operation Anchorage is great just for the Chinese Stealth Armor). There was no reason to not expect New Vegas to follow suit. And then we got Dead Money, right around Christmas. Now, Dead Money isn’t necessarily terrible on it’s own. It’s when it’s compared with the rest of the game that it shows it’s issues. It was so much different than anything else in the game – it didn’t help that the game stripped you of all of your gear upon starting it. You have to rely on skills that it’s very feasible to think you haven’t put a ton of investment into, with a mechanic that can be frustrating to deal with (the Cloud). It also launched with some more bugs and issues that impacted play. Looking back now, with the rest of the DLC out, it’s really not too hard to see that Dead Money is the weakest of the bunch – the story doesn’t tie in too tightly to the main Mojave world, with just a few ties to other characters. I still think it probably deserves to be a part of the Mojave wasteland story, I just would have gone with a different release order – with the power of hindsight.

Now, all of that said is why I fell out of love with the game. But now, five years later, I can go back and really experience the whole package. It’s a fantastic game, that many patches later is way more stable now than ever. I’m really looking forward to going through all the DLC and finishing the story – a few times, since there’s four endings.

My Fallout 4 Wishlist – Based on My Experience in Fallout 3 and New Vegas

Fallout: New VegasI was looking through my Xbox 360 play history last night before I started a new Fallout: New Vegas character. Going back over the last three years, right around this time of year, I’ve loaded up a Bethesda RPG and played it through the summer. Last year, it was Oblivion – I went and perfected the achievements for it finally. Two years ago I did the same thing with Fallout 3. This year, in advance of Fallout 4, I’m doing the same with New Vegas. I’ll probably have a few posts down the road as I get into sections of the games I never played the first time around, including one on why I actually didn’t get into New Vegas back in 2010 this week. But today, based around revisiting my Fallout characters and worlds, I want to talk about a few things I would love to see Bethesda do with Fallout 4.

Fallout 4 Box Art

COMBAT SYSTEM UPDATES
Going back to New Vegas really shows how slow that engine handled gun play. It’s far from being terrible, but after playing games like Destiny or Borderlands, it is a little bit of a shock going back to Fallout. Now, I don’t want to see it be a full switch to that style – those games are much more hybrids of shooters and RPGs, while Fallout has always been more RPG than anything else. It can’t really be that fast with the V.A.T.S. system in place, combined with the way the skill system is set up. Knowing that we’re going to be getting a new engine opens up the possibility for a smoother combat engine, in addition to the graphical/practical upgrades.

I’d love to see more emphasis on specializing too – one of the biggest “drawbacks” from the older games is that it’s super easy to get overly powerful, especially in later levels. There’s really no incentive to focus on one style of weapon, which does allow you to be super flexible, but maybe takes away from focus at high levels. Now, I don’t want to see the leveling system change too much – I prefer the Fallout style over the Elder Scrolls system, since it forces you to pick you skills and live with them for a full level; as opposed to leveling them by usage. What I’d really like to see are more perks added in – New Vegas reduced the perks by making them available every two levels. I’d prefer to see them every level, but have more total perks available.
Fallout Sniper PerkYou can balance them by having the ones that are dependent on skills have more stringent skill requirements. For example, a classic guns perk is Sniper, it’s appeared in every game. In the modern games, it amounts to a +25% chance to hit the head in V.A.T.S. targeting. However, the requirements are pretty low to pick it – there’s no skill investment required. Instead all you need are 6 points in both Perception and Agility, and level 12. In the classic games, the requirements were more stringent, with both S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats needing to be 8, as well as an 80% small guns skill value, plus a level requirement (18 or 24). All of that for an increased chance at critical hits. That’s more what I would like to see for the modern games – since V.A.T.S. really takes a lot of the misses out, skills that impact it should be tougher to take. It would also really force a player to specialize in guns to get it. Hopefully Bethesda has looked at the perk/trait system in the last couple years, both in Fallout and Skyrim really, to see how they can change it up.

TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE NEW TECHNOLOGY
This is the first Bethesda RPG that really is being built for the Xbox One/PS4/PC only. I wouldn’t say it’s Elder Scrolls Online, just because I see that as a PC game being ported over. I think that Fallout 4 is being built with the new consoles in mind, and with that should come some pretty substantial changes. Do I think the new consoles will completely get rid of all the loading in the game? Not really – but I do think that the power is there to limit them. For example, I’m fine with towns having to be loaded in as new cells – much like how Megaton is a separate cell in Fallout 3. But I think with the new consoles, the power is there to load in the houses in those towns in that cell – it’ll limit the load times, while also helping with immersion at the same time.

In the Wasteland, which we know is the greater Boston area, I’d love to see more details put into variety. It looks like that’s going to be the case – in both previous games, the wastes were pretty much the same environment, with a few exceptions. It stood in stark contrast to the Elder Scrolls games from the same console – Oblivion had a ton more variety in the world, with snowy mountains up north, and coastal ports in the south, along with a thick, wooded forest in the western heartlands. The Boston area really sets up perfectly for that – it’s the farthest north we’ve ever been in a Fallout game so I’m curious to see what kind of climate we’re looking at. There’s bound to be some coastal areas – Boston is right on the ocean after all, but from the trailer shot of the USS Constitution, it looks like the shore may have receded a bit. I’m assuming that we’ll be getting a pretty new graphics engine, so hopefully the world looks a lot more lifelike – especially the human/ghoul models. It’s no secret that the engine used for Oblivion/Fallout 3/New Vegas didn’t have the prettiest looking NPC models; and it really didn’t help that conversations pulled you in real close. Skyrim had a much better engine, which I believe ESO uses a modified version of; but I really want to see Fallout 4 take it farther. Skyrim had the right idea – increased detail for objects, while also increasing draw distance and world realism. That should continue to be the direction they head in. The trailer does look like there’s been some progress for sure, but until I have my hands on it and can see it in action, it’s hard to tell for sure.

CLEAN IT ALL UP
One of the biggest concerns I have going in is that the previous games have had engine issues at launch. There were all kinds of weird bugs and glitches – both in the Oblivion/Fallout 3/New Vegas engine, as well as in Skyrim, albeit a lot less. New Vegas also suffered from some really bad loading times, that were compounded by how much loading there is in these games. If Bethesda can clean these kind of issues up a bit – not necessarily all of them, because I understand just how big this game must be from a development perspective – then I think that will go a long way to make the launch smooth and better financially.

There’s still a ton to talk about with Fallout 4, and that list will probably grow a whole lot after this weekend when E3 kicks off. Bethesda’s press conference is Sunday evening – 7:00 Pacific, 10:00 Eastern. The expectations are already pretty high, and I expect them to stay that way over the summer. Sunday will be a big night – I fully expect a longer trailer, along with perhaps a gameplay demo, playable or not. Bethesda has a whole conference though, and I doubt they’ll devote the whole show to just Fallout, even if I think they probably could. Believe me, we’ll be talking Fallout all summer long.

Fallout 4 – The Hype Train Has Officially Left the Station

Fallout 3 CoverHype. Hype never changes. Yesterday was one of the more exciting days I’ve had in gaming in a while. Just in case you were completely away from the internet yesterday, let’s review. Bethesda finally confirmed, and gave us the announcement trailer for, Fallout 4. Some info we knew going in; but seeing the game with my own eyes made it all real. Add in the timing – only 11 days before E3 – and it really gets my blood pumping. Because we just got a trailer, with a pretty sparse press release, leads me to believe we’ll probably see a hefty gameplay presence at E3. There’s a lot to digest – but just watching the trailer immediately got my nostalgia going. Let’s take a look at my impressions of the trailer.

The trailer opens with another song by The Ink Spots, much like the intro to Fallout 3. The Ink Spots have long been associated with the franchise, going all the way back to the original game. Opening with a song of theirs – “It’s All Over but the Crying” – is a great way to immediately get the Fallout vibes going. Moving forward a little bit in the trailer, we get a little different take on the typical Fallout trailer. Thinking back to the reveal for Fallout 3, that trailer opened with a radio playing the song, before pulling back to reveal the total devastation of the Capital Wasteland. With yesterday’s trailer, it starts similar – a tv instead, but very similar feeling – but instead of pulling back to show the wastes of New England/Boston, we get quick cut backs to right before the bombs fell. That’s a pretty big deal – especially if we’re assuming that this is set after Fallout 3. The bombs fall, and the Great War ends in 2077 – and Fallout 3 is set 200 years later. This trailer is the most we’ve seen of pre-war life in the Bethesda era. Now, there’s no real info about when this game will be set – but generally the time between the bombs falling and the end of Fallout 3/New Vegas is pretty well filled in by various sources.

That said, I think there are a couple hints in there that might suggest that we’ll be playing post-Fallout 3. First, there’s the early reports that Three-Dog is returning; if that’s the case, that pretty much settles it. But beyond that in the trailer we get a couple different looks of multiple towns and cities. That in and of itself might not seem big, but in the world that Fallout large settlements tend to be few and far between. Seeing multiple ones, in an area that probably would have been hit pretty hard by the bombs. Ignoring that major landmarks survive – that’s a gameplay/story pass for me – I would think given what the games have told us, major cities like Boston and NYC (which are so close the number of bombs probably would be pretty high) would be hit hard. That society has revived as much as it has, at least based on the trailer, says to me that we’re looking at least a date in the late 2200’s, possibly pushing into 2300; which could be a nod to the generation of console moving on too.

Fallout 4 Box Art

A lot of what we really see in the trailer is super fanservicey. There are tons and tons of little details that anyone who’s played any previous game will notice. From obvious ones that are up front – Mr. Handy, Mysterious Stranger and the strong presence of Power Armor; to the little ones that are pretty prevalent, there’s a lot going on. For the most part, I think the details – like the presence of skill magazines, nuka cola, energy weapons and so on – just really serves to reinforce the setting. What I think is maybe a little hidden beneath the surface is some details that could hint at story direction. The iconic Power Armor from the series is all over the trailer. It’s a little unclear in some shots if we’re looking at Enclave or Brotherhood of Steel, but I think from the tone of those shots, I think that helps clear it up. For example, the shot from inside the Vertibird seems to me that it’s most likely a Brotherhood ship. In the past they’ve been the more friendly of the factions with access to that level of technology. Contrast that with the shot of the huge airship over the Paul Revere statue, and that seems more like an Enclave shot. Both from the extra level of tech – the Enclave having better access to the pre-war work – and the way that shot is framed, with dark tones and classic storytelling elements. With those little details, it makes me think that the main storyline will possibly revolve around a relatively major conflict between the Brotherhood and the Enclave, similar to Fallout 3‘s conflict around the Water Purifier. Whether this conflict is tech based, F.E.V. based, or purely political in nature is way more speculation than I want to get into.

By the end of the trailer, we get one last pretty nice confirmation. The dog that, really, is the focus of the trailer clearly looks like a companion (Dogmeat) and is addressed by the player character. Not only is the player character voiced, but will again be a former denizen of a Vault. This time is Vault 111 – which is a Vault that we haven’t seen yet; which opens up all kinds of lovely possibilities for what kind of nasty Vault-Tec experiments were going on. These Vaults are fantastic settings to compartmentalize the prologue/introduction sections – the Fallout 3 intro is actually a great beginning section I think. In the trailer the Vault looks a little different – usually the Vault doors are vertical, like most doors; Vault 111 looks like it opens like a manhole.

Yesterday’s trailer was ultimately just a reveal trailer. It just happened to be for probably the biggest game (potentially) this year. As a fan of the franchise, it felt really good to see the familiar world again. There looks like there’s plenty of little tweaks to the formula to make it intriguing for longtime fans, while looking like it’s still going to have that (new) classic gameplay. Will it be faster paced? I hope not – Fallout benefits from a slower paced combat I think, especially with V.A.T.S. Will it be bigger and better looking? I think that’s a sure bet – Bethesda only announced PS4, PC and Xbox One, which is really the way it needs to be. We’re now two years in to the new console generation, it’s time to move on fully. I’m assuming that we’ll get a whole lot more info in 10 days at E3 – including a release date.