Fallout 4 – Location, Location, Location

Fallout 4 Box ArtDipping back into the bottomless well that is Fallout 4, today I want to talk a little bit about the Commonwealth itself. Going in, there were plenty of posts all over the web from people worried that the game looked too colorful, or too vibrant. And sure enough, it’s definitely a much more colorful world than Fallout 3 was, but coming right from New Vegas I can definitely see the progression that I think Bethesda is going for. If you look at the three games that they’ve published, there’s a clear progression of nature returning to the wastelands. Those three games take place over the span of ten years, starting with Fallout 3. Going beyond that, they take place in three very different locations in regards to the actual targeting of the bombs.

The lore of the game spells out most of the bombs hit out west, which makes sense since it was China that launched them. Of the three Bethesda games so far, Washington D.C. is the target that makes the most sense for an East Coast target. That’s why Fallout 3 looks so bleak – it got hit hard by the bombs. New Vegas (the city, not the game), despite being a symbol of American decadence really only exists as an economic location, and self-contained at that; which means that, compared with the California targets, probably wasn’t a very high priority target. Which brings us to Boston. Boston, to me, is in the same class as New Vegas. It’s not the biggest East Coast city – NYC is – and it’s not the most pertinent political target – Washington D.C. would be. Of course it’s still a cultural and economic target, plus it’s a huge city. That to me, more than just the time difference since the bombs fell, is why the Commonwealth is in relatively good shape. If the bright colors turn you off, you’ll really be missing out on one of the best games in a few years.

Fallout 4 Boston Skyline

That isn’t quite all I want to talk about with regards to Boston though. One thing I keep finding myself saying as I explore the actual ruins of Boston is “damn, look at that ____.” Every corner seems to reveal some kind of awesome building or encounter to check out. The very nature of Boston makes it more fun to explore than D.C. to me. Boston has the same density of buildings and roads/alleys that D.C. does, but in 2287 has a lot more high rises that survived. There’s a hell of a lot more verticality to the Commonwealth than in the Capital Wasteland. Add in the updated graphics, and the more varied looking locations and, to me, Boston is the winner so far.

You’ll note that I didn’t mention New Vegas there. That’s because to me, New Vegas is much more about the wilderness areas. New Vegas itself isn’t quite the same hub style city as the greater Boston or D.C. Metro areas are. Where I think you can compare New Vegas to Fallout 4 is in those smaller outlying settlements. New Vegas is chock full of them – Goodsprings, Primm, NoVac, Red Rock Canyon, The Fort, McCarran – the list goes on. Fallout 4 has a similar list, they just are a lot smaller, and more spread out. The smaller cities like Cambridge, Lexington and Concord don’t quite fill the same role, but instead it’s places like Sanctuary Hills, Tenpines Bluff, Sunshine Tidings Co-Op, The Castle and so on. That’s a direct result of the addition of the Workshop system – taking places and making them into towns that function how you want them to. I’m still figuring my way around the Settlements mechanics, but I want to get something up this week about them.

A huge part of any Bethesda game is the in-between moments – those times when you aren’t going through a quest location and are wandering around the over world. Whether it’s Cyrodil, Skyrim, The Capital Wasteland, The Mojave Wasteland, or The Commonwealth, Bethesda might be the best developer/publisher at filling those empty spaces with value. Hell, the only developer that I even put in the same category is BioWare. Between the myriad different individual locations that can contain their own little stories, the very alive wilderness and the random encounters that always populate the world, there is always something exciting going on out there.

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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.

Other Series That Deserve an Anthology like Halo

Fallout 3 CoverWhen I was thinking about the potential ideas for a Call of Duty collection done in the same style as the recent Master Chief Collection, one of the things that I was mulling over was what other series I would like to see get that same treatment. So with that in mind, I thought I would hit a couple of the major ones I would like to see.

FALLOUT
This one is a little tricky, just because of the license issues within the franchise, but I think there’s got to be some way to make it happen. I would love to see something that puts the main entries in the series in one product. My thoughts were shaped a bit from the old Warcraft War Chest collection, but going a bit further. I think it would be awesome to put Fallout, Fallout 2, Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas, plus their expansion content all in one package. It would also be totally possible to update the older two games graphics engine to run smoother. It would open up the older games to totally new audience as well, fans that came into the franchise with Fallout 3, which I include myself in. I would really be interested in playing the older games – especially in one place with achievements for all the games. Plus all of the games are really awesome too.

BioShock Cover

BIOSHOCK
Another great single-player experience that I would love to see all in one spot – the three BioShock games. The first game was just recently re-released on the iPad of all consoles, and I think within the next year or so there will be enough demand to see the games put out on current-gen consoles. In particular it would be awesome to go through the two Rapture games – especially with upgrades to the visuals to run at 60FPS and1080p.

Rock Band Blitz

ROCK BAND
This one is a little different – the games aren’t really a coherent story across the games or anything. Instead, I want to see all of the setlists put onto one disc – and also on current-gen consoles. This would definitely not be a quick turn around, since they would need to get the songs all relicensed. But I think it would be lots of fun to be able to play through the whole catalog on one disc – and play some of the older songs with the full Rock Band 3 treatment.

Mass Effect

MASS EFFECT
This one is the one that has the best chance of actually happening. I’ve seen a few articles that say that a trilogy is in the works for the current-gen consoles. To what extent that’s true, I don’t know exactly; but I think there’s definitely an audience for it. The games wouldn’t really need too much in the way of updates either – get it to run smooth at the current-gen level, and I think you’d have a winner on your hands.

RPG Week: Day Two – Fallout

Fallout 3 CoverYesterday I talked a lot about Bethesda’s high fantasy RPG series of games, The Elder Scrolls. Today I want to talk about their other major series, which they picked up the license for from Interplay back in 2004 – Fallout. Bethesda owns the rights to the series, but they actually haven’t developed the two games that they’ve published since buying the rights; they developed Fallout 3, but Fallout: New Vegas was developed by Obsidian Entertainment, a studio made up from developers from Black Isle Studios, the studio that created the franchise.

My big point from talking about Elder Scrolls was that I think the time is right for Bethesda to make a move toward some kind of a multiplayer setting in a traditional entry in the franchise. I really think it would work with the Elder Scrolls, but when it comes to Fallout games, I think that the traditional, solitary character wandering around the Wasteland works best with the world that Fallout is set in. The Elder Scrolls games take place in a world that is vibrant and alive, full of people living their lives. On the contrary, Fallout games are set in a world that has all but given up on civilization – friendly settlements are few and far between, most survivors will shoot on sight, and the world is a burned out shell of what it used to be. To that effect, I think playing through the game as a solitary wanderer works best within that frame.

Instead, I think that the most important aspect that Bethesda needs to look at for Fallout 4 is the actual setting. There was a Kotaku report at the end of last year that said that Fallout 4 would be set in the greater Boston area, but there hasn’t been any official word confirming that yet. The further we get from that report, the more likely it is that the setting might have changed. Since we didn’t get any mention of the game at E3 this year, I really wouldn’t expect to hear a ton of concrete info until next year’s show. Which means we have a long time to speculate and postulate about where we could be exploring next. If the Kotaku report is accurate and we are going to be in the Boston area, then I think that’s not actually a bad decision. It’s a different look from either of the previous games – Fallout 3 had the Capital Wasteland, which featured a mixture of urban and rural environments, and Fallout: New Vegas had the Mojave Wasteland, a massive expanse of desert, littered with small settlements of survivors and raiders trying to make their way into the big city of New Vegas. A game set in Massachusetts, you would get a good mix of both city environments with Boston, and at the same time you have the potential for coastal environments, as well as the great forests of the Northeast, or what remains of them. Not only is there a variety of areas to explore, but it’s also an area that hasn’t been explored in the franchise; not only an area that’s filled with history that is ripe for the Fallout treatment.

Fallout: New Vegas

Another area that I’m looking forward to seeing get the next-gen upgrade is the visuals. After going back to play Oblivion the last week or so, it really struck me just how much better the new Skyrim engine looks, and of course both Fallout games use the same engine as Oblivion. Anyone that played those games is well aware of the graphical issues, physical glitches, and of course the dated appearance. New Vegas in particular was plagued with extraordinarily long load times. Now I know no game is truly perfect, but moving up even to the Skyrim engine would do so much for the series. Since we’re talking at this point about an Xbox One/PS4 game, I would expect a bigger jump, both graphically, and in-game mechanics. One thing that I don’t expect to change in-game is the V.A.T.S. system. The V.A.T.S. mechanic gives the game a little bit more of an old-school RPG feel, taking the combat back into a semi-turnbased system.

Bethesda has the potential to really dominate the RPG world in the next couple years, after Destiny and Dragon Age Inquisition run their course; if they wanted to, they could potentially release a new Fallout and Elder Scrolls game within a couple years of each other. With both series’ high degree of respect, it’s not a huge reach to think they would both be sure fire hits.

What Makes a Limited Edition Worth Getting?

Every year when we get to the fall release window, and the developers flood the market with awesome games, I always go through the same song and dance. Of the games I plan on grabbing, which ones do I want to upgrade to the special editions/limited editions/collectors editions. Publishers keep coming with different names for them, but the basic premise is always the same – charge more money for a version of the game with a couple extra stuff to go along with it. What always strikes me is the variety of items that publishers put in the collections. Some editions are no-brainers, others make me scratch my head a little bit. So today I want to take a quick look at what I think really makes a limited edition worth picking over the regular edition.

Destiny Ghost Edition

First thing – I still think that even in this day and age, a special edition should be a physical copy. As an industry we’ve really started the push toward digital distribution across the board. I might be a little old-school about this, but to me, the actual physical media and packaging is just as important to the overall experience. To that effect, I think that the limited editions should spruce up the actual casing too. I have always been a sucker for a nice looking steelbook case for my games. Beyond that, the more physical extras that publishers include with the packaging, the more likely I am to think of getting it. My favorite physical stuff I’ve gotten came from the Fallout: New Vegas and BioShock: Infinite limited editions – Fallout came with a really cool deck of cards and poker chips from each of the in game casinos; BioShock came with a nice print of the Devil’s Touch Vigor, and a awesome key chain of the Murder of Crows Vigor. But ultimately, little physical things like this don’t really sell me on the limited edition.

Advanced Warfare Pro Edition

The most important part of any limited edition is what digital content comes with the game. This is where the actual kind of game can dictate what they pair with the game. In general, I think the most important addition, regardless of style of game, is the Season Pass. Most games’ life spans these days tends to be at least a year with DLC, so adding in a Season Pass to ensure that the players get access to the DLC as soon as it comes out, and it’s included in the initial purchase price. Usually I find that the price increase is pretty much in line with adding in the Season Pass price to the game. I think that’s fine, since when that’s the case, the extra physical stuff is just that – extra. Often times, developers also include extra digital stuff as well, most often it’s cosmetic items, but as a player that enjoys customization, I’m totally fine with it.

Assassin's Creed Unity Limited Edition

So with that in mind, I was looking at the special editions for this fall – Destiny has two tiers, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare does as well and Assassin’s Creed: Unity only has the one collectors edition. Both Destiny editions have the same content – a smattering of nice cosmetic physical bonuses, plus a steelbook case and the Season Pass – but the higher level comes with a physical model of the in game Ghost. The problem with the difference to me is that the Ghost is apparently worth $50 extra. I don’t mind big physical models like that, but it always depends on the prices they assign them – Skyrim and Halo: Reach both had that problem for me. Awesome looking statues, but really expensive on top the normal price. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare comes with the typical CoD fare – in game digital cosmetic content, along with a bonus multiplayer map. That’s the basic $80 version – what annoys me this year is that to get the Season Pass, which is a big selling point for Call of Duty, you would need to go for the $120 version. Normally I’m fine with a $40 boost for a Season Pass – that’s probably pretty much what it would cost separate; but in this case, that’s a $40 boost from a special edition that already comes with bonus stuff that I don’t know is worth the initial $20 upgrade from the regular edition. Assassin’s Creed: Unity only is releasing one version – a $130 limited edition with a real strong physical collection of gear, plus two extra missions. Since it’s a primarily campaign driven game, there really isn’t quite as much need for a Season Pass, so I think I probably would go for it, were I caught up on the series.