We’ve been collectively wandering the Commonwealth wasteland that was once Boston for six weeks, and by now everyone has formed their opinion of Fallout 4. The monumental hype surrounding it was unparalleled, particularly considering the pressure cooker effect that the relatively short time between official announcement and release created. But when it did arrive, despite a fantastic critical reception, a lingering sense that this wasn’t the generation-defining game we were all hoping for, or even assumed it would be, began to set in. In the cold light of post-hype day, it wasn’t quite the atom bomb that was expected. With the average fan being the harshest critic, a brief consultation of Metacritic spells it clearly, showing that while critic reviews for the PC version average out at 84%, user reviews lag behind at an unremarkable average of 54%, with the negative reviews outnumbering the positive ones by over 200. For any other game, this would be disappointing. For one of the biggest releases of recent years, it’s a disastrous community reaction.
So what happened? And with DLC supposedly around the corner, can any of that not-quite-right feeling of the fan base be dispelled and some good faith restored? Most of the complaints seems to revolve around the streamlining (or ‘dumbing-down’) of a traditionally sophisticated, malleable and unforgiving game franchise. With the merging and simplification of the SPECIAL and perks system and reduced conversation options that partially lead to reduced ways to complete missions, there was certainly a sense of a more traditional action game. Fallout 4 found itself at the unhappy meeting point of the overly familiar and the unwanted changes. There was innovation, just perhaps in the wrong places. Even the addition of the ability to build and manage settlements that added a new play angle felt less than intuitive and lacked real purpose. But Todd Howard has stated that all upcoming DLC would be informed by player feedback, meaning something could be clawed back in the way of hardcore favour. As some message boards have already turned their attention to Fallout 5 speculations and wish-lists, it’s a vital point in the series’ progression. Bethesda needs to nail the DLC before attention wanders even further afield and to remind fans that they have them at heart.
With character specifications seeming a lot less significant, all quests seem to boil down to more or less the same structure. Interact with quest-giver and choose yes, no, tell me more or the sarcastic comment option, all of which are just roundabout ways of agreeing to take on the quest. Then, chances are you’ll go to a base populated with Raiders, Feral Ghouls or Super Mutants and clear things up before bagging whatever legendary item you’ve earned from the scrap. Compare this to the selectiveness and variety of ways in which quests from Fallout 3 and New Vegas could be completed, and it all makes the SPECIALs and perks that were once at the forefront of character customization seem a bit redundant. The game is also another example of the industry’s ongoing struggle with delivering ‘grey morality’ options – are we really considering a game with a prominent slave trade allegory down to calling one faction The (Underground) Railroad ambiguous? So, I think a series of quests with multiple solutions and genuinely challenging decision making would be a welcome return to what suits the franchise’s nihilistic undertones.
But while the dialogue options may have been slightly reductive, that doesn’t mean the script wasn’t fun, and the interactions with the dozen or so companions you could choose to accompany your wasteland travels were a highlight. The Dragon Age style approval system was a good addition that could encourage a change up of play style if your favourite followed a different moral code of conduct than you. But while a handful of companions had a personal mission, the vast majority remained fairly inconsequential with lots of untapped potential and unresolved personal stories that probably didn’t get the attention they deserved. I was massively disappointed when the culmination of Mayor McDonough’s arc generated one throwaway line from his estranged brother, Hancock. It contributed to that same feeling of disconnect I got when I would complete a pivotal section of the main plot and would have no reaction from my companion; they’d just cycle through the same set of comments. So a variety of companion-centric missions with expansions on interactions in the DLC would be great, and make the most of the variety of excellent characters Bethesda has populated their world with. Especially considering I found the central search-for-your-creepy-baby plot less than compelling and had forgotten my spouse’s name about five minutes after leaving Vault 111.
There’s already been plenty of speculation over what will be included in the DLC. The Commonwealth’s seaside location and loading screen hints have left many believing a Cthulhu-inspired sea monster could be the base for upcoming quests. And with the pre-war element at the beginning being slightly shorter than may have been expected, that could also provide a fun setting. Considering the male Sole Survivor’s history in the army leading up to the events of Fallout 4, it could be an experience that reinforces and develops the game’s rich and intricate lore and gives real insight into the nuclear paranoia that defines so much of the franchise’s aesthetic. However, by stating the female Sole Survivor was a law student in pre-game life, branching storylines with one having significantly more potential for rewarding gameplay, might make this theory less than likely.
It would be easy to say that Fallout 4 was destined to alienate at least some of the franchise’s devotees, that simultaneously demand creative changes and faithfulness to the game’s established norms. Complaints veer between having changed too much and also not enough. Fallout 3 was such a defining game of its console generation that managed to tread this line of requirements deftly and the same finesse was expected with an added hike in innovation to match the leap from 2 to 3. Fallout 4 is a fantastic game, categorically, and more than likely those who have been complaining will still have dozens of hours logged, but its dedicated and fervent fan base has been somewhat let down by the latest edition’s turn towards the more traditional. There is a lack of real improvement in the areas that needed it. It won’t change the hardcores’ opinion of the instalment entirely, but a collection of excellent DLCs that really take players’ opinions into account as Bethesda have said they would, may restore some of that elusive (and fickle) fan loyalty.