15 August 2016

Post Thoughts: Fallout 4...

Seems I didn't take a screenshot of the Red Rocket gas station menu - so here's a wallpaper I made instead...

Fallout 4 is an enjoyable game. I can safely say that if you liked Oblivion, Skyrim and Fallout 3 then you are almost bound to like Fallout 4. The changes it makes from the previous games are almost certainly for the better and fit this game world well enough. Whether Fallout 4 is a good Fallout game is a different question entirely and one I do not intend to answer given that I liked both styles presented by the original two Fallouts and the latter two by Bethesda.

I will, however, give this comparison:

Fallout 1&2 are to Fallout 3&4 as The Office (UK) is to The Office (US). Both have their own strengths and weaknesses, both have their own style of comedy and overarching themes but they are distinctly different experiences for the consumer.


There are cats in FO4 - LOOK! There are cats! D'awww! I'm 'detected'!

Unfortunately, as per usual Bethesda style, Fallout 4’s story is a nightmare of terribly implemented tropes, unnecessarily convoluted plot points and flat characters that only hint at what their motivations are without actually following through on them or justifying their actions.

(Second warning – major spoilers ahead!)*

If I’m going to dissect the plot, it’s poorly presented and throught-out in how the writers introduced and worked with both Kellogg and Shaun. Not only are both of these characters acting in a nonsensical manner but their motivations also do not make any sense and their suppositions that their actions are based on, drawing from their motivations are a moon-logic style of perfect prognostic inference for the intermediate actions of the world around them but which then fail to predict the end result...

Let me unpack that convoluted paragraph: You see, I knew it would be confusing so I wrote this second paragraph in order to explain exactly what I meant without actually telling you anything about the meaning of the intent of the paragraph and as such I- Oh, you left.

The problem is not that the open world interferes with the sequence of the main story, it's that there is apparently no one at Bethesda who can write - or is allowed to write. We have Shaun, the boy who grew up and is about to die who wants to see what sort of person his lone surviving parent is by setting them up on a mission to kill someone he wants dead. He doesn't just want to meet them, have a chat and all that jazz? No - he wants to let them loose in a post apocalyptic world he can't possibly even know they would be able to survive in.

Then we have him in charge of an evil group of scientists who have slaves and who practice science without any ethics and who actually create the problems that they must then face (along with everyone else!) and at no point can anyone mention any of this - you can't be a human being and actually confront them with this bullshit.

It's so shallow that it's actually depressing...

Luckily, the world that Bethesda has created is paradoxically interesting – as is their modus operandi. It’s a great shame and triumph that Bethesda is able to pull this same paradox off time after time… Environmentally, the world of Fallout Boston is interesting to explore, find new nooks and crannies and just see the cool environmental design and storytelling. This is always my favourite part of the game.

The side quests are okay but mostly forgettable and, as with the main plot line, the writing is almost uniformly terrible both for the dialogue and the sequence scripting.

In retrospect and after reading through those last few paragraphs it speaks to how strong the world design of Fallout and the Elder Scrolls games are that people continue to buy them at all!


At least the charcters look more pretty this time around! Bethesda are really starting to get the hang of graphics...

As is, unfortunately, quite a common occurance in open world games, the majority of characters in Fallout 4 are as memorable as they are two dimensional. Their actions, motivations and personalities are truncated versions of a real person, meaning that their presentation in the game is often unexplained or ignored entirely. This also extends to the player character - someone who, apparently, is searching for their son Shaun but who is distracted by every shiny object and quest along the path.

The most egregious character trait, though is that of technical competence. This world has no teachers (almost) and yet people with advanced understanding of complex algorithms, electronics and mechanics outside of the Brotherhood of Steel and The Institute are almost a dime a dozen. Taking into account that for every highly trained and specialised person in the real world there are literally tens (or more) of people without even a part of that person's understanding and expertise and you realise how much more difficult it would have been to pass this down through 200 years of chaos and bare existence.

These skills just wouldn't exist any more. 

The Brotherhood has the most plausible existence of knowledge through their very 'Space Marines'-esque chapters of Librarians, sorry, Scribes and rigid military-style doctrine and mission statement. They live in the world and so it's plausible that they have accrued these resources and learnt to survive in this way, drawing support from non-military locals for food and recruits.

In comparison, The Institute is much less believable. First of all, they dug underground. Where did they get food from? Where did they get materials from? Are we to believe that the teleportation technology was working before the nuclear war? It is hooked up to an old mainframe but still... Then there's the problem of how they manufacture everything. I mean - sure, they have worse, older stuff the nearer the surface of the planet they go but the stuff at the bottom? It's all plastic and glass and complex electronics and biological applications. The footprint of making that stuff (just the physical footprint) is huge and would require many more workers and many more experts in fields of science and technology than they appear not to have. Then there's the exhaust footprint - where does all their waste go? How does it get outputted if there's no access to the surface anymore? That's just unbelievable.

Yes, I realise there is a waste sewer (through which we can gain entry) but that doesn't wash (heh) with me...

This is also ignoring the amount of in-breeding that would have occurred in The Institute over a 200 year period and the fact that scientists are like normal human beings (not the robotic superbrains that are depicted here) and might be good lecturers but actually terrible at hands-on stuff. The skillset to teach is quite different from the skillset to create.

Further to this, your children do not magically inherent the abilities that you, yourself, have. So why would each and every one of them just roll into line and salute to the great Institute? Seriously, if there's anything that children are remotely even known for, it is rebelling against established norms, even if later on in life they, themselves, succumb to the same 'normalisation' behaviour as their parents did before them... There just aren't the requisite amount of rebellious behaviours in The Institute that makes it a believable place. Where are the poetry or philosophy clubs? Where are the lazy, good-fer-nuthin' beatnik children that are living on the graft of their parents?

Sometimes, I wonder whether the writers at Bethesda are synths - it would explain a lot!


Matching armour sets that look good together can be hard to come by...

Surprisingly, the combat mechanics have been somewhat refined compared to Fallout 3. VATS operates much as it always did and the non-VATS combat feels better: first person shooting feels good in this game.

The big change is with how the game deals with critical shots/attacks - these are now a chargeable resource, instead of linked to statistical luck and this 'meter' can only be charged by landing successful hits on enemies when using VATS. 

This is a change that I actually do not like because I feel that a critical shot is more suitably modelled as a luck-based action: e.g. A bullet piercing through a previously unknown weakspot in armour or an enemy inadvertently moving their head into the path of the swing of your baseball bat.

As the mechanic stands a player will waste a lot of critical attacks because they will just sit there, fully charged, until the player meets an appropriately difficult foe. There are perks that increase the number of stored critical attacks the player can accrue but, at the end of the day, there is another reason why they're not really worth the effort: critical shots just don't do much more damage than a normal attack.

This is less noticeable at lower character levels where everyone has less HP and damage resistance but at high levels a critical shot might take off a small percentage more of the damage-soaking health bar that most enemies wield.

This brings the mechanic of level scaling into the conversation quite nicely. Yes, level scaling has been with all Bethesda games since Oblivion (where it was implemented poorly) and it has been improving throughout Fallout 3 and Skyrim but Fallout 4 feels like a step backward towards the mediocrity of Oblivion.

It's difficult to put my finger on why, exactly, but it may be because there doesn't seem to be any reasonable limit to a character's level. My character is currently around level 63 and she has all the perks that I really want (though I am trying to max out my damage resistance) but each level I increase, enemies are becoming harder and harder to kill because their resistances go up along with their health bars and my damage output is not increasing (or maybe it's increasing more slowly in comparison).

My own indestructability has also increased similarly, so both the enemies and myself are gods wielding water pistols, slowly whittling each other away. This leads to increasingly boring and less lethal combat the higher in level the player becomes.

What is improved over Oblivion is that not all enemies are super-powered (some are easily killable in one hit) and there isn't the situation where I have been encountering 'bandits wearing glass armour', though with the introduction of the two main factions in the game (the Brotherhood and Institute) higher level enemies are more common in the late game story combined with these high player levels.
Still, considering I'm level 63, I don't feel like a badass due to the aforementioned water pistol damage output issue...

That occurred when I was around level 20-30 where the power curve of my damage output appeared to exceed my enemies' durability. So this is the opposite of what a player wants from a power fantasy like Fallout 4. This isn't a real-world example where my level 63 character is actually 63 years old - in which case the 30 year-old character would be stronger and more athletic. So even though I want to still continue to explore the game world thoroughly in this playthrough, the game has become less interesting to play in a mechanical sense.

Speaking of less interesting, the conversation options are pretty dire in Fallout 4. I had put a decent amount of perk points into charisma and intelligence upon character creation (along with Black Widow) and, not only did I find that I couldn't persuade anyone early in the game, the ability to do so was so minimal in practice along with the actual gameplay results of each persuasion attempt as to be non-existent. If a persuasion requires maxed-out charisma stats and will only result in a little bit of story flavour or a few measly extra caps for performing a mission instead of opening up possibilities in the game (such as avoiding combat or gaining access to new areas) then there's not really much point in the mechanic being there at all.

I suppose now I should get on to the big ticket aspect of Fallout 4 - crafting and building. In Fallout 3 weapons and armour degraded. It was a shame because this mechanic was okay except that the developers went overboard with it, making things degrade too quickly and making it too difficult to repair them as well. Fallout 4 has the opposite problem. Items don't degrade but you need a tonne of skills in order to upgrade the weapons you do get, along with a tonne of scavenged crap in order to perform the upgrade.

It's a hoarder's dream and nightmare combined. Not only do you simultaneously need to obsessively collect everything you find in the game world but you will also quickly run out of all that material when upgrading weapons, armour, power armour and building things in your settlements. (I forgot to mention that you can manage settlements but, this is that announcement now! :D )

"Feeling a bit... 'breezy' today?"

The crafting itself is actually pretty cool as a mechanic and deciding on what functionality you desire in a weapon, naming the weapon and using the weapon are all great fun. Unfortunately, it doesn't make as much of a difference as your point allocation in the particular weapon class - which means that all that optimisation is mostly just whipped cream on an already sugar-laden cake...

Improving armour, on the other hand, is not as great due to the requirements of improving each piece and ends up being an exercise in transferring the best mods of your current gear into the newer levels of base armour you encounter as your character levels up throughout the game. Otherwise, it ends up in a frustrating search for the required materials, which you will have forgotten once you return to your settlement to craft the items in question. Plus, armour does not scale well with level, meaning that your inputted resources are put to waste over time, compared to weapon modifications which can be transferred between all weapons of the same class.

For instance: leather armour is okay early in the game but once you start encountering combat and synth armour then there's no reason to wear it. However, because combat armour and synth armour start appearing around about the same time (character level-wise) what you might find is that you don't get to really enjoy the armours you like the look of because you are transitioning to newer equipment more readily because the weaker armours are very quickly out-moded because of increased enemy damage output. 

Similarly, there is also another overlap around the introduction of heavy combat armour and heavy synth armour. This is a shame because early in the game the special variants of armours and weapons that are dropped by the legendary enemies override those which you otherwise get. That extra movement speed or damage resistance/output to certain enemy types really makes a big difference at lower levels. At higher levels you don't need it and, in my experience, Legendary enemies at higher levels tend not to drop the better armours. I'm still getting variants on leather or combat armour at level 60 instead of heavy combat armour and the big hit in defence rating I would get if I equipped those items isn't worth it.

Also the bonus stats of the legendary items do not increase with level (as far as I can see) so a laser rifle with +50 radiation damage at level 10 is exponentially more effective than laser rifle with the same +50 radiation damage at level 60 - even with increased weapon damage modifiers due to character perk choices. I feel that this is an oversight and that instead of hard-coded discrete numbers that percentages should have been used in order to ensure that legendary drops kept their usefulness throughout the game.

A plus 50% radiation damage is useful whether your initial damage output is 23 or 100.

Two more problematic things with armour are that, some clothes in the game can be worn under armours but only a small percentage of those can be modified or upgraded. Also, cooler armours (such as synth and combat armour) appear to have a couple of different model designs and you cannot differentiate between them when they are in your inventory and they don't really match each other when worn (i.e. some of them cover more of the player character's body - this is ignoring modifications such as enamel, etc.).

Going back to settlement building, the limit on items in settlements in the PS4 version of the game is pretty tight-fisted. Meaning that you can't really make many interesting structures or build a settlement with very many settlers. Which is a shame. Furthermore, settlements generate timed quests which can be easily missed during normal play - for imminent threats and kidnapped settlers. These quests just pop up and are logged sparingly in the corner of your screen if you're lucky and displayed in your quest log (if you happen to check it) but which result in equipment/habitat damage and reduction in settler numbers.

In fact, despite designing and building your settlements, settlement management is a pain in the ass: no one can take care of themselves or defend themselves, despite what you outfit them with. People will only fight with the weapon you give them if you also give them the appropriate ammunition and only until they use it all up (this includes companions) which makes sense in the real world but, in a world where those same persons magically generate a pipe pistol which uses unlimited imaginary ammo in order to keep on fighting, is frustrating in a strategy management sense.

Fallout 3 managed this better by not caring if the NPC had the appropriate ammo or not and they would just use the weapon you'd given them ad infinitum.

It's also incredibly difficult to keep the NPC settlers happy and building them 'bonus' structures (which, in the PS4 version take up valuable structure limits) doesn't help for long.

Technical issues/bugs:

"Don't do it, Mama Murphy! Don't jump!"

Surprisingly, for a Bethesda game (and I'm playing on PS4 here) I've not encountered many technical issues. I did have an issue where a person told me to meet them at a place to do something. I went there and they didn't turn up so I went and did the thing anyway. The quest progressed, showing that I'd done the thing but I couldn't close the quest without the person being present - and she never showed up. Every now and then I return back to see if she's there...

The only other thing is that conversations do not stop the world around you, meaning that other events can pull you and your convesation partner out of the conversation. Luckily, in all cases, when I re-initiated conversation after combat had been completed the conversation started from the very beginning again. I can't imagine how frustrated I'd be if the conversation was then bugged.

Outside of those conditions, the usual Bethesda physics bugs rear their hilarious heads.... but they're as much a feature of gameplay these days so I can't really complain about them because they are so great!


One John Hancock suit, slightly more worn than the wearer...

Fallout 4 is actually a really fun game. It's a great game for exploring a world and environment, discovering cool little environmental storytelling set-pieces and building settlements for you to manage. The story is pretty much garbage (though not as bad as Fallout 3) and people and groups are almost all dispicable and unredeemable but I guess that's a side effect of being in a war for survival for 200 years.

Backseat designing:

I've got to admit that the graphics overhaul for this game has been great - especially the quality of the lighting engine...

I think Mumbles** from the Spoiler Warning Show crew said it best - Fallout 4 would have been a way better game if your character just awoke from cryostasis to find that everyone else was dead - including partner and baby. The whole story of finding your son, finding that he was some misguided elitist and amoral (sometimes) scientist who decided to pull you out of stasis to see what you'd do and only because he was dying is terrible.

Changing the story to be about your character discovering what life is now like whilst suffering from the loss of everything they've ever known is a much better framing for the conflict with The Institute, The Brotherhood and The Minutemen. Each of these factions represents an ideal from before the war (science, military, democracy or knowledge, power, society) and so this gives the player the opportunity to choose how they and their character feel which attribute is the best way to go about building the future of this burnt-out husk of a world.

Also, I'd change that bloody critical hit mechanic and make player SPECIAL point choices make more difference and also stop the power-creep/deflation I observed post level 30... also, I'd fix that stupid 'legendary' enemy mechanic - making them drop better armours at higher Luck and/or level.

So, only a third to a half of the game, then...

*Actually, this is the first time but normally I warn people in the introduction! :D

** I would have linked her website but it appears she's put it to private after several large backlashes against her online persona - which is a terrible shame and I wish this sort of thing would stop!

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