Back to work: FO4 is over (for now)
So I stopped making my game! The Sadness overwhelms me and then is replaced by the memories of the winter wasteland holidays. Parties and friends and family so soon replaced with horrid arid radioactive wastes. My partner, Maia, naively convinced me to buy Fallout 4 just as the holidays were ending and I’ve spent the last three weeks playing it and doing very little else. Now that I’ve sunk my first one hundred hours and change into it, I feel it is time to take a break and get back to work. But before I do, I wanted to share some of my experience with the game and thoughts on its design, of which I have more than a few favorable comments to make.
Fallout 4 (FO4) chose to change some stuff. Of course some things have to change, but a lot doesn’t and I was impressed with some of the choices they made in how to change the game and the resulting play experience. Here are some changes I noticed and liked:
They made ghouls into people! They’re wearing clothes and have little pot bellies and are weird and sad looking. They look like awful lost people. And they’re scary and dopey in how they move and then they swarm you and they hit, hard. They’re so good! They kept the 28 days later fast zombie aspects which they pioneered in Fallout 3 (FO3) and then added humanity to them. I feel sorry for them as I’m killing them and I feel more sympathy for the ghouls that aren’t feral, that maybe imagine themselves like that someday and fear it. It’s engaging. It’s immersive. I like the new ghouls.
Rad Scorpions (and mole rats)
Both rad scorpions and mole rats have a new interaction: they burrow! Then they jump up out of the ground around you, right in your face. It makes them scary where before they were a trivial interaction, flavor, at best. Now when you see them, suddenly you don’t, as they burrow underground and come up around you. Other times you don’t even see them before they come at you as you walk over where they’re hiding, hanging out in their underground burrows, waiting for prey. It makes kiting them less of a possibility and interacting with them unavoidable.
You have to engage with them because you are perpetually in their range: they are always on you. Whereas in FO3 and Fallout New Vegas (FONV), you could backpedal and shoot them… you could… avoid them, avoid interacting with them, avoid being hit by them, and you could avoid taking them seriously.
Rad Scorpions are dangerous and they’re serious from the very start. And although they don’t remain a serious through for the entire game, unlike say deathclaws, at higher levels you still remember them as scary and you think of them as dangerous, regardless of how easily you can now dispatch them.
Mole rats are similar, they pop up, they burrow, they attack you in groups, but they’re a part of something else too, something I noticed in how the combat has changed. What I noticed was the introduction of “up and down” combat.
“Up and Down” combat
What I’m referring to here is the inclusion of combatants that are at your level and at your feet, often in the same fight (in the case of mirelurks and their spawn, especially, but also with raiders and their dogs). What you have are combatants that are your size, at your level, whom you’re interacting with AND you have shit at your feet, biting at you, needling you, getting you all flustered. You’ve got this raider shooting at you with her pop gun and you’ve got her attack dog chomping at your feet. It makes things a little more hectic, a little more addled. It’s good. It’s really good.
And with an enemy like mole rats, who honestly were just like fat pig pillows that you filled with bullets and watched explode in FO3 and FONV, now you have them popping up around you, swarming you, munching at your feet while other stuff is going on. Even if that other stuff is just looking for other mole rats, trying to figure out how many there are and which one you were shooting at last.
The same goes with dogs, who attack in packs and run at you and then run away and are always forcing you to look down at the one biting you and up to look for the others to see where they’re coming from. It’s clever. It uses the three dimensional space to create three dimensional interactions. You are forced to imagine yourself as having a close and a far and for them to be separate spaces. And to imagine these things gnawing at your legs (an impressive feat when we all know that when you look down, you have no legs). It puts you into both your body as the player, the sense of what is happening to you in the world and the world itself as it gives the worth distance and depth within combat interactions.
The dialogue system has been overhauled and streamlined for… the better. Though I say it tentatively because although I like how it streamlines interactions and gives you a reason to listen to the voice acting and pay attention to what people are saying beyond quickly reading and skipping, I also dislike that it gives you a voice, a specific voice, that you, the character are now voice acted. Hearing your intonation, your inflection, your emphasis, totally disrupts my wanting to play an illiterate barbarian roughneck. I have t0 work so hard not to be the damned main character in Bethesda’s Fallout 4 Copyright 2016 Main Story. It’s sucky. It sucks.
But I like the dialogue system! And I really like the NPC interactions and the NPC barks (NPC commentary outside of dialogue) and the raider and scavenger conversations with each other. It is all so good. I’ve played over one hundred hours and there are still novel conversations being had about people they like and bad things that happened to them and tough situations they want advice on. It’s immersive and real. It brings me into the world.
The last thing I’ll mention today, the raiders. They are so much more real and empathetic (and yet still scary and awful) than in FO3 and FONV. They’re not skin eating sociopaths with hands on their belts and ears on necklaces (sadly, real examples from FO3). They’re just bad people or better, they’re sometimes good people forced to become bad people. In one raider settlement in particular, there are computer entries that give you the story of some good guys who come on bad times and, in the process of trying to take care of the people they have come to protect, they end up taking tributes from nearby settlements in a protection racket. From this they attract new people who hear about how well “those raiders” are being fed and they say, “fuck it. If this is what we have to become to survive, so be it.” And these are the people you’re killing. That’s who these raiders are. That’s an engaging story. That’s interesting and world building. That is the fallout I am interested in.