Thursday, 19 October 2017

Fourlout

I finally got to use that title! Fallout 4 is done and dusted - five months to the day since I finished Fallout 3...yikes! I'm never going to get through this backlog, am I? Did I enjoy it? Yes I did. It's a great game, but not without its flaws. First up, though, one thing that's absolutely flawless is the graphics. The game looks beautiful. I updated my graphics card a few weeks ago, and it looks stunning. New Vegas seems a long time ago now, but I remember when I started Fallout 4 up the day after finishing New Vegas I was absolutely struck by how far graphics tech had come on. So, a big tick in the graphics box. No problems with sound either...well, come to think of it, I didn't think the radio stations were anywhere near as good in this game as they were in the previous two games, which was a bit of an odd oversight. I think it's because they tried to have some quests bolted on to radio signals that you found - you had to lock on to the signal and then try and find the quest location by wandering about until the signal became stronger...which didn't work at all - which meant they didn't think you'd be listening to the radio so much. One of the main factions also communicated with you through your radio, so that meant you couldn't listen to anything else at the same time. Whatever it was, it generally felt like they didn't pay as much attention to it as much as in the last games. I certainly never found myself turning on the radio just to listen to it like I did before - quite the opposite, I spent most of the game with the radio resolutely switched off. There's also very little music in it - a phrase here and there at key points, but generally they've tried to keep the audio naturalistic, which works fine. Of other gameplay features, I didn't really care much for the settlements, they just seemed a tedious and irritating distraction. I'm not really sure who they're aimed at, but then some people like them, so they must just not be aimed at me. I can't think of anything worse than being deep underground halfway through a quest only to have a beeping pop-up tell you that some far away farmstead is under attack. You don't want to fail the quest, so you rush back to the exit (because, of course, you can't fast travel from inside) then jump off to the farm to find a few raiders being cut to pieces by the machine gun turrets you installed after the last annoying attack. Without you firing a single shot, the attack is over and you can go back and carry on with the original quest. A complete waste of time, but you just know that if you hadn't gone there - even though you didn't intervene at all - you would have failed the mission. In fact, the whole crafting element (which settlements were a part of) didn't really do anything for me. Heck, I love picking up random junk in games as much as the next guy, but not when it eats into my limited inventory. The last thing I want to be doing in a game is checking through all of the rubbish in a level to find the pieces which might contain the springs or nuclear materials that I might need to build a new scope for one of my guns. If we can agree to have magical fast travel in the game, then why not have magical fast shipment of crafting materials to my base? That would enable me to hoover up all of the junk and enjoy the crafting aspects without having to worry about the tedious inventory management. In fact, the inventory system as a whole was terrible. There weren't enough ways to sort or filter what you were carrying to actually find the bits that were most useful to you. In fact, I'm going to take a further step back and say that the whole UI was built around people navigating it through a game pad. You know, that's fine, I don't mind at all if you're going to optimise a game for the gamepad, but if you're releasing it on PC then please make sure that you optimise it for mouse and keyboard, too. The inventory system was something that continued to niggle at me throughout my whole time with the game, it was just badly implemented. Onto the game world itself, I have to say that it felt a little emptier than the earlier games. That's not to say that the world wasn't filled with places to visit, but each of those places felt like a carbon copy of the others - they were just empty shells for monsters to move around in. Sure, there were interesting stories to be read in terminals, but the buildings themselves should have told some of the story. Also, individual places very rarely had any meaning or pay-off. Now I think about it, there were actually very few quest-givers in the game. You'd visit the same people and they'd give you a quest to go to a location and find something or kill something - those were really only ever the two options. It occurs to me that it would have been much better to have attached more quests to the locations themselves - so you enter a building and trigger a quest somehow rather than having a boring faction leader set you another task. I know some of that's me - I'm much more of a lone explorer type; I like discovering and being rewarded for my discoveries - but I'm convinced it would have been a better game if there had been more variety of quests and the way in which they were given. That leads me on to factions. Just like with New Vegas, I really didn't enjoy the faction system. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against being a member of various factions and going on quests for them - in fact, I really enjoy that - what I don't like is the way that by the end of the game you always have to pick one side and destroy the others. I just don't enjoy that arbitrary 'choice' that I have to make. I didn't particularly like the Railroad or agree with their principles, but nor did I want to kill them all. So, when the Brotherhood asked me to do that, I said no. That immediately made me an enemy of the Brotherhood, who attacked me. That was hardly a role-playing choice consistent with the way that I'd played the game up to that point. Exactly the same thing happened with the Institute. Having no great universal enemy to attack also meant that there was no real resolution to the game. Sure, I destroyed the other factions so the one I 'supported' came out on top by default, but that was hardly a satisfying conclusion to 150 hours of gameplay. I hadn't made any difference to the game world or the people in it. Why not let me win by neutralising the Super Mutant threat, or the raiders, or find a cure for the ghouls' radiation sickness? Or, if you're going to force a settlement game onto me, then why not let me win by settling the wasteland? Those would have been much more satisfying endings where I had made a difference to the world I had been inhabiting for so long. As it is, I finished the game and the next second I was back in the wasteland fighting exactly the same enemies as if nothing had ever changed. "Oh, I know you destroyed the Institute, but there are still some rogue synths wandering the wasteland." "Oh, I know you destroyed the Brotherhood invasion force, but there are still some rogue units wandering the wasteland." So what did I do, exactly? And as for the main story...the less said, the better. It was supposed to be a more personal quest this time - finding your lost son. It started off well, but rapidly descended into just nothing. The reveal, such as it was, was terrible and completely unemotional. There was nothing interesting in the mother-son dynamic at all when they finally met, and what should have been the emotional crux of the whole journey was instead just hand-waved away, and made worse by the shoddy conversation system. The developers chose to go with a Mass Effect-style system of having four general flavours of reply that you can choose one of at each stage of the conversation. There's nothing wrong with choosing that method per se, but it means that you can never see exactly what your character is going to say - it's sometimes not at all what you expect - and you can never have nuanced conversations. I almost always found myself wanting to give a response that wasn't available to me. It was also very hard to revisit conversation options to ask about different topics. For example, when you meet the leader of the Institute, one of the first things I wanted to ask was why had he sanctioned the practice of kidnapping people from the wasteland and replacing them with synths. What was the purpose of this practise, and what happened to the people who were kidnapped? Those conversation options never appeared to me, and if they had been one of the branching paths, it wasn't a branch I took and I could never revisit them, no matter how many times I spoke to him. The whole thing was a bit unsatisfying. Oh, and companions, I can't believe I haven't mentioned them yet. I hated them. I didn't really like them that much in the last game, but at least they all had stories to tell. These were a complete step down. I tried a few of them, and played with Dogmeat for half of the game, but in the end it was the AI that killed it for me. In the last game, they'd at least stay out of your way so they weren't a chore to travel with - most of them time you could pretty much forget they were there. Here, they constantly wander in front of you, getting in the way of your shots and setting off ambushes. I wish there had been some way to tell them to always stay at least 10 metres behind me, and to only fire once I did. So, with all of that vitriol, did I think this was a bad game? Heck no, I loved it. It was great fun to play and to explore - I'm just listing all of these quirks in the vain hope that someone from Bethesda will read this and act on everything I've mentioned in order to make a truly, truly wonderful game. 

So, that's Fallout over with. There hasn't been a miss-step in the series, and it's been hugely fun to play through. Next up on the series list is Elfland, a complete step away from the first-person murderfests of Fallout to an early '90s platformer. Should be a refreshing change!

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