You’ve got to believe me when I say that I want to like Fallout 4 an awful lot more than I actually do. I love the world, I think that the gameplay has drastically improved and the graphics are below only the design of the game. The world is seriously beautiful and, after two weeks of binging on nothing but Bloodborne, I had forgotten that colour had existed making the strangely bright and vibrant world of the nuclear apocalypse all that more enjoyable. However, there are two things that I cannot get past, and they almost spoil the game for me.
I’ll start with the lesser of the evils here: character creation sucks. I am going to sound like a child complaining that all their Barbies or Action Men look the same, but it seriously destroys the experience. It seems, at first, with all its sliders to be more complicated than previous installments, and while that’s true, it is no boon to the game. I spent a good hour trying to make my character look good, going through a number of different ideas on what they should look like, before being completely dissatisfied with how they appear. Because of the hairstyles, all the men have two looks: a slightly roughed-up, ugly James Bond type and the main character from the Road (sans beard, should you choose so) Everyone has a huge nose, whether you like it or not. I’ve never been to Boston, but I doubt they’d appreciate the stereotype.
Your characters are just ugly. I actually abandoned my first run half an hour in because I was so upset at how my character looked. I ended up messing about with the female character creation to try and salvage it but I found that girls have two types as well: either you have a haircut that shows off their HUGE ears and they become the focal point of the character, or your hairstyle emphasises the tree growing between their eyes. I ended up setting all the makeup sliders to max (because men don’t have makeup sliders, but they can have more scars on their face if they want… ) and pretending that I was playing a goth chick. After all, the whole point of being a goth is to look unconventionally ugly but all I ended up with was coals for eyes and lips as plump as an overripe tomato. It’s fucking ridiculous and I hope there’s some kind of scarf and glasses combination I can get so that you can only see the little strands of hair coming out form underneath my hat.
But by far the biggest aspect of the main character is that they have no character, but to explain why I need to take you through the prologue.
You start off with a really tense, gritty introduction to the world and the political stage. You are notified that, in this reality, the Cold War never really ended and that nuclear power became the go-to powersource after World War II rather than Gas or Coal or Oil. You are told of the depleting reserves of fuel and how China controls a huge amount of the fuel that is left, giving cause for their relations with the US and non-communist countries to fray. The man, whom the prologue focuses on, is known to have fought in the US army in a past war, and then you are thrown into character creation. Your significant other and you make small talk and, whenever you decide on a change, they will make a benign (and frankly annoying) comment about “how beautiful your ‘eyebrows’ are,” or something along those lines. You’re introduced to Shaun, your infant son, and Codsworth, your humourous, robotic manservant and you play happy families for a few minutes before being approached by a Vault-Tec representative to interview you to get you to go into the Vault. Then, predictably, the bombs drop and you have to sprint to the Vault. You get there just in time to have a nice view of Boston blowing up in the background.
You find yourself in a Vault, stunned and bemused, and you undergo introduction before being cryogenically frozen for roughly 200 years. You wake up to witness your significant other being killed and your baby taken away, and then you are put back to sleep. Then the game starts and this is where the problems start.
You see, I’m really trying to play the game as if I were a grieving widow, hell bent on finding whoever took her son and murdered her husband. I’m not some weak, vacillating character that provides the motivation for the protagonist to help the kind, unhappy lady, I AM the protagonist and I will not go quietly into the night, but that’s all the game wants you to do.
It was difficult to curb my wanderlust but I played off the couple of side-missions I did as necessary for my character to understand the world she been plunged into. But even in the main missions she doesn’t seem that bothered by things. I’m trying really hard to plough through but I just reached a point where I had 3 options to get past this one woman. I could charm her with my charisma, intimidate her with my strength or just bribe her. The first two take skills and levels, and are fundamentally random, and the last is a guarantee. The problem is that my character would never try to bribe someone. I think she would start off trying to be reasonable and then, upon rejection in her intensely emotional state, she would be overwhelmed by anger and start making demands. When I was rejected for both I closed to dialogue option and shot the woman in the head and she died. Hey bodyguard then started attacking me, which is fair enough, and so I killed him. Unfortunately, the game say that this is a valid option to achieve your goals.
I needed a key. I could just kill everyone there and take it from their lifeless corpses, but the game said that I needed to play by the book and that I could only do the thing that my character would not.
I think that, with games like Fallout and Skyrim where you can just go off the rails you have two options: give your protagonist no character whatsoever and let the player project their own view of how the character should be onto them, which Skyrim managed to do just about, or do the Fallout 4 thing where they have an established character and then the player has to choose to play it like the game says it should be. The unfortunate thing is that, while they managed this in Fallout 3 and, to a lesser extent, New Vegas (I always thought being shot in the head was a terrible motivation. I would want to stay as far away from that dickbag as possible until I can take my revenge properly) They have completely failed in Fallout 4. The dialogue feels like a restriction rather than a choice, the side-quests feel like distractions rather than optional extras, and the ironic thing is that this is all because the world feels so real.
Fallout 3 and New Vegas were so obviously fake that, while you could get immersed in them, you never felt like it was somewhere a person “lived.” Fallout 4, on the other hand, feels like somewhere people could start civilisation again after the bombs dropped, even if there are far too many raiders in there for gameplay purposes. An organic, living game demands a much more personal, real experience and, with the nature of Fallout as a series, I don’t think it could ever have achieved that. The dialogue could have been amazingly better (I legitimately think that they have the least convincing characters in any game I’ve played in recent memory. It’s like they don’t even realise that they’re in an apocalypse. Piper I take particular grievance with. This isn’t a world where people are sent to prison to think about what they did, if you keep annoying someone and pressing your nose into their business they’re going to fucking shoot you)
I had hoped for so much more. Fallout 4 has so much to offer but all I will remember is my character’s nose and how she can’t stick to one personality; she switches them out like I switch between the guns I use to kill raiders. Oh, and as a side note, fuck Dogmeat. I like to choose my companions, not have them forced upon me. In protest I’m going the Lone Wanderer route.