A Long Rant About A Game I Used To Love

“This year is going to be different,” I told myself. “This year I’m going to set some challenging yet attainable New Years Resolutions and actually stick to them. No excuses, no delays…just doing what I want to achieve, and what I can achieve.”

Well, so much for that, eh? I blame my wisdom tooth. It was extracted on the 20th Feb and between the initial pain (bad), the dry socket (worse, much worse), and the subsequent removal of the emergency dressing (not so painful, but the horrible aftertaste lasted forever), it took over three weeks to recover. Doesn’t explain the time before the surgery, nor the period between recovery and now…but hey, I’ve been busy working, and playing Gears, and watching Supernatural, all super important tasks (Supernatural especially, for a special reason I’ll announce eventually – perhaps next month when I discuss my other TV obsession), so when did I even have the time?

Yep…totally justifiable delays. Besides, I can just change the goal posts, and say by January, I meant 20th March (when better to restart than the one month anniversary of losing my tooth?). Boom Nailed it.

Ahem.

So today’s post (or this month’s post, if I am to stick to my plan), is about gaming. And how, despite my efforts to become a professional Gears of War 4 player, I am, in many ways, falling out of love with my favorite pastime.

I should preface this by saying, my attitude towards gaming could and should (I hope) change in a matter of hours when Mass Effect Andromeda comes out. I’m expecting it to be awesome, and if it is, then everything in the world is great again and I’ll be super happy. Hours* away, guys! I’m seriously hyped right now. I can’t even stand it!

And yet, reality grounds me. As much as I love the Mass Effect series, the potential greatness of Andromeda will not change the fact that I’ve been largely unimpressed by the recent standard of mainstream games, and my general apathy to new games means I view even this upcoming launch with apprehension.

Now, I’m not saying there aren’t good games on the market, nor am I saying the industry as a whole is regressing, just that the games I’ve bought in the past couple of years have disappointed me. Gears of War 4 aside (a game that is also far from perfect; were it not for the competitive scene I’d probably have stopped bothering with it), I haven’t loved a new game for a long time. In fact, on the Xbox One, I’d say there’s only been two games that have really drawn me in – Dragon Age Inquisition and Sunset Overdrive. Everything else I’ve played has either immediately or gradually pushed me away.

Annoyingly, I can’t really explain why I feel this way. Perhaps it is inevitable now that I’m working, my time is more valuable so I have to become more selective over games. By necessity, my standards are much higher than when I was a feckless teen with time to kill. It would make sense. The games I criticize the most (more on that shortly) are supremely popular games. Millions of people enjoy them, and I feel like an older version of me would be included in those millions. Therefore, it must be me.

But then again, is having higher standards my fault? My problem, sure, but when my biggest issues aren’t to do with superficial issues like the graphics, but core features of the game, such as the plot or character development, I think I’m right to be critical. True, in the past, I could have bypassed a ‘meh’ story to play a game (looking at you, Army of Two sequels), but when a game is attempting to motivate me with a powerful narrative, and that narrative is fundamentally flawed, I can’t be blamed for losing interest. Nor can I be blamed for voicing my disapproval at such a poorly written/devised game, a point which brings me to the worst offender on my personal hate list…Fallout 4.

Now, I will preface this by saying I never completed Fallout 4 and it’s been a long time since I played it. However, I did commit over 50 hours before reaching my breaking point, and I have in spoken at length to a fellow gamer who did complete Fallout 4 yet agreed with my criticisms, so I think I’m on solid ground here. If you disagree, please tell me why. If you haven’t played Fallout 4 but want to read on anyway, be warned that there are some SPOILERS ahead. And if you have no interest in Fallout 4, or gaming in general, I apologize, as this blog post probably isn’t for you. Unless you really enjoy a good story, then you should read on regardless so you can comprehend my anger.

Urgh, Fallout 4. So much promise. If you were around me prior to the game’s release, you would have known how giddily eager I was to play. Once it came out, that’s all I did. I was immediately encapsulated with the world, even more so than I was with Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas. It was my biggest obsession for weeks. It wasn’t perfect, there were flaws, but I loved it…until those cracks in the game’s foundation became too big to ignore. Despite my best efforts to use my mind canon to fix them (mind canon is like Sherlock Holmes’ mind palace, just it only revolves around making my experience within a game make sense), the damage was done. Fallout 4 no longer appealed to me. I stopped playing completely. And though there are aspects of it I still think of fondly, I don’t think I’ll ever reload my save. Quite the damning statement, no?

So, what was wrong? Well, as I indicated earlier, the story was fundamentally broken, and only got progressively worse. How so? Well, let me break it down for you!

Issue 1: Story contradicts gameplay

First, a rough plot summary: after a nuclear war is initiated, you enter the safety of a vault with your partner and son, only to see your love shot and your son kidnapped while you drift into cryogenic sleep. You then wake up some undetermined time later with one goal: find your son. Pretty straightforward, right?

*sighs*

Now, I should explain that Fallout is a game series known for exploration. Fallout 4 is no different. You are encouraged to wander the radioactive wasteland, create settlements for other survivors, and kill every hostile force that dares to attack you in future Boston. This type of gameplay is what Bethesda arguably does best. However, this ideology downright conflicts with the premise of Fallout 4.

Admittedly, I’m not a parent so I could be wrong here, but I imagine if my baby was taken from me, I would spend every waking second searching for him. I wouldn’t be helping strangers unnecessarily, clearing out old buildings or helping the minutemen retake back their HQ. No, I would be entirely mission-orientated, an approach which is the complete opposite to how you’re supposed to play a Fallout game.

For someone who obsesses like I do, this contradiction is bloody horrible. I spent many fun hours going after side quests and building settlements, yet I could never displace the thought that I shouldn’t be doing this, I should be looking for my son. I tried to use my mind canon to explain why I was spending an insane amount of time building a junk wall around my primitive looking Sanctuary, but was largely unsuccessful in my efforts.

So, why didn’t I just do the story? Well, as I said, that would have been super boring and would mean ignoring Fallout 4’s greatest features. Besides, when I tried to get into finding my son, I ran into another problem…

Issue 2: The main story starts badly, doesn’t improve much

Another bit of background: after escaping the vault, you head back home and on the way, you save some settlers (or something like that, I forget). In this group is Mama Murphy, an old hag who happens to be a psychic. You give her some drugs, and she tells you to go to Diamond City, as that’s where your son was taken to first. Begin your quest!
Uh, no. No. Get out. I don’t care what gaming universe you are in, using a damn psychic to kick start your search is a load of crap. There is no bypassing her stupid prediction either – Mama Murphy literally initiates the bloody plot. It made me so angry, especially as Diamond City is the biggest settlement in the Commonwealth, and they could have done literally anything else (I know I’m overusing literally here, but that’s how utterly stupid this concept was) to get you to go there. You could have found a random dude and said “hey, I’m looking for my son, any ideas?” and after you shot him in the gut for trying to steal your stuff, he would have told you “never saw him, but he was probably taken to Diamond City because that’s pretty much the only place that isn’t filled with death, desperation and creepy dudes like me.”

Urgh.

Sadly, the story doesn’t get much better. You meet an investigator and track the man who took your son in a highly improbable way (I know dogs are great and all, but I don’t believe for a second even the best sniffer dog could follow a vague trail for miles, especially when a decent amount of time has passed since the dude went), and then…more things happen. I’m not entirely sure when I stopped caring, but it didn’t take long for the main story to mean nothing to me. I blame Mama Murphy for putting me on the wrong path. Well, the right path but you know what I mean.

To be fair, it isn’t all her fault. Another part of the problem is the dialogue tree. For Fallout 4, Bethesda took a Mass Effect approach to dialogue, giving their character a voice instead of block text at the bottom of the screen. I would generally approve of this, but it was too simplistic in Fallout 4. I could never ask the questions I wanted to ask, questions I feel I may have been given as an option if the protagonist was silent. And when I’m not given the option to ask questions, nor am I given the answers to these fairly obvious yet unspoken questions, I begin to ask myself questions instead, such as “why am I still bothering with this?”

The biggest example of wasted potential is the key plot to the story. Early on you are introduced to the idea of the Institute, a shady group that are suspected of replacing people with synthetic lookalikes. Their motives are unknown, but everybody is incredibly paranoid/scared of synthetics taking over. And even though I can’t ask an ousted synth some logical questions about how he exists (you go over some of it briefly, but nothing much in detail), I loved this angle. You can’t beat a good body snatching mystery!

Frustratingly, it doesn’t go anywhere. Even when you finally meet the Institute leader, the reasoning for their actions is never explored. You don’t get any answers as to why they are doing what they are doing. Or if you do, it happens after I hit my quitting threshold. After being told that I would learn the truth and promptly learning nothing despite completing at least 3 or 4 biggish quests for them, I gave up on the game. Sorry, but LOST, though I love it, took away all my goodwill towards never-ending mysteries. You need to give me some answers or I’ll find something better to do.

Now, this complaint is probably more of a story writing issue, or lack thereof, than it is about having a speaking protagonist (who should theoretically pull me deeper into the game…so much for that), but I do think the emotive yet uninformative dialogue tree hindered my enjoyment/understanding of the game. It wouldn’t, however, have helped with the biggest problem Fallout 4 has, which is…

Issue 3: There is no villain, and thus there is no point.

Fallout 4 tries to replicate the success of Fallout New Vegas by giving you factions to fight alongside. You have the Minutemen (a group that you lead, yet do every irrelevant task for because evidently nobody else can be bothered), the Railroad (who want to save the synths, and make you do irrelevant side quests despite being the only person who can achieve their goals), the Brotherhood of Steel (they want to take down the Institute by making you do everything), and the Institute.

Unlike Fallout New Vegas though, none of this really matters. There is no motive to care. The Institute, the apparent bad guys in the game, fail to really drive their evilness to you. As I indicated before, it isn’t explained. Are they even bad? I have absolutely no clue. I suspect Bethesda did this purposely so you could pick a side without being a bad person. Not everything is black or white in their world, and by leaving the story open and grey, the team you choose is effectively your interpretation of who you think is best. A neat concept but ambiguity is a detriment when the factions in Fallout 4 have no depth. Having checked the wiki page, it appears the end goal of the game is picking a side to destroy the others. Therefore, the worst response you can incite in your gamer is complete indifference to all your factions, because without the drive to pick a side, there is no reason for them to finish your bloody game. So they’ll stop playing.

And that’s what I did.

Annoyingly, explaining the Institute’s motives, even if showed them to be despicable human beings, wouldn’t have fixed the issue. Having an inherently evil group would have been great, obviously, and it would have helped me to pick a side. Not necessarily against them either – maybe I’m cool with being on the villains side. But the keystone of this issue is that, regardless of motivation, I need to make a choice. Bethesda had to force my hand and they never did. I got deep into the story without annoying a single one of the four factions, despite deliberately acting against two of them. The game was so determined to ensure I still had a choice, it actually showed me there was no consequences to my actions, and thus no point to playing.

How bad was it? Well, I intentionally screwed up two major Institute missions, categorically picking the other side, and yet they still wanted me to be their leader. What the hell?! In contrast, Fallout New Vegas provided a choice early on the game and I decided to shoot up one faction. From that point, I was their enemy. Even if I wanted to be their friend, I couldn’t, and that was awesome because it showed there was some meaning to my actions. Even if it screws my game up, I need consequences. Otherwise, what’s the point?

*deep breath*

BONUS NON-STORY ISSUE: The game never ends.

Fallout 4 boasted that even when the story is complete, you can continue to explore the wasteland. This isn’t a good idea. Games, even though we don’t want them to have one sometimes, need an ending. Yes, if you want to attempt to create the best settlement in the world, you should be able to do that. However, extending the runtime of the game by giving me the same side quest over and over again only causes me to hate you, Bethesda. It proves everything I do is meaningless (and I already know that, I don’t need the game to shove it in my face, thanks very much) because there is no consequence to my actions and nothing changes. Telling me to help the same settlement repeatedly, despite the fact I put fifty turrets around a junk wall that physically stops intruders, doesn’t tell me the game lives on, it tells me I’m stupid for still paying it.

Stories, even shoddy ones, need an ending, because there is no satisfaction or resolution without one. That’s why I’ll always pick Dragon Age over Skyrim, Mass Effect over Fallout. The fact that the Bioware games end with you wanting more is a damn sight more appealing than constantly clearing out the same cave or saving the same dopey settlers from ghouls for eternity. I’m not having it, Bethesda. I see through your bullshit. Preston Garvey, you can take your “settlement needs your help” crap elsewhere. I’m done.

*deep breath*

And that’s Fallout 4. A game that I once loved but ended up hating. Weak story, unchallenging gameplay (started fun, but got too easy) and infuriating bugs with my settlements just made it unenjoyable and unplayable. Maybe Fallout 5 will be better, eh?

*checks word count*

Boy, this got out of hand. I was going to also hate on Destiny, Grand Theft Auto 5, and Halo 5, but guess they’ll have to wait for another day. Sorry. My anger and disappointment at Fallout 4 ran deeper than I thought.

On the plus side, in less than two hours I can start playing Mass Effect Andromeda. Hopefully it’ll be everything I ever wanted. If not…well, shit.

Alex

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*I wanted to post this blog post before Andromeda’s release, but because I’m an idiot, I didn’t start it until 5pm, 6 hours before release. And because I refuse to delay publication until a later date, this is effectively a first draft copy I’m sharing with you all. So, if the writing is poor in places (highly likely), or I waffle on too much (already know that one from the word count), I apologize. I promise I’ll edit next month’s post before publishing (if I don’t forget about it or get sidetracked) which will also be a more positive piece, as I’ll be talking about my new favorite show of all time, and of course, our big Supernatural news!

Until then,

Alex

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