Dogmeat keeps getting in the way. Literally. But also, you know, metaphorically. And it’s not just Dogmeat. It’s Paladin Danse struggling to step into an elevator even though there’s loads of space. It’s Nick Valentine stuck on a bit of a rock somewhere, everywhere in the wasteland and now I can’t find him. It’s Virgil glitching up onto and then back off a whole mainframe cabinet while he turns around to talk with me. It’s those incompetent morons at Sanctuary nagging at me to go and murder another gang of bad guys only minutes after I murdered the other gang of bad guys. It’s the brahmin caravan in the middle of my house. It’s because I picked up a coffee mug and now YOU’RE CARRYING TOO MUCH AND YOU CAN’T RUN.
Fallout 4 is a good game. It’s amazing at times, even. But so much gets in the way of it being something really S.P.E.C.I.A.L. (sorry).
I love the Fallout series. This one time back in 2005 or so, I played Fallout 2 for about 30 hours non-stop. Then I had to go to the doctor because my one hand was completely numb for, like, a week. Even now, ten years later, I’ve not recovered some of the sensation in that pinky finger. I blame radiation poisoning by proxy (that’s totally, probably a thing). The point is, I’m too stupid to stand up every now and then to stop the nerves in my arm pinching on the edge of my desk, and also that I super-duper, megaton love the Fallout series.
But I also kind of hate it. And I kind of hate Fallout 4 the most.
Besides everything else already listed in the first paragraph, though, it’s so superficial. The Commonwealth spreads out for miles, but it’s the same copy-pasted props in the same copy-pasted heaps of rubble. There’s plenty of stuff to keep you busy, but it’s mostly the same copy-pasted missions from the same copy-pasted NPCs. You can play it for 100 hours, but you’ve seen and done everything you haven’t already seen and done in the first ten. It’s sort of been like that in every Fallout game, but this time I wanted something a bit different. A bit… unpredictable. Instead, Fallout 4 has the same awkward character animations, the same stop-start loading screens, and the same inventory clutter as its more recent predecessors. For all intents and purposes and next-gen marketing blurbs, Fallout 4 could’ve been another Fallout 3 or Fallout: New Vegas expansion, except it’s five years too late. War never changes, we’re told, but neither does Fallout.
But here’s the thing. I loved Fallout 4. I mean, okay, I also kind of hated it. I’m complicated like that. The game is complicated like that. Even if it’s not exactly what I’d wanted, it’s more or less exactly what I’d expected. We could – and should – argue about holding current franchise overseer Bethesda to higher standards than that, I suppose, but for the moment, it is what it is. And there’s something about its kitsch retro-futuristic post-apocalypse that just works for me.
Because Dogmeat gets in my way, but he also managed to slip through space and time and fetch me the Cryolater in the first hour or so of the game. And because Paladin Danse is a smug, sanctimonious asshole but he saved me from a mob of homicidal robots with laser guns. And because Nick Valentine is one of the most fascinating and charismatic characters in the whole series.
Those things just aren’t enough to make up entirely for the game’s problems. And what’s New! And Improved! in Fallout 4 isn’t necessarily that, either.
It’s got a new base construction system, for example, but the interface is exceedingly clumsy and sometimes counter-intuitive, and it doesn’t add anything of real relevance to the game. It’s basically The Sims: Fallout Edition, but without the charm and sophistication. I’m sure some people are going to spend a lot of time building extraordinary things with corrugated metal and melons and we’ll all be very impressed, but it’s still a superfluous feature that feels like it was plugged in as a distraction, and not a meaningful or otherwise compelling part of the ongoing story.
And that’s a shame, because the story is actually not bad, even if it’s obviously cribbed from Blade Runner – or maybe because it’s obviously cribbed from Blade Runner and not another dreary Enclave conspiracy Mad Libs template. In fact, after a somewhat clichéd and ponderous start, the story takes a legitimately intriguing turn about halfway through, and you’ll have to make some thought-provoking decisions before it’s over. B-b-but. Without spoiling anything, the, um, dramatic urgency of the game’s plot is constantly undermined by the million diversions around you. “Look,” the game tells you. “You’ve got this MAJOR PERSONAL CRISIS going on, but what about collecting some of these magazines and shopping for asbestos and checking out this derelict factory that’s like every other derelict factory? That’s important too, promise.” At the risk of committing gamer heresy, I wonder if Fallout 4 might have been a much more cohesive experience if it were a more linear game like BioShock. Come at me, I saved a mini-nuke just in case.