Just in case the delightful title isn’t enough to keep the seething fanmobs with their pitchforks and torches at bay, let me make one thing perfectly clear: I. Love. This. Game.
Actual screenshot from my Steam account. The only reason I’m not playing right NOW is that I’m writing this fine article you see here before you.
However, as much as I love this game, you can’t have that kind of immersion (read: abdicating as many adult responsibilities as possible to play) without noticing some of the... quirks in the gameplay. Call them bugs, call them flaws, you could even be justifiably charitable and call them growing pains but one has to admit there’s some weirdness going on in the wastelands.
You know, weirdness beyond super mutant humanoids, mindless feral ghouls, and radioactive animal life.
One thing must be said: for a game as complex, expansive, and immersive as Fallout's proving to be, the issues thus far have been nominal in comparison to the number of things Bethesda got right. Be that as it may, let’s take a closer look at some of the top complaints about Fallout 4 .
Problem #1: Of Framerate and Physics Engines
Much like your character takes a plain pipe pistol off the still twitching corpse of a raider for modification later, it appears Bethesda's looted the still wriggling Skyrim for its physics engine upon which to build Fallout 4. While some (perhaps many) PC gamers have been able to play Fallout with no ill effects, it appears that the vast majority have experienced at least some degree of shenanigans owing to the physics engine being directly tied to framerate. Before I continue, let me make one thing quite clear: I am not a game developer. You might even go so far as to say that I do not even code, bro. I do, however, play a lot of video games. Believe me when I tell you that to have my FPS crater when I’m doing something as simple as jumping up to an elevated surface is a colossal pain, as well as something I tend not to encounter. I’ll admit that I don’t have a top of the line gaming rig, but my machine surpasses both the minimum and recommended system requirements for the game. There’s no reason on the hardware end that this should be happening, which only leaves us with the software. Since the game’s release, unofficial fixes and tutorials have flooded the community. While they seem to tidy up the mess, that leaves us with wondering why there’s an issue in the first place. Right up there with wondering why Bethesa went on record via Twitter to tell us the framerate wouldn’t be capped, only to release a game with, you guessed it, capped framerate.
Problem #2: To Build or not to Build
So far the feedback on the settlement building system has been mixed. You’ve got your camp of happy builders, and you’ve got the people who feel they’ve been roped into a mandatory mini-game.
For this section, we’ll be going with the idea that you don’t mind having to play postapocalyptic den mother to various groups of humanoids. The building system isn’t without its share of hangups. One of the first gripes a person might have is the often capricious “snapping” mechanic. The easily navigated building menu offers a variety of parts and pieces, as well as premade whole objects you can place. Here’s the thing though, a lot of these pieces will only “snap” to certain others, like a puzzle. This means that rather than creating a building out of pieces that should go together from a visual standpoint, you’re left with a fairly railroaded set of options. You may build this thing in particular, but only if you build it with these particular pieces and in this particular way on a flat surface, or else. That aside, here’s one of the biggest issues in the building system, complete with a recorded example:
Yikes. If Bethesda really wanted this settlement building idea to take off, why not do the idea justice with the proper execution it deserves?
Problem #3: Workin’ on the Railroad
A game’s primary hook into the RPG genre should be, well, roleplaying. It’s right there in the name. While Fallout 4 gives you the ability to customize your character’s appearance and skill build choices through the perk system (meathead? heavy gunner? sneakystabby?) there’s no karma system of any kind. In fact, there isn’t much in the way of tangible consequences for your character’s actions (or inaction, as the case may be) until the endgame. In the early stages of the game I made the wrong choice and someone died. The consequence? A canned line of stern admonishment from Preston, and the game moves on without a hitch.
Okay, so the consequences thing is a wash, what about conversations? Surely the dialogue options would have more diverse outcomes, right?
Not so much, no. Many of the conversations give you very little room to decide how things will go. No matter how you answer, you can only progress if you choose a certain option. Rather than having something like this occur only in pivotal moments in the game’s storytelling, it’s nearly every conversation in the game. In a great many places the dialogue feels awkward at best, cumbersome and contrived at its worst. Even when you bugger off out of a conversation or take what is clearly meant to be the least desired option, it still manages to ham-fist you right back in where it wants you. It’s like an amusement park kiddie ride through a sandbox. You can get off the train and explore a bit, but if you actually want to get anywhere you've gotta clamber right back on to follow the tracks.
Problem #4: Too Much, Too Soon
Within the first hour of play I had power armor, a missile launcher, a nuke launcher, and I had killed a Deathclaw (not necessarily in that order). While this is far from making a character unstoppable, it makes facerolling your foes a lot easier than it ought to be. Some players may welcome the overpowered starting point, but most don’t. The power armor and heavy weaponry sharply skews the challenge level from “gamer” to “rutabaga” while an early game Deathclaw kill undermines everything the Deathclaw is to the Fallout series. To be honest, the only way you can really die in this game is to either wander into an area with preset mobs too high level for you, or to totally ignore your health bar. That’s about it. The only interesting death my character has had so far was when I stumbled across two Deathclaws duking it out when a third appeared and spotted me, considerately drawing the aggro of all three right to me. I bravely turned tail and went fleeing blindly into the wasteland, directly into the welcoming grin of a Yao Guai.
The fact of the matter remains that most of the game seems set to "Scrub Mode". Your companion NPC’s can’t die, you find high powered weapons and armor right off the bat (or with minimal, bumbling effort), and the legendary Deathclaws of Fallout ore are totally kill-able. The thrill of ROFL-stomping everything in your path fades after a short while, leaving you to trudge around the wastelands in wan hopes of finding a decent challenge.
Problem #5: Unfinished Business
I think we can all agree that a AAA company like Bethesda can reasonably be expected to take the time and care required to release a full, complete product. Even with that said, a large scope project like this is unlikely to be released without a few things slipping through the cracks, but that’s a few things. The number of problems with Fallout 4 that more time and attention could have easily fixed is absurd. It’s great to create a game with the full knowledge that an extensive modding community will build upon what you’ve made. However, it’s just bad business to create a game that has said modding community scrambling to bring it up to standard.
The game plays on PC as though it were created for console and given the most rudimentary of changes to port it over. It’s like instead of creating a game that would work equally well on both, or even two versions with slightly different coding, the game devs used the software equivalent of Google Translate. Works fine for simple things, but the more complex the information being put in, the greater the chance of something being lost in translation. While the art execution leaves little to complain about, the actual graphics lag behind those of most other recent games. It’s 2015, the technology is here, the skilled creators are available so why did Fallout limp so far behind the curve of what the industry can do these days?
Despite all the issues that Bethesda has sworn they’re working to fix in upcoming patch releases, thousands of players worldwide are still more than enjoying their Fallout 4 experience. With the support of its massive modding community and the ongoing work from Bethesda itself, it seems certain that the game’s framework can only get better from here. We’ll just have to wait and see what the coming weeks and months bring us in Fallout 4’s evolution.
As for me, I’m heading back out into the wastelands to see what there is to see, kill what there is to kill, and loot what there is to loot.