Fallout 4—What Could’ve Been, Isn’t What You Were Given
Fallout 4 is a game that was far from perfect.
I won’t be as hyperbolic as some to say that it was totally irredeemable garbage, because even though the game has a lot of flaws, there’s still fun to be had. Especially if you come at it from the perspective of, “This is a sandbox, light RPG with base building and first person shooter mechanics,” rather than the perspective of, “This is a Fallout game.” Even though I’m able to enjoy the game, after installing numerous fan made mods and patches, there’s one thing in particular about the game that I do dislike.
The world. Christ the night, I hate Fallout 4’s world.
What was promised to be a more living, breathing, and settled wasteland, turned out to be a very sparsely populated, and poorly constructed, Commonwealth. If you go back and look at the launch trailer, and reveal trailer, you’ll notice that the footage makes use of many low angle panning shots that make buildings appear larger and areas more dense by ensuring the backdrop is comprised of even more buildings. Problem is, most of these buildings can’t be entered and they serve no purpose other than to act as road blocks on your 41 minute path across the game world.
Pictured above is the downtown area of Boston in of Fallout 4, it’s the most densely packed urban area in the game. As you likely already know, most of these buildings can’t be entered or interacted with, and the streets are mostly occupied with copy/paste Raiders and Institute Super Mutants with the occasional giant bug thrown into the mix for good measure. But it’s not the worst looking in-game area you’ve ever seen, right? It’s just… not Fallout.
Consider this for a moment. This is how the downtown area of Boston was envisioned by the games artists, as documented in the “The Art of Fallout 4” by Bethesda Softworks.
Bit of a difference, right?
The tall buildings that form an impressive skyline are still there, the bridge spanning the river is still there, but what’s that down among the wreckage strewn streets?
Survivors merely surviving in the world. Content to find their way in the ruins, scavenging, trading and as you can see by the signage, run businesses with gas stations and cafes having been established. The buildings aren’t pristine and merely boarded up, they have mostly been gutted and repaired. Being hit by a salvo of nuclear weapons typically requires more than just boarding up the windows.
Instead, we see newly constructed buildings with piping sticking out at odd angles and scaffolding-esque shanty structures. It feels much more like a Fallout scene.
I don’t think I need to remind everyone, but before Bethesda’s campaign of erasure in regards to what the Fallout IP is and how it’s represented (another topic for another time), Fallout looked like this.
Not like this.
The first image shows a radiated hellscape, flanked by buildings that have been gutted by nuclear fire, the mutated inhabitants roaming the streets through clouds of radioactive gasses, clamoring to get their hands on the survivors. Survivors who have made themselves strong and capable through living in such a ravaged world, determined eyes fixed forward, ready to tackle anyone or anything that dares to threaten them.
The second image shows a survivor and their dog walking through a large open expanse of nothing.
My point is that the world we could have had in Fallout 4 is much more interesting, developed, and thought provoking than what we were given. And frankly speaking, most of the reasons for not getting a better developed world is down to the fact that the Creation Engine couldn’t handle most of what artists and designers wanted to do.
Here’s an example.
Remember riding the Vertibirds?
Do you remember how painfully slow and boring it was? How depressing it was to see buildings with un-rendered textures flicker, pop in and out of existence and then ultimately turn into basic blocks as you flew further away?
I sure remember it. And it looks nothing like what was envisioned.
“We did a few of these inspiration paintings to capture the essence of aspects of the game we’re hoping to achieve,” says one un-named artists, referencing Vertibirds zipping along at high speeds, close to the ground with the Sole Survivor rattling away on a minigun.
How sad to see that what we got, was this. Thrilling.
Or what about Parahunters? Have you ever heard of them? They’re another thing that didn’t make it into the game.
They are the original inspiration for adding jetpacks. But why was this faction of hunters, who take human and mutant quarry, didn’t make the cut is anyone’s guess. Personally, I’m inclined to think that the fault lies in Bethesda Game Studios persistent use of outdated technology. Have you seen how bad your character looks when they use a jetpack in Fallout 4? It looks clunky, goofy, and just plain bad. I can’t imagine the Parahunters would represent much of a threat, or look very impressive, if all they did was awkwardly bounce around the place on jump packs.
As you look through the Fallout 4 art book, it becomes increasingly obvious that there was a major tonal shift in what Bethesda wanted the game to be.
The world became more flat and generic, it lost a lot of it’s flavor and mood when they opted to make alterations to the design. We have seen three distinct versions of Fallout 4’s world. The world shown in the opening cinematic, the world shown as envisioned in the original designs, and the world as the player encounters it post nuclear war. None of which line up with the established Fallout aesthetic or theme, and that includes Bethesda’s own Fallout 3.
It’s quite incredible to see the world that we could have had in Fallout 4 and the artbook does a great job at, literally, illustrating Bethesda’s increased incompetence when it comes to handling the Fallout IP.
The game sold like hot cakes and was generally well received by big media critics with the dissenters being the dedicated Fallout fans that took issue with the games voiced protagonist, trite story, poor world building, focus on “go here, shoot this,” mission structures, and an overt focus on base building.
Fallout 76, another case study in legacy erasure, uses many of Fallout 4’s core components to populate its game world and fans of the series weren’t happy. What made things worse, is that Fallout 3 DLC assets are being used in Fallout 76, and they look noticeably worse, such is the lack of originality and adherence to established norms.
Maybe it’s just me, but I think it’s right to mourn the Fallout games we never got because of bad design choices. I think it’s right to say that Bethesda should willingly hand off the IP to someone else, or perhaps just get rid of Todd Howard.
Personally, I’ll forever mourn what Fallout 4 could have been.
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