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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?

It’s life.

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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  1. earthmanbrick on March 14, 2019 at 10:06 pm said

    Preaching to the choir, dude.
    Quality piece.
    I’d like to add that it wasn’t just the vision, dialogue or gaming assets they killed. No sir…

    They removed the humour, beloved characters, sweet easter eggs, the atmosphere & the most criminally…the fun.

    I played plenty of Fallout 4 to try eagerly to unearth the rich characters, hidden delights & whimsical cookie antics but instead found myself splashing in a shallow puddle that promised an ocean of depth.

    It was as desolate wasteland only in the sense of what it had to offer: nothing.

    I’ve never felt so empty except when I tried playing the chore that was Fallout Tactics. Even the Fallout Shelter had more to offer than Fallout 4.

    Is this hyperbole? Perhaps a slight exageration but the disappointment was very real. Still not a bag game but easily a Fallout game that had no soul

    • I completely agree. I’m holping there might be a future of fallout with Obsidian in the next 10 years. A developer who understands the franchise and a new engine might be only thing that will revidilize the series.

      • earthmanbrick on March 15, 2019 at 5:48 pm said

        I wish that too, fortunately I think Fallout reached its peak with New Vegas (also by Obsidian). It’s too saturated to save

        Time for new endevours & ‘The Outer Worlds’ looks to be it

    • Christopher D. Thibeault on March 19, 2019 at 3:19 am said

      “Preaching to the choir, dude.
      Quality piece.”

      Actually, no. Preaching to the choir is never a good thing. PREACH TO EVERY FUCKING BODY ELSE, YOU LIMP-DICK MORON!

  2. Couldn’t go longer than four hours in Fallout 4 until I was downloading mods because it was just so sparse. Just, disappointing.

  3. SeriousSam on March 15, 2019 at 2:50 pm said

    Amen to this! Many of us were screaming all this to empty rooms a couple of hours into Fallout 4, if not months before because it was blatantly obvious Bethesda no longer gives a damn about being faithful to what made Fallout wonderful and memorable. We’re now getting FINO games. “Fallout In Name Only”…

    When we did voice our frustration publicly we were condemned as anti-progressive or anti-evolutionary, but what good is progressing forward if we progress into garbage that craps all over the original vision. It’s all about the cash grab on a classic license. ….so utterly heart breaking.

    ATOM RPG is more Fallout than any of the new generation Fallout games by Bethesda, and it’s an indie game developed by a small studio in Russia that drew direct inspiration from Fallout 1 & 2. At $15 it’s a MUST BUY for any original Fallout fan.

  4. I never could put my finger on what exactly I hated about Fallout 4. I think this helped clarify some of it for me.

    I also hated the ending, it was obviously rushed with a lot of unfinished content and polish.

    I agree its time for Todd to go.

    Indigo Gaming did a fantastic video called TES: A Promise Unfilled and really gives a lot of backstory to who Todd Howard is and where he came from and how the original creators were pushed out of TES.

  5. I don’t think there’s ever any excuse for a sequel to be less advanced in any aspect whatsoever to anything that came before it. Gameplay should always reach or even exceed the predecessors. Fallout 3 didn’t, and Fallout 4 made things worse. Bethesda never understood why these games were praised.

    Fallout 3 was the game that shook off all of those pesky “fans” who like Fallout, and Fallout 4 was explicitly made for a completely different, and larger audience. The open world (early access) crafting & survival game fans. Literally the biggest audience in the history of gaming. (Minecraft) That’s the sad truth. They aren’t making good games let alone good Fallout games anymore because they can’t. That audience is too small. Why they’re using an IP those people don’t give a shit about and ruining what someone else likes is anyone’s guess. How is “brand recognition” any kind of incentive when you’ve literally replaced the entire audience?

    Instead of “Fallout: A post nuclear role playing game 4”, why not just have “Todd: Buy my trash collection simulator”?

  6. RisingBean on March 16, 2019 at 6:41 am said

    My biggest issue is that there really is no bad guy.

    Well, there is, but the game doesn’t have the backbone to tell you you’re the bad guy if you go that route. In Fallout: New Vegas, you could join Ceasar’s Legion, and be a big bad evil guy. If you opted to fall in with that bunch, you knew that you were not some paragon of virtue.

    In Fallout 4, you get this push to track down Kellogg and once he’s dead? Well, you can join up with the Institute and get this vibe that they are somehow the right way to fix the Commonwealth and not kidnappers who replace innocent people. If you go against them, there is no Legate Lanius to have an epic showdown with, just some vitriol from an old man dying in bed.

    The endgame really is a bummer for me. It’s not epic. Once Kellogg is dead it’s all downhill. I really wish Bethesda had had the balls to state just how evil the villains were instead of the watered down Institute we got.

  7. Nekudemus on March 17, 2019 at 7:13 pm said

    fallout 4 was a good game but a bad fallout game.

  8. Baxterbeats on March 18, 2019 at 7:41 am said

    I’m more of an Elder Scrolls fan of I’m honest but I did really enjoy Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas, yes both had their flaws but overall quality games. I knew 4 wasn’t going to be great due to the reaction at launch so I waited a couple of years before I played it.

    Honestly, I was just bored and no not after a long grind, I got bored pretty much straight away. I persisted for about 20 hours and realised I wasn’t enjoying it at all. Can’t exactly put my finger on what it was, it just felt soulless and similar to what I’d played before but less stuff to do.

  9. I started with Fallout 3. Skipped Vegas, and went to 4. I enjoyed it, although as stated above, “The Institute”, was lack luster. After the meaning of the main story was made evident, that part kind of fell off.

    As for the side quest, I quite enjoyed it. Yeah, some were daunting, but a lot of games have that. I will agree they should have put more into the game. The DLC’s were fun, and added a bit to the story. I feel they just kind of gave up on working on it. Maybe because they were trying to rush out 76. Which may have been 4’s downfall.

    I understand this game was using old technology, but I don’t always have to have the next best polished game that runs in 4k. I just want something fun, and intriguing to play. I don’t take the concept art, and expect a game to be that. I will use Gears of War for that example. Concept art, is what it is. A concept. So I guess I just do not put too much clout into having the game be the same as what someone drew. As for the comparison between 3 & 4, I always just took it in the back of my head, that D.C. would have been hit a lot harder than the outlying areas (Maybe that is just me).

    If they would have just expanded more on the current world, and focused on that, it could have made them a lot more money. I.e. new settlements/towns popping up in the wasteland (outside of set game launch/DLC’s). Using up empty space. New players are always joining in to try out games they have never played before. So instead of making one game better, they are pushing a new title, what seems to be sooner and sooner. Leaving the current game unfinished.

    These are just my thoughts on the matter. Good article though. Always cool to see different perspectives. Peace.

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  11. darksounds on April 2, 2019 at 1:09 am said

    I loved Fallout 4 and have always felt that way, I put in about 300 hours. once mods became available on consoles I’ve put in easily another 300+. The only way I think I could shelf it is if the next elder scrolls came out.

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