Right, I’ve now been playing Fallout 4 for…well, for a lot of hours, so I’m in a position to follow up my First Impressions piece with some, I guess, secondary impressions. See, I say “I guess”, not because I’m unsure about how counting works, but because I’ve not actually progressed much further in missions and such – a point I’ll cover more in a bit – but, this being a Fallout game, I still feel I’ve made some strides into the game, both literally and metaphorically. So, whilst I’m not perhaps in a position to review just yet (not even nearly), I am slightly past that initial phase – hence ‘Secondary Impressions’ – and I’ve also been playing long enough to develop one particular gripe.
As expected, I’ve been sucked into Fallout 4 quite spectacularly, and to the detriment of pretty much everything else in my life (I’ve a nagging feeling I’ve missed a couple of important appointments and meetings recently, but given I also don’t recall showering for a week or so, that might be for the best). Interestingly though, whilst some of the reasons I’ve been sucked in are what you might call standard Fallout-ey ones, others are newer, Fallout 4 specific ones, and it’s these that have perhaps made the biggest impression on me – for better or for worse.
Indeed, as something of a Fallout veteran (with prob’ly about 500 total Fallout-related hours under my belt), perhaps the most surprising aspect of Fallout 4 for me – at least initially – was that I didn’t have much of a clue what I was doing a lot of the time. At first, that left me confused, angry, bereft even, but I’m just about starting to figure everything out now – and more importantly, where once I was angrily shaking my fists in Bethesda’s general direction, asking why they’d forsaken me and such, I’m now respectfully doffing my cap instead, having (eventually) gotten to grips with something, and having (finally) understood how it fits into the overall Fallout experience.
Here, it has to be said that Fallout 4 doesn’t necessarily make it easy to understand stuff – or even, that there’s some stuff you need to understand – and this is my main gripe so far. Whilst, say, the Crafting/Building aspects are explained early, and are (mostly) easy enough to figure out anyways, there are some aspects that aren’t explained properly, and that can border on the counter-intuitive. Take, for example, the Power Armor, which you also get early on in the game, but which I didn’t feel was explained particularly well, and resulted in me tearing my hair out for quite a while figuring it all out.
To start with, I spent a bit (OK, a lot because I am that stupid) of time wandering around in just the power armor frame, wondering why it was so unbelievably shite, and why I was actually getting my ass kicked quicker than if I was wearing a homemade leather chest piece/sequined dress combo. Then when I finally figured that out, it took me a considerable amount of time to work out how to rectify the situation – and upgrading, repairing and replacing your power armor, I thought, was all different kinds of confusing. Now I’ve got the hang of it, it all seems painfully obvious of course, and that’s actually something of a recurring theme in Fallout 4.
Take the Levelling Up/Secial/Perks system – which differs to FO: 3 and FO: NV – and it’s yet another example of this aspect, I think, and possibly an example that disproportionately affected Fallout veterans. See, the SPECIAL/Perks/Levelling Up system in Fallout 4 is a big old tree, or tiled board if you like, and a lot of people just sort of assumed that you had to max out a top tile before you could move down to the ones underneath it. And they assumed that because that’s very much what it looks like, but it’s most definitely not the case. I was reasonably lucky and figured it out before I’d needlessly wasted loads of valuable points on stuff I wouldn’t use the way I played the game, but some unlucky people didn’t – and this seems to have made a fair amount of people decide to just start over. Again, once you know it – it seems obvious, but I just feel like Bethesda could’ve removed any doubt by making it a bit more obvious, or explaining how it worked quite clearly from the get-go!
Of course, figuring stuff out – and even how the stuff you’ve figured out works in conjunction with the other stuff you’ve figured out – is a big part of the appeal of the Fallout Games, but it’s possible there might be just a bit too much of that in Fallout 4. Or actually, perhaps more accurately, a bit too much luck involved in whether you do happen to figure it out or not in the first place. Another example of this was Dogmeat’s ability to carry stuff – something I only figured out by accident, and I don’t remember it ever being explained or pointed out, but it’s invaluable given the added elements of scavenging in Fallout 4. Again, and especially if you’re playing Fallout for the first time, would it ever occur to you that a dog – with four legs, no opposable thumbs, and no obvious means of storage – would be able to carry 10 toasters and a bag of cement for you? I’d wager no!
Anyway, I mention all of this because for me, one of the greatest aspects of the Fallout games is working out how to play them with all the aspects – old and new – working together, and it’s a genuine thing of beauty when you do, and it’s why the games are so damn awesome and addictive. However – and this is what I’m getting at – even though there’s a fine line between allowing players the space to figure stuff out themselves, and patronising hand-holding at every turn, I think Fallout 4 might just have got the balance slightly wrong – particularly for people new to the post-apocalyptic wasteland. Hell, if I’m struggling with some aspects – with my 500+ hours of immersion in the mechanics and logic of that world – I can imagine a fair few people who are trying it for the first time will be a) very confused, b) wondering what all the fuss was about, c) close to tears, or d) all of the above.
And for me, that’s a real shame, because whilst the ‘figuring stuff’ out thing is a big part of Fallout’s appeal, another big part of it is the unique, and genuinely brilliant ways you can create a game based around your own abilities, or even preferences – and if you remove any element of that by hiding too much stuff behind counter-intuitive, almost-impossible-to-figure-out-on-your-own layers of obscurity, you do the game, and its players, a huge disservice, I feel.
As I’ve said before, I’m not necessarily the sharpest sandwich in cutlery draw, so there’s a chance I’ve just been exceptionally stupid here, but a cursory glance at all of the reddits, message boards, blogs etc. with headings like, ‘How the Hell do I……?” suggests it’s not just my own lack of smarts making things overly complicated.
What’s more, given there’s plenty to do in Fallout 4 anyways, I actually feel a little like I’ve been forced to spend a disproportionate amount of time on a lot of stuff I didn’t need to spend quite as much time on, and with just about any other game, that would’ve likely led to distinct feelings of resentment. As it is, Fallout gets a huge degree of latitude from me, but even so, my overriding secondary impressions of Fallout 4 will be of confusion, being somewhat overwhelmed, and even of being prevented from cracking on with some of the stuff I do love about the games.
To be clear, in the Fallout games I’ve always loved the fact that (for example) I’d lose an entire weekend just exploring a given settlement I’d happened across, or whatever, so I’m not just talking about being held back from missions and such, but with Fallout 4, I have lost entire sessions (when I wanted to do a mission) because I had to figure out x, then I’d get told to go help defend settlement y, etc, etc, and that actually detracts from the feeling of going at your own pace, and playing your own, unique game, I think. Add onto that the fact that, sometimes, stuff’s so counter-intuitive – or downright opaque – that you’ve little choice but to pause the game and check the t’internet for an explanation, and it means that whilst I am addicted to Fallout 4 – I’m not quite as absorbed or engaged in it as with FO: 3 and FO: NV, and precisely because it seems to not want to let me be.
Obviously, the Fallout games are a marathon – not a sprint – so as I creep inevitably towards the 250+ total hours played mark – the proportion of time I spent confused, or figuring stuff out will decrease accordingly, but as it stands, my secondary impressions of Fallout 4 will be these exact things. Sure, I’m still loving it, and there are plenty of positives, improvements even – and as I said at the outset, I have just about got the hang of stuff now – but they’ll all have to wait for the Tertiary Impressions piece, and precisely because all my Secondary Time was spent figuring them out.
I do strongly suspect that this will all come to be considered a significant investment in the Bank of Fallout Awesomeness further down the line, and will be totally worth it eventually, but we’ll just have to wait and see. In the meantime, if you’ve got your own hints, tips, tricks, advice – even questions – feel free to mention them in the comments below. As you can see, I need all the help I can get, so in a very real sense, you’ll be helping to reduce my stupid, and I’d be very grateful for that, obviously!