Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Fallout 4: A Case of Simultaneously Being Pretty Good and also Sucking Hard

It's no secret that I harbor a great deal of contempt for Bethesda Softworks. Every game of theirs that I've played (Daggerfall, Morrowind, Oblivion, Fallout 3, and Skyrim) has majorly disappointed me, usually feeling like a soulless shell of some better game that might've been (or in some cases, that actually is/was). That disappointment stems generally from a combination of their shallow world designs and repetitive gameplay, both of which tend to feel lacking in meaningful depth or interesting systems, all in worlds that are so big they wear out their welcome well before their playtime runs out. A chief criticism of mine, especially lately, is that they just don't feel like very good RPGs, and yet ironically they've been generally improving by progressively devaluing the RPG side of things.

Fallout 4 is, to this point, the pinnacle of Bethesda taking a step back and essentially deciding that they're not even going to try to make role-playing games anymore -- they're just going to make open-world action-adventure games. As such, Fallout 4 is by far the most "dumbed-down" (ie, "streamlined") game Bethesda has ever made, but that's a good thing I feel. These were already pretty simple, mindless games to begin with, and so now it's easier to appreciate these games for what they actually are, instead of pretending they're something they're not and then feeling disappointed about it. As a result, I actually kind of liked Fallout 4 and sunk an unfathomable amount of time into it (235 hours, to be exact).

And yet, despite all the time I put into it, and despite saying that I "kind of liked" it, there's still a lot that's critically wrong with Fallout 4, to the point that I honestly can't say it's a good game. Sure, it's pretty good for what it is (a Bethesda game, and certainly not a Fallout game), but the bar is so low with these games that being "pretty good for a Bethesda game" isn't really much of a compliment. It still has all the inherent problems of a Bethesda game, and somehow, some of those problems are actually worse than they've ever been. It's hard to believe that, while Bethesda's games have steadily gotten a little more polished and a little bit fancier with each release, they've never really evolved when it comes to the core game design (you could even argue they've actually devolved over time), while Fallout 4 stands strong as an iconic example of just how questionable and misguided Bethesda's design decisions can actually be.

As you can guess from my Fallout 4 Mod Guide article, I ended up playing with a lot of mods over the course of my playthrough, but I want to point out that I played for about 30 hours before adding any mods whatsoever, and when I did start installing mods, I tried to pick ones that kept me pretty close to "vanilla," and only after I'd played enough to fully evaluate a specific game system. I didn't start installing weapon and armor mods, for instance, until I felt like I'd reached a soft level cap where my leveling had evened out and I wasn't getting any stronger, because I wanted to preserve the difficulty balancing and progression system of the base game. So even though I played a heavily modded version of the game, these opinions are all based on the game's un-modded systems. The screenshots are going to show a lot of modded content, though, so what you see here isn't necessarily what the vanilla game looks like, and they'll also reflect different degrees of modification.

I should also point out that there will be some spoilers for some of the quests, but they're pretty minor and shouldn't detract from the experience, if you were to play Fallout 4 after reading this review.

And of course, I have to make the disclaimer up front that I'm going to make a lot of generalizations about the game. Fallout 4 is incredibly long, and I can't always go into specific detail about specific things, and my memory isn't always crystal clear on things that I experienced 200 game hours ago, over a month ago. Likewise, in a game this big there will necessarily be exceptions to every claim; I try to mention them as often and as fairly as I can, but I can't promise that I'll cover every possible angle of a specific topic. These statements are generalizations not because they're 100% true 100% of the time, but because they apply a majority of the time, or in a general sense, so if I say something is a certain way, that just means that's how it tends to be, or how I perceived it, or how it played out in my experience, and is not meant to be an absolute truth about the game.

With that out of the way, let's get to it.

Fallout 4 is not an RPG, or even Fallout; it's an open-world "shoot-n-loot"

Although it has the word Fallout in the title, and even includes a numerical iteration indicating that it's a main entry in the main series of Fallout games, Fallout 4 does not have the soul of an RPG or the spirit of a Fallout game. The elements are there, certainly, but it's window dressing meant to make it look like an RPG or a Fallout game, without actually being an RPG or a Fallout game.

Just take a look at some of the basic elements from RPGs (and Fallout games specifically) that are missing from Fallout 4: branching dialogue trees based on a variety of dialogue choices, a meaningful persuasion system, multiple solutions to quests and problems (including diplomatic ones), skills, tagging skills, skill checks, traits, karma, SPECIAL stats having a meaningful impact on gameplay (besides just being perk requirements), stat and skill requirements for perks and equipment, build diversity and specialization -- all things that play a crucial role in allowing you to actually role-play a character. Without those kinds of things, your character really isn't much different from someone else's, and you have fewer ways of showing and acting on those differences in actual gameplay.

One of very few skill checks in the entire game.

Fallout 4 shoehorns you into playing a specific character with a specific background on a highly personal mission, and doesn't really give you opportunities to be anything other than the character they envisioned for you. You can pick from a few choices in dialogue but they're almost always just different ways of saying the same thing, and you can pick from a variety of different perks to develop your playstyle but they're not really that differentiated, meaning most playstyles will end up using a lot of the same (or similar) perks. Most side-quests follow a linear script, and in the few occasions when you have choices they don't really matter. You're effectively forced to the play the game the same way as everyone else with only superficial variations outside of which faction you choose and what equipment you use.

The reality is, Fallout 4 isn't much of an actual role-playing-game, and feels like it could just as easily be put in the same category as games like Borderlands and Destiny -- ie, "shot-n-loot" games where you explore areas to kill enemies and grab better loot with a progression system that has you getting stronger the more things you shoot and the more stuff you loot. I can't speak for Destiny, but at least compared to Borderlands, both it and Fallout 4 have post-apocalyptic settings filled with raiders and a handful of civilized settlements, elements of open exploration, a linear main quest line and a variety of side quests, quest design that centers mainly around killing and looting, equipment and loot dropped by enemies and found in chests, level-locked perk progression, and so on. There are other similarities and differences, of course, but the core gameplay elements are pretty similar.

Curiously, some random super mutant was actually carrying around Bethesda's design document for Fallout 4. Weird, right?

When viewed in this light, it's much easier to enjoy Fallout 4, seeing as it works pretty well as a shoot-n-loot game (though even in that regard, it still has issues). That's how I was able to generally enjoy Fallout 4 -- by shutting my brain off and enjoying it for what it is -- and part of the reason I played it as long as I did.

Unfortunately, this isn't some other game -- though it may play differently, it's still called Fallout, and is still therefore a Fallout game, supposedly. And when you buy a game called Fallout 4, you expect that it'll be like its predecessors. Fallout 3 was obviously a major change from Fallout 1+2, and so a lot of older fans were outraged over how different it felt, but the differences are somewhat understandable given how long it had been since Fallout 2 was relevant; some of those changes were simply a matter of updating the game for a more modern audience. In contrast, there were only five years between New Vegas and Fallout 4; the gaming industry didn't really change in that span, so they didn't need to do much with the formula except make the graphics look better, make the engine run better, and add some new features. What they did, instead, was scrap a bunch of elements that gave the Fallout games their unique identity and essentially make Some Other Game, and then sell it as if it were Fallout.

Too much emphasis on combat

In a game that's supposed to be an RPG, most of what you do is shoot stuff. Practically everything in the game (settlement-building being the one major exception) is designed to incorporate combat in some major way. The railroad wants to put up sensors so they can track enemy movement, so go to this tower and fight your way to the top so you can place the sensor. The radio DJ needs a confidence boost so go arrange a fight and help him win, then go rescue his love interest from gang members by fighting all of them. A vault child finds a hidden section of the vault and contracts a disease from experimental molerats, so go fight your way through the molerat-infested vault to retrieve the cure. A guy wants to bring back the legend of the Silver Shroud, so go fight a bunch of raiders to retrieve the costume, then don it and act as him by going around fighting criminals, and then go rescue the quest giver by fighting more criminals. Your faithful companion is addicted to drugs and wants a cure, so take her to a vault and fight through a bunch of mercenaries to reach the treatment room and apply the cure.

Even though quests might try to put you in a variety of different situations, with different story scenarios and different objectives, they almost always involve a heavy dose of combat, whether directly or indirectly. Sometimes, combat is the specific intention ("these raiders keep attacking us, so go kill them"), while other times it's merely incidental (there's a bunch of enemies who just happen to be in your way). Of course, not every quest involves combat (going into Kellog's memories is a strong example of one that doesn't), but most of them do, and the ones that specifically don't sometimes suffer from incidental combat because of the open world. You also don't have to kill every enemy you come across -- someone actually completed the whole game never killing anyone, though it was through a lot of trickery so that he could still kill things when necessary without it registering him as the killer -- but pacifism clearly goes against the game's intentions and is practically unavoidable for anyone who doesn't want to go to extreme ends essentially breaking the game to avoid violence or killing anyone.

The world itself is even designed to facilitate frequent combat. The ratio of hostile raiders, mercenaries, and organized criminals to peaceful, civilized people is something ridiculous, like 500-to-1 (it's theoretically infinity-to-one considering enemies can respawn indefinitely), since every location outside of Diamond City, Goodneighbor, faction headquarters, and random, smaller locations like settlements, is filled with dozens of hostile human enemies. That doesn't even factor in the hordes of super mutants and other mutated wildlife, or ghouls, synthetics, robots, turrets, and so on. In my playthrough, for instance, I killed 4,960 total enemies, while I'd guess the entire Commonwealth has less than 500 NPCs, the majority of which are just filler characters that you can't talk to or interact with in any way. The layout of the world map, meanwhile, seems designed with a bunch of combat nodes scattered systematically about the place so that there's always a combat encounter just a short walk away from another combat encounter, which kind of turns exploration into a matter of simply moving from node to node.

I would prefer there to be a whole lot less of that, too, Curie.

Combat is obviously going to play a big role in these games, which is fine considering the combat system in Fallout 4 actually works pretty well (it's easily one of the best improvements Bethesda have made to the game since Fallout 3), but Fallout 4 takes it to an extreme, diluting the whole experience of their vast open world into a simplistic and shallow FPS. That's not say that FPS gameplay is inherently simplistic and shallow (there's actually a surprising amount of complexity built into the encounters in terms of level design and enemy AI) but when seemingly all you ever do in a game world as big and immersive as this is shoot at stuff (most of which is also shooting back at you), it makes the whole experience feel one-dimensional, especially when there's no real significance to specific encounters -- it's just a bunch of repetitive combat scenarios for the sake of more combat.

Combat is improved, but still feels dated

One of the weakest aspects of the previous first-person Fallout games was their relatively weak FPS gameplay, especially in regards to Fallout 3 where its guns felt like a visual reworking of magic spells from Oblivion. Fallout 4 brings a much welcome improvement to the overall feeling of combat, including more realistic recoil animations, better "aim down sights" functionality, better sound effects for gunfire, better AI that seeks cover and moves about levels with some degree of actual intelligence, and a quasi-cover system that automatically moves your view up or to the side when you aim your weapon from behind an obstacle and returns you to your previous spot on releasing the aim button. Other efforts were made to reduce the effect of certain stats-based performance outside of VATS to put more of an emphasis on individual skill, like how weapons are now far more accurate outside of VATS meaning that whether you hit an enemy or not is more dependent on your personal skill aiming your weapons than on your stats, resulting in a generally more responsive feel to firing weapons.

There was clearly a deliberate effort made to improve the combat, as is noted by the overall emphasis on combat in Fallout 4, and it makes the ordinary gameplay that much more pleasant and enjoyable. Despite these improvements, however, the combat in Fallout 4 still doesn't feel great -- it's completely average and serviceable at best, and actually several steps behind the combat mechanics of more dedicated shooters. That's to be expected, since Fallout 4 isn't considered a dedicated FPS and thus doesn't need to have top tier combat mechanics, but the reality of the situation is that Fallout 4 is practically more of an FPS than an RPG, and that having merely average or serviceable FPS gameplay in a game that's predominantly about FPS gameplay, isn't really a good thing.

All of the standard weapons are hitscan, meaning you don't have to lead moving targets or adjust for gravity, you just aim the crosshair directly on your target and click, which makes it all feel a little simple and shallow. Enemies also have hitscan weapons, so there's no reliable way to dodge or avoid enemy shots, except to hide behind cover with your face pressed against a wall, only popping out to shoot for brief moments. In fact, there's a general lack of mobility all around, with no way to mantle obstacles or do quick-dodge maneuvers, while movement speed feels kind of slow. Combined with the extreme accuracy penalties of moving around, it basically forces you to just stand still and tank hits, especially in more open areas without decent cover, with survival based more on how many healing items you have than how good are you at avoiding enemy fire. Enemies don't react realistically to being shot, with many of them being straight up bullet sponges, particularly on harder difficulties and against tougher boss-like enemies. All-the-while, it's really easy for combat scenarios to devolve into typical whack-a-mole shooting gallery stuff, where you stay put from a distance and just wait for enemies to expose themselves and shoot them, or the opposite problem against melee mutants where you're stuck in a repetitively simple kiting pattern of turning and sprinting away from them, then turning to shoot, and repeating the process.

The sum effect of all this is that, while Fallout 4's combat feels a lot more enjoyable than the clunky, awkward affair that was Fallout 3 (and to a similar, albeit lesser extent, New Vegas), it's really not as good as it should be for a game whose primary gameplay element seems to be FPS action. It's not bad enough to hinder the game in any way, but it's not good enough to make the excessive combat as fun as it should be, considering how much time is spent in combat.

The balance of VATS and real-time combat

The Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System (VATS) was introduced in Fallout 3 as a way to bridge the gap between the original Fallout games' turn-based, action-point combat system and the real-time first-person shooter combat of Fallout 3. With VATS, you press a button to pause time while you spend limited action points assigning shots to specific body parts on individual targets, then un-pause the game to watch it all happen in slow-motion, with your accuracy and total number of action points being based on your character's stats, skills, and perks. These stats affected real-time combat as well, with the two different game modes really just being a different way to play, whether you preferred FPS combat or something closer to the style of the originals.

While the two worked pretty well hand-in-hand in previous games, Fallout 4 seems to have separated them almost completely, removing a lot of the stats-based effects on real-time combat and making critical hits exclusive to VATS. In practice, this means you kind of have to play the game both ways. If you want to play exclusively with VATS, you're going to find that your accuracy is so pathetically bad in the early game, until you get high enough level to unlock better perks and increase your perception, that you'll have to rely on manual aiming in real-time, which seems to have perfect hitscan accuracy, since you miss so many shots in VATS and then get left with no AP for a while. If you want to play exclusively in real-time, then you're literally never going to trigger a single critical hit, which are really useful against bosses and legendary enemies, since the only way to gain crits is by using the VATS system enough to build your crit meter so that you can "earn" a crit, and the only way to use the crit is through VATS.

The intention, I think, really was just to get people using both systems, in an attempt to synergize the two, but I'm just not sold on the execution in this case. As a heavy VATS user I was super annoyed at how bad my character was in VATS for such a long time, when those penalties were seemingly absent in real-time, and if you're someone who just doesn't use VATS then you have multiple perks and practically an entire SPECIAL stat (Luck) that are completely worthless to you.

Not enough enemy variety

You kill thousands of enemies in this game, but there's not much significant variety since you spend the vast majority of time fighting raiders, super mutants, and occasionally feral ghouls. Other enemy types exist, of course, but they're in much smaller quantities and tend to behave too similarly to other enemies. There are multiple types of human enemy, for instance, ranging from regular raiders to gunners to triggermen, but they all function exactly the same except they use slightly different weapons and armor. Super mutants look significantly different, but they too behave pretty much the same as all the other gun-toting enemies, except for the suicide bombers that try to kamikaze you with an armed mini-nuke. Most of the mutated wildlife simply come charging straight at you, and if you're someone like me who primarily uses VATS to try to instill the game with a little more stats-based gameplay, then the fights against these mutants all boil down to the exact same strategy: pause the game with VATS, target their head a few times, watch the slow-motion animations play out, then repeat the process. This is a large part of the reason the combat feels so simplistic, shallow, and repetitive -- because you're basically fighting the exact same enemies the whole game, just at different levels with different stats, often with the same basic strategy.

Radiant quests are the worst thing ever

The "radiant quest system" (introduced in Skyrim) allows the game to continually generate an infinite number of quests based on random combinations of objectives and locations. The intention is to make sure there's always something for the player to do, so that there's never a time when you feel like you've run out of content, and so that you can keep playing the game indefinitely. The other intention, at least according to Skyrim, is that quest givers would be able to intelligently assign quest locations that would send you to areas you hadn't already been, so that you were always experiencing something new. These are understandable (even noble) intentions, and I do think that radiant quests can serve a good purpose in an open-world game of this size.

You know it's bad when Preston knows that I know how repetitive these radiant settlement quests are.

Radiant quests, unfortunately, just are not fun. Period. They're the worst kind of mindless "go here, kill this / grab that, report back" quest design, and feel like filler content simply written into the game to pad the total amount of content. There's never any kind of story element to them -- they're all just random objectives set in random locations, and when you finish one, you're immediately sent out to essentially repeat the same quest, but in a different location. Sometimes, you don't even have a choice to deny the repeat quest, and are forced to take it. And there's just so, damn, many of them, to the point that it feels like a majority of the game's content consists solely of radiant quests. There's actually a substantial increase in the total number of real, non-radiant quests, as compared to Fallout 3 (a welcome change), but your quest journal is often cluttered with so many radiant quests that it's hard to keep track of which ones are radiant and which ones aren't.

Consider the four factions, for instance; each one has a series of main quests (which are necessary for the actual main quest, since you're required to befriend at least one faction to advance the main story), a few side quests, and a bunch of radiant quests, which on average outnumber the actual side-quests by a two-to-one ratio. Every time you visit a faction hub, you get bombarded with people trying to push these stupid radiant quests onto you (the leader of the Minutemen actually actually forces his onto you), and there's no way of knowing before you take a radiant quest if it's an actual quest that will lead somewhere or yield some significant result, or if it's just a stupid waste of time to keep you busy. And since there are so many of these radiant quests, it's easy to fall into that trap and find yourself stuck doing a bunch of these utterly boring, tedious, repetitive quests.

To make matters worse, the radiant quests don't do a good job of actually sending you to new areas, either. At numerous times I was sent back into the same areas I'd already cleared -- in some cases as many as four times, enemies and loot completely respawning as if I'd never been there -- just because the radiant quest couldn't come up with a new area. I'm not sure what the cause of this might be, whether it's because they didn't give radiant quests enough different areas to choose from, or if the system doesn't actually try to choose new areas and instead just picks randomly, or if I'd just already been to so many places that there was nowhere new left to send me. Whatever the case, these radiant quests were made doubly tedious and repetitive by not only expecting me to repeat such banal objectives, but also by expecting me to repeat entire "levels" or areas of exploration.

So much repeated content

In a world as big as Fallout 4, there's just no excuse to have so much of its content recycled and reused. I'm talking, of course, about the tendency for radiant quests (and other quests in general) to send you back into the same areas you'd already visited (and thoroughly explored, turning it inside out and completely clearing the area of all enemies and worthwhile items) for some other quest. The advantage of having a world this big is that you have so many different areas you can send players that you should, theoretically, be able to put a ton of content in the game and have it all be in different areas for a bunch of completely unique exploration-based experiences. And yet for whatever reason the game has a bad tendency to send you into a bunch of the same locations over and over again, practically wasting the bulk of the large and detailed map they spent so much time creating.

How many times have I had to fight a gunner commander in this exact spot?

It's particularly bad in more linear areas, like the Kendall Hospital, where I had to fight my way through a huge underground network, descend to the bottom of a giant pit along wooden catwalks, kill a deathclaw, restore the power, and leave through the irradiated exit, multiple times. It was fun the first time, but completely boring the second time knowing everything that would happen up ahead, since all the of the scripts (death claw spawns, exit becomes locked by power shut-off, etc) were known to me. And really, what's the point of having a map this big if you're going to focus so much of the game's content within only a few small areas of it?

So much wasted space

I don't know how Fallout 4's map compares to Fallout 3's, in terms of its actual size, but it certainly feels bigger because it's not compartmentalized into a bunch of smaller zones separated by massive wrecked buildings and cramped subway tunnels. It's an absolute upgrade over Fallout 3, and I think the world design in Fallout 4 is possibly the best that Bethesda has ever made. It still suffers, however, from Bethesda's typical "bigger is better" and "quantity over quality" philosophies, where the size of the world is the direct result of some unwritten rule that Bethesda's games have to be a certain minimum size so they can be "that company who makes those games with the massive open worlds," whether or not their worlds actually need to be that big and regardless of whether they actually have enough interesting content to fill those massive worlds.

There are multiple instances in Fallout 4, for instance, where entire towns and cities are completely devoid of meaningful content. Concord has about five NPCs in it, all of whom are huddled up in a single building, and all you do there is go through a single scripted quest to hop in a suit of power armor and kill a bunch of raiders and a deathclaw. Those NPCs promptly leave once the quest is over, and then Concord becomes completely useless. Quincy is possibly even bigger, and yet has even less meaningful content, as it's entirely occupied by hostile raiders; all you do is randomly fight a bunch of enemies, and read a few computer logs about the Minutemen. In both cases (and this applies to practically everywhere in the game) you encounter tons and tons of buildings with fake doors that you can't even go inside. Concord has maybe four accessible buildings that aren't part of that one quest; everything else is window dressing meant to give you the illusion that the world is bigger than it actually is, without offering actual mechanical content. And all you can really do in these areas is wander around and look at things, and then leave. It's like so much of the world is purely cosmetic.

Truthfully, the fact that you can't enter every building is a blessing, because then it'd be way too tedious and time-consuming to explore cities and towns. The solution to that, of course, is perhaps for the world to just not be so big in the first place. What's the point of the world being as big it is if so much of it's going to be walled off and inaccessible? What's the point of the world being as big as it is when everything is so spread out that you have to walk for minutes at a time (in a straight line, no less) just to get to the next interesting place? What's the point of the world being as big as it is if most of its space feels like it only exists to serve the radiant quest system as possible "radiant quest locations," where there's nothing meaningful to see or do in most locations unless you have a quest associated with that area? Especially when the quests themselves are so trivially pointless and uninteresting? It all feels like a huge waste of space.

Two extreme ends in exploration

Exploring the commonwealth will typically put you in one of two states: either you'll be overwhelmed with things of interest (both marked and unmarked on your map) in very close proximity, constantly tripping over content to such a degree that it becomes difficult to keep track of where you've explored and what you've done, or you'll be searching for a needle in a haystack, trying to find things of interest in a huge open space with nothing else going on (like, for instance, which buildings in major city areas can actually be entered). The first extreme can be a good thing, but it's kind of annoying having the game deliberately trying to distract you, almost constantly, by popping more and more things up for you to address, some of them with an implied sense of immediacy like emergency radio broadcasts that lead to quests, or massive battles that break out around you, or bumping into random NPCs out and about. The second extreme, I think, needs no explanation for why that's a problem, though I will qualify that it's good to have some spacing so that everything doesn't feel cramped. With this game, there's not as much of a pleasant middle ground as there should be; it's mostly just two extremes.

Lots of missed opportunities

There are a ton of cool things and areas in the Commonwealth, and yet most of the time they don't actually lead to interesting gameplay, but rather devolve into Yet Another Combat Scenario. The Combat Zone, for instance, is a huge culprit of this; it's meant to be a somewhat civilized area for raiders to go for entertainment, ordering drinks and watching cage fighters duke it out. As you approach the building, you see numerous signs articulating the rules of the Combat Zone, which include things like "no fighting outside the arena" and "leave your beef at the door," with extreme penalties (including death) for breaking those rules. When you step inside, you see a couple of rule-breakers on display, tied up and locked behind bars, and you can hear an announcer giving commentary on a fight in progress in front of a raucous crowd. By all appearances, it seems like you're stepping into an area where you'll get to watch, bet on, and maybe even participate in fights, or possibly get involved in some kind of quest. But as soon as you step foot in the arena area, every single raider in the area aggros you and turns immediately hostile. For literally no reason. They all, instantly, like some kind of hive mind, decide to break the rules they all agreed upon to come participate in the Combat Zone, turning the entire area into a single fight against a dozen basic enemies, that leads to one conversation where you're simply given a companion with no quest or associated gameplay requirements. And that's it.

The Combat Zone isn't the only culprit, mind you; elsewhere there's a race track where people can go to bet on robots, but once you get there it turns into an immediate combat scenario with no opportunity to do anything but shoot back at the badguys, and then pointlessly watch the robots run in circles around the track. Libertalia is like a pirate-themed flotilla, but then all you do is shoot a bunch of raiders and loot the chest at the end. There's a high school sending out a pre-recorded message in which a human is being held hostage by super mutants, and reading a script to lure more human victims in (this fact is revealed by comical off-script dialogue between the hostage and the super mutants), but you get there and there's no hostage and no interesting scenario, just a school and a bunch of super mutants to kill. You go to Salem, home of the legendary Salem Witch trials, and you just go inside a building and fight a deathclaw. There's another quest to turn on some turrets and to kill mirelurks but it was bugged for me. There's a lot of backstory behind Quincy, it being where the Minutemen turned their back on its citizenry and left most of its troops there to die, but then you get there and you just kill a bunch of raiders. There's a group of worshipers of the Church of Atom in the middle of the Glowing Sea; they're docile and you can even talk to their leader, but their only purpose in the game is to point you in the direction of another NPC; they don't have any quests of their own, and there's nothing you can do there except look around, and then leave.

It really makes you wonder "why bother putting these things in the game if you're not actually going to do anything interesting with them?" There's so much missed potential everywhere you go, with so many missed opportunities to put players in unique and interesting scenarios, that inevitably devolve into "kill a bunch of random level-scaled enemies" or "look at the scenery and do nothing whatsoever."

"Radiant quest locations" as world design

Continuing with the previous section on missed potential, it feels like a lot of areas in the game weren't designed to serve an interesting purpose, but rather to facilitate the radiant quest system by dropping countless "radiant quest locations" across the map to serve as potential areas for radiant quests. These areas, while occupied by different enemies and with different layouts and aesthetic themes, feel largely the same because of their unifying design principle of being some area where you have to fight your way through a somewhat linearly-structured environment towards a target area with a boss type enemy and a special chest. It's pretty simple, shallow, and repetitive design, obviously, but it's even worse when these areas end up feeling completely pointless if you wander into them without having the requisite quest, because there's literally nothing to do in them but go through the same motions you've already done countless times in other, similar areas, for no real benefit except that maybe you'll find a cool randomly-generated legendary item. It wouldn't be such a problem if these types of areas didn't make up so much of the total world design -- they're literally everywhere, and it really kills the exploration when you can safely predict exactly what you'll find in most areas.

Most of what you do is pointless filler

There's a lot of stuff in this game with which you can occupy yourself for long periods of time (completionists spend an average of 150 hours playing Fallout 4), but sadly a good chunk of that time is basically wasted with pointless filler content that gains you nothing whatsoever -- not any sort of valuable loot, not any unique gameplay experiences, and no interesting stories. That's because a good chunk of time is spent simply exploring the world, most of which is filled with pointless "radiant quest locations" and "combat nodes," where you basically just go into an area, kill a bunch of enemies, and pick up a bunch of worthless items, most of which simply help to replenish supplies you spent in the fight like stimpaks and ammo. If you're lucky, you stumble into an unexpected quest, or find a bobblehead or skill-boosting magazine, or maybe you explore a historic landmark and learn something about American history you didn't know, but that's about it. Most of the time, however, you're stuck in repetitive radiant quests, or exploring pointless areas that only exist to fuel the radiant quest system, or fighting a bunch of enemies in combat scenarios virtually to identical to situations you've already encountered countless times previously, all of which feels like pointlessly bloated filler content.

Pretty much every locked safe has this same distribution of crappy loot.

Too much "Go to this location on the other side of the map."

Quests in Fallout 4 tend to send you to all kinds of random locations all over the map, likely as a result of the radiant quest system which quite literally picks random (or at least semi-random) locations to send you. This has a tendency to break the logic of certain quests, when a group of settlers claims they're being attacked by raiders and then send you halfway across the map to kill the raiders, when you end up bumping into multiple other groups of raiders on your way to kill the specific ones you were tasked with killing. Like, how do you know it was those specific raiders? And why would those raiders travel such a great distance to pester such a small farm when there are other, seemingly more lucrative places closer to them?

I suppose you could argue that it helps facilitate exploration by giving you concrete reasons to venture deep into uncharted territory, but I find it pretty annoying given how densely-filled the map is with stuff, considering any time you get sent somewhere on a quest you inevitably get side-tracked by dozens of other things popping up to distract you. Sometimes that stuff is easy to ignore, but other times it implies a need for an immediate response, like when you bump into a random traveler, or when you pick up an emergency broadcast from someone under attack, seeking help. In the latter case, I received a radio broadcast from a group of Brotherhood Soldiers being attacked by swarms of ghouls, so I rushed to help defend them and then they immediately tried to send me to some other area all the way across the map. I was like "hold your horses, I just got here, I haven't explored any of this area, I just met you guys, I want to take my time and do things my way." At which point I put their quest on hold for several dozen hours, which of course killed the narrative urgency and flow of that particular quest.

An open world almost meant to be ignored

Exploration is a major part of Fallout 4 -- it's undeniably infused into the game's DNA. You could even go so far as to say that exploration is its main gameplay component, and that if you don't like exploration, then this game is simply not for you. And yet there's not a lot of care put into crafting the world in such as a way as to make exploring it actually compelling. Good games instill a sense of curiosity and excitement, where everywhere you go is like unwrapping a present, wondering in eager anticipation what you'll find inside. This sense applies in the early stages when everything feels new and exciting, but you reach a point well before you finish the game when it feels like you've seen and done everything already, at which point exploration stops feeling interesting or rewarding, and you start ignoring large chunks of the world so that you can focus on more interesting things.

Following Paladin Danse to a quest location.

Often times, it's even necessary to ignore parts of exploration because of stuff popping up while you're in the middle of something else -- if you're escorting or being led somewhere by an NPC and something interesting happens off in the distance, you can't just drop what you're doing to go investigate. Or, when you reach a new area and pick up a quest to go explore somewhere else, when you just want to stay put and explore where you already are. These are understandable, but the problem is really the simplistic, cookie-cutter world design where a majority of it feels like copy-pasted environments with repetitive combat scenarios. A large portion of the world isn't intended to provide unique gameplay experiences or memorable locales or interesting stories, but simply to pad out the areas between major locations that they actually intended you to explore, like a bunch of completely optional filler content that doesn't need to be explored and isn't worth exploring. And in fact, you basically have to ignore huge chunks of exploration if you want to keep your sanity, and not get bogged down with endless tedium. What good, then, is an exploration game where exploration is almost meant to be ignored?

The "dialogue system"

Possibly the single stupidest design decision in Fallout 4 is the "dialogue system," which isn't really a typical dialogue system like you'd expect from a Fallout game, or even an RPG.

Get this: the entire basis of the dialogue system (literally, the entire idea) is that "controllers have four face buttons, so dialogue should have four response options to match those face buttons." The entire dialogue system was built from the ground up around that concept, with each of the four face buttons being assigned a semi-permanent category of responses: "A for positive, B for negative, X for neutral, and Y for questions" (or something like that -- I played on PC so I didn't have button prompts). As a result, every single conversation and all of your dialogue responses have to fit into this system, whether the situation calls for it or not, meaning not only are your response options limited from what could've been theoretically infinite possibilities down to just four, but they all feel awkwardly shoehorned into these cookie-cutter positive, neutral, negative, and inquisitive formats.

Dialogue mods show that all four options lead to basically the same end result.

Dialogue in Fallout 4 is pretty much completely on rails; you get virtually no control over where the conversation goes, and you get no real choice except to say the exact same thing one of three slightly different ways. In a lot of situations, Bethesda really didn't intend for you to have choices, but because of the "four-button dialogue system" you necessarily have to have four different responses that result in you having four different ways to say the same thing ("No way! You couldn't be 200 years old!" vs "Impossible! No one could be 200 years old!" vs "That doesn't make sense. How could you be 200 years old?" vs "I don't believe you. Are you really trying to tell me you're 200 years old?"). In most general situations, your options are "Yes, No, Maybe, and Tell me more." In my case, pretty much every conversation was me repeatedly pressing the "Tell me more" option, and then having the conversation come down to a "yes or no" situation at the end.

This issue gets further exacerbated by the fact that the interface doesn't actually tell you what you'll be saying before you say it. You can make loose guesses based on the four main categories of responses being tied to their respective buttons, but that's only if you've read about that in press releases, or you've noticed that pattern yourself. Otherwise, you just get vague prompts that merely suggest the general topic of your response. Often times, it's a way to mask the fact that your dialogue choices are all basically the same thing, so you don't readily recognize that the "Disbelief" and "Lying" choices lead to essentially the same line of dialogue from your character, unless you reload a save and pick different options, but in other cases those vague prompts are just straight up wrong or unhelpful. Like, for instance, when the "Sarcastic" choice isn't actually sarcastic, but is instead your character just making a joke. And sometimes, they're just so vague that you have no idea what it even means, and you end up saying something you didn't intend because the prompt was so useless.

Persuasion is dumb

Previous Fallout games used a persuasion system based primarily on the speech skill -- as you increased your speech skill you could persuade people to do things for you, usually allowing you to start up quests that you'd otherwise miss, or letting you skip stages of a quest, or get extra rewards, or fulfill optional objectives in quests, and so on. You could even use speech to avoid fights, and resolve situations without pissing someone off. Fallout, Fallout 2, and Fallout 3 all used random dice rolls for skill checks in persuasion, meaning you could save before a conversation and reload as many times as necessary to pass the speech check; New Vegas used hard requirements where, if you didn't have a high enough speech skill then you had zero chance to succeed, and more difficult persuasion checks required a higher speech skill.

Since Fallout 4 did away with skills completely, persuasion is now based solely on your Charisma stat. Fallout 4 also marks a return to dice rolling persuasion checks, except now you can even save in the middle of dialogue and spam F9 as often as you need to pass any persuasion check you want. What this means is, in practice, you'll be carrying around a set of fancy clothes (which boost your charisma) with you everywhere you go, and any time a speech check comes up in dialogue, you'll turn away from the person, put on your fancy clothes, save the game, and turn around to answer them, which is absurd when you think about it. You don't have to do this, of course, but in the absence of a speech skill or any kind of perk that grants bonuses to speech checks, that's literally your only option to give yourself better odds of success, except for spending perks points boosting your base charisma, which really isn't worth it just for speech checks.

Because, sadly, persuasion isn't that useful, or even that purposeful in Fallout 4. I'd guess that 75% of the time, speech checks in dialogue are simply a matter of negotiating for more money as a reward for whatever quest it is you're about to do. Every now and then, you can use speech checks to learn a little more about a subject, but it's rarely anything worth finding out, often leading to only one or two extra lines of dialogue. And that's about it. There's nothing clever going on with the persuasion system, whatsoever, and you can't use it to do anything interesting with the gameplay, in terms of solving quests or actually interacting with the world.

Bland, terse NPC interactions

Conversations don't always feel like conversation, unless it's something that's been heavily scripted for a major quest -- ordinary interactions with basic NPCs come off feeling incredibly terse, like both your character and the NPC are mindless drones trapped in a video game where they have no free will and no ability to think or react to things. Your character, for instance, comes out of cryogenic sleep 210 years after the world was destroyed -- he (and by extension, you) should have no idea what's happened in all that time, how the world works now, who's who, what's what, where all the people are, and so on, and yet you can't just talk to people about about this kind of stuff to actually learn. One of the first places I discovered upon leaving the vault was a ranger outpost with one person working a farm, and the only possible interaction I was allowed to have with her was to initiate a trade window, like it was an ordinary business exchange -- I shouldn't even know how trade works in this society, let alone that people use bottlecaps as currency. I couldn't even ask her "what are you doing here?"

Later, you run into a couple random encounters where a person is being attacked by a Cylon Replicant Android Synth, usually with each of the two pleading for you to help them out, at the other's expense (ie, their livelihood). It's supposed to be an organic, gameplay-centric way of introducing you to the game's central plot about human-looking robots synths that have been created by some place called The Institute, seemingly with the goal of taking and subsequently replacing regular citizens with synth replicas. In both of these situations, you step in to help someone (or you choose to stay out of it) but you can't stop and ask someone "Hey, what's the Institute? What are synths? Why should I be concerned about all of this?" After saving a guy's life, he gives you one line of thanks and then starts walking off, and you literally can't talk to him anymore. These kinds of interactions happen all over the place, where there's no real opportunity to actually interact with people outside of terse exchanges for the sake of fulfilling some goal, and they're all just completely lacking in any kind of human element, absolutely killing immersion.

Bland, forgettable, personality-free NPCs

I made a note after seven hours of playing that I felt like I hadn't met any real, genuine characters in the game, because so many of them are so bland and forgettable, with no real personality, simply there in service of some specific game function, that they don't feel like real people. After finishing the whole game, I realized that concept applied to virtually everyone in the game. Memorable characters exist, certainly, but for the most part they're only memorable because they're involved in major story events, or serve some important role in a faction or major location, or because of a service they provide, or because they're recruitable companions, or because of certain negative qualities, not because of how good they are as actual characters.

Preston Garvey is only memorable because he's in one of the first main quests, he's the leader of the Minutemen, and he's always handing out those tedious radiant settlement quests. Brother Maxson is only memorable because he's the leader of the Brotherhood, and because of his hipster haircut and badass coat. Desdemona is only memorable because she's the leader of the Railroad. Marcy Long is only memorable because or her unnecessarily snide, rude attitude as you're just minding your business in Sanctuary, which I'll admit is at least a personality trait, unlike some of these other examples. I can't remember the name, face, or personality of anyone from the Institute, except for Father and 10-year old Shaun. I can't remember anyone's names from Diamond City except for Mayor McDonough and Sheng, the kid who sends you to clean up trash from the water supply. I can't remember Piper's sister's name, even though she's Piper's main motivation in life, and it doesn't help that there's barely any interaction between you and the sister, or between Piper and the sister throughout the entire game, even after you have that important affinity conversation with Piper about her.

I liked that one mechanic from the Brotherhood who had her limbs blown off by an explosion, and who thus has to spend her whole life living in a power armor exoskeleton, but that's only half because of her personality, the other half being that backstory and the fact that she's always in that power armor frame, and I still can't remember her name. I remember Travis because of how utterly awkward he sounds, and since he was frequently talking on the radio, everywhere I went in the game. Tinker-Tom is fairly memorable, since he actually has a unique personality. Glory seemed kind of cool, with her confident swagger and worn-down attitude being the only capable field agent in the Railroad. Bobbi No-Nose has some interesting dialogue where you can tell there's something a little shady going on, like she has ulterior motives she's not telling you about. And... that's about it.

I have to really strain to even think of other possible examples -- anyone else that comes to mind is only memorable because of some extraneous quality beyond their actual character (like Trashcan Carla, just because of the repetition of seeing her all the time). Most of the NPCs in Fallout 4 aren't actually characters, they're just NPCs -- human objects in a video game. Companions and major quest characters are obviously an exception to that, but the side characters mostly feel like filler, like they're just sort of there. And remember, I just spent 235 hours playing this game, and I just finished it a couple of weeks ago, and can barely remember any meaningful side characters, which simply astounds me. Maybe it's because there's just so many side characters that they all eventually blend together in my mind, but the end result is still the same: I hardly remember any non-major characters, and I can hardly think of anyone with any actual personality.

Companions are lame

The companions in Fallout 4 are all lame. Not completely, and not all of them, but most of them are almost completely lame. In the base game, with no DLC, you can recruit up to 13 total companions, which is good for variety since it gives you more options to pick characters you actually enjoy having around you all the time, but at a certain point it's definitely possible to have too many companions in a game, if having so many means having to cut down on each one's content to fit them all in the game. Of the 13 companions, only five of them have affinity quests that you unlock by building a rapport with them, and of those five, one is technically a faction quest that I think is actually independent of the character's affinity. So really, it's only four. Some companions, at least, have quests associated with finding them and recruiting them, but most of the time they're just given to you for proceeding with some other quest-line, like the main story or faction quests. Some are just found standing around for no reason at all, and you recruit them for no reason at all.

Outside of the limited handful of affinity quests, there's not a lot of genuine interaction with the companions, because any time you try to talk with them you're treated to random bits of one-line commentary meant to flesh out their personality, not to allow you to actually converse with them. You ask for their thoughts, they tell you some random thought of theirs (which has no bearing on anything whatsoever, like Cait simply saying that she's always up for a drink or a fight), and that's it. You can keep prodding them to share their thoughts and they just keep cycling through random one-line responses until they eventually run out of options and start repeating themselves. In the whole game there's only like two real conversations with each companion, when their affinity reaches certain thresholds. You can sometimes talk to them in specific areas and they'll make tailored responses, like commenting on the Brotherhood of Steel if you're on board their flagship, but these can be hard to predict, and generally only apply in major locations.

You want to talk about this here, and now, of all times and places?

Companion affinity isn't really determined by how you interact with them, but rather how you interact with other people and other things. Each companion likes and dislikes different things -- Piper likes picking locks (as long as they're not someone's property), but Strong doesn't; Preston likes being generous to other NPCs, but Cait doesn't -- and so raising their affinity is simply a matter of doing these activities enough while they're in your presence. As much as I disliked Mass Effect 2's handling of crew member loyalty, where specific gameplay actions didn't matter and all you did was periodically make rounds on your ship talking to people after major missions, at least you were interacting with them, having real conversations that felt like you were steadily gaining their trust and getting to know them better. In Fallout 4, companions just follow you around and judge you until they decide to tell you something about their past, which can come at completely random and inappropriate times, making their sudden revelations feel like they come out of nowhere, for no real reason.

The problems with voiced protagonists

I'm not a big fan of voiced protagonists (or even NPCs) in RPGs because having to pay a voice actor to come in and record a bunch of lines tends to cost a lot of time and money for the developer, which often means that they cut corners to make the voice recording less costly, or they run into problems later in development if a quest designer or writer realizes they need to change things but can't get the voice actor back. Besides that, there's also the issue with a voiced protagonist sounding completely different than you imagined your character sounding like, and the possibility that a voice actor might say a line of dialogue differently than you read it in your head before selecting it -- stressing different words, putting inflections in different places, changing the tone of the statement, and so on.

My balding, graying, "middle-aged" protagonist, who doesn't GAF.

For example: I made a wrinkled, balding, graying, middle-aged man named Rusty to be my character. I figured he was going to be a heavily worn-down "rusty" old man whom I'd play like a stoic badass, the kind of guy who doesn't take crap from people and knows from a lifetime of experience how to handle himself and adversity. I pictured him having a slightly airy, raspy voice, as if he was a little hoarse all the time and straining a bit to talk, with a fairly dull monotone voice. And then I get into the game I realize my character sounds like some generic Hollywood McActor Man, who's way too emotional and peppy for the character that I made.

A protagonist who's separate from the player

My character's voice was a pretty strong disconnect, right from the very beginning, but then it got even worse when my character apparently had his own backstory and motivation beyond anything I'd created or envisioned for him. Bethesda's signature "Fallout 4 dialogue railroading" often kicked in during the main quest and forced me into making character decisions that weren't based on how I was thinking or feeling, but based on the character they'd created for me. I really didn't care about finding Shaun, my character's son, so it was really jarring and off-putting seeing my character get sent into a furious rage when trying to get information on where his son might be, or when he gets all sad and weepy-eyed upon finally meeting Shaun, cause I didn't feel those emotions as a player, and I didn't have a choice to handle those situations any differently. It's kind of like, why bother letting me make a character if the protagonist isn't actually me? That kind of thing works fine in other games, and there are certain benefits to having a more defined protagonist for the player, but it's not what I expect from a Fallout game.

Losing family as forced plot device

I don't know why they thought it would be a good idea to have the main quest center around finding your infant son, when they never bothered to create any kind of emotional attachment to the kid. You make your character and get five minutes with your wife and son before the bombs start falling and you're rushed into a vault, where you're put into cryogenic sleep and your wife gets murdered and your son gets kidnapped. In practice, in the first few minutes of the game I was supposed to mourn a dead woman I'd just met, and turn an entire apocalyptic wasteland upside looking for someone I also just met mere minutes prior, who may not even be alive anymore given that you have no idea how much time passed between when your son was taken and when you woke up from cryogenic sleep.

Five minutes simply isn't enough time to establish important characters who will be crucial to the game's plot, and the main motivating factor driving the protagonist's actions. While I appreciate not having to play through a 30 minute intro sequence like Fallout 3 again, before getting into the real game, it would have greatly benefited their story to make that intro a little longer and give you real chances to interact with your family before losing them. The kid, after all, is just a baby -- all he does is lie in his crib, and all you do is spin the rocket mobile above his crib. What if the kid was, I don't know, five, or 10 and you could actually talk to him? Teach him some fatherly lessons before the bombs hit? Play catch with him? Do something, anything with him? What if you played the intro as the kid, building an identity with him, and then you take over the role of the father to go rescue him (or, essentially, what you thought was "you") sort of like The Last of Us? Instead we're simply told to care about these characters, while that care is never actually earned.

Shaun's variable appearance and its effect on role-playing

One interesting design element is that your son's appearance is somewhat dependent on how you customize your own character. Bone structure, skin tone, and hair color can change from player to player to more closely reflect your own character, since Shaun is supposed to be your genetic offspring, after all. While a neat idea, this really goes to showcase Bethesda's lack of foresight, and how some of their design elements can clash with players' role-playing intentions. I, for instance, gave my character gray hair because he was supposed to be middle-aged, and as you get older your hair naturally loses its color. When I finally met my 10 year old "son," he also had gray hair, implying that my character's gray hair was actually a genetic trait from birth, passed on to the child, and not simply the result of aging. I was flabbergasted by this implicit realization (once again, the game was subtly defining my character beyond my own control or intentions), and it created yet another disconnect between me and my character.

General lack of choice

Continuing with the trend of the player character being completely separate from the player, it doesn't feel like you have a lot of meaningful choices in the game. The very first town you come across has the Minutemen being attacked by raiders, and you must help the Minutemen fight off the raiders, which you do by saying "yes" to their requests and following their exact intentions: getting in the power armor and killing them with the minigun. If this had been New Vegas, for instance, you would've had the option to side with the raiders instead of the Minutemen, and you would've had other choices for how to go about initiating the fight, what you do to prepare, and how you resolve it, all using your character's specific skills. But because it's Fallout 4, you simply follow the script and do exactly as you're told, or pick the only option you're given.

Incredibly similar dialogue options.

Throughout the game, you're pretty much always forced to be good. Dialogue options sometimes let you be a jerk, but being a jerk usually doesn't get you anywhere and actively hurts you, while other times you're simply given no choice, with your dialogue options boiling down to "Tell me more, Yes, No (Yes), and [Sarcastic] Yes." When confronting Kellog, the mercenary who kidnapped your son in the vault, all of your choices lead to your character getting pissed off, and eventually fighting him. A lot of times characters don't respond to your dialogue choices, giving you the same response no matter your choice. These kinds of choices are in effect meaningless, having no real impact on the world, and no impact on your character -- the world and the way in which you do things doesn't really change based on your decisions (outside of settlement building, or in terms which faction you choose in the main quest), and there's no more karma meter measuring your personality to give tangible effects on your role-playing decisions.

A seemingly major choice that will have zero consequence or effect.

There are still choices in the game, obviously -- it's not completely devoid of them -- but they're definitely in the minority. The main quest, for example, requires you to choose a faction, which will necessarily cause other factions to become hostile, and affects the way some of the final quests play out. When you find out that one of your companions is actually a synth (unbeknownst to him, even), the Brotherhood of Steel sends you to kill him, and you have the choice to do so, or help set him free. If you join the Railroad, you're sent on a mission to destroy the Brotherhood's flagship, which requires reaching a point inside the ship and setting explosive charges, which you can do through stealth and avoiding detection, or by dressing up as a Brotherhood member and talking your way out of confrontations, or by just going in guns blazing. Note that these examples, which constitute some of the most memorable and significant ones, all come from major quests -- most of the smaller side-quests offer no chances for meaningful input, and simply play out on rails, usually culminating with you going somewhere and shooting something.

All of the factions suck

Fallout 4 has four main factions, and you're required per the main quest to join one of them, though you're free to work with all of them at once, up until a point of no return towards the end. Each of the factions has their own base of operations, their own philosophies and ideals for the Commonwealth, and their own unique membership benefits. The choice of which one you ultimately join is one of few major choices in the game that feel like they actually matter, since it causes an actual branching path in the main quest and turns other factions hostile, effectively closing off their quest-lines and closing other doors to you, but it's just one choice, and then you're stuck mindlessly following their orders, with no subsequent choices. In the end, every faction had me doing things I found morally reprehensible, and I didn't agree with any of their ideologies except for the Minutemen, who don't really have a lot of quests and are often treated as the game's "backup plan" in case you manage to piss off all the other factions and lock yourself out of advancing their quests. To do Minutemen quests later in the game, you have to become an enemy of the Institute, and by playing along with all four factions for so long I basically never had access to the Minutemen's final quests and never realized, short of looking up guides, that they were even an option.

No hope for peace, huh? I'll note that for the next section.

The Minutemen are pretty boring, though, since most of their quests are radiant settlement nonsense. The Institute is supposed to be the game's villain, and indeed they're up to a lot of shady stuff that the game, of course, gives you no choices about confronting. As much as I might like the idea of using technology to help the Commonwealth, I felt like the Institute was causing more harm than good, and I didn't feel like I could trust them to actually work with me. The Brotherhood of Steel is, of course, a bunch of xenophobes who're adamantly against synthetic life and believe all synths should die, which I could not condone, having had lots of good experiences with my own synthetic companions, and their desire to gather up all the technology and keep it from the rest of the Commonwealth, paired with their heavily authoritarian military structure, left me completely unsympathetic to their cause. The Railroad, on the other hand, wants to free synths from the Institute, which required me to play as a double-agent for the Institute, essentially doing their entire quest-line up until the point of no return when I had to finally make a decision.

None of these are especially compelling options, and put me in a situation where I didn't want to finish the main quest just because I didn't want to support any of the factions. There's something to be said for each faction being some shade of gray with their own pros and cons, but not when the result is a bunch of underwritten characters and bad portrayals and bad gameplay interactions. In reality, they're all "black and white" with no gray area whatsoever, where none of them are really likable, instead of them all being likable in different ways. In the end, I went with the Railroad because they seemed like the least offensive of the three main ones (again, I didn't even realize the Minutemen were an option, because that option is only given to you if you piss off the Institute, either by refusing to work with them, which I wasn't gonna do cause I wanted to play along with all factions for as long as I could, and the Railroad were making me do that anyway, or by killing random Institute scientists, which I wasn't going to do because I'm not a murderous psychopath.

You're forced to be a murderous psychopath

No matter which faction you choose to support, you'll be forced into a bunch of senseless, pointless murder, with no opportunity to find a peaceful or diplomatic resolution. The Railroad, Brotherhood, and Minutemen all require you to set off a nuke and blow up the Institute, killing every one of its scientists; the Railroad will also require you to blow up the Prydwen, killing all of the people on board; the Brotherhood will also require you to raid the Railroad headquarters, killing everyone therein; siding with the Institute will require you to kill the other factions.

Siding with the Railroad, I eventually came to a point in the main quest where I was working with a synth agent, both of us undercover inside the Institute, who told me to "clear the relay control room," and the mission objective straight up told me to "kill everyone in the room." And I just stared at the screen in utter disgust. The game was seriously expecting me to draw my weapon and start firing on unarmed, unsuspecting scientists like some kind of psychopathic mass murderer shooting up a school. I looked around and tried to figure out if there were different options, like if I could cause a distraction somewhere, or talk them into leaving, but alas, I had no choice, and simply had to open fire and murder the entire room to advance the quest -- I couldn't even go turncoat and warn the Institute.

I guess, in the grand scheme of things, it wasn't going to matter since I was going to be effectively killing everyone by blowing up the Institute (another decision that I didn't like -- there's a lot of valuable technology and smart people there that could be used to help the Commonwealth, so why blow it all up), but you don't get a choice to do anything about that, either -- you can't warn people to leave or anything. It really makes me wonder, if Bethesda's just so out of touch with the real world that they would seriously think it's alright to force players to commit senseless murder, for absolutely no reason. There's simply no reason players can't have a choice in these kinds of situations, especially if you're trying to create an immersive role-playing game like this, since these kinds of forced decisions go against the entire point of role-playing games.

The consequences of consequence-free gameplay design

In true open-world fashion, most of Fallout 4's content is intended to be completely optional, and you're intended to be able to do all (or most) of it in a single playthrough; it generally doesn't matter when you do things, how you do things, or if you even do things at all, because there aren't going to be consequences except for the fact that you simply haven't done something that could still be done later. Most of the game's areas, quests, and NPCs exist within their own isolated bubble, and don't conflict, overlap, or tie-in with other quests, except for how faction quests and the main story will eventually converge, and that you'll eventually have to pick one of the four factions, thus turning against the other three, to finish the final main missions. These moments of true consequence tend to happen primarily in regards to the main story, meaning they mostly affect the game in a narrative sense, but not necessarily a mechanical sense. It does matter, certainly, since the faction you choose will change the nature of the final missions and lock you out of experiencing the other factions' finales, but the application of those decisions exists almost outside the scope of ordinary gameplay.

Conversations are going to play out largely the same way, no matter what options you choose, and quests are going to resolve generally the same way, no matter how you try to complete them. You can make choices here and there, but the effects are minor, or else purely cosmetic, and when you actually are presented with choices and consequences, they don't usually affect anything outside of that one quest. The game simply doesn't care what you do; it doesn't matter how you build your character, or how you behave when interacting with other people, or how you solve quests, or how you support different factions, or where you go in the world, or how you explore, because so much of the game is designed to be doable by any type of playstyle, at any time. A lot of things are going to play out in the same way, every playthrough, because it doesn't really matter what you do.

Everything in the world is in black and white -- you've either completed a quest or you haven't, you're either part of a faction or you aren't -- there are no mixed or variable world-states where it matters that you've done "A, B, and D, but not C," or "B and C but not D or A." If you help these people over here, it won't affect those people over there; you won't open any other doors, and you won't close any, either. If this guy approaches you with a shady job offer, it's not going to upset anyone important who might be involved with other quests or activities. If you go to this place before interacting with these people over here, it won't change anything whatsoever. If you never discover this area over here, then you haven't really missed anything important. This is all part of making the game truly open-world, so that you can go anywhere, and do anything, at any time -- if the world changes too much as a result of your actions, then it can start to interfere with your ability to do all the things the game has to offer, and Fallout 4 clearly wants you to be able to do everything, if you so desire.

Problem is, when it doesn't really matter what you do, then what you do doesn't really matter. It's hard to feel like you're having an impact on the world, even when you're putting up settlements everywhere, because it doesn't really react to your presence or your actions. It's not a game world you're in; it's like an interactive museum where you go from exhibit to exhibit pushing the buttons to make the scenes play out, and you have to shoot a bunch of things in-between each exhibit.

No ending slideshows

The game's consequence-free design is no better demonstrated than in its ending, which only covers the resolution of the main story, and only changes based on which faction you chose, no longer showcasing the lasting impact and consequences that your decisions had on the entire wasteland. Previous Fallout games showed full resolutions (via slideshow) for all of the factions, towns, and NPCs, with multiple possibilities for each and every one, based on how you handled things. Sometimes a seemingly minor, inconsequential quest would show up later on at the end game, having had some kind of ripple effect that you didn't anticipate. These endings, while not the sole method of showing the effect of your actions (they were always fairly evident in normal gameplay), really helped to drive home the feeling that what you did actually mattered, and that the game was actually keeping track of your decisions and doing something with them -- that there was an ultimate purpose to everything. Fallout 4's ending, in contrast, like the rest of Fallout 4, is more interested in telling its own story than telling your story.

Wasted story potential

According to the lead writer and lead designer, Emil Pagliarulo, Fallout 4 is supposed to be a game about artificial life and its place within human hierarchy, and how humanity responds when faced with robots who look, act, and think exactly like humans; what constitutes humanity, can robots be considered human, and what do you do when your friends and loved ones are replaced with synthetic copies of them? I'm embellishing on all of this, because in reality, Emil says plainly, "Fallout 4 is about androids." He then goes on to clarify "The most important theme in Fallout 4 is suspicion. Who is this person sitting next to me? Are they human? Do they want to do me harm? Am I human?" He then kind of drops the subject without going into detail about how they incorporated that theme into the game's writing, setting, or gameplay, about as quickly as the game itself forgets about that theme. Because the game really doesn't do anything with that story idea.

There's a pretty major story element set up early on, during the main quest when you first arrive at Diamond City, in which Piper -- one of your first companions -- is seen grilling the mayor about synths, because she claims that people have been disappearing from town, and that the Institute is kidnapping people so that they can make copies of them and then replace them with synths, while the mayor vehemently denies these claims. (You later find out that this is true, by reading hidden terminals in the Institute.) You also have a few random encounters in which people are being attacked by synths (or synths who are being attacked by humans) and you don't know who's human and who's synth. And it's a genuinely interesting concept to have in a video game, one of the main reasons I decided to buy in and pay the $15 to keep playing after the free weekend was over, because I wanted to see where this story would go. But it went nowhere. After that one scene with Piper and the Mayor, the whole synth angle gets dropped completely -- you meet some synths here and there, and some seemingly human people are revealed to be synths, but it doesn't factor in to the story. That whole element of suspicion, treachery, deception, and suspicion, like the kind of stuff that fueled entire seasons of Battlestar Galactica, is all completely missing from the game.

Notes, journals, computer logs, and diaries

I don't know what it is about Bethesda games, but I'm always bored to death with their assortment of text and audio logs that you find exploring locations. It's not that I don't like reading -- I read more in a year than the average person will read in five years, and I played the hell out of (and thoroughly enjoyed) Planescape: Torment, one of the wordiest games of all time. I guess it's that Bethesda's notes, journals, audio logs, etc, all tend to feel dryly mechanical to me, and often inconsequential to the world or environment I'm in. Oh sure, most of the time the computer logs have a story of their own to tell, but I never found them interesting, and I never felt like there was reason enough to care. Knowing what was going on at a manufacturing plant before the war, for instance, didn't make it any more interesting for me to explore, and had no real effect on anything besides that one location. There's no over-arching theme to the game's story or setting giving these side stories interesting context or purpose, except for the trite and over-used "war, war never changes" tagline; they're often just random, irrelevant details.

Elex, for instance, has a pretty similar setting to Fallout 4, being set 200 years after an apocalyptic event with society radically altered and having to adapt to a new type of life, and yet I enjoyed that game's text and audio logs so much more. Maybe it's because Elex had a unique setting (a world destroyed by a comet bearing a magical substance that caused it to spring new life and bestow the world with new technologies), as compared to Fallout 4's generic nuclear wasteland (after five games in the main series, there's nothing really special about the setting anymore), but I also felt like Elex's notes and journals had more of a connection to the world and story, like they were deliberately woven into the game's fabric instead of being stitched on top like a patch, a la Bethesda's pointless side stories about an office worker pestering some woman to go on a date with him.

They're not all so bland or pointless as that example, mind you, and I did actually like some of the side stories you encounter in exploration. The Dunwich Borers, for example, was great, and I really enjoyed diving deeper (literally) into its history and mythos, but then again I have a fondness for horror stories and HP Lovecraft. I also really liked the Fens Sewers, with its tale of a serial killer taunting a detective and setting up trophy kills in artistic displays. Both of these rely heavily on computer entries and audio logs to tell their stories. Note that the key difference with areas like these two is that they have totally unique environments that were designed for the specific purpose of telling a story; they're not just random combat nodes or radiant quest locations with a story slapped on top, which unfortunately is how a lot of the game's side stories are told since those types of areas (and that type of pasted-on storytelling) is what takes up the majority of space in the game. Though other good exploration-based stories exist, like the Dunwich Borers and Fens Sewers, most of the time when you're out exploring, you're just finding random notes and computer entries on random subjects, that don't necessarily tell a story, but that simply give you some kind of mostly irrelevant information about what was going on before the bombs dropped.

The 210 year issue

This was an issue with Fallout 3, and it's time to bring it up again because it still hasn't been addressed; it's been over 200 years since the bombs dropped -- why hasn't humanity progressed at all since then? Why does everything still look and feel like a cliche post-apocalyptic setting, as if this all just happened recently and everyone's still trying to adapt to life in a post-nuclear world? It's been 210 years and yet everywhere is still a crumbling ruin -- even a major city like Diamond City, the largest hub of civilization in the Commonwealth, is made entirely from ramshackle huts, with random wreckage and debris still littering the floor everywhere, as if no one's thought to clean up the streets in 210 years.

210 years and he's still wearing the same yellow outfit.

Why is there practically no civilization or societal structure 210 years after the bombs? Where's some type of order like the NCR or Caeser's Legion? With all these fusion cores still lying around, why has no one used them for anything more useful? Why has no one even tried to get cars working again, or devised any sort of vehicular transporation (besides the Brotherhood)? How are people struggling to survive when there's so much loot just lying around to plunder? And why hasn't all that loot already been collected in 210 years? Why is the Vault-Tec salesman still wearing that same yellow outfit after 210 years? Why has this kid been trapped in a fridge for 210 years without a single person coming along and noticing him, and why do his parents still live in the same house he grow up in, 210 years later?

Some of these questions can obviously be answered with "because the gameplay required it to be that way," which I understand, but there's no clever in-world explanation for any of this, and some of it's just mind-bogglingly absurd. Just consider how much the world changed between 1805 and 2015, and then look at Fallout 4. Everyone is still relying on mostly pre-war technology, and what little post-war technology exists is treated like some mystical mcguffin; everyone is still listening to only pre-war music because apparently no one anywhere has recorded any new music in 210 years; everyone is still reading pre-war comic books because apparently no one's written any new novels or comics or anything of the sort in 210 years; everyone still wears pre-war clothing because apparently no one's thought to invent new fashion styles, or even to make new clothes besides ones they ransacked from an abandoned house somewhere; the list goes on.

I would hope you understand this, but 210 years is a long, long time, and it's astounding that almost literally nothing has changed in Fallout 4's 210 year interim between you going in the vault, and you waking up. Granted, technology and civilization in general isn't going to progress at the same rate after practically the whole world is destroyed in nuclear war -- we could even argue that it would set progress back a few generations, possibly -- but realistically there has to be some kind of progress in 210 years, and Fallout 4 makes no effort to show any. I'm not sure whether that's because people are just stuck in a mindset of "this is what Fallout has to look like" or if it's because Bethesda just doesn't bother to think about the worlds they're creating, to make sure things actually make sense with context and history and a reason for being the way that they are. They obviously do with The Elder Scrolls, considering all the lore and history tucked into dozens of in-game books, so why can't the same amount of thought apply here, with a Fallout game?

Perks are boring

In the absence of a skills system, a lot of the statistical effects of improving skills are now integrated with the perk system, meaning a lot of perks are simply minor percentage boosts to basic actions that you already perform, simply making you slightly better at something, instead of having a radically gameplay-altering effect. A lot of it is, essentially, stuff that could (or even should) be automatic, just as a result of leveling-up, except now you get to choose which boosts you get, and when. That's a fine notion, but all it really does is devalue the perks by making so many of them feel like generic number-boosters. The effect of character development is still roughly the same in terms of the kinds of boosts you get over an entire playthrough, except now you actually have fewer choices since each level-up only gives you a single perk point, instead of 10 or more skill points that you can dump into any combination of skills you want, and sometimes a perk as well.

The real problem with Fallout 4's perks is that they ultimately feel kind of generic. Like, no matter how you build your character, you're probably going to end up with a lot of similar skills and maybe only a few key differences, unless you really push yourself to extreme, generally less-viable perk selections, because so many perks are universally beneficial for every type of build and playstyle. Things like "do more damage," "take less damage," "make stimpaks more powerful," "have more max health," "regenerate action points faster," "reload weapons faster," "do more critical damage," "save up more criticals," and so on, are all practically mandatory for every single character, while other perks like the hacking and lockpicking ones, or the weapon and armor modding ones are strongly recommended. Sometimes, even these loose types of perks that I've described above are split into multiple different perks -- doing more damage, for instance, can be done by picking a weapon-specific perk and/or with the "bloody mess" perk. Again, it seems like an effort to give you choices, but it ends up spreading the perk bonuses out to such a degree that each individual one becomes less interesting.

At the same time that some perk bonuses feel needlessly spread out across multiple perks, others feel needlessly crammed into a single one, like the weapon damage perks, for instance. Instead of allowing you to specialize (through stats and skills) in specific weapon types (ie, energy weapons, small guns, sniper rifles, shotguns, etc) you now only get to specialize in broad weapon types, like "automatic" and "non-automatic." Those two categories are so loose that you can fit multiple different types of weapons into each one -- automatic pistols, automatic submachine guns, automatic shotguns, automatic laser rifles, automatic plasma rifles, automatic assault rifles, automatic gamma guns -- these all fit under the singular "Commando" perk. Going back to my claim that "perks feel generic," this means multiple characters with different playstyles and weapon preferences will end up making essentially the same statistical build with only slight variations. In the end, specialization is more about what equipment you choose to use (which can easily change in the middle of a playthrough, like how I switched from ballistic weapons to energy weapons almost on a whim), and less about the stats and skills with which you imbue your character.

Meanwhile, the choices you can make usually feel pretty straightforward, because some perks are simply better than others. Ones that boost your raw damage output are always more important than, say, extra radiation resistance, while many others are so gimmicky and highly situational that they're almost completely worthless. Sadly, the most interesting perks (ie, the ones that don't simply increase a percentage value) tend to be these gimmicky, situational ones. "Mr Sandman," for instance, allows you to execute people in their sleep, but that opportunity is incredibly uncommon. So many others are just completely worthless, like "Ghoulish," which makes radiation heal lost health, but still causes lasting radiation damage, meaning you can't use it as "free healing" because the gains will actually turn negative, so why bother, especially when there are so many stimpaks and other ways to heal lost health?

Stop-and-go progression

Acknowledging that not all perks are equally viable or practical, I sometimes found myself in situations when there were simply no good perks available to choose from, since leveling up a specific perk to a higher value requires also being a certain character level. In these moments I'd scan over the perk list and figure out what level I'd need to reach before I could invest in the good ones, and sometimes found that two or three good perks all unlocked at the same level, and since I wanted to be able to get those perks as soon as I could (say, all three perks as soon as I hit the level 28 requirement, for example) that meant I had to not take any perks for several levels and effectively "save up" my perk points. Which, needless to say, made leveling up feel kind of pointless in a lot of instances when there were simply no good perks available to choose, or when I was deliberately not taking perks so I could make better use of my perk points a little ways down the road. Part of this is my fault for trying to optimize the leveling system, but I do feel like that's a flaw in the leveling design, if trying to optimize your leveling with basic efficiency can lead to a lot of boring, unproductive level-ups.

New equipment, meanwhile, seems to come in waves; as soon as you enter a new level range, then the world starts spawning all the new higher-level gear; you might only have access to leather armor and raider armor from level 1-10, but as soon as you hit level 11, then you start finding metal armor, for example (these are rough numbers, it's probably not exactly right -- it's just an example). So at level 11 you outfit yourself with new metal armor and upgrade it to your liking, and then use that one set for the next 10 levels until you hit level 21 and start seeing combat armor in the world. You don't get the sense of gradual improvement, since your progression with equipment tends to remain pretty stagnant for long chunks of time, until it suddenly spikes to new territory and then levels out again. And since there really aren't a whole lot of weapons and armor in the game, you go long periods of time finding stuff that's the same or worse than what you're already using.

SPECIAL stats feel less special

I could be wrong about this because I don't know the exact math that goes into some of the game's hidden computations, but it feels like the SPECIAL stats don't have as strong of an impact on your character's efficacy and general performance in gameplay. They all do something important, of course, but the effects feel pretty minor in some cases, especially considering the hidden computations that the actual game never explains, except to say in vague terms something along the line of, for example, "higher charisma makes you more likely to persuade someone in conversation." I don't really know how much of an impact an extra point in perception will actually affect my accuracy in VATS, and indeed, even with what I thought to be reasonably high perception (six as a starting value) I felt like I had crappy accuracy for a huge chunk of the game, until I started earning end-game perks (from skill perks as well as companions' affinity quests) that gave more concrete boosts to my accuracy.

Rather, it feels like the SPECIAL stats are more of another way to gate perk progression, since you're expected to increase your SPECIAL stats over the course of the game through perk points to unlock access to more perk, with more powerful perks being restricted to higher SPECIAL stats. Perks being tied to SPECIAL requirements has always been a thing -- it was meant to add weight and consequence to your build decisions -- but Fallout 4 undermines and subverts this whole aspect by making the SPECIAL stats themselves part of the main progression system. As such, SPECIAL stats are less about defining your character, since your SPECIAL stats will change dramatically from the start of the game, and less about making smart, rewarding decisions within the confines of a counter-weighted system, since you can effectively earn most perks you could possibly want in a single playthrough, never running the risk of locking yourself out of perks, since you can always just increase your stats to get what you want.

Not enough weapons and armor

As with most games of this nature, equipment plays a large role in the progression system as you experience your equipment progressively getting better and better from the beginning to the end of the game. It's fun to find new weapons and armor because it usually means you're getting stronger, and it gives you decisions to make about what equipment you'll use, but there's a disappointing lack of options when it comes to Fallout 4.

There's a grand total of five main armor sets in the game -- you start with leather armor and raider armor, then gain access to metal armor, then combat armor, then synthetic armor, and that's about it for the entire game. Each of those sets comes with three varieties (light, medium, and heavy) for a total of 15 armor sets with slightly different appearances (essentially adding more armor pieces as you go from light to heavy), and they're all sort of level-scaled so that they start progressively showing up in the world as you level up, or start successfully killing tougher enemies. But it's still, essentially, just five basic sets of armor for the whole game. There are other types of armor besides these five, but they're uniques and prove to be the exception, rather than the rule.

Weapons aren't much better. Fallout 4 has extensive weapon and armor modding systems that allow you to change and customize individual parts of your equipment, some being simple stat changes while others more radically alter the weapon, which allows for hundreds, if not thousands of total combinations for practically endless variety. Except, that all this variety is based on slight modifications to a handful of base models. If you want to use shotguns, you have two options: the double-barrel shotgun, or the combat shotgun (which is a modification of the combat rifle). For SMGs, your only option is the aptly-named Submachine Gun. For pistols, your options are the 10mm Pistol, the .44 Revolver, or a Pipe Pistol. For combat rifles, there's the Hunting Rifle, Combat Rifle, and Pipe Rifle. Laser weapons come in three varieties: Laser Pistol, Laser Rifle, and Laser Musket. These aren't all the weapon categories in the game, of course -- it's just to show a few examples of how little variety there is within specific weapon categories.

There are, of course, plenty of unique weapons to round out the total variety, but with the exception of The Deliverer pistol they're all still just variations on the same basic weaponry, but with some kind of special effect added on top of existing modifications. Then you've got the legendary weapons and armor -- randomly-generated equipment with a unique "legendary effect" (like reduced AP cost, or dealing extra damage to certain types of enemies, for example) used by randomly-spawned legendary enemies -- but again, these are still just variations on the same basic weaponry and main five sets of armor. While the game technically offers tons and tons of different weapons and armors to choose from, it's going to feel like you've already seen everything the game has to offer before you even reach the halfway point, because you pretty much have seen everything -- just in different combinations of modifications and legendary effects, all based around the same limited handful of base weapons and armors.

Too much junk bogs down exploration

Probably like 90% of the stuff you can pick up is literal junk -- broken appliances, random objects, and scrap material from the wreckage of the bombs. Desk fans, tin cans, clipboards, typewriters, etc. In previous games they were mostly there as decoration to make the world seem more lived-in; in Fallout 4, they're now all essential crafting materials, since every single junk item in the game can be broken down into assorted crafting components like wood, metal, springs, gears, adhesive, and so on, to be used with the settlement building and crafting systems. And with those systems using so many raw materials (we're talking thousands of each major resource for one playthrough), you're gonna need a lot to keep yourself properly supplied. Collecting junk is clearly not exhilarating gameplay, but it's absolutely necessary, and with the game's weight restrictions for inventory, you can only carry so much at a time, meaning that collecting junk is a slow and tedious process of grabbing as much as you can, fast-traveling back to your workshop, storing all the junk, and going back for more. It really, really bogs down the pace of exploration and the "shoot-n-loot" gameplay when you constantly have to go through that process, and when most of what you pick up is of so little value on its own.

To make matters worse, the junk is so omnipresent that it makes it more difficult to spot the actual worthwhile loot. You might not need or want to pick up every piece of junk you find, but you'll want to pick up boxes of ammo, stimpaks, blood packs, bobbleheads, skill magazines, holotapes, and so on, and those things are often mixed in with random clutter from these junk items -- a holotape sitting on an office desk between a coffee mug, a pencil, a clipboard, a fan, a typewriter, an ashtray, and so on, the only thing of which you might actually want to take being the holotape. Since there's just so much crap literally everywhere you look, you necessarily have to examine every single environment in fine detail, with an eagle eye, to spot the loot that's actually worth picking up, cause if you just skim over the environments with a quick glance you might miss something important. That, too, further bogs down the feeling of exploration and the "shoot-n-loot" gameplay. Really, there should just be a lot less junk in the environment, and you shouldn't need as many junk items for crafting.

The crafting system is deceptively shallow

One of Fallout 4's best features is the rather extensive crafting system that allows you to customize your equipment by building and swapping out a variety of components on your weapons and armor. Some of these have only a minor effect on some of the item's stats (like how muzzles affect firing spread, or how stocks lower recoil), while others have a more substantial effect (like attaching a scope to your pistol, or converting a rifle from using .38 ammo to firing bolt-action .308 rounds). This is a lot of fun, especially early on when everything is new to you, but as you become more familiar with the crafting system you eventually figure out what the optimal types of mods are for different weapons and armors, and then you just put the same ones on each new piece of equipment you acquire.

With energy weapons, for instance, you can change the energy capacitor to increase its critical hit damage, add burning damage, or give a slight boost to its base damage. Each of these three types of capacitor has a completely linear upgrade path; while you have a branching decision about which type of upgrade you use, the next one you unlock is simply better in every way, and you just take the better version of the mod you're already using. In this case, it felt like a no-brainer to use the capacitor mod that simply boosts your base damage, since that will affect every shot, including critical hits (though not by as much as the critical hit mod), and it does more damage than the fire one. Of the 10 capacitor mods for energy weapons, there was really only one worth using. With most weapons, including ballistic ones, they had one mod for each slot that I considered universally "best" for my playstyle and the type of weapon I was using.

Armor mods are a little better, since I usually felt there were multiple desirable options within the "miscellaneous" slot for different armors, but even then I still found one preferred option for every armor, with only minor variations. Typically, it was the ultra-leightweight mod that greatly reduced the armor's weight (effectively increasing my carry capacity) while also giving me extra Action Points to use sprinting long distances across the map, and in VATS combat, which was absolutely crucial for me as a heavy VATS user. The stabilizer mods for arm pieces, which boosts scoped accuracy, was tempting but I always felt like I could correct for weapon sway easily enough that it never tempted me.

Changes to Power Armor

Power armor is one of the coolest and most iconic things about the Fallout games, and yet I've never really cared for it. They're supposed to be these big, hulking mechanical suits, but they always felt like regular armor that just had a cool look to it. In some cases, they also had extra requirements to use, which certainly makes sense given the technology at play, but added an extra barrier to using the armor. Fallout 4 changes things up and gives you power armor right from the beginning, with no specific requirements to use, except that it now uses a consumable power supply called fusion cores. This, I feel, is a fun change, since it allows you to actually get into and use power armor early in the game, but the limitation of fusion cores means you won't be able to use it all the time, which adds an element of strategy to the game in terms of deciding when to use your power armor and how you manage your limited supply of fusion cores.

My only real complaint with this system is that fusion cores drain way too quickly, and are way too plentiful. Once I realized I'd used a quarter of the fusion core in that first fight rescuing Preston and the Minutemen at Concord, I put the power armor away and decided to never touch it again until I had an ample supply of cores, because the thing drains power just walking around, at an alarmingly fast rate. And that doesn't really make sense to me. These fusion cores have been powering entire radio stations and bunkers and subway lines for hundreds of years, and then you put them in a suit of power armor and suddenly they're depleted in 30 minutes. By the end of the game, I had hundreds of fusion cores, and of course could run around in power armor with no fear of ever running out. So I think they should've been balanced better, so that the cores last longer, but are also much harder to find. This way you could use power armor a little more regularly early on, while also making fusion cores feel like a great reward when you find them, as opposed to just "oh, another fusion core. Yawn."

All the missed potential with settlements

One of the main additions Fallout 4 brings to the table is the settlements feature, which allows you to actually rebuild and re-civilize the wasteland. I love the concept of this, since it's a system put in place to actually effect change in the environment, and it lets you (attempt to, at least) do something positive in the wasteland besides shooting raiders and doing favors for every random person you meet. But I just didn't care for it as a gameplay mechanism.

For starters, I just don't like first-person city building. There's obviously an appeal to it, hence why Minecraft is so popular, but to me it's a pain in the neck trying to line up angles and orient everything properly from a first-person perspective (the "auto snap-to-position" feature helps, but even that causes problems by insisting on trying to auto-snap when you don't want it to), and it's tedious having to do everything from that highly restricted perspective. Assigning settlers to tasks, for example, requires you to run around and find unassigned people, click on them, and then run back to the vegetables you want them to harvest -- it's more work than it should be. Secondly, for as much as I like the idea of the system, Minecraft is just not what I expect (or necessarily want) in a Fallout game. It's great to be able to make your own bases all across the wasteland, and to be able to customize your work stations and things like that, but I had no desire to build elaborate metropolises, or to do anything beyond the bare minimum that was required for quests.

My custom two-story shack with sniper perch on the roof.

A lot of things feel awkwardly restrictive, like certain types of walls that can only be attached to specific floors, and not other things that serve the same practical (if not technical) function, or doors that can only be attached to exterior walls, not interior ones, forcing you to try to make things work a certain way that they probably weren't intended to be used. And it's kind of obnoxious how everything requires perfectly flat land to build on, when the wasteland is full of uneven terrain. You can build foundations to work around this issue, but even those can't be built in certain places if the terrain just isn't suited for it; you can be making a bunch of progress building your perfect dream house (I hope your dream house is a crappy-looking busted-up shack, because that's your only option, really) and then a random rock or bush will be in the way of a crucial cornerstone, and for whatever reason you can't get rid of it, so then you have to awkwardly build around it, or tear everything down (getting back fewer resources than you put into building everything) and start over by moving everything to the right a few feet.

Most of what you do with the settlements is cosmetic, like building a Lego set or a doll house, and then you all you really do is look at it. You can do all kinds of elaborate things, setting up an entire pretend village if you like, but why bother when putting in all that extra work doesn't pay off? It doesn't matter if you build individual houses for people and set them up with fancy furniture and electrical appliances, because everyone will be content just to sleep in sleeping bags on the floor, all crammed into a single building. There's a "happiness" stat for each settlement that supposedly influences everything -- how much they produce, how well they defend themselves, etc -- but I never felt a practical difference whether happiness was at 30% or 80%, unless it drops low enough that people start leaving, which is pretty easy to avoid by just setting up basic necessities. Meanwhile, a lot of things that seem like they'd be good for a settlement's overall happiness like paintings, rugs, chairs, and so on, have seemingly no effect on happiness, so again why bother with any of this except to make it look nice?

Worst of all, I never felt like there was any real point to building and managing settlements. If you recruit enough settlers and have high enough charisma, you can get settlers to scavenge for resources and grow tons of food, and you can set up supply lines and shops and stuff, and that's about it -- I never felt like I needed any of that stuff, since I could find ample supplies of anything I could want just lying around in the wasteland, and to me it was more fun to acquire that stuff through exploration than by sitting in town and telling other people what to do, while some things (like having a bunch of food and water handy) just didn't matter to me at all because I never used any of that stuff. And so while I wasn't really getting any benefit out of settlements, they still demanded a lot of my time and effort, with Preston constantly assigning timed missions to help settlements, and by forcing me to babysit and micromanage them all the time -- no one does anything for themselves, so you always have to go around and do everything yourself. If there aren't enough beds, then people will just sit around complaining about it, instead of building more beds. And if a settlement gets attacked by raiders, you're still expected to come help defend it, even if you've completely fortified the place with walls and turrets everywhere.

Mind you, I don't completely hate the settlement system. I loved being able to customize my own home base of operations, and I get that some people just have fun building things and running wild with their imaginations. I think it's great to have the option, but the idea feels half-baked and poorly-implemented, which doesn't make it a very appealing option to me. It's like they had the idea leftover from Skyrim's Hearthfire DLC and said "let's put it in Fallout," and then never bothered to actually do anything with it -- it's just kind of there. The fact that settlement mods make up the second-largest category of Fallout 4 mods on the Nexus (second only to other non-settlement "Gameplay Effects and Changes") is a testament to both how fun settlements can be in Fallout 4, as well as to how underdeveloped the default system actually is.

Music and Radio Options

For a game as potentially long as Fallout 4, there's not nearly enough music -- it all gets to be pretty repetitive well before you finish the game. That issue is accelerated by the fact that some of the music from Diamond City Radio is actually recycled from the popular Fallout 3 and New Vegas radio mod, CONELRAD, which I'd used previously; Uranium Fever and Atom Bomb Baby were old and tiresome from the first minute of the game and became exponentially worse the longer the game went on. The host for Diamond City Radio, meanwhile, is intentionally awkward, which makes the whole station a little awkward to listen to. Fortunately, there's a quest to help improve his radio personality but then he just turns into generic radio host guy and loses any form of actual personality, so that's kind of a lose-lose situation. I really like the inclusion of the Classical Radio station, but the musical tone of that station doesn't always match your situation, like when Mars comes on while you're doing a bunch of crafting and settlement building, or when In the Hall of the Mountain King comes on while you're having a friendly chat with someone in town. I simply had to install radio mods to fix the monotony, because the vanilla options just couldn't cut it for very long.

Does Bethesda playtest their games?

They must playtest their games, obviously, but I have to wonder what their priorities are when playtesting, and whether they actually listen to user feedback or not. I get the feeling that they test things in isolated instances, or in small bursts at a time, and don't consider the long-term ramifications of their designs. How, for instance, is it possible for anyone to have played Fallout 4 for more than a few hours and have thought to themselves "hey, this inventory sorting system is perfectly fine" or "hey, the super slow scrolling text speed of the computer terminals is perfectly fine," or "hey, I'm totally ok with having to dig through my inventory to read notes that I just picked up instead of being able to read it then and there." There are just so many little things that seem innocuous at first glance, but they add up over time and get to be super annoying, and yet Bethesda just completely ignored them. It's like no one actually plays their games before release, or they just don't care.

Why, for instance, are these types of terminals so small?

User interface and controls

This should probably come as no surprise at this point, but Bethesda's user interface is full of idiotic, nonsensical designs. Why, for instance, is "melee attack" and "throw grenade" bound to the same button? That seems like a disaster waiting to happen. Both "reload" and "open loot window" are bound to the same key, so if you're in the middle of a firefight and try to reload your weapon there's a chance you'll get stuck in an inventory screen, while also serving as either "drop" or "take all" depending on which inventory screen you're in. In dialogue, the mouse is used to select responses, but it also controls the camera, and you often end up breaking the dialogue camera angles and turning away from conversations, thereby also taking away the dialogue interface, just trying to move the cursor to select an option. You can use the keyboard to bypass that issue, but they expect you to use the arrow keys by default -- not the number keys, for instance, which would make way more sense since they're already close to your left hand. Left click is both "advance dialogue" and "fire weapon," which frequently led to me accidentally shooting NPCs in the chest by trying to skip through their dialogue, when they were apparently speaking outside of the dialogue system.

I know for a fact that this settlement has beds, water, and defense.

The workshop menu, which keeps you informed about the status of your various settlements, straight up lies to you with false information because of some glitch (that Bethesda still hasn't fixed, almost 2.5 years later) that computes the stats incorrectly when you're away from the settlement, so it's practically useless for keeping track of settlements since you basically have to travel to each one individually to check up on them. Trying to converse with a companion or issuing a command to them uses the same button but is entirely distance-based so you can't issue a command if you're too close and you can't talk to them if you're too far away. Tagging items as "favorites" will bind them to the number row to activate as hotkeys, but there's still the console-style plus-pad favorite menu that just doesn't work well with a mouse or keyboard, that basically locks up your controls (but doesn't pause the game) if you bring it up. Useful information like status effects are hidden in random sub-menus that don't even exist unless you have status effects so you don't even know the menu exists unless you have a condition.

When using the map, you have to use the left mouse button to click and drag to pan around and see other areas, which is also used to drop custom map markers, so you sometimes wind up randomly dropping markers on the map when you didn't intend to, but when using the perk window, you have to use the right mouse button to click and drag to scroll down the list -- it's the exact same function in two different windows, but for some reason they use two different buttons, and it gets confusing remembering which one you have to use in which window. Furthermore, the perk window is kind of crappy all-around, since it only shows you a minimal amount of information at a time -- you can only see a fraction of the total perks available without having to scroll around to view more, and of the ones you can see, it only displays the current available level to you, so you don't know what benefit later levels of a perk will give you without clicking on and cycling through every single one individually, which is a function that requires the awkward use of control and alt instead of more sensible options.

A bunch of jumbled items lumped together in the "misc" tab.

The inventory screen doesn't have a lot of tabs to help sort items, dumping all of your weapons into one tab, all of your armors into one tab, all of your consumables into one tab, and all of your other random stuff (like keys, holotapes, notes, quest items, collectibles, valuables, etc) into one tab, all of which gets sorted alphabetically. Alphabetical sorting is fine if you know the exact name of what you're looking for, but becomes a problem if you unwittingly picked up a note while hitting the "take all" button and don't know what it is you're looking for. There's not even a "new" icon, or a way to sort by recency so that you know what all is new or unused in your inventory. In the case of weapons and armor, they all get named completely different depending on what modifications are installed on them, meaning you can have multiple similar weapons spread out in all different sections of the list, making it really difficult to compare them, and there's no direct compare feature to do side-by-side comparisons, anyway. You can change the sorting option to go by things like weight, value, or specific stats (in the case of weapons and armor), but that's still not much of a help since so many different types of items are still crammed into the same tabs.

There's probably more I could rant about -- this is just the stuff that readily comes to mind. Suffice to say, this is just terrible design, and it all makes the game almost a literal pain to play. So many things are clunky and awkward, or just don't work properly, and again it's almost like Bethesda doesn't actually playtest their games because I seriously can't picture a designer looking at these designs in practice and thinking "yeah that's good, let's leave it like that."

Companion AI is awful

Companions don't have very good stealth stats, or the sensibility to stay out of enemies' view, because they're always getting me caught when I'm trying to sneak around without alerting enemies. If there are tripwires somewhere, they'll blindly stumble into them and cause a bunch of traps to go off on top of me. They frequently get in my way (especially Dogmeat), running through my crosshair when I'm looting something and causing my scroll wheel to change modes beyond my control and switch camera perspectives. They walk away from me when I'm over-encumbered and trying to trade with them. They have a tendency to shoot me in the back trying to hit enemies instead of holding their fire or adjusting their positioning. They block doorways, and they have bad path-finding; if you command them to go somewhere and they can't get there in a straight line they'll usually give up and stop moving. I remember one time I had to escort a quest NPC somewhere and we got ambushed by ghouls, and the dumbass decides to run away from me and my group, towards the swarming ghouls, and sets himself up in a doorway between me and several ghouls, making it nearly impossible for me to get a clean shot at the ghouls to save his idiotic ass from getting killed. It's all just so bad, and makes having a companion sometimes more of a nuisance than a benefit.

I'll just carefully disarm these lasers. Um, Dogmeat, what're you doing? 

The bugs. So, so many bugs.

Fallout 4 might be the buggiest game I've ever played, and I've played some doozies like New VegasGothic 3Vampire the Masquerade - BloodlinesKnights of the Old Republic 2, and so on. I even played it two years after it launched, after countless patches and numerous DLC were released for it, and yet it was still incredibly buggy; I can't imagine how bad it was at launch. How Bethesda gets away with releasing games in they state they do, I have no idea. Smaller companies on much smaller budgets release games that are in better shape than Fallout 4 but get blasted by reviewers for bugs, whereas Bethesda could release a bug-infested half-broken mess and everyone would be like Philip J Fry in that one meme, and give the game high praise. Maybe I'm exaggerating a bit on people's reactions to Bethesda's games, but there's definitely an attitude of "bugs don't matter" and "modders will fix it" and, surprisingly, "bugs make the game better" (paraphrased) when it comes to Bethesda games, which I just can't support -- not when it comes to a studio as big and successful as Bethesda.

This rooftop sets you on fire.... for no reason other than a bug.

I understand that no game is ever going to be perfectly bug-free, and I can certainly put up with cosmetic bugs and other minor issues, but some of the issues in Fallout 4 go well beyond "cosmetic" to the point that they start actively affecting gameplay and in some cases, straight up breaking the game. Physics glitches and rendering errors make up the most of the issues, but you've also got random quest NPCs sometimes being dead long before you arrive, and yet you still get a quest to talk to them or help them; some quests randomly won't trigger at all, or simply don't progress when they should; companions randomly get stuck in place, unable to move, and sometimes stuck in their "downed" state; an entire town randomly spawned with all of its doors locked at a master level, despite being invited in and told to talk to a character at a specific location behind one of those locked doors; sometimes NPCs get stuck in some animation or script and you can't talk to them; quest doors will glitch out and refuse to open properly; the list goes on. The graphical glitches are bountiful, but the worst one is that, a few times, the game decided to render entire areas in some sort of vision-obscuring low detail mode so you can't tell where the edge of the cliff is, or that a door somewhere even exists.

Poor optimization

My PC roughly meets Bethesda's recommended specs -- my processor is a little worse than recommended (though it never seemed over-taxed at any time) and my GPU is a little better than recommended, which means I should get pretty stable performance out of the game. While that meant I could run it with most graphics settings at "ultra" (a few things turned down to "high") and get buttery smooth 60 frames-per-second in any interior locations (and likely could've pushed that figure even higher with a better monitor), it dropped a bit in exterior locations. Not significantly most of the time, but the urban areas of downtown Boston brought my frame-rate to near-unplayable levels, clocking in as low as 7FPS in some places, but generally averaging around 15FPS. Elsewhere, outside of the city areas, it hovered around 40FPS. This was all before installing any mods, mind you. Variable frame-rates is to be expected in different areas, of course -- there's a lot more that has to be rendered in densely-packed downtown areas, or when you're looking over a vast horizon -- but the degree of variance in this case is way more extreme than what I would consider tolerable.

Lovely pixellated godrays.

I played around with a lot of settings, both in the game's settings launcher and in my GPU controls, and couldn't find a good balance that retained decent graphics without compromising the frame-rate. In the end, the best solution was simply to lower godrays, and drop the shadow distance down to medium, since apparently the difference between medium and high is several times more than the difference between high and ultra. This got my framerate to around 25 in those hellishly performance-heavy areas, but resulted in extreme shadow pop-in everywhere I looked, which was incredibly distracting, especially in more open areas where I could see farther and thus had more opportunity to notice it, since there weren't tall buildings and street corners blocking my view. And really, that setting wasn't necessary anywhere but the urban city areas, which meant it only helped in like 10% of the game's explorable space and then actively hindered the visuals of the remaining 90%. I eventually found a decent compromise by tweaking a bunch of ini settings, but the consumer really shouldn't have to do all that trial-and-error modifying game files to give the game stable performance.

Survival mode: good in theory, bad in practice

I'll preface this by saying I could be completely wrong about this, since I only played survival mode for about an hour before changing the difficulty to hard mode, but there's a reason I decided not to continue any further in survival mode, and it's mainly the fact that you can't save the game, except by sleeping in a bed. I was fully on-board with the idea of survival mode (more "realistic" damage ratios and carry limit, with ammunition also having weight, and having to manage hunger, thirst, and exhaustion, in addition to a limited save system that would all make the act of surviving actually tense and exciting), but the game is just too buggy and poorly designed to play without a more reliable way than sleeping to save your progress.

After leaving the vault for the first time, I explored around for a while, did some quests and interactions with my old Mr Handy bot in Sanctuary, and wanted to save my progress, but there were no beds anywhere in Sanctuary, and I didn't realize at that point that you could use the settlement crafting system to make beds on the spot -- in fact, the settlement system isn't really explained to you at that point, they just unlock it and say "go." So I went back to Vault 111, which I'd cleared of all enemies and knew had plenty of beds I could sleep in. But for whatever reason, the game just won't let you sleep in Vault 111, even though it's probably the safest place in the entire game to sleep. So I wandered around some more, stumbled into some combat against a raider and her attack dog, accidentally hit the "favorites menu" and died fumbling around trying to figure out how to select a weapon or exit out of it, while a fury of molotov cocktails flew at me and killed me in seconds.

That was 30-40 minutes gone, that I had to replay, all because the game wouldn't let me save in a perfectly logical spot. So I reloaded, redid all the exploration and quests, caught myself up to where I was before and continued on, only to get stuck in the terrain, unable to move or bring up the pip-boy menu or do anything at all. And because survival mode disables the console (to prevent cheating) I had no way of using the developer console to get myself out of that situation. Another 20 minutes wasted due to no fault of my own. Upon reloading, Codsworth glitched out on me and I couldn't advance his quest, so I had to reload my old save, yet again.

Then you've got the lack of fast-travel, which no way in hell I'd want to live without in a world this big and spread out, especially since quests have a tendency to send you running way the hell across the map for no good reason. When settlements get attacked, they're put on a timer for you to help defend, and so getting back to them without fast-travel on a moment's notice would seem like a major headache to me. Finally, your meters for thirst, hunger, and exhaustion seem to run out insanely fast; while exploring Vault 111 for the first time I guzzled a bunch of water at a drinking fountain, and then like 15 minutes later had the "thirst" icon popping on screen to tell me to drink again. I couldn't tell if that was because I was slightly thirsty or full-on dehydrated -- the icon doesn't indicate any form of severity -- but I didn't really like the idea of having to stop every 15 minutes to eat and drink, if the meters were going to deplete that rapidly for the whole game.

So to be frank, I didn't feel like survival was worth the hassle of not being able to save or fast-travel, and to put it bluntly, Fallout 4 is simply too buggy and imperfect of a technical design to be bereft of the ability to save manually or to use the developer console to fix problems.

The conundrum: if Fallout 4 is so bad, why did I play it for 235 hours?

A legitimately perplexing question. After all, the preceding text seems to paint a pretty bad picture about Fallout 4's quality, and yet I generally liked it and spent a ridiculous amount of time playing it. The reasons for that are, I think, as follow:

It tricks you into wasting your time

I'm talking mostly about the radiant quests, here. When you pick up a quest, you don't immediately know that it's going to be a radiant quest; it's usually not until you finish it and turn it in, only to be handed another one just like it in some other location, that you start to realize "hey, these quests are just tedious busy work." There's just no way of knowing that until you do them at least twice. Worse yet, some of them give the impression that they could actually be leading somewhere. When the Railroad wants to set up a network of scanners to monitor the Commonwealth for Institute activity, they send you on endless missions to set up the scanners, and you go along with it for several iterations wondering if there will ever come a time when you've installed all the scanners, or when they pick up any kind of interesting activity that will actually lead to another, more meaningful quest. Other quests seem like they might be helping you to boost your ranking or reputation with a faction, and that by doing their radiant quests you'll unlock some kind of bonus. In these cases, they ultimately lead nowhere, and you've essentially been tricked into wasting your time with pointless busy work.

It basically forces you to play for a long time

With a world this big, spread out as much as it is, and filled with so much filler content, if you want to complete the game, even just doing the main quest and other major side quests -- not necessarily doing everything the game has to offer -- you're going to have to wade through a lot of stuff you don't necessarily need or want to do. When doing a simple quest for a faction, they might tell you to go get an item from a location, but then you gotta walk a quarter of the way across the map from the nearest unlocked fast travel point, and take long circuitous routes around wrecked buildings and fight hordes of enemies just to get where you need to go. There's a lot of busy work and a lot of wading through pointless filler, and you can't really ignore it because it's so ingrained in the world. People spend an average of 78 hours doing the main story plus extra content, and I would guess at least 20 of those hours (over a quarter of the total play time) is spent wading through all the extraneous crap. While you might consider deliberately skipping areas of exploration, you kind of have to explore everywhere, because you never know where you'll stumble into an interesting quest, or find some kind of valuable loot.

The good parts are genuinely fun

Some of the environments are genuinely fun and exciting to explore -- I actually really liked going into the Glowing Sea for the first time, following the Freedom Trail to discover the Railroad, stumbling into Swan's Lake and getting attacked by a giant mutant, finally discovering the Institute, the previously-mentioned Dunwich Borers and Fens Sewers, and so on. Some of the side stories and quests are also really fun and interesting -- like the strange goings on at Covenant, restoring the USS Constitution, solving the mysteries of Cabot House, going into Kellog's memories, and so on. The combat, despite its relative simplicity, can be tense and exciting in the right circumstances. I was also intrigued by the central conflict of the main story, and how all of the major factions were involved in it with actual branching paths towards in the end in terms of which faction you support. There's enough good, quality content in Fallout 4 to justify a playthrough -- it's just buried under mountains of garbage and other inferior content.

It's actually not that bad as a "shoot-n-loot"

There are problems with Fallout 4's execution as a "shoot-n-loot" game, to be sure; the FPS combat isn't exactly top notch, and the equipment progression isn't gradual or robust enough to have you looting enough meaningful loot on a regular basis. But as a game about just wandering around shooting things and picking up loot, it actually proves decently engaging. Combat is decently enjoyable most of the time, and it's exciting to find legendary items, bobbleheads, skill magazines, or to stumble into cool areas with interesting stories or fun quests. It may not be much of a real RPG, but for what it is, it's not bad. If I could've felt more faith and confidence in the game's Survival mode to not screw me over with unnecessary save reloading wasting even more of my time, then I imagine the experience could've been even more exciting and engaging.

The world can be pretty fun to explore

There are major problems with the quality and distribution of content within Fallout 4's world, and it still suffers big time from Bethesda's quintessential "quantity over quality" philosophy, but the world design in Fallout 4 is possibly the best that Bethesda have ever come up with. There's a lot of variety in the landscapes, from the densely-packed urban city areas to the sprawling farmlands outside the city, to the Glowing Sea and swamp lands in the south, to the light forestry up north, to the shorelines on the east coast, plus Fallout's typical retro-futuristic 1950s aesthetic mixed with historic landmarks. Best of all, it feels like a real world -- no more of this compartmentalized, separate loading zone nonsense from Fallout 3 (and New Vegas, to a lesser extent). Interior locations still require a separate loading screen, but you can walk from one corner of the map in Fallout 4, starting with you exiting Vault 111, all the way to the opposite corner of the world, feeling the landscape steadily change from naturalistic woodlands to farmlands to suburban neighborhoods to urban city streets to harbors to swamps. It's quite immersive, and though you're likely to be disappointed by the quality or general lack of content as you explore, it's still pretty fun just to see what's out there.

Why, thanks! No one ever compliments me these days.

Mods make the game more bearable/enjoyable

As you know from my mod guide, I eventually had over 150 total mods installed in my playthrough. Most of those were graphics improvements, quality of life enhancements, and extra content like new weapons and armor. Installing, configuring, and testing all of these mods took a great deal of time -- I probably spent 30 minutes testing out all the different variations of the Strigidae armor set, for example, and close to 40 hours of my total playtime was spent with quest mods. It's probably safe to say that 100-120 hours of my playtime was the direct result of the mods, either from the simple process of installing them (testing and configuring them), or from them simply making the game a little more pleasant to play.

Mods help, but they can't fix the core design

I need to make this clarification, because it's a common argument when it comes to Bethesda's games that "they're better with mods" and that "mods can fix any major complaint you have with the game." While that first part is true, the second one is certainly not. For as much good as mods can do to help the game, they can't change the core game design, which includes the way the world is designed, the way quests are designed, how you interact with the world, the almost complete lack of stats-based role-playing, etc -- to fix those kinds of issues, you'd basically have to scrap everything and start over, from scratch. Using mods to fix Fallout 4 is a bit like putting a bandage over a bullet wound; it stops the bleeding, but doesn't extract the bullet or suture the wound. The problems, in other words, are far deeper than mods can even hope to touch.

Amazing Follower Tweaks gives you a lot more control over followers. 

And while Bethesda deserves credit for making such an extensive toolkit available to players to create their own mods and to heavily modify their precious game in such extreme ways, they shouldn't be financially rewarded (with people buying their game) for the lazy, ill-conceived effort they put into the base game. There's just so much stuff in this game that feels poorly-conceived and half-baked, as if they just said "eh, that's good enough, modders will fix it later," knowing that the game would be popular enough based on their reputation and the legacy of previous games for people to buy in and get to work fixing everything (or as much as they can) for free. There are still tons of bugs and technical issues in the game over two years after its release, for instance, that Bethesda never bothered to address despite continuing to support the game with new content, that modders have had to fix themselves with the unofficial patch. This is all purely speculation on my part, and maybe I'm just being too cynical, but I can't recommend buying Fallout 4, even if it's just to install mods, because that still rewards Bethesda and sends a message that it's alright for them to release buggy, unpolished, poorly-designed games.

In Conclusion

While there's plenty to like about Fallout 4, I think there's probably a lot more to dislike about it. I obviously liked it enough to sink 235 hours into a single (heavily-modded) playthrough, but in spite of all that playtime (or perhaps because of it) I can't honestly say that Fallout 4 is a good game. Sure, it's fine for what it is, if you decide to lower your expectations and treat it like a different type of game than an RPG or a Fallout game, but the title clearly says "Fallout 4," meaning it's supposed to be a Fallout game, and a main entry in the series, no less. Most of what Fallout 4 improves over previous Fallout games is stuff that was either secondary or non-existent to the general gameplay formula, like combat and settlement building, whereas the stuff they removed (choices, skills, role-playing elements, etc) were all primary elements of what made those games so special.

I won't begrudge anyone who enjoys Fallout 4 for what it is (I'd be a hypocrite if I did), but I can't help looking at Fallout 4 and feeling sad for how the series has turned out. The original Fallout games are some of my favorite RPGs of all time; Fallout 3 was already a disappointment, and now Fallout 4 is a straight up disgrace. And it's not like it has to be that way; New Vegas (which was made by Obsidian, not Bethesda) was designed very much in the style of Fallout 3 but felt more like a true Fallout game, and puts both Fallout 3 and Fallout 4 to shame. And yet, even though there's clearly potential for modern FPS-style Fallout games to exist and work well, I'm almost certain Fallout 5 will continue the trend of further stripping out RPG systems in favor of turning the gameplay into more mindless shooting.


  1. (Pardon my english)

    I really liked Fallout 4. Though I am really forgiving in terms of games. Having played other pseudo-open world games like Far Cry and Shadow of Mordor (and loving them), Fallout 4 came as a pleasant surprise. Even though, the quest themselves were pretty disappointing and Bethesda once gain dumbed down their game (why tho, casual gamers do like complexity, look at Pubg and League), the sheer density of the world and generally fun 'gameplay loop' kept me going for far longer. Compared to the lots of other trash open world games release lately (not trash games but their trash open worlds) Fallout 4 is not just average, it is phenomenal.

    If you look at Fallout 4 in the context of other open world games then it comes out at the top.

    Just look at this list of best open world games released this gen -

    Assassin's Creed Origins...
    Dragon Age: Inquisition. ...
    Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain. ...
    Horizon Zero Dawn. ...
    Shadow of War...
    Mass Effect Andromeda..
    Far Cry 5...
    Witcher 3...

    All these have copy pasted world that have nothing worth exploring. They are large, static and boring world with the same environment repeating over and over again. Even Witcher 3 with its cinematic triumph doesn't hold a candle to the sheer density and design of Fallout 4's world. Says more about the state of open world games though.

    I was in the same boat as you with Skyrim. I went to that expecting a choice driver rpg but found it to be a shallow combat driven game. However, when I went into it as a simple checklist driven game I really enjoyed it.

    1. We're in agreement that Fallout 4's world design is really good, especially compared to their previous efforts and other similar types of games, but let's not forget that it, too, is a major sufferer of copy-pasted environments.

      One of Bethesda's key design principles is efficiency -- they try to make everything as quickly and easily as they can so that they can progress through the stages of development faster, to get the games into a playable state as soon as possible. How they achieve this is by pre-making a lot of level design assets in advance and then literally copy-pasting those assets into different configurations across the world. It's not as bad in the exterior environments, but is a large part of why so many of the interior areas (or "dungeons," if you will) feel so bland and same-y.

      And there are, of course, major issues with the quality and distribution of quality content in Fallout 4, where so much of it feels like pointless filler. The Witcher 3 may have a lot of wasted space and tons of pointless "points of interest" scattered all over the map, but I think you're more likely to stumble into interesting content in that game, and the types of things you experience, while being more plentiful, are also generally better and more memorable than most of what you do in FO4.

      Something I neglected to mention in the main review (that I may edit in) is FO4's heavy reliance on the compass to explore. The world is both so dense and also so spread out, with so much clutter and filler, that you'd be helpless to explore it without the compass guiding you to its significant locations. It's a crutch that takes you out of the experience a little. Even after spending 235 hours in the Commonwealth, I'm not sure I can remember how to get to most of its locations, or where they are on the map, because I was just blindly following the compass much of the time.

    2. The sole reason I adore Fallout 4 is because it mixes fun combat and decent progression with a well designed open world worth exploring. I am generally less critical about the dumbed down RPG mechanics and dialogue system. We both looks for different things in games, probably the reason why you can't enjoy Shadow of Mordor or Far Cry as mach I could. Far Cry 3 will probably bore you to death lol.

      "One of Bethesda's key design principles is efficiency -- they try to make everything as quickly and easily as they can so that they can progress through the stages of development faster, to get the games into a playable state as soon as possible. How they achieve this is by pre-making a lot of level design assets in advance and then literally copy-pasting those assets into different configurations across the world. It's not as bad in the exterior environments, but is a large part of why so many of the interior areas (or "dungeons," if you will) feel so bland and same-y." - I feel like in all other games the open world feels more like a window dressing for content than an actual lived in world. Witcher 3 (and every other game) uses procedural generation to create a large chunk of its world. This pretty much makes the world Oblivion-esque where it feels like you are flying in space (instead of exploring a world) with content floating around like asteroids. Fallout 4 doesn't feel like that to me.

  2. Elex's world might actually be good from what I have heard. Haven't played it yet though (runs pretty bad on the ps4).

    1. But to be honest, I find Elex's combat pretty lackluster. It is complex, but is is not fun (from what i have seen of it) to me atleast. This creates another New Vegas like situation where even when I know the the game is pretty good, I just cant enjoy them because the moment to momenet to gameplay is not fun enough and rewarding. Why can't they just mix a game with a good 'gameplay loop' (lol) with the quest and word design of an actual rpg!!!????

    2. I, of course, will always strongly advocate Elex. It's got a big open world with a lot of interesting terrain and a variety of environments, and it all feels generally pretty memorable and distinct. As I mentioned in the FO4 review, I also found its world-building, in terms of lore and backstory, much more interesting, which made exploring it and learning more about how the world works, what happened after the comet hit, and so on, much more engaging than other open-world games.

      The melee combat is a little clunky and imprecise, but I like it more than a lot of other melee systems because its mechanisms value your individual input -- it matters how you approach and attack enemies, how you position yourself, how you manage stamina and timing, how you balance offense and defense, how you build and execute combos, etc. It's actually pretty close to the Dark Souls combat system, except not nearly as refined or robust. Other games (Skyrim, Shadow of Mordor, even The Witcher 3) basically amount to mindless button-mashing without any real challenge or meaningful input on your end, where anything elaborate or interesting is mostly for show, not for mechanical depth.

      I can understand why people wouldn't enjoy Elex's melee combat -- it's not perfect -- but a lot of complaints you'll hear are from people who never bothered to learn the system and/or were just looking for excuses to complain. The infamous IGN review, for instance, showed gameplay of the reviewer obviously button mashing and not using the combo system to his advantage (and not minding his stamina), which he then used as proof to claim that the combat was broken, because he kept dying.

      Still, if the melee combat turns you off, you don't have to use it -- you can also use ranged guns (of different types) and magic spells. The third-person shooting isn't spectacular, but it gets the job done and can be less irritating than dealing with the hiccups of the melee system.

    3. "...Other games (Skyrim, Shadow of Mordor, even The Witcher 3) basically amount to mindless button-mashing without any real challenge or meaningful input on your end, where anything elaborate or interesting is mostly for show, not for mechanical depth..." Even though the combat in Shadow of Mordor might simply amount to button mashing, I find the animation variety and visual spectacle of it satisfying enough to hold my attention for over a 100 hours. Elex might have more mechanical depth but in terms of sheer fun, I have to put it pretty down on my list. We can agree to disagree on that :)!

      "Still, if the melee combat turns you off, you don't have to use it -- you can also use ranged guns (of different types) and magic spells. The third-person shooting isn't spectacular, but it gets the job done and can be less irritating than dealing with the hiccups of the melee system." - I actually forgot about this lol. Time to get Elex this weekend. Thanks!

  3. "it's easily one of the best improvements Bethesda have made to the game since Fallout 3"

    Correction, that 'id' made, since they helped get the FPS shooting mechanics into shape :)

    "New Vegas used hard requirements where, if you didn't have a high enough speech skill then you had zero chance to succeed"

    And even then, you'd have the amusing joke option if you didn't hit the correct speech (or other skill) level for it to succeed, making even failure an attractive option.

    "so why blow it all up"

    Easy: so they have a pretty nuke explosion for the promo materials. It's no more complicated than that.

    "Why is there practically no civilization or societal structure 210 years after the bombs?"

    The really ironic part of this is that if you talk to certain people in the Institute and Minutemen (and terminal entries etc) you discover that people tried to make a Wasteland government. The Institute destroyed it for no good reason, making them even MORE moronic than they're already portrayed in the game.

    And on the Survival Mode thing... yeah, going for potentially several hours without saving in a game that has a catastrophic VATS bug that locks the whole game up, among all the other glitches and bugs. Yep, that's Bethesda, all right.

    1. I somehow never knew that id consulted/helped with the combat in FO4. That certainly makes sense for why it feels so much more improved, from an FPS standpoint.

      The good news is this shows that Bethesda is willing to seek outside help to improve their games. Now if only they would do the same when it comes to story, quests, dialogue, role-playing, etc. Or in other words, if they would contract Obsidian again, to either make a full stand-alone game or just to help out. Sadly, that's probably not gonna happen.

    2. Not only id but Bungie also helped with the combat. They should just licence obsidian to create Fallout: New Orleans. Speaking of Obsidian, Pillars 2 is hitting this April! Can't wait!

  4. I think you'll have a lot of fun reviewing Final Fantasy XIII :) (assuming you liked FF6 and FF7), one of the more polarizing "RPGs" in recent memory.

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  6. Bethesda is one of the most overrated developers in the industry. Don't get me wrong, i have played ALL of their games since the 90s (even Battlespire), but i fail to see why they get so much admiration in the industry. They mostly produce flawed gems, meaning games that have some exceptional features and some serious flaws at the same time. Daggerfall was good for its time but have bland content and a crapton of bugs. Morrowind had trashy combat, an abomination of a dialogue system, was unoptimized, bugs galore, but still had one of the best RPG settings, was incredibly immersive and gave you much freedom.

    Oblivion was the most trash game ever to break 90 metascore. I sincerely believe Bethesda bribed a lot of critics for good reviews. Obvlivion fails as a game at all angles. It is a bad RPG (that level scaling MY GOD), a bad action game (are those seriously professional animations?), had like 5 voice actors total, bland textures, bland world, bland story, bland everything. They even TRASHED Elder scrolls lore by cashing in on Lord of the rings (which was big at the time) and replacing Imperial Roman Style for Gondor wannabees... An absolute trash without heavy modding... The only good thing was the music.

    Fallout 3 and New Vegas were vast improvements over Oblivion, not great RPGs but still good enough for what they were, and deserved their accolades. In the land of the blind the one eyed man is king and such.

    Skyrim was Bethesda catching lightning in a bottle. It seems hillarious to me, but the fact is that it is simultaneously the most hated Bethesda game (apparently everyone and their dog online hates it) AND in reality the only masterpiece Bethesda ever produced. It fixed many things Oblivion got wrong, and it was one of the best Sandbox Action-RPGs ever made. It still is. I believe most people criticizing Skyrim are playing it wrong and they don't understand what it is about... Seriously most of the criticism it gets online is IRRELEVANT and is mostly made by people that don't really like its genre at all... I don't like racing games but i don't go on trashing good racing games because i hate the genre...

    Fallout 4 was Bethesda doubling down on what made Skyrim a success but backtracking in some areas. The perk system is good in terms of concept, but needed better planning and more creativity. I like the perk system in general, since Bethesda games are not Tabletop RPGs, they don't need dices and stuff. They don't really need classes at all, classses are an obsolete concept. You just level up and decide what you want to be better on. Easy, elegant, clearly defined. I like it. It is not DnD and i don't want it to be. I can play Baldur's gate again for the 10th time if i want that.

    Other than that, they fixed the action, created a great world, but unlike Skyrim with its unique cities/holds, factions, and lore, Boston is mostly empty, null. No characters worth mentioning, no factions worth mentioning, the world is an empty place you get to build up one empty nuka cola bottle at a time...

    It is the only Bethesda game i don't plan playing again after i completed it. If they continue making games like this, i might as well stop playing them altogether.

  7. Great article and I share your feelings on Bethesda as a studio overall even more so nowadays than I did in the past, I absolutely loved Morrowind, to me that was the last time they made an an actual full on RPG, ever since the Oblivion days they've regressed in that regard in both the RPG elements and overall design and writing to name but two things.

    Now with Morrowind and through Oblivion, Skyrim and the Fallout series I've modded the games, to the point I don't even play any of them vanilla anymore, however the telling thing for me about how bad Fallout 4 is is this:

    With the other games especially Morrowind and even Oblivion Mods were what you could add to an already good ( Great in Morrowind's case) game to make it even better than it already was. Less so in Skyrim's case which in my opinion was average as vanilla Skyrim and made better with mods.

    Fallout 4 however is the first game where to me mods are a requirement for the game because what Bethesda provided was no where near good enough, which should never be the case for a full price game, even more so that markets itself as an RPG

  8. Funny, a few days back before I discovered the article I wrote very similar things about Fallout 4 in Steam reviews. I Compared it to Borderlands and Farcry.

    I don't mind the areas looking relatively the same, but I do mind the uninteresting gameplay and lack of choices, you're repeatedly funneled into shooting and shooting and shooting.