Is there a more highly anticipated game this year than Fallout 4? I’m having trouble thinking of one other than perhaps Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain for longtime fans of Japanese games like myself. But that has already come and gone.
Generally, I judge a game not so much by how I feel when I’m actually playing it but by its longevity merits. Some call this “replay value,” and that brings to mind challenge modes, alternative characters, branching paths, DLC, and multiplayer, all of the ways game developers have come up with to help keep that game running on your machine.
However, to me, “replay value” isn’t something you can calculate. It just is. It’s no secret I love all of my old PlayStation JRPGs, and I play through them all the time now that I have most of them easily accessible on my Vita. These aren’t privy to the modern day extensions that games have, they just reached an emotional level that games like The Last of Us didn’t. That was a blast, but I’ll never play it again. Suikoden II is a blast, and I’ll play it until the day I shuffle off this mortal coil.
Others feel the opposite, and that’s okay. It’s not science. It’s different from person to person. It’s almost like… love.
Why am I talking about this? Well, as time goes by, I’m getting older and these kinds of games are becoming less frequent. The age I played these PlayStation games at were during the peak of my formative years, and they just stuck with me because they came at the right time in my life. This generation has yet to produce one of these sentimental favorites, and those starry eyed years of my life came to a close during the previous generation. Only a few of these games I “love” came from our last generation, one of which was Fallout 3.
Fallout 3 is pure genius when it comes to understanding its position in the world and thinking forward. You have to remember that this was before every franchise on Earth was trying to make the change to open-world, and “waypoint hopping” wasn’t the standard means of progression through an RPG. Oblivion, Baldur’s Gate, and Mass Effect had laid the groundwork, but I’ll always be of the mind that Fallout 3 was the first, and maybe the only game ever to get such a massive world so perfect.
The key here, like in many other games, is balance. Fallout 3 provided a huge world to explore at your own leisure and yet it also provided the obtuse end goal of “finding your father” to act as an emotional anchor to your journey. You could go about your own pace, experiment with NPCs, turn over every rock, find storyline paths, and do whatever you like in this world, but there was always just enough to keep you motivated to get back to business. Whether it was Three Dog reminding you of your task at hand or the alluring promise of better equipment through the main storyline, Fallout 3’s main path teased just enough to not get emotionally disconnected while exploring and, at the same time, not feel burdened to follow it like a well trained Dogmeat.
Open-world RPGs are different nowadays. They brag about their size, their story, the absurd amount of quests available to you. The reality is, most of them either provide too much or too little. Over-written stories feel like a rope wrapped around the hero’s ankle, reeling him in from really getting out there and exploring, and extremely distant waypoints sometimes are too alluring, making that same over-written drama seem so much less important when your character is five horizons away.
“We’re three time the size of Skyrim!” and yet, why don’t I care? Because there is such a thing as being too big, having too many selling points, having too much to do. Your $60 demands a lot, and developers are compensating nowadays with size and content rather than making a box and really nailing that sweet spot of what makes a game work, exceeding that box in a more natural manner. That’s what makes a classic.
Fallout 3 was made on relatively limited technology, and it still holds up because it surpassed its limitations. It’s world is not too big, and it’s story is not too long mostly because the consoles at the time held those pieces back. And it still worked, winding up the perfect size for a game of its type.
Now, with the seemingly endless powers of these consoles and PCs, there are no limits, which I believe holds back creativity. This is where I worry about Fallout 4. Not because of the combat, which looks great, or the graphics, which I have swapped my opinion on. It’s because Fallout 4 is going to try and be “everything.” Bethesda is talking up the hours and hours of recorded voice dialogue it has prepared for a deep post-apocalyptic drama. It talks about this massive world full of quests and interesting NPCs. It’s proudly showing off weapon enhancements, house construction, character creation. It’s trying to be everything!
A Bethesda game with BioWare drama in a world with CD Projeckt RED’s scope. Why can’t I just have that nice balance that Bethesda always gets right? Skyrim evolved the premise so perfectly, but this seems forced and unnatural.
Maybe it’s because I played Fallout 3 so many times during those final few years of my adolescence that I can’t embrace such a huge leap, but I have yet to see if Fallout 4 will follow in the footsteps of its predecessor and become a game I’ll play forever or if it will fade away like all the rest in recent memory.
We’ll see soon enough. Fallout 4 will release for the Xbox One, PlayStation4 and PC platforms on November 10.