All right, we’ve all had time to bask in the glory of Bethesda’s latest digital life-consuming menace and weigh the insane hype and expectations against the finished product. The verdict is positive all around (barring the expected internet trolls) and while it’s not the surefire runaway winner for Game of the Year we were expecting after E3 thanks to an extremely great lineup of games in 2015, it is still arguably the single most addictive gaming experience there is.
That said, Fallout 4 could have been better. Even barring the occasionally last gen visuals, typical bugs and glitches, and dodgy controls there is room for improvement. Normally, that’s a pretty impotent criticism, but in this case the issue is that recent Fallout titles have had some rock solid features that have been stripped from the latest installment. Some of are assuredly decisions made in an attempt to mainstream their next big thing to make it more accessible to non-RPGers, some are possibly oversights, and others are just baffling. Here are five that I miss.
This is one feature that isn’t going to be missed by everyone, but for those of us who treat our open world RPG’s like second lives where we enjoy the challenges of struggling for survival, it’s an immediately noticeable annoyance. In previous games gear would degenerate with use and by taking damage, making it vital for players to pay attention and keep their stuff in working order.
Needing to repair and maintain your gear weighed heavily on the economics of previous games and made it profitable and worthwhile to invest points in perks that allowed you to use parts from similar gear to repair your favorite weapons and armour in Fallout 3 and New Vegas rather than burn money. You could also repair looted gear to sell at a premium price, increasing profits and lightening your load at the same time.
But I think what I miss the most is not being able to target enemies’ weaponry in VATS so you could shoot the gun out of their hand Wild West style. If you saw a particularly tough super mutant with a rocket launcher in play, you could snipe it and make it unusable to level the playing field a bit, but doing so would render it almost useless to sell so you had to weigh options. Weapon and armour degradation added an extra layer of strategy to the game in several areas and often forced players to improvise when their preferred gear got damaged, which makes for some harrowing but satisfying Wasteland survival experiences.
Rest assured that this feature was eliminated to make Fallout 4 more palatable to inexperienced gamers. After Witcher 3, this is the first massive RPG made specifically for next-gen hardware and it’s been rightfully hyped to the gills. There’s already an overwhelming crafting and modding system in place that we’re still wrapping our heads around and I figure Bethesda decided that gear maintenance would be one step further than a lot of gamers would want to go. Crafting and settlement building were somewhat optional, after all, whereas gear is an absolute necessity. But personally, I miss the immersive effect of having to care for my weapons and armour. And speaking of optional features and immersion…
Fallout: New Vegas was heralded by some naysayers as a glorified expansion of Fallout 3, which was itself seen as a betrayal of the earlier games due to Bethesda taking over the franchise and using the same engine as their Elder Scrolls games to make it feel more like “Oblivion with guns” than a proper Fallout title. Well, Obsidian Entertainment took the reins for New Vegas, and they were formed from the series’ original developers from Interplay Entertainment. Although it still used the same engine, a lot of gamers preferred the personality of New Vegas and its new addition, hardcore mode.
Hardcore mode ratcheted up the immersion of the Wasteland survival experience by forcing players to eat, drink, and sleep. it also added weight to previously endlessly stockpileable ammunition, making you really think about what to bring and how much before you set out. In addition, stimpacks and sleep didn’t magically heal crippled limbs; you had to see a doctor or have very specific items.
Again, a lot of gamers might be thinking “who the hell would want THAT?” but it’s called “hardcore mode” for a reason. Fallout is often at its best when you’re struggling for survival in a desolate nuclear desert making due with whatever you can scavenge or steal. Most of the numerous culinary items just clog up your inventory in the regular games, and guzzling water, injecting stimpacks, and eating iguanas on sticks to heal your wounds meant you didn’t need to bother resting at all.
Experiencing human weaknesses in a video game isn’t something we deal with often, but in games like this I feel like more realism is better, even when fighting giant fire-breathing ants and terrifying mutated chameleon monsters with a portable nuclear missile launcher. Maybe Bethesda figured the audience for this was too small or they were salty because a lot of gamers liked New Vegas more than theirs, but this option isn’t in the new game. They could have thrown gear maintenance into it as well for the sake of the dedicated survivalists out there, but instead we got nothing. Except for the awesome core game, that is. #firstworldgamerproblems
Enemy/NPC Indicators on HUD
I guess I can understand why the above features were cut, but if you’re going to make things easier for new gamers, why make it so much harder to find NPC’s? In previous games, you could detect enemies as red ticks on your Heads Up Display’s compass, helping orient yourself to potential threats. This was particularly helpful because enemies can be hard to spot amongst the endless landscapes and limited colour palette presented by modern Fallout games, but they will certainly see you and be on you in instant if you aren’t careful.
Raising your perception stat was a great help in the previous games because it improved your automatic enemy detection capabilities, but now that’s gone. Enemies still show up at times in Fallout 4, but I have yet to determine how or why. It seems like they only show up on your HUD after they’ve detected you, but sometimes they don’t show up then either. It seems annoyingly random and unhelpful and now I have to constantly tap the VATS button to detect enemies in time to take action before they attack.
Previously, allies would show up as green ticks on your compass, making it easy to see who was friend and foe. Now you have to go into VATS to see if they will attack or not (green health bar means friend, and red means foe). Not only that, but it can often be a pain to locate your partner or other NPC’s in your settlements, who are prone to wandering and shacking up in random structures out of sight. In the old games, you’d see a green tick on your HUD and would know where to look, but now you have to either check every nook and cranny and hope you get lucky or ring a bell to bring the entire town slowly ambling your way. Annoying.
In addition to making it harder to locate your companions, Fallout 4 unnecessarily makes it more of a challenge to control them as well. New Vegas had a simple and elegant companion wheel which allowed you to easily issue commands on the fly whether it was to trade items, give you some space, kill all opposition on sight or follow your lead, use ranged or melee attacks, stimpack, etc. It was a fast and intuitive way to get your companion to behave however you wanted them to behave.
Bethesda took a big step back in forcing you to engage your partner in conversation trees for every little thing. Good luck issuing commands mid-battle ever. You have to walk up to them, activate them, wait for their response, aim right at them, and then attempt to point them at the thing you want and hope nothing is in the way. And if you want them to switch to melee or ranged attacks, you need to go into their inventory and personally equip them with the weapon you want them to use.
But the worst part by far is the fact that they’re clingy as HELL. They want to be right up in your personal space whenever you’re out in the field. Want to snipe an enemy? They want to be in front of your scope. Looting bodies? They want to stand on those bodies so your cursor picks them up instead. Walking down a tight hallway? Sorry, they’re standing there. Try jumping over them over something. It’s like owning a cat without the cuteness (okay, Curie is pretty cute). The whole interface is a huge step back for the series. I can see leaving out something like hardcore mode as a niche addition by another dev, but bringing something as important as companion interaction back to what seems like the stone age makes no sense.
Grenades in VATS
I love Bethesda and all of their works, but any way you look at it the physics are notoriously janky in their games. That means that throwing explosives can be a bit…clumsy. Clumsy like “you’ll probably die if it’s not a wide open area” clumsy. Something as simple as tossing a grenade to clear a room becomes a gamble. For every time you pull it off, there’s three times you’re either gunned or rushed down trying to line up a proper throw standing in the middle of the doorway or dying stupidly because the grenade bounced off of the door frame or hit the ceiling, your idiot companion, or something else and blew you up instead.
In previous games, your good friend VATS had your back and you could place your explosive device right where you wanted it to be: at your foes’ feet. I don’t know why this is no longer possible, but it’s a horrible oversight. The grenades could at least go where you’re aiming in real time, but no. You just have to huck it in their general direction and hope it lands somewhere near them and doesn’t somehow end up killing you. I spent an embarrassing amount of time trying everything I could think of to throw a grenade in VATS, thinking I was just too dumb to figure it out because no way would they take such an essential ability out for no reason. But nope. Well I am dumb, but they did take it out.
Not that the grenades never work right and you can’t learn to compensate and use them effectively in most situations. There is a perk that will allow you to see the arc of your throw, but it’s still a remarkably clumsy endeavor. The fact that the throwing mechanic is so unwieldy to begin with probably makes Fallout 4 seem more outdated than any single other aspect and thinking about why Bethesda took out the ability to use VATS to circumvent this issue hurts my brain.
It’s an amazing game – probably the best RPG we’ve seen in ages- and we will be playing this and loving it for a long time, but it’s still frustrating that so many cool and helpful features were removed that could have made Fallout 4 the unquestioned pinnable of the genre instead of a brilliant game with some significant and unnecessary frustrations tacked on.