What we want from Fallout 4
There’s some scuttlebutt regarding a new Fallout floating around the internet: the radioactive smoke is curling up from the burning, irradiated embers. Bethesda have been registering names, and the in-game DJ’s voice actor has promised more from him. Could it be? Is it possible?
With Skyrim out of the stable, there’s definitely room for Bethesda to get irradiating the world again. There’s a really good base, but there’s always room for improvement. And, what do you know, I’ve written down some thoughts on what they could work on.
Livelier roads, cities, and towns. There's a reason these things pop up time and time again on the Fallout mod sites. It’s a basic incompatibility at the heart of Bethesda’s game: most games are a bit more fun with a livelier world, but the world of Fallout follows on from the razing of the human race. Bethesda tend to err on the side of caution with this, though tech issues are probably to blame for the rather empty casinos of New Vegas, but creating a world means populating it, and the mods that add new travelers and people still do that without impacting the overall feeling of loneliness. As it is,the roads of the Wasteland are a bit too quiet for the game they’re part of.
Make it about survival. In Bethesda’s hands, the Wasteland is fun. By the middle of a run through you’re clobbering Deathclaws with concrete capped rebars and sipping irradiated water without a care in the world. Possibly with a pinkie out. The point being is that the notion of survival becomes obsolete in a world dripped in caps to find, traders to sell to, and junk to collect. New Vegas has hardcore mode, forcing you to think about food, water, and rest, as well as altering the way meds and stimpaks work, but it’s still a world that can easily and comfortably be lived in. It needn’t be the main difficulty level, but the option to make the world a harsh place to live, to make the players think about every move, not just their weapon and perk choices, would give the ashy flavour of survival.
Bethesda's Design, Obsidian's Characters. There I was, wandering beneath a line-up of broken satellite dishes, looking for things to do when I spied a door. What could be behind it? A gang of gangers? A terrified NPC? A few steps towards it, a glance around to make sure there was nothing sneaking up. I popped the door. Behind it was a wall with “Fuck You” written on it. Bethesda’s worlds tend to be packed with detail, big and small. They’re places to live in and enjoy, and just brilliant places to explore. Their characters, however, are a lot less engaging. Obsidian’s take on New Vegas was packed with morally dubious Wastelanders with dark stories. Acquiring Boone as a follower, for example, meant leading a person out into a field for the deranged sniper to shoot. That’s dark enough, but as a player you could happily lead an innocent into Boone’s sights. Somewhere in the middle of Fallout 3 and New Vegas is the sweet spot they should be aiming for: dark, compelling characters in a curated world.
Treat us like PC gamers. I've never loaded up a Bethesda game and felt the studio really understood what PC gamers want from them. We have screen space and we have a pointing device that just seems to baffle them. I understand there’s a fictional reason for the Pipboy’s clunkiness, but all too often Bethesda will choose that over usability. Fallout 3 and New Vegas are remarkable examples of how to not lead a player through a game’s menus. I *have* to install a UI mod to deal with the endless scrolling of the inventories. When it comes to pure usability, divorce the theme from the menus
The same is true for FOV: the first thing I have to do in any Bethesda game is to hunt for an FOV hack. That I can do it is evidence that the engine is capable, and I’m still baffled that it’s not a native selection. Give me a damn slider.
Meaningful Character Creation. There are a fair number of perks, abilities and skills to begin with in Fallout. But there’s nothing to set allegiances or race. Bethesda’s Fallouts give you plenty of opportunity to interact with factions, and alliances will be built from your actions, but what if you don’t want to put the work in, or want to roleplay from the opening bell? It needn't allow you to select playing as a Ghoul, but predisposing you towards the NPR would make an interesting challenge to overcome.
Think about the Karma system. I nuked Megaton. I actually destroyed a town full of people. I can’t imagine any game allowing me to claw my way back from that, but Fallout 3 let me. Through good deeds I managed to reclaim my karma and end-up with a reasonably decent character sheet. I wouldn't mind my deeds being somewhat recognised, but I blew up a town. There are no meaningful consequences that you can’t undo. Make it harder to turn myself around, and make some choices indelible. By the same token, if I’m stealing things from bad people, don’t make that a hit on my karma. By all means make the faction hate me, but the world should recognise the good I just did.
More than one city. Bethesda’s games just don’t have the scope of the original series, because building all that content and the space in between in the sort of game that they make would take a decade. But the DLC that they've added to the game has shown a willingness to allow the player to simply hop to another area without worrying about the space in between. Or just choose a reasonably close cluster of cities that the fiction hasn't totaled.
Make it it hurt. My violent streak has never been well-served by Fallout 3 or NV (I like Skyrim’s bows, though). VATs is nice touch, and certainly enhances the basic combat, but whether it’s swinging a concrete caked rebar, or zapping with the Wasteland’s most advanced lasergundeath tech, there’s weediness to it. There’s little heft to the melee weapons, and the report of the guns doesn't match what they do to enemies. Please, Bethesda, play Dark Messiah and Red Orchestra, two games where the combat feels utterly perfect. That’s the level of combat excellence that an action Fallout needs.
A use for everything. Speaking of that, Fallout New Vegas allowed you to mod your guns a little, augmenting them with scopes and such. That’s a good start. This is a world where invention is a necessary part of survival, and where scavenging should be part of a crafting system that allows you build everything and anything, and to mod things on top of that. I’d even lobby for individual components to be brought in from the Steam Workshop. Oh yeah...
Use The Steam Workshop. This is kind of a lock: the Skyrim Workshop is the third busiest of the modder’s distribution platforms. But what I would urge is for Bethesda to make the tools available on launch day. It will help with content, and if none of the above in the list makes it, it’ll give the modders a jump on fiddling with and fixing everything on the list above.