Fallout 4’s Early-Game Pacing Is A Huge shift From What Should Be Bethesda’s Forte.

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A few hours into Fallout 4 I have one general issue with it that none of the reviews I read touched on. It’s a bit of what I said I was afraid would happen in a previous post. The opening hours of Fallout 4 in my opinion run completely counter to what Bethesda does best and what is most unique to that developer… even if the result isn’t necessarily a bad game.

Basically, Fallout 4’s beginning feels paced like an action game and not like an RPG. I’m not specifically talking about the combat, but rather what you do and encounter when starting out. It feels very odd compared to Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas. In addition to this, how Bethesda has handled Fallout 4’s player character launches it headfirst into the main quest urgency problem so many open-world RPGs have while also hampering player agency a bit.

I get that Fallout 3’s opening was really slow — you probably spend way too much time in Vault 101, especially when you’re trying to replay it. In Fallout 4 however, if you take the path most players will, around 2 hours into the game you’ll be stepping into a power armor suit using a minigun to take down a deathclaw. Previous Fallout games play up power armor as an enticing late-game item to be anticipated, and deathclaws as one of the top-tier foes to be feared around the same time frame.

From there, I’ve spent my first few hours of Fallout 4 mostly shooting people and grabbing loot. Contrast this with Fallout 3: after you escape from the vault usually the first thing you encounter is the town Megaton, which is full of characters who explain the local situation and give you opportunities for interaction and role-play. New Vegas does a quicker version of this where you wake up in a small town and get to discuss the surroundings with the locals while doing a few combat-oriented quests. This is sort of how most RPGs work. It’s basic act-one pacing. Fallout 4 on the other hand almost immediately launches you into combat and little else which to me felt weird given the circumstances of my character.

At the beginning you’re in your idyllic home with your family, then you get rushed into Vault 111 where you’re suddenly cryogenically frozen, and you wake up in a desolate landscape. The first live human being my character encountered after escaping the vault was a raider after walking into a shootout. The game expects me to immediately attack this character because it says “RAIDER” over their head in red letters, but I tried to pretend my character didn’t know what a raider was and had no reason to assume this person was hostile. I walked up and tried to talk to them before getting shot at, only then going into combat. At this point Fallout 4 sort of felt like a sequel to RAGE, in which immediately upon escaping a cryogenics chamber at the beginning you’re rescued by a guy who asks you to kill dozens of people upon first meeting you.

If Fallout 4 is doing this for the shooter audience, even a lot of shooters try to start things off at a cool pace before pulling out the big guns. Bioshock has its elaborate introduction to Rapture where you see splicers  slaughtering other people, which informs you of their hostile nature. Bioshock Infinite has a far longer sequence where you get to see the city of Columbia operating normally. Dead Space docks you onto the USG Ishimura where you don’t even get a weapon for the first few minutes. Like I said, basic act-one pacing. In 10 hours of Fallout 4 I haven’t run into a single town — only a few characters whose purpose seems to be to bring you into the base building tutorial. The closest thing you get to some story exposition after waking up from cryosleep are the computer logs in Vault 111, which just tell you about Vault 111.

In a previous post about Skyrim I said it was simultaneously trying to be two games: a dungeon crawler where you kill enemies to get loot, and a character-driven role-playing game where you interact with people, and that Bethesda pulled off the latter one better. The early hours of Fallout 4 feel like they are only trying to be the former. That’s what concerns me — that Bethesda put its first foot toward focusing on its weak spot. That said, it didn’t do a bad job.

To be honest Fallout 4’s combat so far feels like what Bioshock should have been. Bethesda finally got the feel of movement and guns down while streamlining the RPG component just enough. It makes you wonder why Bioshock couldn’t have kept System Shock’s inventory system while still keeping a good pace for the action, which is basically what Fallout 4 achieved. Most importantly, the potential for dynamic combat through combinations of various weapons and character skills I saw in Fallout 3 is back in full-force in the sequel, but no longer restrained by amateur shooting controls.

That first encounter with the power armor and the deathclaw went extremely differently for one poster on NeoGAF. I’ve already been in combat situations where I’ve had to use quick and somewhat lateral thinking. That’s satisfying in a way I haven’t experienced in almost any other recent shooter. Where I am right now, Fallout 4 is trying to be a dungeon crawler about loot, and right now it’s actually a pretty good dungeon crawler.

The other problem I have though is how Fallout 4 handles its main quest and protagonist. A lot of the appeal of Bethesda’s Fallout and Elder Scrolls games is how players can define who they within them. Even though you live a whole life inside Vault 101 in Fallout 3, after you can get out you can still decide you don’t care about finding your dad and just wander off. In Skyrim I decided to just wander off after the tutorial at Helgen because I felt no obligation to talk to the Jarl of Whiterun.

No matter what you do in Fallout 4, you are a parent tracking down your kidnapped infant son. That makes the game’s main quest feel extremely urgent to me, prompting me to ignore almost all side quests in the way. Almost every RPG with side quests has issues when dealing with the urgency of the main quest, but Fallout 4 takes it to another level in my opinion. This is on top of how the voiced dialogue for the player character seems to have decreased the number of possible responses they can give in conversation. Furthermore, in these opening action-oriented hours I feel like my character is being railroaded into the role of a somewhat generic action hero.

I’m writing all this in the hopes that the pacing of Fallout 4 shifts once I reach Diamond City or whatever other towns are out in the wasteland. I bought this game because I want to get involved in quests where I have the choice to settle disputes and other issues in various ways while developing the storyline and my character. What Fallout 4 is right now isn’t a bad game, it’s just a shockingly different one.

BULLETS:

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One thought on “Fallout 4’s Early-Game Pacing Is A Huge shift From What Should Be Bethesda’s Forte.

  1. volvocrusher says:

    I kind of viewed the power armor aspect as like Symphony of the Nights intro, making you feel very powerful then taking that away once your power core runs out. I haven’t been running into many others either, it feels like something I bring in only when I need it now, building to when I have enough power to continuously use it.

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