I’ve seen this place before. In fact, this is probably my fifth time staring at the elevator that exits the building. Each time I’ve entered this elevator, I’ve promised myself that it would be the last time I would see it again–that this is the time, I would leave and never come back. But here I am again, trying to figure out the right combination of skill and patience to make this the final time I use this elevator. I want this to be the last time I leave Vault 111. Sadly, I know that I’ll be back. That the cycle will continue and I will once again find myself staring at the exact same platform, having the same internal conversation that I’ve had four times before – Why am I continuing to play a game that I find boring and uninspiring?
I wanted Fallout 4 to be epic. I wanted the game to be the pinnacle of Western RPGs on my Xbox One. Afterall, It was a sequel to one of my favorite games of the last generation, and a new console meant Bethesda could create something amazing. When the game was first announced I started to reminisce about my time with Fallout 3; The first time I left the vault, the time I blew up Megaton and then decided to reload the game and save the town just to see what happens…Even the first time I encountered a Deathclaw or discovered a living tree within the capital wastes. I just knew this game would be the one game I could sink hundreds of hours into. And after the E3 press conference I knew Bethesda was going to do right by me and deliver on a game I had waited years for.
Fast forward to release day and I was there, at midnight, picking up my preorder copy from Gamestop. I rushed home, installed the game and started my journey. I knew my first character would be the test dummy. A placeholder while I figured out any new mechanics and the proper way to build a character to fit my play style. This would be my first time leaving the vault elevator.
Hours into the game something seemed off. My first thought – “Why the hell is the major town so damn far?” It seemed like a long way to travel just continue the first step in the story quest. But I shrugged it off as an opportunity to explore the world and hopefully, find something exciting. I never did. There was no mystery to the Commonwealth. No hidden nooks to discover some odd inhabitant with a unique story. There was Diamond City, the game’s central hub which wasn’t much to look at, and your old neighborhood. The rest of the Commonwealth was what you would expect from a state 200 years after a nuclear bomb, but that mystery, that chance encounter, wasn’t here.
If there wasn’t much to see, then there had to be lots of stuff to do. And there was…a laundry list of towns to clear out or save. The game had become a repetitive to-do list that never felt like it would amount to anything. No matter how many settlements I saved, there was always one more that Preston Garvey, the last remaining member of the Minutemen, needed me to save. Or if I joined the Brotherhood of Steel, there was a never ending list of areas to clear out. There was no underlying story guiding the selection of areas to clear, I was just clearing shit out because the quest giver asked me to. The main story line rested on tired cliches, leading you to correctly guess what happened to your son long before the fateful encounter.
Okay so there’s not much to explore and the story is kinda lame…at least I can play as an evil parent hell bent on revenge right? Nope. There’s no morality system in this game and conversation trees aren’t as deep as one would hope. The most you can hope to achieve if you wanted to be a bad guy is a wise ass. Snark is all you are giving, because even the worst dialogue choice isn’t really all that bad.
“So why the hell are you still playing the game?!” Because even with all that’s working against it, it’s still a solid Fallout game. The V.A.T.S. system is there, the music and exploration is there, it just isn’t as deep as one would hope. Fallout 4 fell victim to the growing popularity around the brand. Like Mass Effect, Fallout 4 traded what made the game popular, old-school RPG mechanics, story and dialogue, for a hybrid of Minecraft and your typical first-person shooter.
So here I am, staring at the elevator hoping this will be my last time exiting the vault. That maybe an adjustment of my perspective is all I needed to enjoy this game. But why should I have to adjust? Why couldn’t the game follow the formula that made it successful? Why are developers too scared to go against the grain? Why aren’t they sticking to what made them a success instead of folding to external pressures to be more like whatever game is popular at the time? I guess I’ll never know. And as the elevator reaches its peak I know that this very well could be my last venture through the Commonwealth. That loyalty to a franchise can only take you so far and sometimes it’s best to part with something as it is no longer the thing you wished it was.