Fallout 4 has been out for a year at the time of writing, however there has been a glaring problem from day one. This problem does not exist in the graphical quality of the game or even the slightly mis-matched animations; it lies in the most fundamental aspect of the Fallout franchise: Exploration. From the moment the player is released from Vault 111, they are given an entire world to explore, from the city of futuristic Boston to the various new townships of Goodneighbor and Concord. These cities are expansive in and of themselves and, in true Fallout style, cluttered and destroyed. However, all of these locations have a lack of actual depth and interest. The first real offender was the dreaded loot crate.
As I played through the story of Fallout I was quickly introduced to the generic and all pervasive loot crate that is invariably at the end of every area. As a player cleans out any location, they are unceremoniously given a large red/green crate of loots that are level-appropriate but bland. The end-of-dungeon loot crate became a point of irritation for me as I sunk more and more hours into the game, though I couldn’t place my finger on what was bothering me so deeply about these innocuous crates. After a while it finally dawned on me- there was no reward. No reward for finishing a dungeon and no reward for exploring. When you fill every crate with the exact same pipe-pistol and 10 pre-war money no matter if you are level 1 or level 60, you lose all motivation to clear out the next area. For example, in Fallout New Vegas one of my favorite extra areas was Vault 22. You find this Vault in the middle of the desert and surprisingly it has an abundance of flora. In fact, the vault is completely covered in various plants which shortly after entering, of course, try to murder you in creative and interesting ways. As you fight through multiple floors of this Vault you end up finally getting to a small table in a lab that has a Laser Rifle laying on the table. This Laser Rifle is not necessarily powerful or overall very interesting to look at, however I realized shortly after that it shot Green Lasers. Once I started shooting my new Laser Rifle I was amazed, “A green laser?! What?!? That’s awesome!” I started shooting wildly at everything that moved, and even at some things that didn’t, just to see the cool green laser shoot out of the end of my new rifle. It was actually weaker than my other Laser Rifles and wasn’t of much actual use, but that wasn’t the point. I loved it because it was cool. This idea of unique things existed throughout Fallout 3 and New Vegas in a plethora of ways, whether it be the Tesla Cannon that you either got through the story (or if you were an explorer, in a crater), or the famous MIRV gained after an extensive number puzzle unique to each game. These weapons were unique and you could find one of them in the game and more often than not they were powerful. In Fallout 4 the spirit of this was lost with the custom gun creation. When you make every gun “unique”, you make no gun unique. A defense that could be levied would be “Well, in Fallout 4 you could make YOUR OWN MIRV,” but this is precisely the problem. Players were no longer rewarded for exploring, when you find a cool place to roam and discover you would never find anything unique to commemorate a visit to that place. Vault 22 will always be a special place to me because of that not-so-useful Laser Rifle that had a cool green color. This is especially true when this argument is brought against the people of Fallout 4.
While most people complain about the animations not syncing correctly with the speech or the inherently bland people that consists of a majority of the NPC’s; I personally had problems with how generic everyone was or the non-existence of quirky people and/or places. One person/place that comes to mind as an example would be the sovereign state of the “Republic of Dave.” Any Fallout 3 player will probably remember the Republic of Dave, just because it was so weird. This place is all the way tucked in a corner of that map that has pretty much nothing important around it, and is sort of bland to look at if you are just strolling in the neighborhood. However, once you step inside the gates and are greeted by the Almighty Dave, you are instantly invested. Who is Dave? Why is he here? Why does this random dude have a harem of women voting for him in a rigged election cycle? The overall ‘side-quest’ associated with Dave and his Republic is extremely short, but again, the fact that it was really short or non-important didn’t matter. What mattered was that it was weird. Another place where this was the case, but had a more sizable storyline, was in Oasis. In Fallout 3 a location exists at the top of the map called Oasis, in which you find a large amount of plants (though these ones don’t try to kill you on sight) and even some people walking around in monk uniforms. After talking to a few of them you are eventually brought to the feet of their figure of worship. The all-knowing all-powerful Harold. Who was in reality just a super lazy guy who got irradiated into a tree, because ‘why not?’ right? This quest involves making the decision to give a very tired man a nap into eternity or to do nothing. As a player you have to confront the problem of who do you want to keep happy? The devoted people who revere Harold, or the actual man himself who should have died years upon years ago? This quest was so different from the rest of the game that I readily dropped myself into the story and lore of a guy turned into a tree. And you know what? It was great! It was so wacky and so weird that I just wanted to know more about this person and how it came about. For a little while, the destruction and death of the Capital Wasteland was replaced by a lush garden full of people trying to grasp onto literally anything to keep their sanity in a hostile world.
The major blunder of Fallout 4 in this respect was actually largely reported on and has been said by many others before me. It lies in the robot horse race. In Fallout 4 a location exists which, when first discovered, sounds like a lot of fun. As you are strolling along the wasteland murdering creature or man alike if they give you so much as a side glance, you come across a loud speaker. A thought crosses your mind “A loud speaker? Who is using a loud speaker in a wasteland?” and obviously the only course of action is to go investigate this local weirdness. As you perch yourself atop a hill you can see a horse racing track inhabited by a few robots running what seems like laps around the track. A couple are neck and neck while the Protectron clumsily tries his very best to keep up. This cool area slowly dissolves into a fantasy of what could-have-been when, as you get closer, you are immediately shot at and the whole facade crumbles into dust. This moment is a very important one, as it is the feeling of “Aww that would have been cool” which happens so many times in Fallout 4. With some time and effort this area could have been a fun place to gamble and chat up a new interesting character or two and make some caps in a ‘sort of’ legitimate way. An illegitimate way being pilfering caps off the road of corpses behind you. It would have harkened back to the days of Fallout: New Vegas and the casinos, but the experience fell into yet another raider encounter this time with more robots than normal. This experience is exactly the kind of thing that is important to Fallout, the quirkiness and weirdness that pervades such a desolate and unforgiving place. It brings a sense of humor to an otherwise sad and hopeless existence in the Wasteland.
These experiences in the Fallout franchise were paramount to me. I remember playing with my friends and asking if they had gone to such and such place or had gotten such and such weapon, but in Fallout 4 that experience is missing. Sure you can make a settlement, but what do you have to talk about? You can make a fully-functional settlement that runs like clockwork, but no one will ever experience it other than you. When you create an standard experience that exists in every game you can, in a sense, experience it with others in a way you can’t with complete customization. Once you get to a certain point, the game feels hollow. You can tell your friends that you made a really cool Gauss Rifle that one-shots every enemy, to which they will respond with a ‘oh, cool.’ I personally remember talking with my friends years later about discovering the MIRV and climbing to the top of Tenpenny Tower, hurling myself off the edge and launching all 9 nukes at the last second and seeing how high I could get. It was an experience that I could have with my friends, even though the game wasn’t multi-player it felt like a community. With the introduction of crafting and city-building and weapon designing Fallout 4 lost a fundamental thing that it predecessors had, something to talk about. From my own experience, no one really talked about Fallout 4. It came out, people played it, you had a back and forth about what faction you picked, and then you talked about something else. Nothing was there to keep the conversation because you only had one of three routes and very few of the side-quests were interesting in-and-of themselves. I didn’t talk about Weatherby Savings and Loan (which was one of Fallout 4’s most interesting places) the same way that I talked about the Republic of Dave or Tenpenny Tower or Oasis among many others. At the heart of everything lies the fact that no one will remember something completely unique to your game but you. Which for some is a nice thought, to have something unique that no one has, or will ever see. To others however, they crave the experience, the weirdness of the Fallout world. Viewing it as a stepping stone, the next Fallout game desperately needs to come back to the roots of quirky weirdness that made it unique, and try to pander less to the First Person Shooter/Minecraft generation.