As I’ve been talking about Fallout as a franchise recently, this got me to thinking of where the series stands at the moment. Fallout is—or, I suppose, was—a series I’m particularly fond of, if we discount Brotherhood of Steel, 3, 4, and 76. And one thing I’ve always loved is the freedom, the ability to play the games your way.
Whether that be diplomatically via speech and charisma, or brutally through extreme violence, or a mixture of the two—say, a bartering trader who focuses almost wholly on buying and selling, but isn’t above tactical killing of high-value targets to sneakily loot their corpses. I once role-played this very character in New Vegas. It was super fun.
Point is, these games used to allow for real role-playing. You could pick a role you wanted to play, specialise in a few stats/perks/traits to support that role, and away you’d go. Then along came Fallout 3 and ruined everything. Maybe that’s a bit hyperbolic, but it does annoy me how much of the actual role-playing Bethesda threw out when they bought the franchise and transitioned it to 3D.
To be fair, there are still a good number of times and places where you have several options for how to complete quests in Fallout 3, but mostly they boil down to a quick skill check (does player have Science of 50? Yes? Open this additional speech option for them to pick, and it might not even resolve anything anyway) with limited roleplaying possibilities.
If you want to play a speech build? Nope, because the game forces you into fighting at every turn. A barter build? Why bother when the economy of the world is non-existent? A psycho build that kills everything? Again nope, because Bethesda loves to spam the essential tag.
And here we get to my beef. It is remarkably unfair that Fallout 3’s world is such that I really want to kill absolutely everything and everyone, because it’s so utterly nonsensical and populated by people who really need to be murderlised, but I can’t because most of them are immortal (with a caveat, see below).
On the other hand, in New Vegas I can kill absolutely everything and everyone, but I feel no desire to do so because it’s such a well thought out world that feels believable and real. Unless I’m currently playing a psychotic character or something, of course. Because that’s actually possible in New Vegas, without having to break your own role-playing immersion to do so.
As for the caveat, it’s certainly true that the essential tag is removed from a good few characters when you complete their quests in Fallout 3, fair enough (though it should be noted, not all, and some characters—like Shrapnel—have the tag for no reason).
But if I’m wanting to role-play a crazed psycho who kills everything and everyone the moment he/she sees it, the essential tag gets in the way of playing that role. Especially so as it means having to do a quest or two for someone before being able to shoot them and have them stay down, which flies in the face of the selected role I want to play.
And then we have Fallout 4. I’m a bit on the fence here. On the one hand, they’ve gone really insane with essential tags by making people literally invincible. You can’t even put them down temporarily in some cases. Though it should be noted that later patches did address this and let you down those NPCs (Preston before he joins you, for example), but then they get straight back up, so… why bother?
I will also give them credit in that it’s quite possible to kill the entire Railroad the moment you meet them, and you can murder Father the second he walks into the room. You can also kill the Brotherhood team instead of helping them against the ghouls. Well done, Bethesda, you managed to learn from community feedback that people don’t like the essential tag spam.
But then they went and made Preston and his merry band of idiots the first people you run into, making everyone think that the essential tag was going to be a big issue again. I suspect this is a large part of why so many people complained about it… even though the essential spam is nowhere near as bad as it was in Fallout 3. There are still plenty of essential NPCs, though, so Bethesda don’t get a full pass on this.
One other thing I will say is that they’ve thought out the world a hell of a lot better than they did with 3.It feels more real and alive (by Beth’s standards), so I don’t feel quite so inclined to kill everything, though I pretty much always put a bullet in Father’s stupid, incoherently evil face.
We’ll just gloss over the total lack of role-playing options in 4. You can’t even create a specific build now because perks are level-locked, disallowing any sort of early game specialist characters. But hey, mods will fix it, right? Yeah… not this time, unfortunately. This sort of systemic brokenness ain’t easily fixed by mods.
At the end of the day, Bethesda don’t care about those of us who actually like to pick a defined role and play it (you know, the definition of an RPG). They’re largely just interested in appealing to the widest possible audience in order to make a shitzillion dollars. And by all accounts it seems to be working. I just wish they weren’t doing it with what used to be one of my favourite franchises.
Though hey, at least I always have New Vegas to go back to, it’s one of my top three favourite games for damn good reason. And I can at least be glad that Obsidian had the opportunity to create such a stunningly well-crafted experience, something that wouldn’t have happened if not for Bethesda’s Fallout 3. Small victories, silver linings, and all that, right?