So let’s talk about Bethesda’s big problem: they simply don’t care about choice and consequence any more. They only care about money. You need look no further than their actions in recent years (especially the whole Creation Club fiasco, paid mods, and Fallout 76) to understand that ever since Skyrim, they’ve realised they can basically just put no real effort in and still make a shitzillion dollars.
Part of this lack of effort is never, ever locking content away from the player. So having Sanctuary become a no-go area after Act 1 until you advance far enough to liberate the place would be a big fat nope; that’d be locking content away.
Likewise, having the player locked out of faction content (like happens in New Vegas) is a big no-no as well. Which is why you can do basically everything for every faction in Fallout 4 until the very end. And even then, I suspect the only reason you eventually side against one faction is so Bethesda could put a pretty nuclear explosion in their promo materials (again).
Skyrim suffers the same problem; you can be head of all six major guilds within minutes of arriving, and joining one has no repercussions on any of the others. Contrast this with Morrowind, where there were consequences, and you could easily lock yourself out of an entire guild questline/story by joining one of the others that this guild doesn’t like. But then Morrowind was crafted by one guy with a vision, and it shows. Coincidentally, he left after that game and Bethesda’s world building and story quality fell off a cliff. Hmm.
Bethesda also removed skills, simplifying the game systems and removing any sort of level cap in an effort to get people to play forever on a single character. There’s virtually no real replayability to be found in new character builds, because character builds don’t exist any more. Every new character ends up the same because there are certain perks that are necessary for everyone. And with them being level-locked, you can’t specialise early on.
And let’s not forget the cherry perched on top of the disgusting shit cake: radiant quests, the lowest of the low when it comes to quality and fun. They’re just MMO daily grind quests, except you don’t get anything useful from them. Just more xp and items, which you can farm anywhere anyway.
Then there are other issues such as unique weapons not being unique, meaning every character again ends up basically identical. For example, in New Vegas every single unique variant weapon was actually unique in that it had its own model and skin, and either required you to complete a quest—often locking yourself out of a unique item entirely if you went a particular route—or visit a dangerous location to acquire, rewarding you for exploring.
Contrast with Fallout 4, where uniques are almost without exception just the base gun/weapon model with a legendary effect attached. And for the vast majority it’s virtually impossible to ever miss them, except by not having enough money for those stocked at shops… and money really isn’t an issue in this game anyway.
At the end of the day, I don’t expect Bethesda to change how they make games, not any more. They’ve found a formula that makes them ridiculous amounts of money, and expecting them to risk that by actually making good games is silly. When all’s said and done, Bethesda has become just another AAA factory churning out bland games lacking in creativity, same as the rest.
And that’s depressing as all hell. But more than that, it’s sickening knowing that what used to be my favourite game franchise is in the hands of people who don’t understand or respect it, and only care about it to the extent that it makes them money. And given Bethesda is owned by Zenimax… yeah, that just compounds the issue.
(Addendum: I originally wrote this series quite a long time ago, and never posted it anywhere. As such, Microsoft was still a couple of years away from acquiring Zenimax. How that will affect things going forward, I don’t know, but maybe it’ll be the kick up the backside Bethesda needs to begin producing better quality games. Or maybe it’ll just be more of the same.)
New Vegas had a theme running throughout the whole game, and especially the DLC: let go and move on, or begin again and make the same mistakes in a never-ending cycle? Frankly, I feel it’s probably time to let go. Fallout is effectively dead, at least as far as getting anything worthwhile going forward is concerned.
And one of the main reasons for that is the man known as Emil Pagliarulo. His writing is almost Hollywood tier, meaning it makes no sense and lacks any sort of consistency or logic. He employs liberal use of coincidence and contrivance, plus an unhealthy dose of outright author fiat and bullshit plot twists that make no sense.
I say almost Hollywood tier because I will at least credit him with not stuffing politics into the stories he writes, or bashing the player over the head with “”””moral messages”””” (I’d add more air quotes there, but I only have so much space). Fair play for that, I guess, though I do wonder how Starfield and TES6 will turn out on that front, given the current climate.
He completely fails on any sort of thematic or moral level as well, with black and white conflicts that are about as complex as playground arguments among grade schoolers. The single exception to this is the Stormcloak/Empire conflict in Skyrim, which still prompts heated discussions to this day. So props for that one, Emil, assuming you actually came up with it. Credit where credit is due.
All in all, he’s a terrible writer who should be kept as far away from a morally grey and ambiguous series like Fallout as humanly possible. Because really, I don’t think I could stomach yet another bland ‘where’s my family member gone?’ main quest. It was boring when it was Dad, and it was boring when it was Shaun. Oh, and it was boring in Point Lookout as well.
That’s three times he’s used the same basic conceit in two games. Enough is enough, Emil, seriously. Is Starfield going to have you crossing the galaxy in search of your lost husband/wife? I really hope not. And this is pretty much my main problem with his writing in relation to Fallout; he focuses on entirely the wrong things, and locks the player into predetermined roles instead of letting them actually pick a role and play it. You know, like a role-playing game?
Honestly, I doubt I’ll even bother with their games going forward. Not least of which because they might well be locked to Microsoft platforms, and fuck that noise. If I do bother, it’ll likely be down the road when the game’s available at a steep discount. Much like all other AAA studios, I’m just done giving them my time or money, especially when there are so many great indie games to check out.
Maybe one day I’ll talk more about New Vegas or the original Fallouts, and dig into why they were such great games. Lord knows there’s enough to discuss. Compared to Bethesda’s sophomoric fare, the difference isn’t even night and day; it’s more akin to a baby following its parent around, mimicking and imitating, but never managing to understand or learn, even when they’ve ostensibly grown up and become an adult.
Though even that isn’t really accurate, because that would imply Bethesda even wants to learn. And it’s quite clear from their own actions that they do not.
Back when I first wrote this series, I added a caveat here where I talked about a potential MMO in the Fallout universe, and how that could potentially be an interesting way forward for the series, if given to another studio. But since Fallout 76 is a thing now… yeah, any potential for a positive outcome on that front evaporated into the ether back in 2018. Oh well.
Sadly, I’ve pretty much had it with modern Fallout. And that sucks, because it used to be my favourite franchise. So thanks, Bethesda, just like every other soulless corporation, you ruined everything good about it to the point where a long-time fan like me can’t even be arsed to give the series the time of day any more.
At least I’ve got plenty of good quality indie games to occupy me, and you can bet your ass I’ll be covering some of those soon. Kenshi, Rimworld, CDDA, Starbound… there’s no shortage of fun to be had, and for a fraction of the cost of bloated, bland, bullshit-laced AAA garbage.
The only problem is not having enough hours in the day to enjoy all of them…
Lily Lancaster writes mostly lesbian fiction in sci-fi and fantasy flavours, but she also spends far too much time talking about anime, games, life, and anything else she fancies. Sometimes she manages to actually write a book or two.