You can make the elevator pitch for a Bethesda game in four words; go anywhere and do anything. Combining settings that are measured in kilometres, emergent gameplay and a multitude of roles to make your own, it’s no wonder their run-time clocks in at 100 hours plus. As studio director Todd Howard stated a few years ago, the aim is for players to ‘live another life, in another world’. A hotbed of water-cooler stories, they leave the door open for all manner of unexpected (if often bizarre) situations.
It’s unlikely people would want to hear mine, though. They’re not nearly so exciting. I suspect most find themselves pin-balling from one adventure to another. Their characters loot dungeons or master sorcery with which they’ll slay monsters, earning a clutch of impressive titles in the process – Dragonborn, Hero of Kvatch, The Lone Wanderer and so on. This is very much the case during Fallout 4. Survivors of a post-apocalyptic Boston are thieves and vagabonds struggling to stay alive. By contrast, I ended up becoming a town planner. I’m not entirely sure where things went wrong.
Around 75% of my time is spent cobbling together settlements. Rather than spelunking in bomb-savaged ruins, I’ve got steel shipments on my mind. It’s a compelling loop. By piecing together shacks for townsfolk or establishing farms, you’re tapping into a sense of ownership usually restricted for real-time-strategy games. Resources will then start trickling in, providing a hit of accomplishment after raising an empire from nothing. Better yet, you’ve put your stamp on the Fallout universe. Wasteland Workshop (downloadable content that provides a host of new materials to tinker with) hasn’t helped.
Although the above might lead you to think otherwise, this isn’t the aimless distraction it seems. Over the past few months, I’ve realised that’s how I ‘save the world’. Instead of butting heads with an antagonist or foiling their dastardly plan, being a hero is about helping the man on the street. Few pay much thought to what happens once a quest is over, so we miss what might be the hardest part of it all; picking up the pieces afterward. In Fallout’s case, there isn’t a great deal worth salvaging. As such, defeating villains feels irrelevant when society continues to limp on with its tail between its legs. These people still have to cope with irradiated water and mutated food. They’re also gunned down by raiders for little more than scraps. Repairing the civilisation this world lost must surely be a bigger priority, then.
Constructing those outposts was eye-opening in another way. Wastelanders make do with rubble and flotsam because pre-war technology is a mystery to most. Would we honestly cope any better? I’m not sure many of us understand how to keep the things we rely on (electricity, internet, cars and mobile technology) going if disaster pumps the brakes on life. We’d probably slide back into a dark age where the world is smaller and more savage, which explains a great deal about the inhabitants of Fallout’s universe.
That’s why my attention’s on houses rather than firefights. One treats a symptom. The other goes straight for the cause.