If you’d told me at the beginning of the year Fallout 4 would release and within about a week of beating the game I’d put it down with a bad taste in my mouth I wouldn’t of believed you. As much as I enjoyed the few weeks I put into the game I feel like the game is probably the weakest of 2015’s big releases.
Bloodborne started out the year. Finally people could see the Souls games who might of been put off for whatever reason before. It feels weird every time this happens, a new game comes out and people play it and say it’s good and all of us who had been saying it’s good have to scratch our heads. Yeah it’s good, we said this stuff was good years ago, but apparently our word wasn’t enough for you.
More or less coming off playing Skyrim I got into Dark Souls, give or take a game or two, and I loved it. The mix of the Japanese style of combat, sharp and precise, but the medieval Europe looking fantasy, dull and desperate, really brought something most games don’t hit. The art side and combat side of the game worked together to make this experience that got through to the philosophy underneath about humanness. To play Dark Souls was to touch something about human nature.
Bloodborne similarly brought all that, the style of the art, the grace of the combat, the dark themes about responsibility and horror. But really it was a game that was tight, in a way that allows for the experience to have some sort of shape to it. Not every game needs this, but I think Bloodborne set the stage for the year. And Dying Light as well.
Dying Light was a first-person zombie parkour game with weapon crafting elements. It was written like an exploitation movie and had some side quests, a few of which were quite well written. Maybe Dying Light really set the stage for the year, 2015 was going to be a good year for games and we didn’t even know how much at the time. As an open world game it would be the first of many for the year.
Then The Witcher 3 released. For a huge, open-world RPG the takeaway from the Witcher 3 was the story. My father died when I was playing that game. Afterwards I saw all the death in the game, how almost every quest related to it. It was a huge game but they kept something in this massive story that made it feel more like a novel than just a collection of stories.
Geralt would be a detective. Conversation felt good, like good dialogue in a film, as Geralt would try to get the answers he needed to decide whether to do one thing or another. I tried to save everyone I could, I tried really hard. But we all end up with some blood on our hands in that game. But after I finished the game I felt this giant breath go through me. It was one of those games that gives you this strong, gratifying feeling, for me anyways, but generally the games that do that aren’t 60 hours long. Well not counting JRPGs I guess.
But for the most part, the big western RPGs almost never feel like they keep the thread of the story by the end. They’re almost by nature disparate and shallow by the end. CD Projekt Red proved it didn’t have to be that way.
Then we got the last Metal Gear Solid game. It had good and bad elements. The game was a little bit too repetitive, and while it was a small flaw for most of the game it got much worse towards the end. But it had these great, insane story moments along the way. There was some brilliant stuff in there, probably not enough to keep everyone interested but at least they tried.
Skipping a few months and we get Fallout 4. In a year of giants the anticipation going in was that it was probably going to destroy every other game. Bethesda’s last release was Skyrim after all, that game was touched by something. I still get moments every so often where I just remember the fields outside Whiterun and the music that played overhead, something pastoral was happening.
Fallout 4 wanted to be an upgrade of Fallout 3, basically. I tried to write about Fallout 4 twice recently. It’s hard to pin the game down-genuinely fun at times but also totally incoherent. The conversation system was bad, the crafting was weaker than I had hoped, and the story was weak. As the game moved on it felt like everything in the game had been done better somewhere else this year. And not slightly better, Bethesda’s release just didn’t feel up to what 2015 was dropping.
I think the incredibly weak story was probably the biggest flaw for this particular year. The Witcher 3 gave so much character to everything, motifs floating through each region’s stories, Novigrad stories felt like Novigrad stories, Skellige stories like Skellige. Then there was Kojima’s game. Probably the biggest flaw of the writing, over it just not being as well crafted, was that it didn’t ever really go for it. There were a few moments along the way where Fallout felt like it was going to go there, to really try to be a great game like an open world Bioshock or something. But it just gave up as soon as it was getting interesting and never paying off on anything it had built up.
As much as people can hate on Kojima he goes for it. The bad guy for MGS V has a skull for a face and was named Skullface. Remember Quiet? People who didn’t play the game know who quiet is. Remember that scene where Snake and Skull Face just go for a drive. It’s like literally 9 minutes of just driving, I think something like 5 of those minutes are just in absolute quiet.
This was the climax of the story.
It was weird but damn it was something to talk about. Fallout 4 just didn’t have that, I never felt like choosing a faction was a betrayal, I’d never sadly explain what I’d done the night before like I might a choice in The Witcher 3.
The conversation system didn’t help, I constantly felt like my hands were tied behind my back. My character was perfect, conversation was just another way to show that. I never got anything worthy of going to voiced responses for, no answer ever felt emotional or authentic enough to warrant this. Answers were just utilitarian. When we talk about stories we talk about characters, stakes, conflict, this game didn’t have that.
Then there was the crafting system, Dying Light just did it better. I went through the game the first time as a gun using character, the second as a melee character thinking that the interesting mods must of been hidden behind the melee side. Nope, they were slightly more interesting but still nothing that great. Oh and if you play as a melee build don’t spec into that 3rd crafting point, it’s not useful at all.
Actually the perk system, that’s another big problem. I won’t get into it, but I’ll say it’s not really a system for anybody. It’s still too complicated for one audience and not developed enough for another, and it’s too easy to min-max once you actually know what you’re doing. There’s just no fun to it. In older Fallout games there would be a perk you’d get, probably towards the latter half of the game, and it would make your build. You’d get this feeling, “I’ve finally got it going on” and you’d feel rad. Maybe it was some perk that capped off your sniper build or your sneaking build or whatever, maybe you just finally could eat human flesh. Players don’t get that here.
Fallout 4 seems to think it’s a sandbox game. Recently I played Just Cause 3. That is a sandbox. Like Fallout 4 I can really only interact with stuff in the world by destroying it, but I can also go off ramps in a nitrous fuelled monster truck. With like a bunch of bad guys tethered to the back all wearing a bunch of sticky grenades for some reason. Then I jump out of the truck and it destroys a bunch of stuff. Or something. I don’t know. You can’t do that in Fallout 4.
Though it’s weird to make the comparison Disgaea 5 also came out this year. The notoriously, er, advanced SRPG series kind of released a more straightforward game than ever before. A few years back they released the most straightforward Disgaea game yet, Disgaea D2, but it was also the slimmest on content of recent games. Disgaea 5 was accessible but filled with stuff to do. It wasn’t really a game where you had to find out online that there was a stat the game didn’t show you or anything like that. The game had this impeccable menu showing you all your stats.
For a Disgaea fan the menu was beautiful. The game was full of stuff like that where as a Disgaea fan you would praise the function’s inclusion. An actual innocent farm, the item world duplication room, 20 evility slots, these things really helped players and showed the developers put a lot of energy into trying to please their fans and make the very best game possible for the fans.
Then I play Fallout 4 and we don’t even have DPS listed on our weapons. On one hand it’s not terrible, a game should have diverse enough weapons that DPS isn’t the sole deciding thing. Gamers get really fixated on DPS. But, and I’ll catch some flak for this, but goddamn the Pip Boy. Just everything about dealing with the menu in that game is awful. Seriously all they needed was for you to talk to somebody who says they had some sort of patch for the Pip Boy and they could have then made the Pip Boy menu not a horrible mess designed almost a decade ago.
Seriously that indecipherable series of dots and scratches and splotches-that’s the inside of a building in Boston? It’s 2015 and that’s what you’re bringing. There’s going to be a time where we talk about Bethesda, old Bethesda games like Morrowind and Skyrim, like Rare in the 90s. “What’s Bethesda doing now again?”
Part of the way through the year I realized it was a strong year for games. Seriously its been ridiculous. I kind of thought that Fallout 4 would be an obvious capper where Bethesda would get past some of their old problems finally. No, they released a fairly standard Bethesda game with a fun open world to dink around in at times. But, in 2015, a standard Bethesda game just no longer cuts it. The game has some good to it, and it has it’s problems, but everyone else knows how to make open world games now, they know how to play to their strengths, and I’m left wondering if Bethesda actually has any unique strengths in the modern market.