The problem: Fallout 4 is a lot of fun, it’s also got some aspects of the game that aren’t so hot. How is this unique? It’s not a problem with the game itself that we’re talking about but in how people talk about games. Also the problem isn’t unique to Fallout releases.

(if I can’t get anything else right let’s at least enjoy some killer tunes:))

Fallout 4 is an enigma of a game. It’s a continuation of a classic brand but also a continuation of Bethesda’s gore-fuelled take on that brand in a modern 3D space. There’s a line of thought about reviewing movies that the people making the movie hnave a goal, a motive, and if they fulfill that than the film is “effective.” Recent Fallout titles have had to deal with playing to two different audiences and we now break them up into games that seem to have been motivated to play to the RPG stylings of the original games or Bethesda’s reinvention of the series.

There are modern trends in gaming that make discussing games a problem. I watched a video and someone was talking about Gerstmann’s Fallout 4 reviews getting blasted by Giant Bomb and the person who made the video was mostly bloviating about review scores and bugs but eventually they said something to the effect that if Gerstmann was willing to say the game had bugs and was rushed then why would he be deserving of push back. We all know this is the trend, right? This is what’s obviously happening.

There’s this modern idea, the rushed games narrative, and you can’t even bring it up or you sort of ruin any debate that’s going on, that all modern games are rushed and that’s why they’re broken. It’s a jingoistic narrative that exists, not entirely undeserved either, about how game production works and what’s going in to making a game and getting it out the door. The thing is that while this is more and more becoming a concern when talking about games it’s also one of those subjects that ruins whatever else you’re talking about.

Review scores and metacritic are bull, but now we live in an era where games can get patched but we really don’t see review scores or metacritic numbers getting changed. This score that stands for posterity for a game is the earliest version of the game. There’s (possibly) a huge gulf between that version of the game and what people will be playing a year later. But to actually blame a game’s faults on rushing or modern release practices is beyond simple.

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Fallout 4 took years to create. They had the game you’re playing now in mind as they started working on it. This is what they wanted to make, more or less. Bethesda has made a few games before this title, they’re not a group of 10 college students making their first game surprised at all the challenges they face. A lot of the things you might not like about the game weren’t in there because they had to get the game out the door. Stuff like the dialogue was clearly worked on for years. Fitting the game into this narrative of rushed games limits the discussion.

How much of what Fallout 4 is, of my experience playing the game, was really planned by Bethesda? Was it their intent I spend 2 hours tryng to make a good house then go back on a save after I realized I made a monstrosity? Was it their intent I do half the things I did while playing? And was anything they intended coming from a bad motive?

This is where we get stuck now. Everyone wants there to be a boogeyman, someone who’s mercilessly trying to short change your fun. It’s Activision making Bungie ruin Destiny, until we find out Activision was probably incredibly lenient with Bungie as they tore up their own game. It’s Nintendo being backwards and making a terrible piece of hardware with the Wii U, then you look at it years later and it’s design principles still fit it while the Xbox One has done everything it can to try to change a machine designed to be the center of your living room back into just another component of your gaming room.

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Basically the prevailing narrative always has to be the sexy narrative, the one that has clear drama. The problem is that narrative is almost never true, but the attitudes these narratives represent bleed into how we talk about games. If we always turn everything into the same conversation we won’t ever realy go anywhere with that conversation. (It’s why it’s so hard to watch the news as you get older, seeing them have the same pointless arguments from decades ago as ferociously as ever)

I wish Fallout 4 was better. It’s a really fun game, but it’s not a great game. I’m literally the last person who should be talking on the subject but the narrative is garbage. The stuff that surrounds it, the world itself, that’s interesting. But it’s like you’re walking around this husk, this world left behind by the ancient ones without a god to call its own. I’d love to blame it on something that fits into a larger narrative, something that could get the fanboys blood pumping, but I don’t have any reason to suspect that reality would support that idea.

The real problem is we fail to pull ourselves out of this context, the ability to stop and think about where we are in the larger context is lost. I try and imagine what games might look like 20 years from now. Not the games themselves but all the stuff around them. Will games get released quicker thus making more distinctive trends? Will the big games get so big we’ll take months to really digest them? But the thing I actually see happening is that I know we’re all going to keep letting these narratives decide what’s actually happening. How people talk about games will always be connected to this stuff that may or may not actually help the discussion.

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The only thing I can add is that we should all try to pull ourselves out of this stuff more often. Keep an open mind and really try to find people who are looking at ideas that question the prevailing wind. I know it’s hard, having a bad guy is an intoxicating way to look at everything. But the problem is we forget to question this stuff, we find ourselves one day saying or believing something objectively false and we don’t notice it.

Fallout 4 might have some problems due to the schedule of finalizing the game but that’s not where it’s real weaknesses come from. And I could easily just say the game sucks but that isn’t any more true either. However, and to the point, this matters because if we don’t acurately figure out the conflict at the heart of this stuff we’ll never learn anything, not about ourselves any ways.

(Video that got me thinking about this was a Reviewtech USA vid so sorry if I don’t link it, hope everyone understands.)