Note that most of this was written almost immediately after my last entry. It’s been a rough few weeks time and health wise, so I’m only publishing it now.
The beginning of a game – the introduction, the tutorial (mandatory these days), and the first couple of quests – usually sets the tone of the game, and the expectations.
Like many a movie I’ve been told about: Stick with it; it gets better.
I’m going to discuss that beginning and so there will be spoilers ahead. Then again, if you’ve spent a small amount of time with the game then you’ve probably got past this bit already.
The story begins with you and your partner in the bathroom, getting ready for the day. You view them both from the mirror and choose the husband or the wife as your character, then spend time using the editor to craft them in whatever your ideal image is.
Once you’re all solid again, you meet Codsworth, your Mr Handy butler, and find out you have a baby. In the background you have the TV discussing world events. You can walk around the house, see the lovely neighborhood outside, and play a little with your baby.
There’s a knocking at your front door that you have to deal with, and it’s a salesman (Representative?) from Vault-Tek, just making sure you want to be part of the Vault-Tek family.
(On a side note, I really should play the introduction a few more times just to see what happens if you decline.)
Of course, once you’re signed up, the news on the TV shows that the bombs are falling. The signal is lost and then it’s time for your partner to grab the baby and for you all to hightail it to the (thankfully close) Vault 111.
You’re amongst the group that are let in (many aren’t on “the list” and are turned away), and you descend into the Vault. You’re processed quickly, given your “uniform” and put into a decontamination chamber. This turns out to be a Cryogenic unit and you drift off to a frozen sleep.
You’re thawed to consciousness some time later – enough to see your partner’s Cryogenic pod opened, your baby taken, and your partner killed. Then you’re frozen again.
Finally you awaken properly, the Cryogenic system having failed. You find your partner still dead, and that you can’t open any of the other pods.
Leaving the Vault is pretty much the rest of the tutorial as you battle radroaches, learn about terminals, and figure out how to escape.
So, that’s how the very beginning goes.
It’s a nice touch to start before the War, to get an idea of how things ‘really were’, and to introduce your family in this way. Perhaps it’s my cynicism, but I found myself looking at the plot beats. I observed out loud that your partner would be dead before the end of the tutorial, and perhaps your baby too. I figured this would be the ’emotional plot hook’ that got you into the game, and gave you reason to go out into the world.
For that reason it fell flat with me. I really don’t know how else they could have done it, but it felt clumsy. If they’d drawn out the Before the War bit too long it would have been too slow. The only thing I can think of is that perhaps your character should be the one grabbing the baby. Having to see him, held in front of your vision as you run to the Vault would perhaps have helped.
Once you’re awakened again, it feels a bit more like Fallout, and once you get the Pip-Boy, it recovers a lot of that feel.
When you’re back out into the Wasteland, and you find Codsworth is still “alive”, if slightly loopy, then it really feels like we’re back on “Fallout ground”.
It’s not long now that you run across Dogmeat, your first potential companion. That felt a little contrived, but I was just happy to have Dogmeat along so I was able to roll with it.
Then it’s time for the first mission.
You find a group under siege in the American History Museum in Lexington. They tell you about a crashed Vertibird on the roof, and power armor within it. If you had a fusion core, then you could operate that and maybe wipe out the raiders for us?
The fusion core is downstairs, behind a “novice” hacking terminal. Then it’s up to the roof, to grab the Power Armor, and the minigun that’s attached to the Vertibird.
You kill the raiders, then a Deathclaw comes for you.
Those of you who have played Fallouts before may be thinking what I was thinking, which was pretty much: What the Hell?
I was close to thinking they’d screwed the game up this early (whether deliberately, or with a bug). Within minutes of meeting the first ‘good guys’, you have access to Power Armor, and not long after that, you meet a Deathclaw.
Even with Power Armor and a mini-gun a Deathclaw is no walk in the park. Unfortunately this made me think even more about what they were doing with the game, which is probably not what they wanted.
Firstly: why would you use one of the biggest threats in the Wasteland at this point. You’re low level and perhaps new to Fallout and its systems. If nothing else, they at least could have had some kind of adequate buildup before dropping you into what is essentially a “boss fight”. The only real foreshadowing you get is if you talk to Mama Cas, and she tells you something big and angry is coming.
Secondly: the Power Armor used to be something you used to have to work hard to get. Getting one (if that’s what you wanted) was a huge investment, and an equally large payoff. Now you have almost the moment you step out of the vault.
Really, it seemed to me that two of the ‘big hitters’ from earlier Fallouts were dropped in right at the beginning – perhaps to whet your appetite for more. Except, for me, it had the opposite affect. It felt cheap, and I was very worried that the whole experience from here on in was going to be cheap.
Was I always going to find exactly what I needed to take out the boss around the next corner? Had Fallout turned into a generic shooter?
Thankfully, I was worrying over very little. After this ‘skirmish’ it becomes Fallout again. We have a wide range of characters, situations that run from silly to incredibly serious, and lots of ways to express yourself in the world.
So, well done to Fallout 4 for recovering from a strange misstep.
The one other thing that threw me is the lack of Skills. You used to have your SPECIAL points (Strength, Perception, Endurance, etc), Skills (Sneak, Lockpick, Big Guns, etc) and then Perks (Child at Heart, Black Widow, etc).
The SPECIAL was your base that everything rested on, and which informed your base Skills. A low Intelligence meant that (for example) your Science and Lockpicking sucked out of the gate. However, you could still build up your Skills in various ways.
Perks were the icing on the cake. You could take a Perk that would (for example) allow you more chance of headshots – taking the broad range of skills and focusing in on the few you really wanted to be (ahem) special at.
Now the Skills have been dropped entirely. Instead you have a progression of Perks that you can earn by adding points to each of your SPECIALs when you level up.
No doubt I’ll get used to it.