I’ve written here before about the Fear of Missing Out, and my compulsion to play as many of the Hot New Games as soon as possible in order to be a Participating Member in the Larger Conversation, which really just means that I’ll be able to read other people’s essays and Twitter conversations and have at least a passing, baseline understanding of what they’re talking about.
To that end, I should say right now that I have not yet played Fallout 4. And I’m OK with that, even if it’s ridiculous; after all, I did spend some not-unsubstantial money on the Pip-Boy edition.
I’m rationalizing my decision to wait by saying that (a) I’d rather wait until the bugs are patched out, and (b) hey, I’m really enjoying Rise of the Tomb Raider and I feel like NOBODY’S talking about that one, and so if someone’s going to be talking about it, why not me?
But a larger truth about my reluctance to start Fallout 4 is that I’m a little intimidated by it. As much as I love Bethesda’s open-world games – and I’ve devoured Oblivion, Skyrim and Fallout 3 to death – they are tough nuts to crack open at the start. Even just creating a character causes a fair amount of paralysis; if I throw my previous Fallout experience out the window and just start from scratch, I have to agonize over each stat point, and how I want to look, and even the gender I’d like to play. I don’t want to build someone that sucks; my first time building a character in FO3, I built this incredibly strong melee character (since that’s how I normally roll in the Elder Scrolls games) and it took me 4-5 hours of frustration and constant death to realize that strength and melee toughness is no match for at least basic gun skills. I want to build the right character, and I don’t know enough about what I’m going to face to know how to get it “right”.
It’s interesting to me that, ordinarily, I like being able to create my own character. I certainly love it in Bioware’s games; I steered my FemShep through the entirety of the Mass Effect trilogy twice, and I loved my Dragon Age: Inquisition character.
[QUICK TANGENT ALERT]
One thing that I’d like to eventually explore here is the psychological difference between playing your own customized character and playing as a known quantity (i.e., Lara Croft, Nathan Drake, Master Chief, any Assassin’s Creed protagonist, etc.). Certainly you have a much greater degree of ownership over your own created character than you would with a franchise star like Lara Croft if only because Lara Croft doesn’t have any dialogue trees; her interactions with other people are scripted and filmed and that’s when you get to put the controller down. And yet part of the experience of playing as Lara is that she is an interesting and compelling character in her own right, and you want to see what happens to her; you’re guiding the adventure, even if you’re not in control of the plot. (If I were to actually pursue this line of thought, obviously I’d have to talk about the Bioshock games, which go to great lengths to subvert whatever sort of autonomy you think you have over your avatar.)
Anyway, so: I’m playing the hell out of Rise of the Tomb Raider and it’s definitely pushing all the necessary buttons right now. It’s only when I’m not playing it that the cracks start showing.
Certainly there are nits to pick here and there – shooting feels slow and unresponsive, which might be the game’s subtle reminder to play stealthily because the game rewards you with a hell of a lot more XP that way, and there’s a skill you can unlock that auto-headshots up to three enemies with your bow that essentially clears out rooms faster than they can be re-filled. But this is hardly that big a deal, in that the combat sequences (thus far, at least) are over with relatively quick (unlike, say, in the Uncharted games, which rely on extended gunplay sequences to their detriment).
The story is… well, I’m trying very hard to give it the benefit of the doubt. When I’m playing – well, to be more specific, when I’m moving Lara around on the screen – everything is well-paced and exciting and fun. The title screen says I’m 53% complete, but I’m not sure if that takes into account all the non-story stuff, which I’ve been doing as much of as possible. I’m very happy to just meander about and collect hidden things and search for challenge tombs and stuff – and even fast travel to previous areas with my newly-aquired gear that allows me to enter previously inaccessible areas – and all this can often feel very much at odds with the urgency of the narrative; but that also implies that I’m paying close attention to it. I’m not necessarily on board with the story as much as I am the overall experience; the story itself falls apart under close scrutiny.
****SLIGHT STORY SPOILERS FOLLOW FOR THE FIRST HALF OF THE GAME***
Unlike poor Peter Dinklage in Destiny, the dialogue is quite good and well-acted for the most part; but the story is relatively flat and by-the-numbers. One character (who was only in one or two scenes in the beginning) is revealed to be the enemy (which wasn’t particularly shocking, given the context of the reveal); another “friendly” character is somewhat mysterious, but the only real shock will be if he isn’t who all signs are pointing him to be.
More to the point, though, Lara is asked repeatedly why she’s searching for this game’s Macguffin, the Divine Source (“because my father killed himself over it!”), and what she intends to do with it if she should find it (“I… don’t really have a satisfactory answer for this!”), and how her quest is any different from what the bad guys are doing (“I don’t have an answer for this, either, but I’m the good guy, here, so, gimme”).
I would refer you to Carolyn Petit’s review and commentary for further analysis at this point. I’d also refer you to it if only because it’s really well written, and includes my number one gripe about internet comments:
Some readers–those, for instance, who attack less-than-glowing reviews of highly anticipated games that haven’t even been released yet and that they haven’t yet had a chance to play–aren’t interested in actual criticism. They are interested in being told that their emotional investment in a particular game, their anticipation of it, the sense of greatness that they have already imbued this particular entertainment product with, are all justified, that the game they have yet to play is indeed going to be fucking awesome.
I’m still enjoying TR, and I certainly plan on finishing it, and I’d like to think that by the time I do, Fallout 4 will have received some of the patches it apparently needs. I’ll also be squeezing in some Battlefront from time to time; I think it will supplement Rocket League as my quick multiplayer palate cleanser.