Fallout 4: Survival Mode and Storytelling
How one game franchise can give your character their own story, and then take it all away.
I’ve been saving this topic for a rainy day because this is THE game for me. The game that I could write my own book on because I have spent that many hours wandering the irradiated ruins of our nation. The game I have unearthed so much history and story venturing into decaying Vaults. The game that gave me my most stressful moments filling me with genuine terror. I’m of course talking about Fallout. If you add up all the hours I spent in the Bethesda Fallout games you probably end up with more time spent in the Wasteland than time on my actual campus. I could go on to explain why this franchise sucks me in, but luckily the YouTube channel ShoddyCast just put out a great video for anyone curious why post-apocalyptic media is so popular right now.
To try to give this article some focus, I’ll talk about the details about the new survival mode retweaking, which have not been confirmed yet so take it with a grain of salt. To save time I will link a quick sum up of the news here and for a more indepth commentary I’d suggest you watch this. Now for a little background on me as a gamer, I like challenge. I like games that say, “You’re not good enough,” so I can prove it wrong. The Dark Souls mentality. After play through Fallout 3 probably 3 times on the hardest setting, I was thrilled to find a hardcore mode in the sequel, Fallout New Vegas. Turning this on made it so your character had to eat, sleep, and drink along with other specifics but most importantly ammo had weight. This makes it so you can’t carry around endless bullets and there is a very real danger of running out of ammo during a really tense fight, making the victory even more story worthy. Through this system I developed a character that used three guns, a pistol, a small shotgun, and a laser rifle.
This character had his own story inside of New Vegas and character development outside of just leveling up. This was someone that I could write a novel about his life walking across the American Wasteland. When Fallout 4 came out I was excited to see how his story would develop in Boston, except it didn’t. It grinded to a halt and he became just a guy in Boston. Now to quickly sum up my point, Fallout 4 ceased to be a role playing game when it decided to give you a family and a voice. With such narrow dialogue responses you don’t have the freedom to express your character through dialogue.
The Survival mode was also not really a survival mode. Yes it made the game harder, but I never had to sleep, or eat, or really survive. The world never felt dangerous, just inconvenient. With the revamp coming, I am excited to have to think about maintaining my character’s health, that the settlement systems might actually get some use, and my companions won’t magically get up when shot with a mini nuke. My problem with the details, are that again to go against the roleplaying aspect, Bethesda is making Fallout 4 too game-y. Yes it is a game, but I shouldn’t be constantly reminded while I’m playing. Being limited to saving only when your character is resting not only makes saving more of a hassle, but it makes me wonder why my character is deciding to sleep for an hour every mile he walks, or right before a tense confrontation. The problem I need to be addressing in survival mode is how do I survive, not when’s the last time I slept. Also minor gripes, companions should be able to die because it makes me care more about them when I can lose them, and fast travel, while I don’t use it, shouldn’t be disabled because you’ll lose one good way to save yourself when you get stuck in the world geometry.
I can talk for hours about this subject, but what I hope you get from this is that role playing games should let us craft our roles like Fallout New Vegas did. That for games to carry the weight they hope to achieve they should strive to give us an anchor into their world. I ask you, reader, try to really create a character in a game, figure out what their story is in your mind, and see if that makes you more invested or enthralled by it.