5 Skyrim problems Bethesda needs to fix for Fallout 4
13th Apr 2012 | 15:58
The release of a Bethesda game etches a fat mark in the sand. As one of a few select developers capable of creating a manic hype around every game they release, it's no surprise that after a couple of months playing their latest product people are already lusting for whatever's next.
We've played Skyrim for well over 200-hours; and yes, we have managed to go all that time without sinking so low as to make arrow-to-the-knee jokes at family events, corporate dos and house parties.
Although DLC is inevitably on its way, we've turned our RPG-drunken eyes to the bigger picture. We still love Skyrim, and there's no doubt we're going to return to the snowy peaks of Tamriel's northernmost province once additional content is available, but we can't stop thinking about the other franchise Bethesda are renowned for.
We want the next Fallout. It's what - in theory - Todd Howard and his merry men are working on deep in their underground labs. Whether we'll see it on this console generation or we'll have to wait till the next shiny boxes we're yet to see, but Fallout 4 is flashing up bright on our radars.
But what can be learnt from everything that's come before? There's no doubting that Oblivion, Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas hasn't aged that well. It only takes a couple of minutes to revisit them after playing 100 hours in Skyrim to see they run worse than Joker Moreau without his crutches.
For some, Skyrim was arguably more The Elder Scrolls 4.5 than a 'whole number' sequel. Although Skyrim was a phenomenal game, we don't want the same to happen with Fallout 4, and there's a crap-tonne of stuff Bethesda can learn from in order to make the next radioactive wasteland romp a stunner.
The problem:That ol' wench Lydia caused a stir didn't she? But it was for mostly the wrong reasons. As much as we loved abusing both her and the system she inhabited, Skyrim's companion system was dodgier than a Khajit's handshake. We don't want the same shallow, obviously tacked on component to feature in Fallout 4.
The Solution: Fully voiced companions littering the wasteland. We're not talking about flat, barely interactive partners hired for a pittance that you find in Skyrim; we want the real deal. Think the same level of personal interaction you have with characters in Mass Effect. You care about them, you don't just laugh when you shout their arse off of the top of a mountain. They have real, believable personalities that add a particular flavour to your experience of the game; Skyrim's companions were nothing more than walking inventories with a few recycled lines of speech to keep you entertained while you skulked around a Draugr ruin.
For games so concentrated on surrounding the player with stories, Bethesda's monstrous worlds do very little to evoke real emotion. That needs to change with Fallout 4, especially as we see beautiful universes like Mass Effect and Uncharted manage to break the boundaries of what's expected from video game characterisation.
The problem: Bethesda games are always incomprehensibly massive, but Skyrim raised the bar. Both Fallout 3 and New Vegas felt relatively slim in comparison, offering little in the way of variety. There are clearly limitations to what you can include in a world supposedly destroyed by the fires of nuclear war, but we think Bethesda can still do more to please our eyeballs.
Skyrim had 9 cities, all of them varying in size, architecture and style, while Fallout 3 had only the decrepit downtown DC with smaller settlements dotted around. New Vegas was similar, with only the disappointingly small, illuminated Vegas Strip to stand out from a few minor towns spread across the desolate environment.
The Solution: Fallout 4 needs to display visual and cultural variety on the same level as Skyrim. Let's see interstate exploration on a massively detailed scale, where the kinds of variety seen in the Fallout 3 DLC packs are playable in one seamless wasteland that stretches on for miles and miles. Have multiple cities spread across the landscape that offer up hundreds of quests and activities for us to partake in, and have them vary enough in their destroyed state to warrant our exploration.
Of course, with more cities and settlements comes the opportunity of politics and other post-apocalyptic pickles. The nuclear dilemma of Megaton and its potential detonation was a standout moment in Fallout 3, but it felt more like a scripted set piece than an organic event you simply stumbled upon. Fallout 4 needs more decisions like that as well as bigger consequences for it to match the bars set by its predecessors.
The problem: The faction groups in Skyrim were the standard Elder Scrolls affair with different names to freshen things up. The majority was all great, infusing brilliantly well-realised ideas into the plot lines, but there was often the dull feeling you were running through the motions in order to see everything on offer and hit that precious 1000G.
The Dark Brotherhood was the absolute highlight, with one of the most compelling climaxes in Elder Scrolls history. The College of Winterhold and Companions guilds on the other hand felt brief, unexplored and missed their potential brilliance. They pitted you against apparently world-changing odds, despite the fact nothing really happened if you decided to drop everything and spend 30 hours making leather.
The Solution:With Fallout 4, Bethesda has a wealth of opportunity to expand the faction interactions that occur within the wasteland. By comparison, Fallout 3 had almost nothing in the way of factions to diversify the experience. New Vegas improved that, introducing a fantastically grey expanse where your morals were subconsciously tested. No one told you what was right or wrong, it was just up to you to determine what you thought best for the wasteland inhabitants.
We love that omission of help, hints or a red/blue morality meter. This is a nuclear wasteland for God's sake, who knows what's right or wrong anymore?
Bethesda needs introduce real consequences, heighten the stakes and remove the 'see everything in one playthrough' factor that plagues Bethesda's ability to create peril by changing the world around you as you make choices. Only then will we have a game worth replaying once, twice, three times a Mirelurk.
Even better, include the Dark Brotherhood in Fallout. We'd love that.
NAVIGATION AND TRAVEL
The problem: The map in Skyrim was impressive until you realised it was almost useless as a practical navigation tool. You couldn't zoom in far enough to actually see what was around you, and using the local map was far too complicated.
The solution: Keep the drawn out map from Skyrim but include granular details. Allow us to zoom all the way down to ground level and see what's around us, as if we were using Google maps to stalk our ex girlfriend. Which we've never done. Ever.
As for travelling around the landscape, horses were more trouble than they were worth. They ran off, attracted attention from the wrong kinds of people and ended up dying on a hillside. Red Dead Redemption it was not.
There always needs to be a happy medium between adventuring on foot and fast travelling; the latter is a bloody dull way to experience a Bethesda game, so there needs to be a way of getting around quicker that doesn't involve sitting through loading screens. Of course, horses might be out of the question in the Fallout universe, and we're not really keen on the idea of travelling the landscape on a clumsy Brahmin, which just leaves vehicles?
They definitely aren't going to up and leave you in the middle of the wasteland, and we've already seen the Enclave have the capability of using mechanised modes of hover transport, so hand us the keys to our own personalised, customisable wasteland ride.
The problem: Both Oblivion and Fallout's take on underground exploration was pretty dull; recycled environments are not what you want to be witnessing 3 hours into a 100-hour game. Although Skyrim had a far more diverse array of caves, mines and other hideouts there was still a hefty amount of reused material. No game of that scope could possibly make every interior completely unique - but it was a bit too soon before we noticed the same few caves constantly popping up.
The solution: We doubt Fallout 4 will bask in the same kind of beauty that Skyrim's underbelly often displays, but the huge increase in design variety is something Bethesda can use moving forward. Most excitingly, we love the idea of having more vaults to explore. Fallout's back-story is nothing short of fascinating, the scientific and social experiments that were performed on the general population are only touched upon in Fallout 3 and New Vegas.
As well as letting us interact with more factions on the surface, why not introduce us to entire vault colonies untouched by the radiation that has enveloped the world outside? We can't help but think the Fallout universe's surface has barely been scratched yet.