Last year, id Software was showing off the world exclusive first look at Doom’s single-player. This year, in what on paper sounds like a complete change of pace, Bethesda Game Studios was showcasing an exclusive extended look at Fallout 4. One is a fast-paced, arena-style shooter, and the other is an open-world RPG that champions player choice.
For an open-world RPG, there sure was a lot of shooting in the hands-off gameplay demonstration. It makes sense, though, given how shooting wasn’t exactly the strongest part of the mostly fantastic Fallout 3. For Fallout 4, the extensive range of customised weapons that were shown off all carry a believable weight, whether it’s barb-wire enshrined baseball bats, laser muskets or a fat-man launcher.
Good news, Fallout-loving Android fans. Todd Howard confirmed that Fallout Shelter will hit Android on the 13th of August. Like the iOS version, it’s free to download and play, with the ponying up of cash an optional extra. There’s new content coming, too, including new attacks, familiar enemies (Deathclaws and Molerats, specifically), and a Mr Handy reward. Mr Handy can be sent out into the wasteland, he’s handy in a fight, or he can put out fires and collect resources. Don’t worry those of you already playing on iOS: Howard confirmed the new content will be available on the 13th of August.
Similarly, Bethesda Game Studios is aiming for something lighter than Fallout 3, not just in terms of the colour palette, but also in terms of the overall tone. The specifics of that storyline are still under wraps, but the packed theatre at QuakeCon was shown more of the sprawling world. Visually, it’s a bit underwhelming. Characters eyes err a bit on the dead side, there was noticeable graphics pop-in on the horizon, ragdoll physics didn’t always work, and animation skipped frames, at times.
None of these detractors damaged the ambitious scope of what Bethesda Game Studios has set out to achieve, but next to the beauty of recent open-world titles such as Batman: Arkham Knight and Dying Light, Fallout 4 looks dated. While Todd Howard led the presentation, he was reportedly flown back to his studio shortly after to continue working on the game. I spoke, instead, to Pete Hines, VP of marketing and PR at Bethesda about whether there had ever been conversations about using id Tech for Fallout 4 to up the pretty factor.
“No, because of moveable objects [in Fallout 4],” reasoned Hines. “Doom has interactive stuff, but it doesn’t account for hundreds and thousands of little items that you can pick up and move and they’re all individual. It’s not suited for a game where you want to have thousands [of items] and clutter the world with all this stuff that’s all interactive and has physics. It’s just not what it’s for.”
But that’s not to say that other studios under the Bethesda banner haven’t had technical input for Fallout 4. “It doesn’t mean there’s not things that the id guys are doing that aren’t applicable,” Hines reveals. “Like, ‘How did you solve this? In this scene, what are you doing here?’ There’s a million things on the much more granular level, like, ‘Maybe we want to add this thing to our engine or borrow this thing that you do in Doom or The Evil Within,’ or whatever, ‘And we’ll write our own version of that that works on our engine or solves our problem’.”
Because of the level of interactivity in Fallout 4, Hines acknowledged it’s a quality-assurance nightmare. The seeds of greatness, though, are found within this particular challenge. “But that’s what makes the game awesome, because it is real and those [objects] are real things that you can pick up and move, and you can take your bobble heads and arrange them neatly and roll wheels of cheese down a hill by the thousands. That’s part of what makes the game fun, is all of the stuff that you’re allowed to do in these virtual worlds.”
Part of that fun will be following the Fallout tradition of choosing to take on the post-apocalyptic world by your lonesome, or with an NPC. Companions are restricted to one at a time, which isn’t new, but Bethesda Game Studios has taken a leaf out of BioWare’s progressive books and allowed for romantic subplots with companions, regardless of gender. This is just a part of the Bethesda Game Studios staple of pushing player choice.
“They [Bethesda Game Studios] want to push what their games feel like and how they play,” said Hines. “Making them better and better, not just as role-playing games, but when you’re doing dialogue. Is it up there with the games that are considered to be having really good, fun, engaging dialogue? When you’re doing combat, when you’re doing stealth, whatever these things are, each of those areas can be better on their own.”
Part of this push for improvement and refinement has resulted in changes to the way the perks and S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system works. There’s been quite a bit of confusion online as to how this exactly looks, and even though Howard offered a surface-level explanation of a united perks/S.P.E.C.I.A.L. mechanic that boasts 275 total perks, we asked Hines for some further clarification. In terms of how it looks in-game, it’s separated into seven rows of S.P.E.C.I.A.L. categories, with 10 perk ranks per column, each item animated by a Pip-Boy demonstrating a moving visual representation of the specific perk.
“Every time you increase one of your specials, you are unlocking the ability to pick the perk,” explained Hines. “It’s a requirements thing. You can’t just jump to 10 in strength, if your strength is only 4. You have to say, ‘That’s something I really want to do, so when I make the choice in levelling up, I’m going to have to put more points into my strength because these are the things that I want to do.’”
It’s not entirely unfamiliar for returning fans, but it’s changed, too. “The kind of systems that you would have normally spent your time on with the skill are rolled into the perk,” Hines adds. “Because you’re boosting that particular attribute, your perception, your intelligence.And then, by picking those perks, you’re doing the same thing you would have done with skills. It’s clearer and easier as opposed to, ‘Wait, I’ve got this number over here and this number over here and this other thing over here; which one is actually making me better at shooting guns?’ Now it’s distilled in a way that makes sense.”
The goal of the revamped system is to facilitate as many unique playstyles as possible. Other refinements have been made to the UI to keep the player immersed in the game-world. Quick-selecting weapons is a less-convoluted process, and there’s a dedicated melee-attack button for when your gun runs dry and you’re overrun by fast-moving Feral Ghouls.
The male playable character was chatty in a sparse and friendly Booker DeWitt kind of way, and there was a moment when he ordered his companion Dogmeat to search for “anything good” on a nearby corpse. While making corpses is one of the big options of any Fallout game, Fallout 4 will feature a certain level of destructibility on certain items.
For instance, concept art by the late Adam Adamowicz was shown to highlight the innards of the Mr Handy robot, which Howard said will be rendered in-game because the automaton can be blown apart piece by piece. On the bigger end of the scale, there was a fantastic vertibird crash near the end of the gameplay demo. As it spun out of control, a poor NPC flew screaming out of the side door and into the ground, before the vertibird exploded into the side of a warehouse, its parts scattering around the landscape.
According to Hines, “when they blow up, they blow up badly”. Despite the gripes about the lack of visual wow factor, this hasn’t stopped Fallout 4 from continuing to impress in terms of the sheer scale of content it has on offer. With mod support on the way, it’s only a matter of time before all manner of HD texture packs for PC users filter online. This means Bethesda Game Studios is free to do what it does best: forge an enthralling open-world experience that continues the tradition of one-upping what the studio has delivered before.
: AusGamers had its flights and accommodation for QuakeCon paid for by Bethesda.