Every time that I find something to love about Fallout 4, some tiny, inconsequential element takes me out.
I fell in love with Fallout 4 when my journalist companion Piper published a story about me. Then I fell out of love when Piper took a misstep off a forty story building and plummeted to what would have been her death, except companions cannot die. Now she’s wearing my dead husband’s wedding ring, and honestly, I’m kind of confused.
I’ve had a love-hate relationship with the Fallout series before. When Bethesda released Fallout 3 in 2008, I took the claim that the game adapted to my play style at face value. “If I can really do anything and the game will adapt,” I told myself, “then I’m going to play the game entirely evil.” It turns out shooting most everyone on sight makes for a boring wasteland experience. I loved the daring approach to player agency, but found myself hindered by my own particular approach to Fallout. Our own Erik Kersting described this phenomenon well in his exploration of a particular Fallout 4 memory sequence: "Video games are simultaneously their own best friend and worst enemy when it comes to pacing. They can give the player tons of tools to experience the narrative, but they cannot force the player to necessarily have that experience.”
Now my love-hate is kindling as I explore Boston's irradiated Commonwealth, but in entirely new ways. It’s the facade of the world that’s to blame this time, not my own player idiosyncrasies. Every time that I find something to love about Fallout 4 (and there are many), some tiny, inconsequential element makes me back away.
Let’s take the settlements of Fallout 4 as an example. I swore to myself, swore, that I would not succumb to the allure of micromanaging an in-game village. Nevertheless, I have fallen prey to the charm and promise of reestablishing civilization in Boston. My home is nice and well furnished, and I pay the utmost attention to detail. My pool table almost has a complete set of billiard balls, scrounged one by one from fallen enemies and locations throughout the wastes. The balls are set neatly inside the rack, and three cue sticks are leaning just against the table and a nearby chair. My home feels lived in.
But the noise is killing me. See, right next to my base in Sanctuary are two generators that I use to power the lights. These generators are supremely loud. You can hear them through the walls and across the street as you walk into town. Somehow my settlers sleep just fine, but the sound drives me crazy.
It’s petty, I know, but the sound mixing alerts me to the nuts and bolts of software underneath the world that I try so hard to experience as real. It’s not just generators either. The constant conversations that I have with characters that for some reason have their head turned away from me does the same. I’m slapped with the restraints of software every time that I come home to my delicately placed chess set fallen through my table, every time an NPC walks through a wall, and every time an impassioned piece of voice comes out muffled out through a power armor helmet.
Putting a personal touch on your Fallout 4 experience is like icing a cake that is crumbling within your hands. Thus, I feel myself pulling away from the game, too cautious to commit when I know that its inconsistencies will once again break my heart.
I think I’ll stop playing when I get that four-ball and put the finishing touches on my place. Maybe then I'll remember the game not as it is, but as I want it to be.