I’m loving Fallout 4. Wandering the wasteland, poking around in abandoned buildings, listening to chirpy ‘50s pop, fighting mutants. It’s a great game to lose yourself in on a cold winter’s evening. But as a role-playing experience I’m finding it disappointingly weak—to the point where I wouldn’t even call it an RPG. An open-world action game with role-playing elements would be a more accurate description.
The same could be applied to other Bethesda games, which are often described as being as broad as an ocean and as deep as a puddle. But Fallout 4 feels like their most restrictive game yet in terms of customisation, choice, and dialogue. The protagonist doesn’t feel like my character. The things I say don’t seem to matter. My high charisma is used to squeeze a few extra caps out of quest-givers and little else.
The term ‘RPG’ is pretty loose. We could argue for days about what is and what isn’t. But for me, an important part of any good RPG is being able to create and shape a character that’s unique to you. My Fallout 4 vault dweller, however, is vaguely the same as everyone else’s—he just wears a different hat. I mean, it’s a really nice hat. An ushanka I found in a bin. But it’s not enough. There’s no feeling of ownership.
The restrictions of the new dialogue wheel and the addition of a voiced protagonist have stripped away any chance to give your character a distinct personality. They’re either a good guy, or a sarcastic good guy. The single voice on offer is so obviously tailored to fit a generic-looking white guy—like the one they used in the E3 demo—that it sounds weird coming out of anyone else. These limitations feel out of place in a game that offers so much freedom elsewhere. I feel more attached to the rickety old shack I built in Sanctuary than the boring, unfunny dude I’m playing as.
And these frustrating restrictions extend beyond your appearance. Previous Fallout games let you set traits, perks, skills, and tag skills on top of your base SPECIAL stats: Fallout 4 has perks, SPECIAL, and nothing else. This new system might be more streamlined and elegant—and I like some things about it—but it’s yet another example of Bethesda reducing the ways in which you can fine-tune your character.