DICE 2016 has been and gone for another year, and despite the fact that Life is Strange left empty handed (that’s a story for another day), one of the most interesting results revolved around the Game of the Year category. As always with these awards, the fans spoke out as soon as Fallout 4 was given the honour ahead of Witcher 3, Bloodborne, Ori and the Blind Forest and Rise of the Tomb Raider.
Before I go any further, I should point out that I really enjoyed Fallout 4 and I’m looking forward to getting back into it once the recently announced DLC and the promise of PC mods on consoles comes to fruition soon, but I have to admit (as the title of this article states) that I don’t believe it deserved the GOTY award. Here’s a few reasons why.
By now you should always go into a Bethesda developed game knowing there’s going to be a number of bugs, glitches and frame rate issues from day one and beyond. To be fair, most of these issues don’t come from a lack of play testing or bug fixing in the first place, where it does come from is Bethesda constantly trying to bite off more than they can chew. That’s not a criticism, I applaud the team for trying to put as much into their game as possible, I wouldn’t have it any other way. But the issue here stems from knowing what your limits are and ensuring your game reaches a certain quality standard.
There’s a certain charm to a Bethesda title that you don’t often find in competing titles, that of a game that’s happy to wear it’s heart on its sleeve and focus its attention on narrative and open worlds than tight graphics or bug free coding. It’s like playing Game Dev Tycoon and reaching a point where your game is as good as it can be, but the bugs just keep stacking up because you’re pushing the engine to its limits, but you ship it anyway with the promise that there’s enough content to be had to forgive the issues within.
As it stands, the bugs and glitches in Fallout 4 can still be considered a little bit of a letdown, but for the purpose of this article, it isn’t the biggest reason to forgo it a GOTY award, which leads me to…
For all the talk of its amazing world and the unique 1950’s aesthetic, many fans of Fallout 3 felt like this was more a step back than a step forward. Fewer and more simplified dialogue choices, a few bland characters, that ending … it did leave a little sour taste than the sweetness of its predecessor, and let’s not talk about all those stupid settlement quests.
Many complaints stem from the fact that it feels too simplistic, like all the creativity and difficulty was stripped down to make it more appealing to a larger audience. Whilst it’s respectable for a studio to try and bring in a new crowd to an existing franchise, you could argue that this ‘dumbing down’ decision was counter-intuitive. The hype surrounding Fallout 4 sold itself, in much the same way Deadpool’s advertising sold the movie rather perfectly despite it not being that good a movie. If Bethesda had stuck to its guns and kept that difficulty and level of detail as high as Fallout 3, it’s doubtful whether that would have decreased its overall sales (or increased them, for that mater).
It’s not all bad, but given the pedigree of Bethesda’s past, it’s a let down for previous Fallout fanatics. The unique nature of the Commonwealth can only go so far, especially when the pay off isn’t as good as the pitch.
Fallout 4 isn’t a bland game, but it isn’t exactly pretty either. Texture pops and a lack of pure quality hurts the overall product, especially when the frame rate drops during heavy enemy encounters. The argument that a lower texture quality helps improves its performance, especially for a game so this big, is lost on those who played through the more colourful and detailed rich environments in fellow GOTY nominee, The Witcher 3.
Within weeks of Fallout 4’s launch, mods were launched that upped the texture quality and added more dynamic lighting and weather effects, which does beg the inevitable question, did Bethesda plan that from the beginning? Perfection is something everyone should work towards, of course, but it’s questionable whether modern studios deliberately leave content out or not quite push the engine to its limit in order to leave just enough space to release updates and new content later on down the track. it’s the Apple way of thinking, leave something out in order to sell it on that option alone for the next version. That’s not to say Bethesda did that at all … but think about it.
THE SEASON PASS
Bethesda launched the season pass along with the game for an Australian price of $49.95, on the pretence of ‘we have no idea what’s going to be in it yet, but we’re sure it’ll be worth it!’. Now of course, Call of Duty always has a season pass attached these days and there’s no news at launch as to what’s in them, but it doesn’t take too long for an announcement or two to fill that gap in. The trend these days seems to be keeping fans in the dark for as long as possible … not cool.
Season Passes are the modern day bane of the gaming world, that dirty selling point for a ‘cheaper’ way of buying new content as it comes out, instead of buying each piece one by one on their own. There’s positives there, cheaper prices if you buy it all in one lump sum, but when you don’t know what you’re paying for it can create a few problems down the line. Rocksteady knows this best, following the backlash over story content for Batman: Arkham Knight being rather lacklustre compared to the asking price, whilst the rest was filled with pricey costume packs. They eventually got there, but too little too late? Maybe.
It’s a risky business to put DLC behind a firewall, that big promise with a red bow on top that it’ll be worth it. In Fallout’s case, even Bethesda weren’t sure what was going to happen and it’s taken almost four months for that plan to finally be ironed out somewhat, increasing the price of the season pass in the process. Is it still worth it? Maybe, if you buy it at the original price before the cost goes up at the end of the month. After that, who knows (personally I have my fingers crossed. They do sound cool).
Point is, selling a season pass on a promise isn’t exactly the best business strategy. It might be a little harsh to put this against Fallout’s potential, but it’s a fair point none the less. Trust only goes so far, especially when we’ve been burnt so many times in the past (I’m looking at you, AC: Unity).
When you take all four above elements into account, whether you’re for or against any of it, it makes you wonder whether Fallout 4 really should have been a game of the year contender. As I said above, it’s definitely a great game, there’s no doubt about that. But DICE aside, when The Witcher 3 and Bloodborne have been cleaning up industry and journalist awards for the past few months, it’s worth questioning whether Fallout really deserves to be considered in the same league. Or should it? Are we being too hard on Bethesda?
What do you guys think? Let us know in the comments below whether you agree or disagree with DICE’s decision. Bonus points if you agree that Rocket League should have won it all.
MARK ISAACSON is an Aussie journalist hoping that the promised Fallout 4 DLC will finally allow him to have a legit Deathclaw companion named ‘Buddy’.