Fallout 4 released this week and millions of gamers have taken deep dives into its vast wasteland to pick up trash and brutally murder other inhabitants en route to finding who kidnapped the Lone Wanderer’s son. For the most part the game has received glowing reviews across the board, which is partly due to the franchise’s massive following and previous successes, but also because it offers the same level of freedom and exploration that fans fell in love with in Fallout 3 and New Vegas. It truly is a digital sandbox that allows players to experience its many secrets and offerings in any fashion they choose.
If you want to avoid the main mission, go for it, there is plenty of random stuff to do, and there is no shortage of junk to loot for crafting and economical gains. If you just want to play the “Settlements” mini-game and become the ultimate Shack Lord of the Wasteland, you’re free to do so. If you just want to plow through the main mission to find your son you can do that too! The only thing players can’t really do in Fallout 4 is have a true-to-life conversation with NPCs due to the game’s subpar character animations, which look and feel so robotic that it’s hard not to feel like you’re talking to the creepy as all hell Chuck E. Cheese robot band (see below for reference) each time you strike up a conversation with a mission-giver in the game.
Much has been said about Fallout 4’s overall graphical presentation, which if you’re honest with yourself isn’t quite on the same level as most of 2015’s new releases, especially when it comes to a game like The Witcher 3, or Halo 5: Guardians. This is curious because the game was only developed for the current-gen consoles and high-end PCs, so one would think that Bethesda would have produced a game that no one would question it as being next-gen or not, but that’s exactly what is happening this week amongst the gaming public. I for one haven’t found Fallout 4’s graphics to be as awful as others, and at times the game’s environments do look beautiful thanks to the excellent lighting system, and sometimes detailed background textures, but a game’s graphics have never really played a major role in how I enjoy them. Amazing graphics are definitely a nice and welcomed touch when I play a new game, but by no means does a game’s graphics solely define my opinions on it. I haven’t found some of the graphical glitches to be that impactful on my experience either, but I also haven’t ran into any that have affected my playthrough, so I haven’t been bitten by anything nasty yet.
With that being said, I do take umbrage with Fallout 4’s character animation system during dialogue scenes, which honestly feels like it came from a game engine meant for the last-gen consoles. The reason I’m hung up on the character animations is because they’re so rigid and unnatural, that it takes any sense of an emotional bond with the world away from the player. It’s nearly impossible to get into the story and its characters, because every time you must talk with a mission-giving NPC, the robot-like animations are laughable, removing any sense of believability that the characters and the world could exist. At times it feels like the entire world was replaced by robots while the lead character slept in a cryo-chamber for 200 years. Who knows, maybe that’s the end game, but as it stands Fallout 4’s cast will be nothing more to me than those stupid Chuck E. Cheese robots featured in the video embedded above, which is a shame, because it does cheapen the overall immersive experience that the game’s creators meant to offer.
(This video showcases the stiff animations perfectly. Notice how no one ever blinks, or has any facial movement outside of generic mouth hole opening.)
What sometimes makes these moments even worse is the fact that the audio will glitch out, so you truly are left watching a robotic character mouthing words that don’t exist, which is more harmful to the narrative than the shoddy animations themselves. I have missed out on entire mission descriptions due to this issue, so not only does it affect the story, but it can also frustrate your plans for questing. For example, Preston, who is one of the first main NPC companions you come across, was giving me a new main mission last night, but in the middle of his dialogue the audio just cut out, so I couldn’t hear what the hell he was asking me to do. I had to wait for the segment to end, fire up my Pip-Boy, scroll through my open quests, and guess which one was just given to me. This process by no means embodies the notion that you as the player are part of the game world itself, it only serves to pull your imagination even further from the experience, reducing it to a wasteland simulator without much heart or motivation to care about the main character’s lot in life.
A brief example of the audio dropout feature
Fallout 4 is by no means a terrible game, in fact, even with the busted ass animations and glitches I still find myself spending 2+ hours with it each night, and I can’t wait to return to the wasteland even as I type this sentence. Like I said graphics don’t typically dictate my experience with a game, but when it comes to immersion, especially in an RPG, I have a hard time becoming engrossed in a game’s world and narrative when its characters function like lifeless robots with zero personality and no souls. Hell, Codsworth and Dogmeat are probably the most real feeling characters in the whole game, because they don’t really have to speak with moving mouthes, but neither of them are human, so I guess that makes perfect sense in Fallout 4.
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