– Nicholas Payne
In less than three days we’ll find out whether casual gamers have succeeded in killing the traditional RPG.
The Fallout series has gotten to the point where compromises have to be made, similar to the transition of The Elder Scrolls series from the demanding formula of Morrowind and Oblivion to 2011’s user-friendly Skyrim.
It’s a fact of the industry that when a series reaches a certain level of popularity, there’s often pressure on publishers and developers to capitalise on this newfound status by making the next iteration easier for beginner players.
This is particularly evident with RPGs, where the gameplay and mechanics which garner such critical and underground support (pages of background lore, open-ended quests, endless customization screens) can often be seen as too intimidating for more casual gamers.
Think of the stark contrast between Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age II – proof even a studio as experienced in the art of strong RPGs as BioWare still succumbed to the pressure to go mainstream.
And you can’t blame Bethesda for going down this route once again – for them, this is the next step in the evolution of the Fallout series, from cult RPG to mainstream killer app.
But it’s an evolutionary transition which may end up alienating long-time supporters.
There are already a few warning signs popping up ahead of Fallout 4’s November 10 release, like distant red marks on a HUD compass.
While Fallout 3 and New Vegas followed the character-building formula of the earlier entries in the series, allowing you to customise your character by dropping initiative points into a range of categories, whispers from the Fallout 4 camp seem to indicate the levelling-up in this latest edition is going to follow a system of perks similar to that of 2011’s Skyrim.
This is only speculation at this point, but for fans who love poring over stats screen and boxes of numbers, that’s going to be a hard chem to swallow.
Another point of concern is the introduction of the talking protagonist – the Mass Effect series showed us having an actor reading the main character’s lines can give the game a cinematic feel, but at the cost of immersion.
Regardless of how good the voice-acting is, each gruffly delivered quip is only going to reinforce the fact that this character isn’t you – it’s a stylistic choice which puts up a barrier between the player and the narrative and directly contradicts the “Role-Playing” ideal.
The popularity of FromSoftware’s Souls series and this year’s Bloodborne has proven there’s still a strong contingent of gaming consumers who respect the challenge of a game which respects them back – games where the answers are never immediately obvious, and it feels all the more rewarding when you reach that nirvana-like state where it suddenly falls into place.
However, outside of JRPGs, these sorts of games are ceasing to exist. Fallout 4 will give the strongest indication yet of where the western RPG concept is heading.
We’ve come a long way from Vault 13 and the village of Arroyo – those of us who have given countless hours of our lives to the Fallout series since 1997 can’t help but feel a tinge of pride when we see Vault Boy giving a thumbs-up on a billboard or rolling by on the side of a tram.
But it’s a pride tempered with anxiety for what this newfound publicity may bring. War never changes, but for the Fallout series, it seems change may be inevitable.