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After 7 years of hype, guest starring the most elaborate online hoax of all time, the wait is almost over. Earlier this week at E3, Bethesda finally announced Fallout 4, the follow-up to what can only be described as the most popular game in the world that most people have never played. While the EAs and Activisions spit out their annual rail shooters, Bethesda take their time, releasing a major new title every three years or so.  Fallout and Fallout 2 were the definitive top-down isometric A-RPG games of the turn of the century.

Like many, I started following the franchise with 2008s Fallout 3, wherein the series made the leap to 3D with optional first and third person views. Fallout 3 allowed for a limitless number of completely disparate play throughs tuned to the player’s personal tastes through vast customisation options and the all-to-rare combination of wide as well as deep gameplay. Want to sprint through the main story with your trusty assault rifle? Cool, have fun. Stealthy sniper of the wastelands, hunting nasty raiders and scary mutants? Fine, no problem. Messianic pacifist, travelling from settlement to settlement, making the post-apocalyptic horror a more bearable place for the people you meet? Grand job. Do it dressed in nothing but a negligee and a baseball cap, shooting ashtrays at people from your home-made rocket launcher? Absolutely fine, if that’s what you’re into. Fallout 3 players tend to measure their save games in the hundreds of hours played. As with most games, speed runs are possible and can be managed in well under an hour, but for the vast majority the greatest joy in Fallout was to simply wander the wastelands, finding adventure while meeting an almost unbelievably well-written cast of thousands along the way. I have lost hours, days, and even weeks  just finding the next location and seeing what’s to be found there, combat shotgun on my back and faithful dog by my side.

Behemoth_Inauguration_Day_-_Capitol_BuildingDid I mention the irradiated and necrotic zombies? The warring factions in mechanical power armour wielding laser guns and plasma rifles? The twenty-foot-tall mutants waving clubs made of fire hydrants hiding in the ruins
of the US congress? The scattered towns where civilisation clings to life, hiding in converted aircraft carriers and jet plane fuselages? The wandering traders, always ready to trade goods, drugs and weapon repairs for the right sum of bottle caps? The sprawling underground labyrinth of subways, as teeming with life as the surface? The survivalists in their shacks, hidden atop mountains and in caves, constantly looking for a hero to keep the monsters at bay? From the glamorous opulence of Tenpenny Towers to the cult-like dictatorship of the Republic of Dave, Fallout 3s capital wasteland is the truest embodiment of the newest “oldest cliche in gaming” – a living, breathing world in which there’s always something new to see and someone new to see it with (or steal it from).

Let’s not kid ourselves here though – it’s not the perfect game. Bethesda have sadly earned a reputation as producers of buggy games. In their defence, the sheer scale of ambition in creating not just a city but a veritable nation with each game – be it the DC wasteland, follow-up New Vegas, or Skyrim – was always going to throw up some problems at an engineering level. One of the first google autocomplete suggestions for any Bethesda game will always be “glitch”, with “freeze” and “crash” not far behind. The problem reached a head with Fallout New Vegas, a near-identical follow-up to Fallout 3 released in 2010.  After huge uproar on the internet, Bethesda finally admitted that their newest offering was simply incompatible with the PS3 once the save game hit a certain size. Sure, the PC gamers and in particular the modding community did everything they could, but for console gamers such as myself, no matter what efforts were taken (keep inventory low, turn off autosave etc) after a certain amount of free roaming the game simply would not function. All too often my late-game build would suffer first low frame rates, then frequent hanging, and finally unplayability. The issue wasn’t as severe in Skyrim, but if Bethesda are going to position this magnificent intellectual property among the all-time greats, they absolutely must make the game playable to the point that the player – not the hardware limitations – decides.

Another criticism levelled at Fallout 3 had always been the graphics. Even in terms of the time it was launched, it lagged behind other titles at the same time. Have a look at Crysis:Warhead, released in the same month:

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As opposed to Fallout:

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The colour palette too left a bit to be desired. Yes, it’s the end of the world, everything is in ruins, fine. But that doesn’t really mean everything should be shades of brown and grey, does it? If the trailer for the upcoming Fallout 4 is anything to go by, this at least looks to have been fixed. The challenge now is to add the colour while retaining the desolation. I’m sure the good folks that created Borderlands could probably offer a helpful hint or two. Above all else, Fallout 4 needs to find the simple, horrifying pleasure that all Fallout 3 players felt upon leaving Vault 101 and seeing the wasteland for the first time. As the players eyes adjust to being in the sunlight for the first time, two realisations land with terrifying impact. The wastes are an incredibly dangerous place, and you’re out in them now all alone. Armed with little in the way of weaponry and far less in the way of ammo, it’s time to pick a direction and hope you survive long enough to find help. The overwhelming sense of solitude in the utterly broken and desolate remnants of the postwar USA is, strangely enough, the reason I keep finding myself going back to the game nearly a decade on. Every time it’s a different story. Hand-to-hand fighter, explosives expert, wandering merchant, drug dealing psychopath, Batman, Santa Claus.., I can play this game any way I see fit. In a climate of endless linear shooters, Fallout 4 should be a breath of fresh, heavily irradiated air.

Fallout 4 is earmarked for release before the end of 2015. 

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