Fallout 76 game design and the Borderlands Dillema

fallout 8 - Fallout 76 game design and the Borderlands Dillema

I don’t think “40% fallout 4, 40% borderlands, 20% battle royale” does the game, or the new ground Bethesda is breaking, good justice.

My beta impression is that they’ve taken on a REALLY difficult challenge – to put the me that played Borderlands alone, and the me that played Borderlands with a collaborative squad, into the same game instance.

Those two me’s are two different audiences.

In the past they catered to different audiences using game difficulty levels. The current road they chose is a one-size-fits-all and that creates some difficult challenges.

A huge audience plays fallout/elder-scrolls for immersion.

Where games like fortnite or overwatch do away with a strong emotional connection between the player and the ambient world by actively cartoonifying and toning it down, Bethesda’s titles always aimed for this huge immersive experience.

That’s why one large audience pays them money.

When I’m that audience, I take my time. I explore nooks and crannies. I’m not under time pressure to keep up.

Another audience is those who love coop. I love that too, but that’s not immersion play. The hallmark of this play style is keeping up with the squad.

As this piece (https://www.polygon.com/2018/10/25/18024388/fallout-76-beta-impressions-xbox-one-ps4-windows-pc) nicely puts it, “And you’d be surprised how hard it is just to go find something in a mission when one person has already found it and is trying to tell you where it is; another is saying they’re standing right over it, and a third has already completed the mission and talking about something else entirely. “


There’s a side-note here that not all other players are born equal.

Extroverted people recharge from contact with other humans, and lose energy when alone. Introverted people recharge from alone, and expend energy by being around other people.

Introverted people play immersive games in droves specifically to get away from other humans and recharge. Forcing other humans, particularly unfamiliar humans, on to them is basically “we’d like everyone who is an introvert to stop paying us money” kind of … umm… dubious business decision.

So some coop lovers are ok to team up with strangers, but others just don’t want to and want to bring their own water bottle, so to speak, and nobody else. Those are two separate coop-willing sub-audiences and it pays to carefully think through the needs of each.

Back from the tangent and to marrying self-paced immersive play with team-based co-op.

I can be either audience, really, either the “let’s focus on the together thing and not worry about exploring that barn”, or “ooh, I wonder what’s in that barn”, but not at the same time.

My partner is an immersive player only, and dislikes the second.

Not just actively partaking in it, but how it totally breaks her own experience.

And that has 4 layers, each of which Bethesda is likely to be progressively less motivated to fix (Prove me wrong BSG designers :))

  1. vastly differently-aged people in your headphones, talking about the things their age group talks about, in the way their age group talks. Big no-no. That chatter DESTROYS immersion. Difficulty of fixing: easy. Make it so you can switch it off (maybe option already exists).

(For context, we’re ~40. I’ve played every fallout since 1 and every elder scrolls since 3).

  1. World characters with a label that says xxxh4X0Rxxx jumping around in your face, running into an environment you were setting up to tackle. The game designers suggested that’s handled partially by keeping the number of players per instance relatively low and allowing you to find areas to explore alone.

We’ll see, but that still creates these game zones where this audience is thinking about a part of a map using “there be game bugs in there, I’m not going near that” psychology.

Ease of fixing for Bethesda: moderate. Allow invite-only/individual game instances as an option.

  1. Absence of human NPC’s. That’s scary, but I’ll see how the engagement with what they did create goes before I pass judgement.

Difficulty of fixing: near impossible, save in subsequent far harbor/nuka-world style DLC’s or future titles.

  1. Absence of INTERACTION in the story.

The reason people use Facebook less and Reddit more is because reddit gives us power over the contents of our feed, and Facebook keeps that power to itself.

Bethesda, take note.

Fallout 76, in true MMO fashion, we are no longer a decision-making participant in the story. There are no 2-way dialogues that shape the story. There’s a 1-way inflow of information being broadcast at us, and our story related choices don’t matter. And that’s… the immovable line in the sand that separates an MMO from a game with an interactive story.

You’ve made us not matter.

Close to the line though F76 may be, “offering a fallout-4 experience” its designers may think it does, it’s squarely on the MMORPG side.

This is more elder scrolls online than it is the next Fallout 4.

Difficulty of fixing: requires major direction shift, not likely.

Which is a shame since so many of the game mechanics (crafting, schematics, leveling system) have the accumulated depth and lessons learned from F3, FNV, F4, ES3,4 and 5 and all that detail is so worth exploring.

Sure, I can enjoy both playing it the solo way and the “rushed by the social timer” way, and next beta session me and my partner decided to experiment with a “loose collab” game style (which F76 allows much better than past collab games like borderlands, where every person can go anywhere they want) while still being in our team of 2, trying to steer away from events and other humans and explore the world that way, to see how much of the immersion can be retained on the current terms.

I’m cautiously optimistic, she’s less so.

All this said, I applaud Bethesda for venturing into new ground and trying to make brave attempts at new game designs on such a huge brand project. Keep trying guys, and please, don’t stop listening to the community feedback and steering it as best you can.



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