How I Learned to Stop Listening to the Zeitgeist and Love Fallout 4.

fallout 2 - How I Learned to Stop Listening to the Zeitgeist and Love Fallout 4.

I never played the original Fallouts. I wasn't on PC at the time of their release, and when 3 was announced it meant nothing to me. I read some things, it sounded intriguing, but I was still a poor college student and didn't play it until I got a copy of the GOTY version and immediately fell in love, and obsessively did every single quest. Well, so I thought. Wouldn't be a few years until I learned just how much Fallout hides from ya, and boy does that ever come into play today…

By the time FO4 came out, I had played New Vegas to death as well. Even though it had to have been about 3 years since I had last touched it, I quickly ran into a problem. That problem was almost certainly Skyrim's fault. I had burnt myself out on the Creation engine style of gameplay from 2007-2011's 3 big releases. I was not in a place in my life for one reason or another where the obsessive, deep gameplay appealed to me, and the games on a purely main story level are still GREAT, but to me they are meant to be absolutely absorbing, and because I couldn't quite play like I did in my late teens/early 20s, I hit a wall in a game I had anticipated for years, and only made it about halfway through the story of the vanilla game at release before getting distracted and, despite maybe one or two attempts, never even making it that far again for over 5 years.

One thing that has changed that puts me at an advantage is sadly the pandemic and the economy in the US. I have been out of a job and living at the grace of my family for a while, and despite my best efforts my time ends up only being valuable in terms of work around the house rather than making money. When I'm not doing some chores, I'm basically free to play games like I did as a kid. That means that since late January I have put 250 hours into this game, and you know how far I am in the story? Exactly as far as I was in my original playthrough. Actually, maybe even a little less. Oh yeah, and I still haven't even gone to Nuka World. I have an entire DLC left.

That's where it gets a little weird. How much of how I feel about this game is related to how the game was at launch? Certainly a lot of what I'm about to say, specifically why that's as far as I have gotten, is related to the massive amount of DLC that wasn't present then. There's also even a few things like sim settlements that have ridiculously professional questlines that take up time. And some of the environmental factors and bug fixes are way better because of modders. But I consider all of that just kind of part of the magic of Bethesda, and even though people shouldn't be relied on to fix a company's bugs, you have to put that fact aside and look at what it shows you about how good the work the company DID perfect is.

This game is absolutely mind bogglingly bonkers huge. I had JUST spent 200 hours in Cyberpunk 2077, which is what directly led to me getting sucked back into the world of collect o rama, open world quest seeking obsessive compulsive gaming. I was under the impression that, despite the bugs and rushed release forced by people other than the actual devs, I had just played the most ambitious title of all time in terms of amount of story, quests, and fully voiced dialog for all of it. Holy balls was I happy to sound like an idiot.

It JUST. DOES. NOT. END. At level 54 I just discovered that the two remaining companion quests I hadn't done were in one case for a companion I had JUST gotten because I looked up a list of easily missed quests and pursued the mission not even knowing it ended in gaining a companion. That's a particular quest that starts in a place that, like many, is extremely easy to miss in this game, but even if you find it accidentally, the quest doesn't start until a return visit, so you could explore the "entire" building and still miss the quest. The other case? A companion I STILL DON'T HAVE, in a zone I have NEVER heard of.

I have been playing nonstop. I feel like I'm 12 years old. This isn't even comparable to how I played FO3 at age 20. I am utterly addicted and amazed at the scope of this game. I have spent hours and hours and hours doing nothing but minor story missions. I have explored every deep facet of the game in ways I was too burned out to even begin to attempt in 2015. I'm addicted to the combat again of course, but it's all so fresh compared to the FO3 engine. The junk system was literally just a weird gimmick of the Creation engine games that had no purpose. They seamlessly made it into an integral part of the game such that it's unbelievable it didn't start out with the purpose of being used this way.

Everything has been in perfect balance. For all the stuff I want to do but need perks or even just time for, there are missions padding me out the entire time to ensure that I have never been farming for anything once, and don't see it happening anytime soon. I continued to get sucked down new rabbit holes to the point where I realized I had to look up easy to miss quests online because there is SO much of the vanilla map I haven't even been to, and this was around level 40 something. I was narrowing my missions out and my XP slowed down, but then I remembered I hadn't done certain companion quests so I started hanging with the right ones just in time to have their quests hold me over until I found the aforementioned hidden ones that lead to new companions and branching trees of 4 or so different questlines, like where the mission Follow the Freedom Trail leads you.

As a result, my XP gains were skyrocketing again. One of my level 20 somethingish discoveries/decisions was the random 5x XP Idiot Savant perk that I ground through 4 levels of upping my luck and 2 levels of the perk itself just to get because it was a genius perk that made the XP wall I knew was coming more easily climbed. At one point I finally got it to happen on a big quest finish and got through most of level 53 with one mission completion. That was like crack. I was suddenly finally about to finish maxing out both gun nut and science, which I had been putting on the sidelines for a lot of other stuff most of the playthrough. I had been just as obsessed with what modding I could do as the rest of the game's features.

When I got the ability to make anything, I had also been using Sim Settlements 2 for a few days, and had been collecting a ton of junk on my own over the course of the last week as I was scouring a bunch of buildings in weird side missions. I had years worth of junk by this point, and I could do anything I wanted. Suddenly I was overwhelmed again by just how far the modding went at the high end. I knew I could improve my Gamma weapon with Science maxed now, so I tried out my one crappy plasma pistol just to see what the mods were, thinking there was no chance I would waste any materials on a weapon that bad. I quickly discovered once again how dumb I was to think I had come to fully understand the magnitude of Bethesda's creation. I doubled the base pistol damage output, added a sniper barrel and a proper stock, and suddenly a crappy 28 damage pistol that did double damage on robots but was too weak to be useful went from being a useless pistol to an over the top sniper rifle. I knew that the names of the guns changed if you changed the firing style or ammo types, but seeing it then I truly understood the magnitude of the mod system. You really could do basically anything. Every gun is just a bunch of legos, and despite everything I had just discovered, I still didn't have any rare mods. Just basic old crafting table ones. Even at this height I could go further if I wanted…

Of course there was that time after I had caught up to my original playthrough and was burning through the DLCs I had never played for some fresh content and to extend what I stupidly assumed was a game that would be over in 5-10 hours from that point. That led to Vault 88, wherein I took about a 2 day detour building an atrium inside the main room. The construction system was one of a couple or so things I remembered being amazing in my original playthrough even despite my not being properly into it enough to even finish the game when it had no DLC.

That in turn led to The Mechanist DLC. Early on in that quest I became locked away in Vault 88 again as I mined resources I lacked at that point in time to obsessively use the new robot creation system as much as I could at that point to turn ADA into a ridiculous killing machine. Then, I was off to leave the entire Commonwealth for a good 3 real world days of playtime as I cleared the entirety of Far Harbor. Oh wait, I just read about another mission I missed up there…

In the course of the DLC focus is when I picked up most of the weird side quests and overloaded my Pip Boy with possibilities, so I decided to save Nuka World for later and focus on that, which led me into the late stages of my current playthrough. I played through countless awesome stories as I simultaneously gained more and more levels that led to more and more perks that somehow led to deeper and deeper aspects of the game revealing themselves to me. I became so overwhelmed with the things I wanted to do and my now complete lack of expectation of how or where the XP train begins and ends that I started adding on mods I had not initially, like Sim Settlements 2, so that I could catch up with the settlement aspect of the game I had not even touched except for building out Vault 88 to no benefit except my architectural delight before abandoning it's dwellers for more story.


It was about this time my amazement at the game had consumed my every waking moment and I was just floored. Not purely because of the game itself, but the world outside of it. I remember the announcement, and how everyone freaked out that they were doing the joke thing everyone had always talked about Valve doing with HL3. They hadn't said a word about Fallout since they released 3 in 07, and suddenly we were preordering a game that would be in our hands before we could even read up on all the released information about the game itself. Most of the new stuff I had no clue about when I first got it because I had not been anticipating the game due to the silence and just decided to preorder it and dive in when it released with no real expectation.

As a result, I ended up pulling a good friend into my own personal WandaVision (hehe, I'll quickly go on another mini tangent about how weird the mechanics of save states are in this game and how it relates to the crazier theories about CHIM. Quicksave, jump off a cliff, F9, companion says you're crazy to take that jump and lucky you survived. WHAT??? That just happened today actually. Had just watched the new WandaVision and I found that as hilarious as it is perplexing to me how exactly the game works for something that happened in an alternate future to affect a previous save state. Really adds to some of my thoughts about all those Elder Scrolls theories that the player of each game is essentially a god interacting with the world through an Avatar. I didn't reload a save, I rewound my own timeline independent of the world around me.) My obsession and comments about how insane this game was to me sucked in someone who historically hates FPS games of any type, even FO3, and who had to pay 60 dollars to get it despite being as low on money as I am right now. Just my descriptions of the game systems hooked him and now we are both on Cloud 9 drifting through the Commonwealth. I am finding even more joy in being able to help explain all the crazy systems to him that I already knew from years of playing Creation Engine games, as well as excitedly sharing my discoveries about the new systems I had never seen.

Now, I have to cover in more detail the mod side of things. People so often criticize Bethesda for the bugs in their engine, and modders having to fix it. To me, the fact that Bethesda has made and continues to offer such a robustly moddable experience infinitely outweighs the bugs I've experienced in the past with the FO3 version of the engine. I don't remember how it was in 2015, and I am playing with every mod under the sun now, so I can't offer a perspective on how the base game plays, and it's important to point that out as it in one way or another has colored every aspect of my entire playthrough. But that's because the access people have to this engine coupled with its inherent brilliance is something that other engines simply don't come close to. By introducing all the new official systems into vanilla FO4, and then even more complexities and additional systems via the DLC, Bethesda built a workshop that is unprecedented, and they deserve credit as on almost any other engine the type of things modders create on Creation Engine games aren't remotely possible, and with FO4 it rocketed into space. I still haven't even scratched the surface of building a truly functioning settlement, instead relying on SS2 for what I need from it so far, but what I have done is all amazing. One of the few early things I did was add a mortar to Sunshine Tidings so I could wipe out a then impossible swarm of robots to the south. That ended up being the perfect choice for that form of attack as that location is perfect for defending the areas around Sanctuary, Sunshine Tidings. and my recently acquired Railroad base at Red Rocket. In the MIDDLE of writing this, just because I happened to be right beside Red Rocket and was shutting the game off, I looked inside to see who was there after I had secured it, and got sent on yet another quest. Unbelievable.

I wanna move on from the mods, but I just gotta throw a little love out for a mod specifically while simultaneously praising the boys and girls at Bethesda again for what they have cobbled together over the years with this engine. Sim Settlements 2 I only added in the last 5 days or so and it took me by surprise in a whole other direction. With Bethesda's masterpiece of a moddable and complex engine, people have made mods that are fully voice acted and indiscernible from an official release. That's a measurement of how good the engine is and how much it has invigorated the modding community around it. Bravo Kinggath. You got the goods.

That pretty much brings this long winded love letter to the current day. I've been finishing up things here and there, finalizing some mods, and repeatedly warping to the Nuka Cola travel hub to start that DLC before remembering something else I want or need to do first, going off to do it, and falling in another rabbit hole. I decided to clear the aforementioned Sim Settlements quest to finish building up Sunshine Tidings thinking it was the end of that mod's quests and I would just knock it off real quick to narrow my focus. Nope, Kinggath got me. More to do yet, and in the course of doing so I decided to use my Power Armor that I had briefly retired to save cores I had gone through a little too fast recently. I had forgotten to repair it when I hung it up, so I went in and fixed and re-equipped the broken pieces. In doing so, I discovered the thing that ultimately led me to writing this here today. In the course of all the obsessive focus on the endless number of features in the game, I had somehow completely failed to notice anything but the fact that you could change the paint on some of the early game power armor. I was suddenly in a fresh list of mod options for power armor that already was a hybrid supersuit that made me invincible, and now I was realizing it was all Model A/Mark1, could go up to Model F/Mark6, added 20 defense on two fronts for each Model/Mark higher you went, and that there were another batch of seemingly infinite secondary mods for each piece that did everything from add carrying capacity via the legs just like my beloved ADA I had built 200 hours prior, added energy damage defense which I could certainly use on my upcoming trip to Nuka World, and installing photovoltaic system for my helmet that makes AP recharge faster in sunlight…

I just checked the exact playtime. 296 hours. I was at exactly 50 when I started from my aborted original and secondary playthroughs. 250 hours almost dead on. My last story mission was probably about 190 of those hours ago when I took back the Castle.

This game is a masterpiece that was almost immediately after the hype of the quick announcement/release regarded as a technically superior, yet unexciting retread of the Fallout 3 engine in every mention I personally saw. In the years since the only loud voices I hear speaking about Fallout have been about how terrible 76 is (which I have not played but understood intimately from day 1, well before I came back to 4 even,why it would not work as an online game despite being an amazing open world engine for single player games.). I have never once heard praises sung about the mastery of FO4, despite 3 getting tons of praise for being half as complex only 8 years prior. That is what slowly led to me thinking I wanted to make a post on Reddit about it, only to culminate in me almost deliriously laughing when I realized I had completely overlooked modding the power armor despite being obsessed with modding everything else. It is absolutely absurd to me that a game this good exists. It is beyond insanity that the game is now over 5 years old. It's glorious how well it runs as a result of its conservative engine that has been itself modded by Bethesda into a masterful suit of Power Armor capable of checking every box that you could possibly desire.

I'm not really seeking to answer the question of how this game disappeared from conversation before the first DLC even released despite being part of an already adored franchise. 5 years on, it doesn't matter. All I can do is say thank you to everyone who contributed to this wonderful experience. This pandemic reigned havoc on my already potent depression from having lost my longtime job. I was constantly looking for something to absorb myself into, and while some of that always comes down to where your mindset is at any given time, the fact is Bethesda delivered the exact masterpiece I needed to me. It has affected me in a way no game ever has since I was looking under the TV to find where Mario fell after running off a pit back in 1989 at the age of two. I would have never in a million years guessed a game could be this huge, and even theoretically I never would have imagined I was still capable of enjoying a game this much. Thank you Bethesda. You got the goods.

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