I’ve mentioned before that I played Skyrim with a lot of mods, many of which contributed to a sort of hardcore / survivalist gameplay style. Someday maybe we’ll get similar mods for Fallout 4, but in the meantime I thought I’d try a similar idea with the base game. It’s not actually a great idea, but the heart wants what the heart wants.
So I’ve been playing Fallout 4 with some self-imposed rules:
No Fast Travel
Being able to teleport all over the world at will trivializes distances and encourages the worst sort of obsessive loot-gathering. It’s no fun to make five trips to the store in the process of cleaning out a ruin, but when money is in such short supply and the store is only a click away, it feels like you’re leaving money on the ground. Removing arbitrary fast travel curtails the worst of my OCD hoarding.
On the other hand, crisscrossing the same half dozen cleaned-out ruins is really dull after a while. So I allow myself to fast travel between settlements under my control. If I can use the workbench, then I can go to / from there.
If I die, I start a new game. This only applies to mistakes on my part. If I clip through level geometry and fall to my death, or a grenade bounces off an invisible wall and kills me, I go ahead an reload. This is supposed to be an immersion-based permadeath, and there’s nothing immersive about dying because of some random nonsense glitch.
Like I said last week, I use some mods that arguably make the game easier and take the edge off that permadeath.
No main Quest
At the start of the game I run into Conchord, kill the raiders, and grab the bobblehead and comic out of the upstairs room. That’s the last I see of Preston Garvey and his band of helpless rubes. I don’t get the power armor and I don’t fight the deathclaw. This isn’t so much a rule as a preference. When you’re playing with permadeath, you end up playing the first few levels a lot of times. It’s maddening to hear the same terrible, plodding, boring, overlong dialog again and again.
This isn’t a rule, it’s just an effort to aid my immersion. While companions are fun to talk to, their AI is so hilariously bad that it launches me right out of the game.
Also, having help actually adds to the danger. Sure, they help in combat. But the big danger in this game is not combat. We’ll talk more about this later.
I’m always female.
This isn’t a preference, this is a limitation of the stupid idiot bungling annoying shitty Bethesda opening. In Skyrim, the game thoughtfully gave you a save just before character creation. In Fallout 4, they give you one just as you leave the vault. You can’t change your gender at that point. I suppose this is because you’ve already established the gender of your spouse, and therefore changing your gender would require a retcon of the entire introduction. Or maybe the interface guy just forgot to put in the “change gender” button. It’s always hard to understand why Bethesda does the things they do.
Well, I’m not going to run through the intro every time I want to change genders, so I’m stuck playing as a female until I get the urge to play the pre-war chapter again. (Projection: Not anytime soon. Ugh.)
So here are the adventures I’ve had so far:
A stealth build character. She was killed by a bottlecap mine at the Starlight Drive-in. I was inside the building when I heard the warning beep and atavistically sprinted forward towards the window like I was going to dive out. But you can’t actually fit through the window. So I was caught in the blast radius. Dead at level 9.
Another stealth build character. I was in the Federal Ration Reserve at level 7, and I knew I was pushing my luck. The place is a gigantic underground complex and the foes were just a little too high for me to engage safely. But I was making progress by playing hit-and-run and exploiting the extreme stupidity of the Bethesda AI.
My luck ran out when I tripped a grenade trap. I sprinted away the moment I saw the warning indicator, but I couldn’t escape the blast radius. (It’s actually three grenades that bounce down the stairs at you, which really spreads the death around.)
Another stealth build. As my level got into the late teens, I started thinking about what my win state ought to be. I mean, I could hang around the Red Rocket gas station forever, so I needed some sort of long-term goal to work towards. Eventually I decided that once I filled a rack with collected magazines, I’d retire.
That came together a bit sooner than I thought. I retired at level 22.
Next time I think my goal is to fill two magazine racks. That seems like a reasonable goal that should require about the same degree of exploration and dungeon-diving as the main quest, but without actually doing the main quest.
My first melee build. Hilariously died to one of the first raiders just outside of the museum in Conchord. I hadn’t done any melee combat yet and was sort of running on Skyrim muscle memory, which is bad. The raiders kept interrupting my power attacks. (Protip: Use regular attacks when you’re swarmed.) I thought I was getting stunlocked because my attacks weren’t landing. I think I figured it out just as I dropped dead.
I actually hate the attack interruptions in this game. Ghouls in particular can lunge through your attack radius. You swing at just the right time to connect as they approach, but then they jump the distance and hit you with a little bullshit quick attack. Even though my swing was 90% of the way complete, the entire attack is canceled and must be restarted. What you actually need to do is block, let them bounce off, then counter-attack. All ghouls have the exact same attack pattern and there are a lot of them in this game, so this gets to be a bit of a chore, particularly when you’re just trying to wade through a bunch of trash low-level ghouls.
There really ought to be a perk or something that will make your attacks un-interrupt-able. Or I should be immune to interruptions when I out-level them. Or make fast attacks interrupt-proof. Or slow attacks. Something. Anything. Just let me fight in a way that doesn’t require me to always play block-and-counterattack. Not sure why a sissy-slap can deflect my sledgehammer. I mean, GUN actions can’t be interrupted. Ugh.
Melee build again. I actually just re-loaded my save, since the only thing I’d accomplished so far was walking into town and I didn’t see a point in going through character creation again, since I was going to make the exact same choices.
I NEARLY died at level 6 to the same damn bottlecap mine that killed Zoe. I thought the mine was inside the building, but actually it was on the counter and I blundered too close while scouting the outside. I moved away as fast as I could. I was probably eight meters away (pretty far, according to common videogame logic) when it went off. Donna had a super-high endurance of 9, a full set of starting armor (some of it was upgraded) and was at full health. Also, I’d taken the damage reduction perk. And despite all these advantages, I survived with just a single pixel worth of health left in my HP bar.
I’m starting to think that explosive damage is overpowered.
Donna made it to level 11. She was killed in Lexington by – wait for it – an explosion. There’s a raider with a rocket launcher on a walkway over the street. By that point in the game I had a game-breaking damage reduction score of 113, which is astronomical for level 11. It was actually only possible because the mods I’m using allowed me to stack DR perks and armor upgrade perks that aren’t normally available to characters at this level.
I was actually starting to worry I’d broken the game too hard, because I could run into a room full of five bandits and beat them all to death before their guns did enough damage to warrant a single stimpack.
Yet even with this clearly unbalanced degree of damage reduction, and even though I started running as soon as I heard the “incoming” sound, the missile still destroyed me, from 100% health, in a single hit.
I am really, really starting to think that explosive damage is massively overpowered.
Yet another melee build. I found myself at the Cambridge Police Department, helping out the Brotherhood hold off waves of ghouls. Like most of the rest of the game, this feels sort of trivial. For the cost of a few stimpacks and rad-away, you can hold off the ghouls basically forever without any real risk to yourself.
But it was getting annoying having the little bastards constantly magically negating my attacks just before they connected, so I backed up onto one of the walkways nearby so I wouldn’t get swarmed.
Apparently, one of these Brotherhood dipshits put landmines on their own fortifications? I couldn’t get past the ghouls to escape the blast radius. Dead at level 11.
Yeah. Explosion damage is ridiculously OP.
Tried an unarmed build. Hated it. Yes, about once an hour I’d get to suplex some dude, but I’d spend the rest of the hour winding up a huge punch, launching it someone’s face, and then they would elbow me just as the punch reached their face and the attack would vanish. This is quite possibly the most unfulfilling way to play this game.
You have to constantly use VATS to prevent your attacks being interrupted. And using VATS all the time means watching the same slow-motion punch animation again and again, only half the time the camera is stuck behind a tree and I can’t see what’s going on.
I abandoned Audrey somewhere around level 10. Yuck.
Yet another melee build. Went into Lexington and sniped the raider that killed Donna 2 with the rocket launcher. Then I went upstairs to take care of her compatriots.
I got to the third floor where rocket-launcher lady had been camping. Three important things happened here:
1) A ghoul woke up nearby.
2) Another raider picked up the rocket launcher.
3) Raider proceeded to shoot at the ghoul with the rocket launcher. I was hiding around the corner and hadn’t been spotted yet, but I was still in the blast radius. Dead at level 9.
You know, this is actually taking a lot of the fun out of things. The point of playing like this is to encourage a sort of immersive roleplaying thing. I want to play in a way that will discourage reckless behavior and force me to take encounters seriously. It was lots of fun in Skyrim, but it’s not working at all here. I’ve been stacking more and more durability, trying to make my character able to survive explosive mishaps. It doesn’t work, but it does basically make me immortal to regular raiders.
So I walk around all the time invulnerable, until I’m insta-killed by a random explosion that often could only be avoided with foreknowledge. This game is chaotic and unpredictable by nature and so it’s not possible to never get caught in an explosion. What I want is a game that encourages caution and forethought, and what I’m getting is basically playing DOOM with cheats on, mixed with a periodic surprise round of Russian Roulette.
I was exploring the northern wilderness when I crested the hill a bit too close to Outpost Zimonja. There’s a guy there with power armor and a rocket launcher. The rocket missed my face by a few inches. I wish I had a video of it. The rocket was aimed right at my head, which is actually pretty impressive shooting for a rocket at fifty meters. It was just a perfect circle, growing larger and larger on screen for a few brief frames. I sidestepped it out of reflex and then ran off.
I head for the Railroad as soon as I’m able to survive in the city, and do a few quests to unlock ballistic weave. This gives me a damage reduction of ~350, which is almost like wearing power armor. Once I have that, the game is fundamentally broken forever. I can finally survive an explosion, at the cost of never having to be afraid of anything else in the world, ever.
Again, this sort of ruins the game. Ideally, I’m looking for a harsh world full of danger and a million ways to die, but instead I wind up with one way to die. Deathclaws and Supermutants are far less terrifying than just one regular raider with a rocket launcher. Swan – the overleveled Supermutant boss hiding in the pond downtown – is far less dangerous than just a regular Suicide bomber Supermutant. I could increase the other dangers of the wasteland by turning up the difficulty, but that would just make explosions even more deadly.
This is why I don’t travel with companions. They are idiots when it comes to traps. No death feels more unjust then when you’re painstakingly creeping forward to disable a landmine and your companion blunders over it and kills both of you. Or when you step on a trap and need to back away before it kills you, and your companion decides to stand in the doorway. Companions help in gunsfights, but make explosives and traps even more deadly. They help with the easy thing and exacerbate the most dangerous thing.
I manage to fill up my magazine racks and retire at level 25.
I was going to experiment with some different builds, but I think I need to wait for the mods. With permadeath, Fallout 4 is basically “Avoiding Explosions, The Game”. Nothing else matters. The extreme damage of explosions pretty much forces you into a fairly restrictive design:
- Stack perception to give you more time to react to traps.
- Stack endurance to make the explosions less likely to kill you.
- Wear the heaviest armor possible. Add the “dense” mod as soon as you can. Get ballistic weave as soon as you can.
- Invest in the stealth perks that let you walk over traps without setting them off.
Gretta did so well not because I’ve gotten good at the game, but because her entire design was built around surviving explosions. This single threat eclipses all others.
Note that I’m not really blaming Fallout 4 here. It’s not designed to be played with permadeath. Fallout 4 has a lot of glaring design flaws, but I don’t think it would be fair to list this as one of them. Having shit blowing up all over the place is obviously part of the design goal, and it’s more hilarious than frustrating when quickload is just a keypress away.
Having said that, I have no idea what Bethesda is trying to do with the encounters in this game. You’ll plow through a maze that has 20 completely trivial mooks, and at the end you’ll bump into a guy who:
- Is over-leveled relative to the others.
- Has a really dangerous weapon.
- Has an advantageous position.
- Is wearing power armor.
Now, it seems to me you could give the levels to somebody in one room, the weapon to someone in another, the position to a group of raiders, and the power armor to someone else. Then you’d have four interesting and varied fights. But instead you get 20 identical trivial fights and one fight of extreme danger. Is this a deliberate design decision, or the result of too much copy-paste game design? I have no idea.
So what happens when a SOFTWARE engineer tries to review hardware? This. This happens.
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