Experienced Points: Why is the Fallout 4 Protagonist Voiced?

By Shamus
on Nov 23, 2015
Filed under:
Column

My column this week is not an answer to the question posed by the title, but instead a diatribe on why this is a really good question. It’s a baffling design decision that hurt the game in numerous tangible ways and doesn’t seem to have any benefit.

Actually, it’s possible this design decision can be explained by the same thing as the terrible design decision I talked about last week. It’s awful and a waste of development resources, but it also makes it easier to make trailers and press demos.

Earlier today, Supahewok said this in response to the podcast:

Most journalists go through a honeymoon phase with Bethesda titles. RPS gave Skyrim their GOTY for… 2011, was it? The game had been out for only a month.

Fast forward a year and most of their reviewers were saying, “In hindsight, it was rather shallow and dull, wasn’t it?”

Bethesda seem to have become masters at a sort of inherently shallow but greatly immediately gratifying gameplay, which means everyone loves it for a few weeks. Eventually the shine wears off, and the rather skeletal, half baked mess of the game’s underlying systems become more visible. However, Beth times their releases for Christmas (anything late October through November is Christmas Season for games nowadays), when all the game journos are doing their “Best of the Year” and award shows are handing out trophies, so the game is more immediately in their minds than the great games from earlier in the year (betcha nobody is keeping Pillars of Eternity in mind for Best RPG, although to be fair Witcher 3 seems to have had equally as good, yet more accessible writing, and a crap ton more production value. Yet even W3, who at its release had a lot of folks calling it the Best RPG for the Past Decade, is gonna have stiff competition from FO4, when there really is no contest between them).

Basically you’ve got a perfect recipe for immediate critical adoration, and by the time people move on in January or February what’s done is done. Honestly, the true, Miyomoto-ian stars of the BethSoft production team are the marketers.

That is… alarmingly plausible.

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  1. ehlijen says:

    I really dislike how every dialog has to have four and exactly four options, one of which is mostly taken up by ‘sarcastic’.
    Is that because the console controllers don’t have more buttons or something? I’m pretty sure they do.

    There are plenty of situations where having more than four options would be nice, and plenty where you don’t need all four. When I walk up to a shopkeeper, I really just want the shopwindow to open. I don’t need ‘barter/chitchat/goodbye/sarcastic’ to be a choice.

    and why is it that the protagonist stupidly runs around asking if anyone’s seen their baby? They should have no idea when in the last 200 years the thing happened! You could be looking for an old man at this point!

    • acronix says:

      I think the reason is that Fallout 4 allows you to ‘exit’ conversations by moving, the attack button is used for skipping dialogue (and pulling your weapon randomly) and…uh…I don’t know what the other buttons do. But yeah, I think the dialogue system is linked to the D-pad.

      The dialogue system might be the worst thing about the game. All options are useless and you are always railroaded into the same outcome. Your only real choice is to decline or accept a quest, and to use charisma to get a bigger reward.

      • hborrgg says:

        I keep accidentally shooting shopkeepers because I’m clicking the mouse to try and skip through their dialog faster and sometimes that causes my character to pull out his rifle and shoot.

        • Humanoid says:

          Does their money respawn after that? :D

        • Mephane says:

          So this is the Mass Effect syndrome, just worse? Instead of accidentally selecting your next response when you were just trying to skip the line you’ve already heard 5 times, in Fallout 4 you would even shoot the NPC in the same situation? And all of this in order for all the controls to fit onto the limited set of buttons on a gamepad, right? How does this kind of thing still get past QA? The QA people must have heard all the lines so often and when they try to test something specific that comes after a piece of dialog, wouldn’t they notice this issue, like, 10 times every day? (Most likely the answer is it was noticed and reported and always put on too low a priority to ever be addressed.)

          And then people wonder why PC players regularly complain about “consolitis”.

          There is, by the way, a solution, it is just a bit more work to implement. Warframe comes to mind. For example, for switching weapons, in Warframe you have either the combined function to switch between rifle and pistol when you tap it, switch to melee when you hold it. And the game allows you to instead (or additionally, if you choose) bind dedicated keys for the rifle/pistol switch and the melee switch.

          • Humanoid says:

            The playtesting report probably looked something like this:
            ________________

            [Lodged] Gameplay issue #111: [UI] Too easy to end up shooting NPC while trying to skip dialogue lines with them.

            [Closed] Gameplay issue #111: Issue has been resolved by making NPCs unkillable.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            This isnt consolitis.It is never “because of the limited number of buttons on a controller”.There are plenty of buttons on a controller to use for everything except for maybe a realistic flight sim.They couldve easily stuck 8 or 10 dialogue options on that wheel and let you use one of the analogue sticks to pick your preference.No,they thought that this looked “neat” and “minimalistic” and other stupid buzzwords like that.Also,so they could trim down the number of lines that need to be recorded.

            • Couscous says:

              Yeah, it like when console controllers were used to justify limited weapon loadouts by some people in less realistic shooters or as a complaint about consoles. The weapon wheel has existed for years and works well.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          I dont know about consoles,but you can skip dialogue with other buttons as well.After shooting someone accidentally,I switched to pressing the cursor keys to skip the dialogue I dont care for.

        • Dragon Age: Inquisition actually did something BRILLIANT with shopkeepers–if you talk to the shopkeeper, you talk to the shopkeeper. But if you CLICK ON THEIR STORE COUNTER, it just opens the trade interface immediately.

          OMG SO MUCH BETTER.

          I think it was like that in DA2 also.

          This might actually be a relatively simple mod to do–click on the merchant, you talk. Put another interactable on their store counter/Brahmin/what-have-you that just auto-opens the trade interface.

          Actually, most inventory interactables are already set up to have an E/R button difference–E to take/use, R to transfer, right? So just make it that hitting R on merchants opens trade.

          • Mike S. says:

            Mass Effect 2 is the first Bioware game I recall figuring that out (after the repetitive shopkeeper dialog in ME1 and DA:O), complete with dialog options to ask what the point of the shopkeeper was if all transactions are through the computer interface.[1] But I think they’ve been consistent with it since.

            [1] And one might likewise ask the point of shops themselves in that milieu. In ME3, at least, once you’ve made contact with a shop you can order from it via a console on the ship (at a slight premium). I don’t remember if they extended that to ME2.

            • Joe Informatico says:

              Talking to shopkeepers in ME2 wasn’t necessary, but it did set up some of the best jokes. My favourite is the one salarian tech merchant that when you ask the standard “If there’s an automated terminal, why are you here?” query, he responds, “Processing returns, product advice, explaining to customers that the speed of light isn’t faster through gold-tipped cables.” I laughed out loud.

      • Ayegill says:

        And sometimes(frequently), you don’t even have an option to decline the quest! This was most annoying to me when the BoS asked me to wipe out the Railroad, who I was pals with. The conversation had no option to refuse the quest, and once I accepted it, the game told me the Railroad was now my mortal enemy.

        • Gawain The Blind says:

          This was seriously the worst. I just reloaded a recent save and left that conversation in limbo.

          • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

            SuperBunnyHop had a funny bit in his review where his character ran away from someone trying to give them a quest because there’s no way to fail or decline them once accepted (unless you piss off a faction).

        • Huh. I didn’t run across that one, because I skipped over the BoS entirely, and with the other two main options you pretty much have a choice as to what you *do* once the kill order comes down. Accepting the QUEST to do it isn’t the decision point.

          However I did run across another SPECTACULARLY annoying quest where they basically give you no option to decline to do something really morally reprehensible except to do another INCREDIBLY morally reprehensible thing. And the way you get involved in it is by trying to help someone deal with a guy who seduced his wife. I don’t see the “yeah, I’m totes up for murder and thievery” declaration in “sure, I’ll help you get your wife back”.

        • Harold says:

          Looks like you got railroaded into destroying the Railroad.

        • Michael says:

          To be fair, a lot of long time fans complained about how warm and cuddly the Brotherhood was in FO3. Well, here’s your corrupt-a-wish answer: “Okay, the BoS can be assholes, they’ll give you orders to randomly wipe out other playable factions, and you can’t say no, because you’re only following orders.”

          • Chris Davies says:

            But the genocidal arsehole brotherhood is no more in keeping with their organisational character than the knight errant brotherhood, so nothing is solved.

            The BoS is a cloistered monastic order. Their interest in worldly affairs stretches no further than how intact the pre-war technology they loot off of the corpses is, hence the rigmarole with convincing them that they should do even the most cursory things to help you with the super mutant threat in Fallout 1.

            That the Brotherhood was near extinct at the time of Fallout 2 doesn’t seem to have bothered Bethesda in the slightest. I guess writing terrible fanfic was easier than coming up with interesting new ideas as to how the world should evolve.

            • Michael says:

              It’s worse than that, it also brings the airship into mainstream canon, which is exactly what the setting needed. Though, I’d kill for Midwestern Brotherhood Power Armor. That stuff was snazzy looking stuff.

              Oh, wait… shit. These are the Midwestern Brotherhood of Genocidal Assholes. Apparently someone forgot to tell Bethesda that Tactics wasn’t canon.

              • Chris Davies says:

                Heh, well Bethesda’s credibility as regards deciding what is canon in the Fallout universe was shot the moment they decided to make Mothership Zeta. Aliens mean that either we have to accept that Dr. Who, Star Trek, The Hitchhiker’s Guide and Monty Python and the Holy Grail are canonical Fallout things or just accept that Bethesda don’t have the slightest clue what they’re doing.

                They don’t even respect their own damn canon. In Fallout 3 they established that Nuka Cola Quantum shipped from the bottling plant to a handful of test marketing locations on the very day the bombs fell, but somehow it’s everywhere in the Commonwealth. At least Obsidian had the decency to respect Bethesda’s world building, idiotic though it was.

                Also, at least one of the Super Mutant voice actors in Fallout 4 sounds exactly like the Cookie Monster. There’s no coming back from that.

                • Michael says:

                  Yeah, but the cookie monster bit is a good thing, right? You know, something that’s legitimately funny, even if it isn’t intentional?

                  Anyway, I’d actually forgotten that the entire reason the Brotherhood was on the East Coast in 3 was because they were trying to reestablish contact with the group from Tactics. Which… ugh. Tactics it kinda made sense, because the BoS leadership decided to rid themselves of the psychopaths and dissidents in one fell swoop… but then, why are they back to that in 4. Also, remembering that Bethesda honestly doesn’t realize that Tactics isn’t supposed to be canon.

                  …though, if they went back and got someone to do an XCOM style reboot of Tactics, scrubbing a lot of the irreconcilable stuff, I wouldn’t complain.

                  • somebody says:

                    isn’t the BoS in 4 the same BoS from 3, only now they have joined forces with The Outcasts.

                    • Michael says:

                      Yeah, that’s basically correct. The problem is that Bethesda keeps derping up the Brotherhood.

                      Maxson’s Brotherhood was, “we must preserve technology at all costs, and we don’t really care what happens outside. So long as the technology is preserved for some future age of enlightenment.”

                      Barnaky’s Brotherhood was, “purge the mutant, the ghoul, the raider, and crucify them on our borders as a message to the rest.”

                      Lyon’s Brotherhood was, “we must preserve technology, but that doesn’t absolve us of our humanitarian obligations.”

                      Incidentally, McNamera from New Vegas is pretty solidly in the classic Maxson’s Brotherhood line.

                      Maxson Jr’s Brotherhood is, “kill the mutant, the ghoul, the synth, and take all the technology for ourselves.” Which is more in line with Barnaky’s than any of the others.

                      I’m overselling how out of character Tactics’ BoS was a little. But, the general consensus was that Tactics was not canon. Which, on one hand, it’s a shame, because there’s a lot of interesting stuff there, and on the other hand, it’s very out of character for the setting (in a lot of ways).

                      Until Fallout 3, when there are stray mentions made to the Midwestern branch of the Brotherhood that were sent from Broken Hills (in SoCal) east, to track the Master’s Supermutant army after the events of Fallout, and wrecked in a storm on the outskirts of Chicago.

                      Lyon’s expedition was explicitly sent to determine what happened to the Midwestern Expedition… which raises all kinds of other continuity issues, but that’s what the military deserters from a base south of LA are doing on the East Coast.

                      With Fallout 4, the East Coast Brotherhood is now under the command of Maxson Jr, and have headed north into Maryland. The first part of the game, where it’s limited scouting operations with a handful of knights makes sense. The airship? Not so much. The purge the supermutants bit? It’s a little odd, but what isn’t these days. Cleaning up the Feral packs is good community management, but not really a Brotherhood concern. Like having your military handle pest control. The game makes a case for them wanting to wipe out Synths, but… I’m not convinced. I mean, it’s just a weak point in the writing. The logic is inherently consistent, just juvenile.

                      “This technology has the potential to wipe out the entirety of human civiliz…”

                      Actually, no, if we assume that The Calculator and Vault 0 are canon, and Maxson somehow knows about them, then the Brotherhood’s anti-Synth stance makes sense. But that requires they’ve found the Midwestern Brotherhood, learned about the events of Tactics, and is reacting in response to this. But, if that’s the case, the game says nothing on the subject.

                      But, yeah, it is Lyon’s Expedition, ten years later.

    • Zoe M. says:

      Well, once Nick tells you that he recognizes the guy who stole your son that kinda puts a cap on the age range. But annoyingly, once the age of your son is revealed in incidental dialog, if you jump to the conclusion that yes, the not-baby is in fact your son, Nick just shouts you down saying that he can’t be ’cause he’s too old. So even if you roleplay a smart person (say, a lawyer), you’re railroaded back into being a dumb person who thinks their son’s a baby still.

      • ehlijen says:

        Yes, that really ticked me off.

        And then Tony the conflakes tiger greets you with ‘surely you’ve figured out that your son’s not a baby anymore’. I wanted to scream “YES! You are the first person not forcing me to be an idiot, wanna team up?”

        • Michael says:

          Yeah, but the last time I had a character with that VA in my party, the whole thing ended with a human slurpie machine, a giant terminator baby and, eventually, a fight with special needs Nightwing. So… maybe signing on with Cornflakes would have been a bad idea?

      • Wide And Nerdy says:

        Which is sad because, having had the twist spoiled, I thought what they did to address the suspicion was kind of clever.

        A genre savvy player will suspect that more time has passed between Shaun’s departure and yours. Showing the ten year old Shaun seems to properly confirm your suspicion without alleviating your responsibility as parent and without giving away the real twist. Then they’re good about having you find out that 10 year old Shaun is a synth right before learning that your son is actually in charge of the group you believe to have abducted him. Its also a nice touch that you’re introduced to the idea of synths, which is important to the plot for other reasons, before you’re shown 10 year old Shaun

        They should have simply avoided the dialog at this point rather than having it insist that you’re too stupid to figure things out.

        Really the only cheat I feel, is Kellogg It would have been nice if they could have established that there are ways to keep people from aging without making them into ghouls before showing us Kellogg with “young Shaun”. The way they did it with him seems to be flat out lying to the player. You could bring up Jack Cabot but its easy to miss him until after you’ve done the main quest as was the case with me. It would have needed to be something you encountered in the main story.

    • djw says:

      One of the buttons should be:

      Open the trade interface RIGHT NOW! And DON’T TALK ABOUT IT FIRST!

    • To be fair, I actually didn’t clue into the fact that my character might have been out again for an indefinite period–I thought the waking up was almost IMMEDIATELY after the dramatic scene. I actually didn’t catch on until 15+ hours into the game.

      Not saying this was typical, but assuming that EVERYONE picked up on it from the get go is a bit of a stretch.

      • ehlijen says:

        In contrast, I misread the log entry in one of the terminals in the vault. It talked about how one cryo subject had almost woken up at one point, and I thought that referred to me in that cutscene.

        And since that was part of the 180-odd days the vault operated normally before everyone died in the riot, I concluded that I’d long since survived shaun. It wasn’t till I heard that Kellogs Cornflakes was still alive that I began to think of the protagonist as not hopelessly mistaken.

        • Wow that must have been weird.

        • Incunabulum says:

          Something like that would have been a good hook.

          I’ve said (elsewhere) that Mama Murphy is a horrible character and a cheat for the writers.

          You should have woken up, found the old lady/man dead, kid gone, with no clue as to what happened or when. You wander out into the wasteland and while dealing with the main factions (MM/BoS/RR/Institute) you find out that the kid might still be alive and are offered the opportunity to take up the hunt. Maybe you despaired of finding the kid, maybe you didn’t care, either way you were moving on until this gets dangled in front of you.

          It could have been a damn good surprise for a player that didn’t feel like chasing after the kid to find him where you find him anyway without even looking.

          Not making the hunt for the kid a primary motivator right from the start.

          • Michael says:

            I can kinda forgive Mama Murphy except for two things. One: she’s right. Her entire schtick is that she’s tripping balls and then giving accurate information? Ugh. Two: the player’s options to react to her.

            I get if you’re some tribal out of Oregon calling yourself The Chosen One, then your grasp of empirical reality might be a little shaky. But, we’re talking about someone who was raised in the pre-war world. When Mama Murphy starts talking about your “destiny,” you should have the option to tell her, “that’s just the drugs talking” and go on with your day.

            The worst part is, she’s not really that out of character for the setting. I mean we’ve got talking deathclaws, and I’m pretty sure we’ve had psychics before. But, the presentation of her is just so botched.

        • Michael says:

          Well, “Cornflakes” is now my new nickname for Kellogg… and Thane Krios, for that mater.

          I really like that hook though. The idea that the kid has actually been dead for over 150 years? Or that Shaun is over 200 years old, and still going like House, and running the Institute that way?

    • Incunabulum says:

      I hate the barter dialogue.

      Go up to someone – the ‘you got to close to me dialogue’ starts. And you can’t skip it even if you press the ‘activate’ key. Oh, and it will ignore you pressing the ‘activate’ key until they’ve said whatever inane thing they’ve said every other time you’ve gotten within 50 feet of them.

      Then you click on them and they go into *another* dialogue. Which you can’t skip because clicking on them to FF through the dialogue has you draw your weapon.

      And then when you select ‘barter’, they *and* you have got to say something *again.

      Console design philosophy is a fething *cancer*.

    • Scourge says:

      I think I saw it on 4 chan once. Someone summed the various Fallouts up and their dialogues.

      Scenario: You see a kid drowning in a lake.

      Potential Responses:

      Fallout 1:
      Ask about the water (Give away vault location)
      Ask About the place. (Give away vault location)
      Ask about the people. (Give away vault location)
      Agree to help.
      Agree to help for a reward.
      Decline.
      Kill everyone.

      Fallout 2:
      Ask about the Enclave.
      Ask About the place.
      Ask about the people.
      Agree to help.
      Decline.
      Kill everyone.

      Fallout 3:
      Ask about your father.
      Agree to help.
      Kill everyone.

      Fallout NV:
      Agree to help.
      Decline to help.
      Ask about the place.
      [8 Int] Ah yes. Water. I have heard of it.
      [12/30 Survival]Sure I can swim.

      Fallout 4:
      Yes (Yes)
      Sarcastic (Yes)
      Questions (Yes)
      No (Yes)

    • Jokerman says:

      Well, the console controller problem has been pretty much solved by the dialogue wheel, you can put as much options as you like on that thing. Not sure why Bethesda limited themselves to 4, scrolling down a list of options was never a problem in 3/NV anyway.

  2. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

    While I suppose I can’t rule out bad and inconsistent writing, this seems to me the reason why Hawke being dropped into Dragon Age: Inquisition was a bad idea. When I play Hawke, he may generally be diplomatic or sarcastic, but there is some variation in the approach. In inquisition? All that variation disappears. The lack of a face import (others may have a talent for recreating faces, but I do not) and the sudden change in character results in this bizarre feeling that this character is really a pod person. They aren’t acting like I would have played them in this circumstance.

    • IFS says:

      This bugged me so much, especially how Hawke had a set attitude about certain subjects regardless of which personality you picked. My snarky Hawke who romanced Merrill would not have gone off on a tangent about how all blood magic is evil and unforgivable and whatnot. It really made me wish that I could play both sides of the conversations between Hawke and the Inquisitor, sort of like how you can play out both sides of convos in Divinity OS.

  3. I know I’m going to be in the minority by far with this, but I think voice acting is overrated and often a waste of time and money for a lot of games. Skyrim and Fallout 3 could have just as easily been text based and nothing would be lost. The voice acting added nothing to those games with the exception of making the dialogue boring.

    • acronix says:

      I think it would be jarring to stare at ‘photorealistic’ faces moving their lips when no sound comes out of them.

      • The lips don’t have to move and Bethesda can then attempt at animating facial expressions to match the text. If they are sad, they make a sad face. If they are happy the smile. It would be less creepy than having a dynamic vocal performance come out of an un-moving mannequin whose lips twitch vaguely in sync.

        • Spammy says:

          That sounds like the incredibly advanced technology used in the bleeding-edge genre of games known as “visual novels” or less technologically advanced games that strain themselves to the limit to use “visual novel” style storytelling.

      • AileTheAlien says:

        One has to wonder, if it was worth it to add the photorealistic graphics, if the outcome was to force more realism to all the other game’s areas. It just leads to a never-ending money-pit of X-realism.

        • Tizzy says:

          Indeed. Stating the obvious here, but immersive and photorealistic don’t have to go together. Actually, the uncanny valley means they probably shouldn’t try too hard.

          • Mephane says:

            I have yet to see a screenshot of any Fallout 4 character, protagonist or NPC, that dips into the uncanny valley. To me the faces look completely fake, all of the time, sometimes even like some cheaply designed plastic toy or badly done fanmade model.

            Just have a look at these two abominations: http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/images/15/nov/fdiary3.jpg
            At this point I’d say it would be an improvement in quality if they dialed down the polygon count a lot…

            And it’s not like this outcome is inevitable because “customizable character”. Have a look at this, for contrast: http://assets.vg247.com/current//2015/09/elite_dangerous_horizons.jpg
            This image was part of a sneak peek at the upcoming face creator for a Elite Dangerous, so this is, like, alpha or pre-alpha footage, and miles ahead of what Fallout 4 released with.

            • AileTheAlien says:

              That’s entirely the way you describe the uncanney valley – cheap, plastic, and not-quite-real looking. Those screenshots of Fallout and Elite are both showing something that’s not stylized in any way (toon-shaded, painterly, looks-like-yarn, looks-like-stained-glass, etc), and look fake and unreal.

            • Noumenon72 says:

              Your standards are really high. Those faces look great. Or maybe my facial recognition circuitry is not that developed? I think the uncanny valley is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy, I have barely ever noticed it.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Its far more jarring to see these “people” talk in nightmarish ways they do now.This is bethesda after all.

    • ehlijen says:

      Voice has some utility in drawing a player’s attention while exploring, and the audio feedback on suspicious/unaware/hostile enemies while sneaking is a big help.

      But I agree that the game didn’t need to be fully voiced to achieve this.

      • nerdpride says:

        I really liked dialogue in Morrowind. When I did stop to talk to people, I heard a lot more about cities and people and that sort of thing. Oblivion had a few neat quests, but the best parts all went over quickly. And mods were great, the mod NPCs tended to fit in more, and the modders could easily add more text to existing people like in the Less Generic NPC project.

        I’m guessing PoE uses text? Maybe I should try it.

        • Humanoid says:

          Morrowind didn’t have dialogue. It had people who had post-it notes stuck to their forehead which you could read.

          PoE has partially voiced NPCs. I find it a good compromise because it helps characterisation when you hear how each important NPC talks, then you can read their unvoiced lines based with that in mind.

          • djw says:

            They were pretty interesting post-it notes though.

            • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

              They are the first time you read them. But when you find that each character recites the same wikipedia entry when you ask them about a topic, it gets weird. A little annoying too since you have to sift through all of that to find the unique dialog options for quest progression. It would have been nice if they had marked them somehow.
              Maybe once an entry is read, the text for the prompt is dimmed so you know you don’t have to read it again.

    • Phill says:

      I don’t think it’s that much of a minority opinion. i.e. I agree with it, so all right thinking people must also agree :)

      Every RPG I’ve played with a voiced protagonist has annoyed me at some point (or most of the time) with the disconnect between the character I am playing and the way the muppet on screen talks and the things they say. (I’m sure the cases of a well defined character being voice acted wouldn’t bother me in e.g. the Witcher games. I was perfectly happy as Lee Everett in the Walking Dead game, because he obviously wasn’t a blank slate character, but a well defined personality).

      And I’ve never played a game that lacked voice acting for the protagonist and thought “I really miss being able to hear my own dialog being spoken”. Games like WoW and FFXIV do it best in my opinion, by not even having written dialog for the character. WoW shows nothing about your reaction, and FFXIV limits itself to vague gestures, and for me this means I am free to imagine my own response without the game contradicting it.

      • Zaxares says:

        Yes! This precisely is why I can enjoy games like Witcher 3 and Deus Ex: Human Revolution, but I have a really hard time getting into the shoes of Shepard or Hawke. It’s because the former two games essentially have fully developed characters with their own distinct personality, motivations and goals. Geralt of Rivia or Adam Jensen are NOT your characters; all you’re doing is simply guiding them down whatever path they take in the game. It’s a bit like playing Batman in an Arkham game. Yes, TECHNICALLY you’re calling the shots, but we all know that Batman is supposed to think and act a certain way and that puts limitations on what he will do in the game.

        Whereas with Shepard or Hawke, which are ostensibly blank slate characters that you can insert yourself into, it becomes fairly clear through the course of the game that Shepard or Hawke also have their own distinct personalities. It comes through in the way Mark Meer voices Renegade Shepard (a ruthless, almost sadistic guy who doesn’t care what costs he incurs to win and takes a certain pleasure in killing), or Jo Wyatt voices Sarcastic Hawke (a capricious, devil-may-care attitude who doesn’t really take anything in life seriously and just kind of coasts from thing to thing, trusting in her luck to see things through).

        This realization basically prevents me from really seeing voiced protagonists as MY characters. They are more like actors who are just repeating what I’m telling them to say, but without understanding the nuances and motivations behind them.

      • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

        I think what needs to die are dull protagonists.

        Every playable character* should either be a well defined interesting character with a personality (The Boss, Lee Everett, Geralt [yes he has a surprising amount of personality given how dead he initially comes off]) or the character should be the player’s to define.

        Dull generic protagonists with muted expression need to go. They may sometimes work in movies as an audience surrogate but the equivalent of them in games is not a dull generic protagonist that we happen to pilot. Its a character we get to create and define.

        *At least in Triple A games. I understand an indie game might only be able to present a mute protagonist but without the open ended branching needed for personal expression. I’m just talking about big budget rpgs and cinematic type games.

        • This is sort of my take. I firmly believe that you need to decide what you’re doing and then DO it.

          Shepard having a voice doesn’t annoy me. Shepard being an IDIOT annoys me. The way to do a good voiced “blank slate” protagonist is to have them KNOW stuff and take a significant role in the info-dumping and worldbuilding. This also *gasp* cuts down on the inevitable increase in time spent delivering lines, because you need fewer lines. An unvoiced “infodump” conversation in a game generally goes something like this:

          NPC: “This is the Legend of the Lost Temple of Arcadia.”
          PC: “Tell me more about Lost Temple of Arcadia.”
          NPC: “In ancient days, the Dwellers came to this land. They lived in peace for many centuries, until the Godbeings came and instructed them to build this temple.”
          PC: “Tell me more about Dwellers.”
          NPC: “Dwellers are nonhuman reptilian creatures. You can see pictures of them in the ruins.”
          PC: “Tell me more about Godbeings.”
          NPC: “No one knows for sure what the Godbeings were.”

          That sort of conversation, when voiced, is HORRIBLE. It’s like jabbing a knife in your gut and twisting it. And this is what they did with Shepard in ME! He was a BOOB who didn’t know anything about anything! Add to that his complete inability to make any arguments on the basis of facts or reason, the pointless emotional outbursts, and you have the perfect characterization of Epic Dumbass AS THE PROTAGONIST. Talk about JARRING.

          The same conversation done with a VOICED protagonist needs to go something like this:

          NPC: “This is the Legend of the Lost Temple of Arcadia.”
          PC: “That’s the temple the Dwellers built centuries ago for the Godbeings, right?”
          NPC: “Yes, no one is really certain of their reasons.”

          Same info, at least 50% shorter, and PC isn’t portrayed as a nitwit. And the thing is, if you do this, you can focus your optional dialog into the areas where the PC would normally exhibit actual character traits. This gets you the most bang for your buck and gives you the best chance of people being able to identify with the choices available to them. You take advantage of what’s good about a voiced protagonist this way. I don’t think I’ve EVER heard ANYONE complain that the PC was INSUFFICIENTLY stupid, and “reasonably knowledgeable” is a characterization of sorts that can be used overall to tie their characterization together without otherwise conflicting with a wide variety of choices. You can also really make this interesting for the player by having some differences in WHAT your character is knowledgeable about, based on things the player actually picks.

          Dragon Age: Inquisition did this a little bit, and it was pretty solid when they actually did it, but they only just barely scratched the surface. That, and they dialed WAY back on the worldbuilding via non-companion NPC’s, so there just wasn’t that much to go around regardless. Butter scraped over too much bread.

          Think back to Planescape: Torment. Nameless HAD a voice and a choice between some well-characterized personalities, but did he feel like Black Isle’s character that you were only steering around? No. And why was this? Because they managed what he did and didn’t KNOW really well. Heck the plot basically REVOLVES around the guy not knowing stuff.

          Bethesda in Fallout 4 had the opportunity to pull something similar off, and they focused on violent emoting and canned drama instead. The only dialog that actually mattered was what the NPC’s said. The PC was basically a non-participant in conveying information except in a few rare instances that had zero to do with the main story. The best main plot bit is when you’re tooling around inside Kellogg’s head because Kellogg does ALL the talking. It is consistent, well-acted, and conveys information.

          If you involve your voiced PC in the informational process, that leaves plenty of room for the player to steer their underlying “personality” more, so it still (mostly) feels like the player’s character.

          • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

            That would help and its a great idea and certainly if they’re deadset on sticking with voiced protagonists they should be taking notes from your post because it would help expand options. I personally would still prefer an unvoiced protagonist but this aint bad. No matter how many lines they write, the effective amount of personal expression is always multiplied if you let the player imagine the voice.

            I have to wonder if the game is this way because the decision to voice the protagonist came relatively late and they just couldn’t be bothered to rewrite. Or maybe they just didn’t realize that voicing a protagonist requires more change than just voicing.

            • I think that the voiced protagonist exerts a pressure on the developers (who, in my experience, are rarely very articulate about the MECHANICS of characterization in games) to “get the most out of the voice”, and to them, this means “lots of emoting and drama”. Unfortunately, to have a good voiced video game protagonist those are precisely the things you DON’T want to have A LOT of (you CAN have them, but they have to be just AWESOMELY placed and tuned). The REAL benefit of a voiced protagonist (if you are going to do one) is that you can have them INHABIT the world instead of merely OBSERVING it–by making them a source of information.

              You CAN do that with a non-voiced protagonist, but it’s mostly going to come across as lame because the non-voiced delivery of the information doesn’t “hit” the same way. Compare the parts of KotOR2, for example, when you tell Atton about who Revan was and pick your lightsaber color. Those lines worked fine because it wasn’t delivering NEW information, just confirming some stuff. Later on in the game, though, the information on the Exile’s past was done via recordings and flashbacks and almost all of it was delivered via NPCs, because having the Exile just rattle off an explanation of what happened–even if it was BEAUTIFULLY written–would have been INTERMINABLE and BORING.

              Now, think of those flashback/recording scenes and imagine if the Exile had been voiced and had done the explanation entirely on their own, with you getting to pick between subtle shadings of nuance in phrasing and delivery–telling the same STORY each time, but the details of characterization would be vastly different. Like:

              “The council called me before them to hear their decision on my crimes . . .”
              vs.
              “I returned to confront the council over their inaction . . .”
              vs.
              “I attempted to seek reconciliation with the council after our split . .”

              All of those describe the same ACTION–the Exile appearing before the council–but the FRAMING couldn’t be more different. And they set up for different emotional reactions from the protagonist, different voicing, all of which can be portrayed beautifully by a good voice actor. The first one is penitent, resigned, regrets their actions. The second is angry, confrontational. The third is determined but fair, willing to see both points of view.

              I’m not saying “oh the Exile should totally have been a voiced character”. I’m saying that the options have different strengths, different opportunities, and if you PLAY to those strengths, it can be powerful. The voiced protagonist can bring a sense of connection–not with the character OF the protagonist, necessarily, but with the WORLD–that just can’t be achieved with an unvoiced protagonist in the same way or to the same degree. An unvoiced protagonist is always, in some degree, an observer of the world. Somewhat disconnected from it. This can be a *great* thing in many styles of game and story. The voiced protagonist is a part of the world. This can also be a great thing in many other styles of game and story. But you have to pick which one you want to do and then DO it.

              Of course, maybe I’m asking too much as dealing with the mechanics of real characterization and motivations and such are pretty much the weakest aspect of any game writing team I’ve ever come across. They rarely get much further than “I want this thing, could you get it for me” as far as motivations go, and that’s pretty much the essential *delivery*, to boot. “I want this thing. Get it.” If they try to be subtle, people might get bored or confused as to what the heck they’re supposed to be doing.

              • Also they need to realize that there’s a lot more TO “voiced protagonist” than just “silent protagonist with a voice”. I’ll give them at least some credit that they didn’t fall into some of the really obvious pitfalls like having interminable “tell me more about . . .” conversations. I think the reason why the dialog menu has that 4 options thing is because they more or less quietly copied Bioware’s Dialog Wheel. Notice how up is always the “tell me more” option, down is the “nice” option, left is “sarcastic” and right is “asshole”. (Usually, there are cases where this differs.) That’s DA2 Bioware dialog wheel to a T.

                Which was also pretty much the WORST version of the dialog wheel, too. It was different in the ME series because they had the renegade/paragon thing going on. They refined it a lot for Inquisition. So, Bethesda is pretty much now treading ground that Bioware has already treaded. Meanwhile Bioware is trying to add open world elements to their games.

                Maybe they need to mate and have a baby.

                • Oh, and here’s another interesting thing . . .

                  The holotape recordings you could find in Fallout 3 that would give you tidbits about the story that was going on felt really annoying to me in Fallout 4. If you’re going to have a voiced protagonist, you should have CHARACTER INTERACTION not have the player get information by LISTENING TO A TAPE. Coming into a scene a long time after all the interesting stuff has happened and learning about it indirectly is the MEAT AND POTATOES of the unvoiced protagonist approach.

                  Almost everything about the game points toward “protagonist as observer of this world” rather than “protagonist as integral part of the world”. Voiced protagonist was a big mistake.

                  • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

                    I hadn’t thought about the unvoiced protagonist as a “protagonist as observer” not explicitly per se. Your key point about the voiced character being a part of the world vs the unvoiced character being an observer is really making me think. I do think giving the character an interesting or fun personality can be enough in its own way (ala the Boss). But the more I think about it, the more your way of thinking about this is winning me over. I gather you’re an actual writer from the way you discuss the subject.

                    But I think you’ve finally hit what made me accept Geralt. Geralt is an expert and a professional with a long history in his setting. And he’s well educated to boot. It was very refreshing to hear him talk like he knew stuff. In fact they often invert the traditional dynamic completely with the quest giver NPC giving the quest and an ignorant supposition of the situation while Geralt does the actual lore dump because he’s an honest to goodness educated professional. And he knows about more than just monster hunting so even when you say “Whats a [thing]?” he says something like “[A thing] is [something] maybe [an actual idea]” and the other person might expand on that.

                    Of course he does have a personality too, more than I expected especially with the premise that a Witcher’s emotions are deadened. But your thoughts on this subject point to an even stronger appeal for Geralt.

                    • That’s another thing about the unvoiced approach–you HAVE to have NPC’s around who KNOW WHAT IS GOING ON in that kind of game, because SOMEBODY has to tell the player what to do. But this also can serve up weird inconsistencies because if the NPC’s already know what’s up, why aren’t THEY dealing with it? So you’re forced into this position where the NPC’s HAVE to be knowledgeable but also somehow *incompetent*, otherwise why are they relying on the PC? Some weird dissonance can develop as a result.

                      This may be, in part, the reason for “chosen one” syndrome in RPG’s, because this situation HAS to be handwaved somehow and that at least takes care of it, even if it’s lazy as heck. “It has to be you because you’re the chosen one.”

                      With a voiced protagonist, on the other hand, as you’ve said, the NPC’s really can be straight-out incompetent, because the protagonist can already know stuff. All right, yeah, an unvoiced protagonist CAN be written in such a way that they know stuff, but the problem is that the delivery suffers BADLY if this is the case. (As in my example with The Exile in KotOR 2.) A non-voiced protagonist who Knows Stuff (important stuff, that is) is problematic.

                      I’m glad you’re starting to see that it isn’t an all-or-nothing one-is-good-the-other-bad situation. Each has areas where they can shine and areas where they can fall down.

                    • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

                      Whats funny is, I thought I’d already embraced the “Tropes are Tools” mindset with my previous position but you’ve showed me that I wasn’t taking it far enough.

                    • Joe Informatico says:

                      It was one of Super Bunnyhop’s recent Witcher videos that observed within his setting, Geralt is set up as a professional solver of minor problems. So his characterization even justifies the sidequests stuffed into your typical RPG without breaking the story. Killing X number of booga-booga monsters for cash rewards from random passerby NPCs is Geralt’s 9-to-5, put-dinner-on-the-table job. Chasing lost lovers and avenging slain kings is his personal business.

                    • Phill says:

                      That’s some great stuff you’ve written here Jennifer, and I can’t disagree with any of it.

                      I think you’re exactly right that neither choice is inherently better than the other. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses, and what matters is making the right choice for the nature of the game and setting you are working with.

                      It’s similar to the discussion a while back on recharging health vs health packs, or (from ME1 / ME2 no ammo vs ammo (in the guise of heat clips). Again, neither is always the right choice. But they have their own differing effects on the pacing and feel of a game, and any of them can be the right choice if it fits in with the kind of overall effect a game is trying to create. They only become a problem when the mechanic choice jars with the intended atmosphere.

                      Back on fallout, you are absolutely right that Fallout 4 sets up the “protagonist as observer of the world” rather than an integral part of it, and voicing a character who can do little more than say “What?”, “I don’t understand” and “Where’s the tea?” clashes with that fundamental design choice. (Bonus points to anyone who gets the reference without looking it up).

                      Good stuff Jennifer. I enjoyed reading it.

                  • Shamus says:

                    Shit. You are on roll today. YOU shoulda written this column.

              • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

                Its interesting you mention KOTOR 2. That does seem like a good case for going the other way actually (Ironic for an Obsidian game). Though its not a complaint I share, I’ve seen a lot of people complain about the Exile knowing things about their own past that the player does not. Of course in some of those cases you’re choosing your past (or choosing your motivation for a past action as you pointed out).

                But I wonder if voice acting would have defused that a bit.

                I know thats not what you were getting at. As I start to think about it, having divergent performances with each line like you suggest could hold a lot of appeal. It would feel kind of powerful to be able to choose between a wide variety of expressions. Again, I feel like I’m oversimplifying what you said. You said a lot. Sorry if this reply is unworthy of what you wrote. I did read it all. And I don’t usually read comments as long as these all the way through.

                • Heh, I’m just glad you find my rambling interesting.

                  One thing they could have done in Fallout 4 that would have made a LOT of the voiced protagonist would be to have the male and female protagonists *actually be different characters*. They fell into this accidentally at the beginning, but it could have been very interesting indeed if they’d kept it up throughout the game. The difference wouldn’t have to be glaring, they just needed to keep in mind that the male was a retired soldier and the female was a lawyer (well, had a law degree, anyway) and just steer your responses to situations a little bit more. Male response to “get the power armor and the mini-gun” “yep, I’m all over it”. Female response? “I don’t know much about that. Maybe I can figure something else out.”

                  It would have been even cooler if there’d been a 2nd primary way to resolve that encounter, by, say, going down in the tunnels to look for a way out, finding the Deathclaw down there, and baiting it out to kill the raiders for you, then killing it when it was severely wounded. So then you have two options–the power armor guns blazing option, or a more measured option where you fight a badly-wounded Deathclaw. Your gender wouldn’t lock you into either option, you’d just get a slight conversational difference that indicates that the game world thinks that one or the other is the more “natural” option. Stuff like that throughout the game could have been really cool.

                  They could even have left your spouse alive and let you meet later to compare experiences.

                  This could further have played into making some interesting commentary on the expectation of gender roles both in the hypothetical 2077 Fallout universe AND in the post-apocalypse Commonwealth. They could have done a lot with that, potentially.

                  I know that deep social commentary isn’t exactly something one looks for in video games, but there are a LOT of ways they could have made the game delve a LOT deeper.

                  • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

                    It could be something like “wait, the local building code requires plutonium casings spaced every 200 yards. This marker shows where one might be and we could use that as a trap.”

                    Her knowledge of local code could be quite a boon.

                    • Well, the more specific they make it (and that’s pretty specific) the more forced it’s going to feel. My tendency would be to keep it pretty unspecific as much as possible. But some things like “female gets more persuasion points toward nonmilitary factions” while “male gets more persuasion points toward military factions and robots/machines” would have been different (and subtle).

                      But, of course, that sort of thing wouldn’t have been all that meaningful, since much of the storytelling is done by reading/listening to terminals and tapes people left lying around . . .

                      Heck, I would have given a lot just to have Gunners and Raiders not be auto-hostile, and to actually have character interactions with the named bosses of those gangs. It would have made people sending you to deal with them a lot more interesting, to be sure!

                  • I suppose what I’m really getting at here is that, basically, to do good design, your design decisions in any one area have to integrate with the other areas. Look at what I’ve pointed out that a voiced protagonist should influence:

                    1. How exposition is delivered
                    2. How NPC’s are designed
                    3. How you set up your plot choices
                    4. The relationship of the character with the world
                    5. What KIND of plot choices are better or not so good

                    And I’m just scratching the surface. The real trick is to make your design decisions INFORM all these other parts of the game. To pull all the disparate parts–characters, story, writing, gameplay–into a unified whole. The better you can integrate–the better your design decisions in one area *inform* the other areas–the more your game will be perceived as a single unit, a world rather than a big area that happens to contain all these small stories and activities.

                    When you integrate, all the little activities and stories *add up* to something. They build to a climax when you can cash in on all of your work. When the game is disintegrated into lots of small barely-related bits, your big moment is going to feel like an anticlimax because the player spent most of their time doing things that don’t particularly relate to it. When you’ve properly integrated, your climax drops like a BOMB, and that’s what, long-run, makes the difference between “this was neat/enjoyable/interesting” and “THIS GAME CHANGED MY LIFE”.

                    I think Bethesda did better with Fallout 4 than they have with A LOT of their other games, for sure. But they also could have easily done a lot better than they DID.

  4. PeteTimesSix says:

    So Ive been reading this blog for what, six years or so by now? And usually its good stuff and I tend to agree with it so its kind of hard to type this, but…

    You really could use a healthy dose of Speak For Yourself when it comes to the Fallout franchise, Shamus.

    I liked the voiced protagonist. I consider it a major improvement. Out of the hundred and two hours I have played Fallout 4, the dialog system has failed to present me with a choice Im okay with picking exactly four times (I counted) which Im pretty sure is actually LESS than Fallout 3 (and certainly IS less than New Vegas). I know Im not the only one, too, since the seven people on my friends list Ive talked about Fallout 4 with mostly share that outlook.

    Dont take it the wrong way, I dont think youre particularily WRONG or anything. I just think that youre letting your predisposition against the developer maybe get to you a bit too much to consider it might just be a matter of preference?

    • acronix says:

      I’m pretty sure that when you read a personal blog and the articles made by a particular individual there’s a big implicit ‘This is my opinion’ preface on everything you find there.

      But anyway: why do you consider it a major improvement? Your stated reason seems to be that it tuned perfectly with your own characterization, which is fine, but doesn’t adresses the non-personal preference problems. What about the railroading? The lack of options? The inconsistent tone at the beggining of the game? Are those a major improvement, too?

      • PeteTimesSix says:

        In order:

        On a personal blog sure, which is why I didnt say anything on the last three dozen or so posts about Bethesda games on this blog (I might disagree (usually dont) but hey thats my own opinion). This, on the other hand, is an article on the Escapist, a very explicitly not a personal site, and nonetheless the voiced protagonist thing being terrible is still presented as a fact as opposed to an opinion.

        It doesnt actually match my own characterisation, considering I avoid straight relationship options in videogames like the plague if I can help it and consider children under the age of four to be noise-emission machines. The reason I was okay with it is because the game makes it reasonably clear you arent roleplaying as a post-apocalyptic you but rather a husband/wife with an explicit backstory from the get go.

        Railroading, lack of options? The fact that I actually bothered to go to Concord before wandering off for fifteen hours avoiding the main quest as if someone was holding a gun to my head yelling “Sidequests!” actually makes me the exception in my social circle. As it stands, I would routinely be running into points of the main quest where I got a free pass because the faction I was supposed to be just getting introduced to was already best buddies with me.

        Not sure what you mean by incostistent tone. Is this about the whole Power Armor/Deathclaw thing? Because, yeah, Im not about to blame Bethesda for not assuming that this is the first time the PC runs into a deathclaw or power armor while commenting on the same article that has people complaining about the PC sometimes being confused when things that theyve already seen come up in conversation for the first time. (And yes, I know a guy who burned fourty hours in-game, found several sets of Power armor and fought several deathclaws and STILL hasnt been to Concord.)

        But again, I dont think any of those complaints are invalid. Ive got my own share of grievances with the game. More than anything it just gets tiring how Bethesda never seems to catch a break for anything around here, as if desinging a huge open world in which you can go anywhere at any time and having nothing break is somehow childs play.

        EDIT: Um. Wall of text out of nowhere. Maybe I should not comment at 1 AM anymore.

        • Humanoid says:

          It’s still an opinion column, whether it be on this blog, on the Escapist, or in the New York Times.

        • Kremlinlaptop says:

          Oh! If you go to Diamond City and advance the main quest line before ever meeting Dogmeat? Nick Valentine introduces you to him for the first time. I was completely expecting it to just pop Dogmeat into existence like I’d already met him or whatever, but nope! Nick introduces you to Dogmeat and it’s a pretty cool thing to have.

          Although the same consideration wasn’t given (on an admittedly minor side-quest) in Vault 81 where you tell a class about you and Preston fighting a deathclaw…

          Not sure if Preston is still in Concord pinned down by raiders at the moment. Don’t much care. Never have met the man and I don’t much intend to make the acquaintance unless I have to with this character…

          • Oh, I hate that. I like it when a game checks for flags on completed quests, inventory, NPCs that are companions, etc., not when it just reads a script without thinking.

            Also, I was expecting some branching in that classroom story session. I was hoping for a choice based on a skill I had (hacking into an old army base vs. killing something) or one that could play with the admonishment to not be too violent (so the choice is to delight/horrify the kids vs. pleasing the teacher).

            I saw the Grognak comic reward and thought the game was telling me I’d gone too far into violent territory, but nope! That’s just what you get.

        • PeteTimesSix said: “Not sure what you mean by incostistent tone. Is this about the whole Power Armor/Deathclaw thing?”

          That you’re asking this question means you’re not really in the, I guess, “targeted audience” for these complaints.

          I don’t think Shamus believes that Bethesda makes BAD GAMES. He wouldn’t be obsessing over Fallout 4 if it was a BAD GAME. He’s not saying “Bethesda is a crap developer who makes shitty games”.

          He’s criticizing them for a specific area where they have ALWAYS fallen down, namely, storytelling. And the thing is that they rightfully deserve to be criticized harshly for this, because–particularly in the Fallout franchise–they keep billing their game as being some kind of storytelling tour de force when what it actually IS, is a garbled semi-coherent mess.

          The Elder Scrolls games are different because Bethesda doesn’t market hard about how ossum their story is in those games (at least, not that I’ve ever seen). I mean, for Skyrim literally the only things I saw marketing-wise were:

          1. Shouting!
          2. Something about dragons. Possibly related to the shouting.

          (As a side note, it comes to something that this is 100% of the marketing that I saw, yet I still pre-ordered the game. Bethesda’s games since Morrowind are at least consistent in the fact that I don’t really CARE what they’re “about”. I know they’re basically going to be gameplay cocaine regardless so I buy them anyway, and in that regard I have NEVER EVER BEEN DISAPPOINTED.)

          Whereas the first news I saw about Fallout 4 was:

          1. The protagonist is now voiced!
          2. They may be forcing you to play as a man.

          My reaction? Both of those SUCK. I have experience with Bethesda’s story chops. They are totally not competent to do a good voiced protagonist. Heck, they can hardly manage to do compelling voiced NPC’s. The second one is just the icing on the cake, because the only good thing you can really say about Bethesda’s protagonists is that they (more or less) LET YOU PLAY WHAT YOU WANT.

          So, yeah, they don’t get to catch a break on this one. Don’t get me wrong–Fallout 4 is fun. Gameplay-wise it’s everything you’d expect from a Bethesda game. Even rather improved over Fallout 3, IMO, although there were things in Fallout 3 that I liked better, but I can live with that. The core is still there. But everyone knew that was going to be the case. You don’t get kudos for doing well what everyone already knows you can do well, particularly when you’ve hardly changed it up in 5 games. Especially not when you’ve been putting most of your media attention on “story” and “voiced protagonist”.

          If you were going to try and sell Fallout 4 to someone, would you mention EITHER of those facts as MAJOR SELLING POINTS of the game?!

          The really funny part is that I think this is the first game they’ve done since Morrowind that actually had a well-done main plot. Not perfect, mind you, but for the most part pretty good. It would have been just fine with a silent protagonist, too.

    • AileTheAlien says:

      The point isn’t that these particular options in the dialog system are wrong or disagreeable. The point is that, these options are very limiting, when the rest of the game systems are designed for player freedom.

    • krellen says:

      It’s a matter of preference in a long-established franchise that Bethesda absolutely did not need to buy or exploit to make the games they made. They even had the audacity to bill their attempts as direct sequels.

      They deserve at least a bit of animosity.

      • That’s a hole with no bottom. You could easily say that Fallout 2 shouldn’t have the audacity of being a direct sequel because of all the things it did to screw up the lore (Mayan temples in Oregon, talking Deathclaws, British accents, etc.).

        • Couscous says:

          You had a guy with a British accent in Fallout 1. He was a criminal in the Hub.

          • Ah, I thought he was in Fallout 2. So even Fallout 1 doesn’t make any sense, if people are griping about foreign accents in Fallout 3, New Vegas and 4! :)

            • Shamus says:

              Actually, I think this is a great illustration of the problem. Fallout 1 is just “a generation” after the war. Yet the writer realized that having a non-American accent was a stretch. So the game lets you ask Loxley about it, and he says he got it from his parents, and that he has to work to maintain it here in the wasteland.

              Here in the later games, it’s been MANY generations, and nobody feels the need to lampshade any of the accents.

              I’d say it’s totally plausible to have accents, or funny outfits, or whatever else you want in these games, as long as you’re willing to explain it. The latter writers obviously have no patience for worldbuilding and see the universe as an excuse to smash random crap together with no coherency or sense of theme.

    • Felblood says:

      The berzerker at the head of the pack catches the most arrows. It’s his own fault if there are gaps in his armor.

      Bethesda is the last of the AAA devs who hasn’t had a major fall from grace, and I think it’s time that we admitted this has as much to do with clever brand management as it does having a talented team. You have got to have both to make it at the level they compete at.

      It would be like having a professional sports team that excelled at offense, but had a defensive game that wouldn’t even be considered professional grade. A cheap manager might try to make it work, but he shouldn’t expect nobody to notice.

  5. Spammy says:

    So Shamus, did you make the splash image for your article on The Escapist? Because if you did make the splash image, were you intentionally trying to make the main character look like Harry Mason?

  6. Faction says:

    To me, the two most tiresome words in any movie, show, book, game, etc. are “My Baby!” I hate “My Baby!” stories, but if you’re going to do it, you have to do it right. “My Baby!” means that the parent (I played a female character in Fallout 4) makes a straight bee-line for their child, everything and everyone else be damned. But this is a Fallout game…I’m free to go anywhere and do anything I want. So there’s never any sense of urgency that a “My Baby!” plot requires. Oh, you want me to help you paint the wall at Fenway? No problem. What’s that, little girl? You lost your cat? I’ll have it back in no time. Yes sir, I would love to help you cosplay as your favorite comic book character. And the Sole Survivor’s tone couldn’t be more laid-back and nonchalant while agreeing to these petty errands for random strangers instead of looking for her missing infant. In Fallout 3 you’re looking for your dad, but he’s a full-grown Liam Neeson who can presumably look after himself. Doing sidequests doesn’t feel so absurd. But Fallout 4’s plot calls for urgency and neither the setting nor the voiced character provide it.

    • manofsteles says:

      This lack of urgency seems to be have been a problem common to Fallout 2, Fallout 3, Oblivion and Skyrim, which seemingly comes from a desire to build a large sandbox and not punish the player for dicking around. (Morrowind’s mehcanical and narrative lack of urgency reinforced the notion that the player character may or maynot be the Nerevarine, which in turn, explains why the game world and its characters are so indifferent to the PC for so long)

      In a presentation at GDC 2012, Tim Cain declared that one of the only regrets he had when working on Fallout was the game timer, both for the water chip and for the super mutant attack (which if I remember correctly, was deactivated in patched versions, including the GoG version). But both the water chip timer and the super mutant timer mechanically reinforced the urgency baked into the narrative (arguably at its best in the first game), helped to make the game world seem alive (and it needed all the help it could get in that respect), and gave the Vault Dweller’s decisions a weight that they otherwise would not have had.

      • Humanoid says:

        He’s absolutely right in that this particular customer did not buy the original Fallout upon reading a review that mentioned the time limit. I hated dealing with pressures like that, so I immediately dismissed the game as something I was not interested in. In hindsight it’s massively unfortunate that I missed out on playing a brilliant game at launch, but as a kid back then, I couldn’t take chances like I can do today with games that I’m unsure about.

        In any event, I did get Fallout 2 what it was still reasonably current, then went out to get the original soon thereafter. Still had a good time playing it, but in that kind of scenario, the experience of playing the earlier game is always a little soured by missing out of the improvements in the sequel, most notably the ability to shove NPCs out of the way. As a result I’ll always prefer Fallout 2 in my personal estimation.

      • IFS says:

        I agree completely, FO2 tried to force some urgency by giving you the occasional mystic vision about your tribe suffering or whatever but it never really felt like it worked to me at least in part to how difficult it was to just try to make a beeline for your goal, as well as how much more that game focused on side quests and even how you could go back to the village if you wanted to and find that it really wasn’t much different.

        FO3 had relatively little side content other than just vague wandering about, there were sidequests but honestly not that many of them so your goal actually felt slightly more urgent to me, even if it could easily be ignored.

        With FO1 the timer always felt quite generous to me, granted my first playthrough I stumbled on Necropolis on accident and found the water chip rather quickly but even so it doesn’t take long to find the water chip and you can always buy more water to increase the limit. The second hidden time limit is a different story I suppose but even it is quite long.

        • I think I hit the time limit once back in the day. What you mention about buying water is true, but I think that decreases the clock on when the Super Mutants might find the vault, because its location is no longer 100% secret.

        • manofsteles says:

          As you point out, the 100 day timer was extremely generous; even a first-time player would have had to dick around and explore every inch of the (mostly empty) Wasteland for the timer to expire. While the Wasteland was open (for that point in time), it wasn’t really a sandbox since sidequests existed but did not permeate the world (though this point can be argued and is really fuzzy anyway).

          The really strange thing is that according to the Fallout wiki, the games patches modify the Super Mutant timer to upwards of about 13 in-game years; again, not only was this unnecessary but it also took much of the weight and urgency that the main quest had. This is a shame, because Fallout’s main quest was arguably the most successful in the entire series (even compared to Wasteland’s main quests, which were simply earlier and later iterations of the same basic quest template).

          I bring this up because like any project, game development is a balancing act of resources (not just money, but time and labor), and by fully voicing the PC in such a large sandbox, it seems that so many other elements of the game suffered to balance it out.

          Fallout seemed to have the best balance of world size, voice acting, and writing quality; team members such as Tim Cain and Brian Fargo have repeatedly stated that they wished they could have made more voiced dialogue with the talking heads, but it seems like the limitations on the amount of voiced dialogue forced them to fine-tune their writing to its sharpest edge, all while allowing the dialogue to either service the quests efficiently, add life to the Wasteland, or both.

          Fallout 2 had a bigger budget, more voiced dialogue, and a larger Wasteland, but to a lot of players (but not all), the writing and main quest suffered greatly as a result. That Wasteland could rightly be called a sandbox (or at least it was much closer to one than Fallout’s), but it’s writing was a lot less focused due to its size. Also, note that this is where a lot of the problems that Interplay (and later Obsidian) have with the balance of ambition over polish. The larger the world, the harder it is to maintain focus and polish, all other things being equal. Add to that the desire to add more voiced dialogue, more side areas and sidequests, and eventually you end up with large, ambitious games (such as Fallout 3, Fallout New Vegas and KOTOR 2) that are amazing in their size and jankiness.

          The amount of voice acting in Fallout seemed to be the perfect amount (with a silent PC) because there was just enough of it to give life to the important PCs, without breaking the bank and making the rest of the game suffer; imagine the cost of getting Tony Shalhoub, Ron Pearlman, and Keith David to provide half of the dialogue in a contemporary Bethesda game such as Fallout 4, and how much the rest of the game would suffer. If forced to forgo voicing the PC, I wonder what the dev team would have improved with those resources? How much better could Fallout 4 have been?

          • Shamus says:

            Actually, it’s VERY easy to blow through those 100 days. The trip to The Glow and back can eat about a third of it, IIRC. Running caravan guard to earn caps will burn almost two weeks! If you end up with a crippled limb or near-death injury, you can blow five days just resting back to full health.

            It’s easy to just the job done in 100 days, but only once you know your way around. For new players, the time taken can be incredibly variable.

            • manofsteles says:

              Wow, really? I take back what I said in the beginning about the generosity of the first 100 days. I will admit that I only did the run to the Glow quest once to eventually get the holotape from Vree to confront the Master. And for that one time, I think I did it after getting the water chip (but I could be wrong since it was so many years ago). I sincerely apologize for my fuzzy memory.

              Every other time I played, I just killed the Brotherhood since it was obvious that they want the player to go away and/or die on what they seem to think is a deadly snipe hunt (at least it seemed like that to me).

              I will also admit that I never did do a caravan guard run, and that I just save-scummed to avoid being crippled as much as possible (and asked my cousins about certain roadblocks such as the Master’s psychic attacks).

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              Thats because the main goal is not to find the water chip,but rather to get the extension by finding the water merchants.The time limit becomes generous then.

              But the problem of generosity in fallout 1 is not the time limit for the water chip quest.Its the wonky interface that requires a first time player to burn quite a bit learning the ropes,faffing about the map,not judging the fights correctly,etc.Also the difficulty of finding the correct build so that you dont die easily.

    • You know what would’ve fixed that? Evidence your son was dead. It could’ve even played into the main quest:

      At some point early on, you find Shaun’s corpse or what you believe to be his corpse. Now the tone shifts from urgent rescue to revenge, if not just to find out “why?” For added fun, you could find another Shaun corpse, this one of a different age. Suddenly you wonder if they could be Synths? This way, the mystery deepens, you suspect Shaun’s been gone a longer time than you thought, and it removes the thought of a baby in peril as a driving force, making sidequesting more palatable.

      • Shamus says:

        That’s really good. Curiosity and vengence are far better motivators, because you can pursue them at your own pace. Which – like others have pointed out – isn’t true of kidnapped family members.

        • They could have fixed it much more easily by slightly changing the way you get sidequests from people–instead of it being a dialog like:

          NPC: “Will you do *thing for me*?”
          PC: “Sure, no problem!”

          Have it be more like:

          NPC: *tells you all about their enthusiasm, mentions the thing they need to finish it up while looking pathetically at PC*
          PC: *says nothing*
          Questlog and map: *new marker added*

          There was no requirement to have a big interaction and have your PC *actively agree* to do the thing. If they just frame it as “here is a thing you can do”, it doesn’t bust up your sense of urgency.

          And all the other side activities could have been EFFORTLESSLY handwaved away by basically insisting from the get go that looking for Shaun was going to be an ENORMOUS undertaking that you would need TONS of resources, connections, etc. for. Which gives you a reason to:

          a.) explore
          b.) join factions
          c.) develop relationships with people
          d.) construct settlements
          e.) obtain loots

          BASICALLY EVERYTHING THAT YOU EVER DO IN THE GAME. One tiny change and the side questing isn’t so SIDE any more.

          • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

            In the beginning it kind of did feel like I could justify it this way. I felt like having a network of settlements to grow the operations of the Minutemen would result in more boots on the ground looking for Shaun. Now in my head I knew it probably wouldn’t work out that way mechanically but if they’d fed me a few more scraps of dialog (“Heard anything?” “Not yet, but we have our Minutemen out looking”) I would have felt like I could justify the continued focus on settlement building.

            As it stood, I just had to tell myself that it was probably a long time between Shaun being snatched and me being set free so if he’s still alive its probably not super urgent that I find him right this minute as he’s probably in a stable situation.

            • That is EXACTLY what I did inside my head, because, yeah, they were smart and at the VERY beginning you have ZERO leads. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. If they’d left it that way entirely–that you know NOTHING, and that the Commonwealth is a huge place where you’re going to need help to find a single person (and to confront that person later), or, heck, just to stay alive . . . perfect! No problems at all!

              Instead, they get frantic and hurry up to give you a lead IMMEDIATELY . . . which basically wrecks the rest of the game.

              I mean, when you get to Concord it’s all RAIDERS and DEATHCLAW . . . OMG this new world is scary! You’re going to need help to stay alive! They could have kept the pressure on, too, by, say, announcing that the raiders at Concord were a small part of a larger gang that was now out for your blood. Plus, there are quite a few resources at Sanctuary that they would like–it’s a pretty nice base.

              It’s exactly the same overall story, but what a difference in emphasis!

              And if they’d been super-duper-ooper smart, you could have gotten a ton of benefits to your settlements by allying with larger cities/towns like, say, Diamond City or Goodneighbor. Or even the big factions. They even could have made it a bit like the Become a Thane quests in Skyrim, where you’d go to the leader of the town and be like “Hey, we’re trying to get people organized” and they were all “mm, I don’t know you, stir around the town and see what people need help with”. So you go do a bunch of quests in the town, then eventually come back to the Person In Charge and get the big thumbs up or thumbs down or whatever.

              It would have been SO EASY for them to tie all this stuff together so much better so there wasn’t dissonance between the supposed urgency of your baby-finding mission and what you spent 95% of your time actually doing. :P

              • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

                I ESPECIALLY like what you’re suggesting about allying with the bigger settlements and/or factions, perhaps having it impact things like what sort of stuff you can build.

                This has been a great week. Lots of good points from several people on this post but you especially.

                And to anybody who wonders, THIS is why we talk about Bethesda games. They’re so big and complex and at the same time warty that they really get the synapses firing if you like to critique, troubleshoot, and/or analyze games.

                • I was talking about precisely this with my housemate earlier. Like, say, you ally with Vault 81. You get the ability to build some nice vault furniture and planters or something in your settlements.

                  They could have done some really interesting stuff with the Local Leader perk and supply lines, too, like, if you establish a supply line with Vault 81, you get a largish load on your global food supplies (like, say, 25), but what happens also is that a shipment of, say, gears or antiseptic or adhesive periodically appears in your Workshop inventory. Or, each town you ally with increases the caps output of your stores at all locations, so you earn money faster. That would have been a really nifty mechanic, particularly later in the game because if you had it set up well you’d be getting regular shipments of most of the things you use so you wouldn’t have to pick up EVERY DANG PIECE OF JUNK IMAGINABLE to supply your settlements. It would be a good analog for your progress, that there’s actual “trade” going on between settlements, and they’re becoming “rich”, as in, everywhere you go, you have plenty of raw materials for building stuff.

                  They could have some towns that are super-insular and you have to work really hard to get them to join up–but they also have some of the rarest ingredients up for trade. Also cool.

                  It would make the settlements feel a lot less static once they hit a certain size, that’s for sure. They would slowly go from being a resource drain that needs near-constant attention to being a resource generator that just needs you to show up and blast a few ghouls periodically. Build up your defenses enough, and you don’t even have to do THAT. It would really feel like you’d made your towns “self-sufficient” and left a lasting mark on the commonwealth.

          • Couscous says:

            So make it sort of like New Vegas where you are leading up to the attack on the dam and need to prepare for it with the Yes Man or help prepare for it with one of the major factions? Except make it so who you are attacking is always the same. Have a similar failsafe in place like the Yes Man in New Vegas. It shouldn’t even be hard to have the player character think Shaun is somewhere where he is safe and alive but in need of a rescue that will require a lot of resources. Make the initial search for Shaun something similar to the bread crumb trail in New Vegas that leads to Vegas.

      • Gawain The Blind says:

        This is such a better way of doing things than what they actually did. Especially if it’s really ambiguous so you aren’t sure if it IS Shaun or not, but it MIGHT be.

  7. Da Mage says:

    I for one like the voiced protagonist, the only let down is the options you are forced into at times. Having your character talk is a huge step in dialogue for Bethesda, just remember only 2 games ago we were grabbing the camera and dumping dialogue on the player….this is a real improvement.

    • AileTheAlien says:

      It’s only an improvement compared to a game that had almost zero input from the player character, in main plot dialogs. The original Fallout (drink!) often had half a dozen ways you could interact with the dialogs in the game.

  8. Humanoid says:

    The voice acting isn’t just a problem for modders, it’s a problem for the game’s own writers who I imagine would have limitations placed on them in terms of how verbose or complex their dialogue is. It also makes the writing workflow very linear as the script would have to be nailed down very early in the piece.

    Moving away from just the voice acting though, the game does go out of its way to define your character for you, often for no good reason. The husband is/was in the army, and the wife is a lawyer, or at least has a law degree. I’d have much preferred this kind of thing purposely kept vague, and as far as I know there’s no actual payoff for this knowledge, it just makes everyone’s player character the same as anyone else’s.

    I didn’t care much about the “Live Another Life” mod for Skyrim because with the standard opening you could come up with any number of plausible backgrounds for your character who’s ended up in this situation. But Fallout 4 is a game that really begs for the added diversity that an equivalent mod would add.

  9. Kremlinlaptop says:

    I’m still not sure how I feel about this, honestly. This is the best story and the best writing I’ve seen in a Bethesda game since … Morrowind? It blows Fallout 3 out of the water handily and is on par and even superior to New Vegas in some ways.

    Personally? I find that the voice acting — in places — does make me feel more invested in my character … and in other places it feels completely inconsistent. When answer Valentine’s questions my female character is practically a weepy damsel in distress going, “Muh babby been stolen, mistah! STOLEN MAH BABBBYYY!” (alright, maybe not quite so on the nose) but still pretty damn odd for a woman who has spent the last who knows how long stomping through the wasteland high up to her eyeballs on jet while blasting away with her minigun at anything that moves.

    Sidenote: I really want a mod that makes those cigars I keep finding smokable. And I want to be able to light one with the still glowing hot barrels of my minigun.

    It’s hit and miss and it does feel like I sort of get to fill in the blanks with who I think the character is. One thing is that there is no ‘evil’ option in this game. There is no being a raider scumbag and that’s a pity; I wanted to do a play through where Preston has a big ol’ smouldering hole in his chest cavity from a laser-musket blast and the raider Gristle is handing over a big bunch of caps while dragging Mama Murphy back to.. uhm… that one raider leader whose name I forgot — I shall call him Dave.

    And that’s the thing! All of that is in the game in snippets of story in raider bases. You find out about raider Dave and his obsession with the ‘sight’ and a bit about Mama Murphy’s past. You find out about Red Tourette or whatever her name is and her kidnapped sister Lily. And the world sort of vaguely reacts to all of these people dying here and there. Raiders are no longer the blood-soaked crazies from Fallout 3 but actually really damn interesting (and at time tragic) parts of the world…

    …And the only way I can interact with them is by staring at them down the sights of my gun.

    There’s a random encounter in the game where you find a raider kneeling on the ground. I came up to her a bit confused only to see an open grave with a dead raider in the grave and a shovel nearby. She didn’t notice me and I tried to come up to her to initiate a conversation. She whirls around with a 12 gauge and starts blasting me … and the whole time I was like, “Dammit, you’re out here alone burying your friend — you don’t stand a damn chance against me in my power armour. I don’t want to kill you!”

    But that was the only way I could interact with her (I had Pacify but that failed) so I just shot her and dragged her body over next to her dead friend.

    I guess the character is less of a blank slate and in some ways I’m fine with that, I just wish if we’re going to play a somewhat predetermined character there were more options for which railroad to go down. Though if I think about it the only Fallout game with a truly blank-slate character is New Vegas; that’s the only one where it truly made sense that you could be any damn body you pleased.

    • If nothing else, the voice direction is far better in this than in previous Bethesda games. I wonder if having a voiced protagonist with set responses helped that somehow?

      They also went all-out on giving the NPCs flavor lines in the most unexpected of places. Nick even has a comment for a lone place out in the Glowing Sea that’s unique to the area.

      That said, there were several places I thought Nick, a Synth, should’ve had something to say or some input to the dilemma.

      • Kremlinlaptop says:

        Bringing Nick into Covenant is one of those things where I was like, “Guys, aren’t you gonna … you mean you see who I’ve got with me here, right?”

        I really love the companions in this game though. To the point that I hate picking between them just because the variety of little snippets of input they have in regards to places in the Commonwealth are damned interesting.

        Does feel like they should have more involvement in certain places, though. Honestly though? I’m not even complaining because in comparison to companions from other Bethesda games? This feels like a whole different studio came up with these people.

        • Yeah, I agree with you on both points. One that really sticks out is how you can find a terminal in the Institute that says the Mayor of Diamond City is a Synth, he knows he’s a Synth, and he hopes his good work will earn him a spot as a Courser. Soon after, I took on Piper as a companion, and I figured one of the first conversations I could have with her would include something about “Hey, you know that mayor you suspect is a Synth? Funny story…”

          Nick, to his credit, does warn you about taking a Synth into the HQ of the BoS. I was kind of annoyed to find out that he doesn’t like you taking Covenant’s entry exam no matter what you say. Still, he’s a really good NPC, one of Bethesda’s best.

  10. Janus says:

    Well yeah, Bethesda games are immediately gratifying & often loose that rather quickly. But that’s kind of inherent in their system, right?
    Elder Scrolls, the new Fallouts – they’re all about exploration. You have this big, open world with endless setpieces, stories, environments, items, etc. – at first, the whole experience is all about this sense of discovery. Getting to new and interesting places, meeting new people & killing them in interesting ways…
    After that immediate sense of discovery wears off, there isn’t much left but a buggy & shallow action-RPG with bad writing (to varying degrees). But… Since the games are so huge, this can take >100 hours of fun explorations, which is still pretty great.
    The tricky part with the backlash-phase of Bethesda games would be to stop playing just as you reach that point & leave on a high note. But who does that?
    Point? Eh… less of a evil masterplan of the marketing department & more an inherent aspect of the way these games are built? (edit: it could also be both, of course)

    • Supahewok says:

      My honest intent when I wrote in that comment wasn’t necessarily to say “ooooh, eeeevil marketers are scheeeeming to get us to play their game for hoooouuurrrss.” I mean, it just makes commercial sense to release near Christmas if you can, it’s the biggest spending time of the year. But I do think that Bethesda games have been trending towards having more stuff to do that is actually more shallow and less fulfilling over the years. In Morrowind, you haven’t got a large variety of things to do, but you’ve got a mix and match magic system, and an exotic, interesting world to explore, and you’ll be doing a lot of that exploring on foot until you learn the ropes. By the time you get to Skyrim, the world is pretty but fairly humdrum, most of your quests involve you going somewhere and killing things, and there isn’t any depth to any of it (I’m not bothering to go into specifics, Rutskarn has an entire column on here devoted to the subject). It honestly does feel more like Farmville from a first-person perspective, without the microtransaction barriers; you’re being given constant little ticks of gratification for feedback, which hooks a lot of our brains in a little pleasure loop. But at the end, when you stand up from the game, you aren’t taking anything away from it; to borrow Rutskarn’s metaphor from his series, it feels like a meal of potato chips. I think marketing could have influenced that; games like Farmville and Candy Crush are highly influenced by marketing. Or, it could be a conscious decision by the production team. Either way, you’ve got this yummy meal that gives you a bit of a stomach ache later on as you wonder “why, exactly, did I eat a whole bag of potato chips?”

      Shallow, petty escapism is perfectly acceptable. It just isn’t very interesting to talk about for me, personally. So I’m a wee bit acerbic after two weeks of nothing but Fallout 4 headlines. Instead of talking about how this game could be so much better if such-and-such had been done right, I’d rather talk about something else that did do things right already.

      Edit: For me, the ultimate counter-example to Bethesda games is New Vegas. I know the love for it is not universal, but i’ts the only Bethesda like RPG that I’ve put over a hundred hours in. As a matter of fact, I’ve put in over 3 hundred hours into it, and I’m always game to give it yet another runthrough when the mood takes me. It is one of my top 5 RPG’s of all time. There’s something of substance in it that satisfies me in a way Bethesda’s own games don’t, even after I’ve explored all edges of the map multiple times. The NV vs. FO3 debate has been argued here for years, so I’m not going to make it yet again. I simply bring it up as an example of a game in the same mold as Bethesda’s RPG’s that, despite it’s own idiosyncrasies, goes beyond immediate gratification and dares to make me consider its world and people. Therefore, shallowness is not an inherent quality of Bethesda style RPG’s; it’s a choice Bethesda makes, for whatever reason.

      • Bitterpark says:

        But that’s just the thing: New Vegas, despite being in the same engine and with largely similar mechanics, had entirely different design goals. And it shows. That’s why many Bethesda game fans (ones who specifically wanted a bethesda game out of it, rather than an oldschool rpg) hated it.

        New Vegas achieved worldbuilding and narrative depth (and more mechanical depth, which feeds back into those other two), by scaling the trademark vast Bethesda sandbox world back down to a largely linear progression of quest hubs and their respective dungeons, with a few forks along the way. Thus, they were able to put more work into each dungeon and each quest, and weave them all into the overall picture of the world.

        But they had to sacrifice the free roaming to do it. They made a handful of unique dungeons with ties to quests and to the world, instead of a 300 largely interchangeable ones that only paint the world in the broadest possible strokes. But, as Rutskarn explained in the Daggerfall retrospective, the game’s 17000 identical procedurally-generated towns did not exist for the player to go to each of them, but to let the player pick their own subset of them to visit, and feel like their playthrough is unique. It may seem shallow, but it has a bizzare appeal to it, and it’s the central pillar around which Bethesda games are built. It’s the thing that makes some people make claims like “New Vegas has better story, but FO3 has better gameplay”.

        New Vegas does not elevate the Bethesda format, it takes that format and reshapes it into something of their own, something that only crudely resembles the original.

        I’m not saying it’s impossible to comine the virtues of both in one game, it is absolutely possible, but cost-prohibitive. Bethesda already goes above and beyond most AAA publishers, by putting the time in to make each of their games a proper, distinct sequel, instead of cashing in the exact same game every year, and that can’t be easy or cheap, it takes tremendous effort and finance to make that type of game.

        Make it, and also actually make it deep? Well, you’d need Valve money for that kind of effort, to comfortably afford to make your supergame for as long as it takes, without compromises. I hear Witcher 3 managed to do it, and I wonder if it’s because CD Projekt owns GoG, and thus has the cashflow to sit and fully flesh out their games. I don’t think Bethesda is quite at that level yet, though this is all just speculation, I could be totally wrong.

        • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

          There’s been some speculation about how they managed such a big game so cheap. CDPR itself claims its just a matter of having a core group of talented people who can work quickly.

          I think it was a Forbes writer who speculated that its because CDPR is not under pressure from a publisher like EA to implement X number of extra popular features in their game. Any developer can tell you, nothing bloats a project like being forced to add features by some manager who doesn’t understand what you have to do to make it work.

          And you’re right about New Vegas. Also, I think we have to acknowledge that Obsidian has benefited considerably from being able to step in and use an existing engine, assets and even IP as a starting point. Rutskarn really hit it on the head with his Tweet about being excited that Fallout 4 is a good framework for the RPG Obsidian will hopefully get to make from it. Though Pillars shows that they manage a good product on their own, we wouldn’t have New Vegas without FO3.

          • I think that’s what Bethesda is kind of shooting for: A platform that can be used to make loads of future games without having to start from scratch. There’s an added incentive to keep basing future games on past engines (at least mechanically) as modding helps to drive their sales.

            They’re trying to make their version of the D&D Core Rulebooks, which is okay for what it needs to do (run a shooter, be an RPG, have NPC behavior set to various flags, etc.), it’s just that Bethesda isn’t great at writing the story parts of it.

            • Bethesda isn’t the only group thinking this way. EA seems to have made a pretty concerted move to get its studios united under Frostbite, for instance. It’s a sensible move, because then the work done in the engine by each studio adds things that can be utilized by all other studios.

              • djw says:

                Lets just hope they do a better job with that horrid tactical camera in their next frostbite game.

              • Humanoid says:

                It also makes sure that all their games are equally unmoddable.

                • Then why are there mods for Dragon Age: Inquisition? You mean that they’re a giant prohibitive pain in the ass to mod. And if they update it, boom, everything broke now.

                  Inquisition was in a really weird place as a game, but some of the stuff they managed to do (and the DLC that came after) gives me a lot of hope for DA4 (and maybe Andromeda, although I’m not sure yet I’m interested in that one).

          • Supahewok says:

            I don’t think we can say that being able to use all that existing stuff was a benefit, per se. It was the only way that job was possible. Can you imagine trying to make New Vegas in 18 months from scratch? To me, saying that they had all this existing stuff as an advantage is like saying having a bat when swinging in baseball is an advantage.

            If they’d had the 4 or so years Bethesda takes for their own games, then yeah, definitely would have been a bonus on top of whatever else they could do. As it is, giving them these tools is probably why they were only given 18 months to begin with, rather than the standard 24 (for normal games) or 48ish (for games of this size). That deadline hampered a lot of their efforts. I honestly am not sure if you can really count it as a net gain, other than the fact that it exists at all is a gain, and that we can’t be certain if the opportunity to make the game would have been given to them at all if the tools didn’t exist.

            I’m getting existential about video games. Definitely time to walk away from the computer and take a nap.

            • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

              You’re absolutely right. All the more reason to be grateful that FO3 was made to make FNV possible.

              Although when I said that, I was making a more general statement about the various engines Obsidian has been able to step in and use, thus allowing for more focus on the writing as well as the ability to confidently write around the mechanics of the game, since those mechanics are set.

      • You’re kind of saying that Bethesda is doing the movie studio equivalent of releasing films right before Oscar time.

        • Supahewok says:

          I suppose I am, at that. I’d argue that there’s a difference in medium: I don’t know if there’s a “skinner box” kind of movie. Big dumb action flicks, sure, and there are plenty of big dumb games, but I don’t think a big dumb game is the same as a shallow, manipulative one.

          Also a difference in their critical atmosphere and history. Movies have had a long time to develop their award shows and selection and such. And the most respected critics are usually over the age of 40, aren’t they? They’ve been around the block, and are less likely to succumb to starry-eyed wonder at a new movie coming out late in the year.

          It’s been something I’ve mentioned before about the maturation of game critique: I personally know of a handful of game critics over the age of 35, many of which are editors who don’t write columns much anymore. I know none over the age of 40. The idea of being a veteran critic after only 5 years is laughable in the movie industry, yet it’s something we accept all the time in games.

          So I think there’s a difference. But I’ve got my own biases coloring that opinion, which I freely admit.

          • Heck, being a movie critic and being human is kind of a novelty. There was a bit of a scandal a while back that many named critics on video boxes didn’t exist. I figure that kind of thing still goes on, and why wouldn’t it transfer to the game industry? In this day and age of fake Amazon reviewers, it’s not much of a stretch.

            • Supahewok says:

              Wow. Never heard about the video box thing.

              I’m not sure if it’s the same in video games. There aren’t that many major games sites. 10 or less. Usually when stating quotes, video games will credit the publication, and with the advent of the Reddit Internet Warrior, I don’t think you could get very far with misattributed quotes, it wouldn’t be hard to verify.

              I don’t hold the games journalism industry in very high regard, but I do think it’s generally honest, just misguided and immature.

            • Humanoid says:

              You mean this “Shamus Young” person doesn’t actually exist and is just a pseudonym used by Valve PR to write positive things about their games?

      • Merlin says:

        I think you were perfectly diplomatic in the original comment, FWIW. I typed a few versions of something that was far less charitable before just aborting entirely. (The shortest, bluntest version of my flaming-hot take is just “Bethesda has never made a good game.”)

        But yes, the question with Bethesda is never if people will turn on their games, it’s when. The potato-chip dinner is an apt metaphor, but I also liken their busywork structure to network TV sitcoms and morning/night shows. They’re there to go down easy when you have nothing else to do and want to fill time. The goal is not to evoke strong emotions, it’s to give you a steady drip of “this is okay.” (I include good feelings here as well – you might get a quick chuckle when, say, a wizard falls out of the sky in Morrowind or a giant flings your companion into the stratosphere in Skyrim – but they’re not aiming for belly laughs or actual joy so much as novelty.) The vastness of their games helps this as well, because it leads to cognitive dissonance a la the Festinger & Carlsmith experiment; if people execute a boring task for a long time but receive no meaningful compensation, they convince themselves that the boring task was actually enjoyable. Your brain cannot rationalize why you would spend your time this way, so it retcons your own experience.

        It’s a big part of why I have been legitimately excited to not care about FO4. It feels like being a former addict who is realizing that he doesn’t even want the old drug anymore. (With a side dish of schadenfreude from watching mobs of folks fall into the old trap, but I’ve tried to limit my threadcrapping.) No offense meant to the (millions of) players, but I just don’t have nearly enough gaming time at this point in my life to justify burning time in a Bethesda sandbox.

  11. Souda says:

    Funnily enough the TGAs have PoE in the running for RPG of the year.

    I’m shocked.

    • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

      Metacritic shows it as the number 6 game of any type released on PC in 2015.

      I think it helps that they release version 2.0 quickly followed by The White Marches pt 1 DLC a couple of months ago. It kept them in the conversation.

  12. Christopher says:

    So while I think the fallout 4 stuff falls a little flat, can I just say that I am not at all opposed in principal to voiced characters in RPG’s?

    • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

      I’m not opposed to them either. I just don’t like MY character to be voiced. If you’re going to voice it, then give me an actual character. Don’t pretend its still my character.

  13. Decius says:

    So, I’m going to have to disagree with a fact about your major objection. I think that it was fully obvious that Kellog was going to fight you as soon as the conversation was over. In addition, he delivered the line “We both know how this has to end.” to me, which is unambiguously acknowledgement that it’s going to be a fight.

  14. anona says:

    My biggest gripe over the voiced protagonist is well, the voice. My character is supposed to be an old world army veteran going over severe PTSD and doubting over his personal sanity after seeing his world destroyed in moments(from his perspective), yet he sounds about as gruff and assertive as a teenager approaching a girl for the first time.

    For example, Jensen in DE:HR has a very distinctive and memorable voice and something like that might have been a better choice. Though I suspect Bethesda chose the blandest voice in existence so players have easier time projecting themselves on the character.

    If you’re going to do a voiced protagonist in a blankish-state RPG, at least give us options for the voice(which takes a massive amount of resources, so maybe you should think twice before committing to that). Voiced protagonist is suited to RPGs where the main char isn’t a blank slate, like Witcher or Deus Ex.

  15. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I disagree with you that going fully voiced has hurt this game.Story and options were never biowares best skill.I mean look at their pre oblivion games where you had a bunch of options:They were mostly bland,inconsequential things.Heck,even the most recent ones,fallout 3 and skyrim,were giving you options that were nonsensical,bland and boring.Giving the player less dialogue,but having it all be fully voiced is a good thing for this company.It injected something new and interesting into their stale formula and revitalized it.

    • tmtvl says:

      I love that you say Bioware, because they and Bethesda both have the same problem: they’ve started making action games and marketing them as “RPG’s”, which they aren’t.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Whoops.Nice slip I had there.

        However,both the companies are making rpgs.Just because those games are more action oriented does not change the fact that they are rpgs.”Role playing game” does not mean story focused or with less combat or with many dialogue options or with a bunch of number crunching…..You can have a dialogue heavy rpg with deep challenging story and multiple ways to go through levels that still has mechanics close to a shooter:original deus ex.

        • Merlin says:

          Whenever “what is an RPG” comes up (with or without True Scotsman-ing it), I think it’s worth remembering that Final Fantasy (as in, the first one) is pretty much a spot-on recreation of D&D as the original RPG. Characterization is basically non-existent, and while theoretically you’re saving the world, mostly you’re walking through caves and fighting random monsters every four steps. A big part of RPGing’s culture/history is fighting a bunch of mathy-battles and leveling up, and I don’t think it’s inherently wrong to use that shorthand for video game RPGs despite the lack of actual role-playing.

          • Shoeboxjeddy says:

            Final Fantasy (I) even has the sort of plot twists a novice GM might use. The first weakling boss you ever fought is the final SUPER BOSS! You have to travel back in time and fight the enemies I came up with already to save effort, but now they match your current level!

  16. Ingvar says:

    I actually started playing Skyrim, once. I gave up in some sort of “they are mangling Norse stuff way too much for me to be able to suspend my disbelief” and kept a running commentary inside my head of everything that they’d cribbed incorrectly. Yes, I know Skyrim isn’t a “Norse simulator”, but there’s enough of the trappings that it should’ve been stolen competently, instead of whatever they ended up with.

    I mean, it’s like a game taking place in modern London, without (double decker) buses and the Tube.

    • IFS says:

      I have a Norwegian friend, and every time Skryim gets brought up he feels compelled to point out that ‘the mountains are wrong’ because they’re too steep compared to the mountains of the places the Norse actually lived in. So you aren’t alone in being offended by them ‘mangling Norse stuff’.

      • Ingvar says:

        I don’t actively recall even getting to mountains. There may have been mountains, sure, but there were SO many “what the whatting what?” that the mountains didn’t even factor into my decision to just go “erp, no, I have other games to play” (like Saints Row 2 and onwards).

  17. modus0 says:

    Shamus, what’s the difference between voiced dialogue with the PC expressing a different reason for why the player chose to do something, and the same thing but only text?

    If the character’s motivations (whether voiced or just text) are different than the player’s, doesn’t that cause the same level of jarring disconnect? Or is there somehow more if the character is voiced?

    I’m not sure that the writing in Fallout 4 would be any better if there wasn’t any voiced dialogue, it would probably end up just be more of the same. Instead of one spoken sentence explaining that your character is searching for their baby, you’d get three pure text sentences saying essentially the same thing.

    • Shamus says:

      Voiced dialog carries tone of voice.

      If the dialog says, “I don’t want to do that.” I can project my own tone onto it: Angry, friendly, humorous understatement, etc. We already have so few options. Making them voiced makes them that much narrower. And then hiding your actual words behind summaries narrows your options more.

      • Here’s another angle to explore: Would the voice be such a negative if the stat-building and leveling mechanics weren’t so rigid? I mean, looking at Fallout 1, you mostly have all the same dialog choices (unless you have a skill or item in some cases), but you can be a silver-tongued wasteland doctor, a super soldier, a merchant gunslinger, etc. If you could have more control over your build, would the voiced protag’s limitations seem less onerous?

        • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

          I still want that freedom of interpretation of my character. Actually the building stuff doesn’t help much unless it shapes my dialog options extensively (and more than just the Charisma unlocks persuasion option, maybe I’m spoiled by PoE).

          I think the only way to alleviate this is to give me an interesting character ala Geralt.

          Because you were looking for my thoughts, not Shamus’s right?

      • modus0 says:

        But if the dialogue was exactly the same, regardless of whether it was voiced or just text?

        Is “Skinny’s no good for you, Darla. You put a bullet in him, and I might just let you go.” a better phrase when the dialogue is voiced, or when it’s simply text? And why would one be better than the other?

        I’d also counter that text dialogue, without the inflections of speech, can very easily cause someone to interpret text in a manner that was not intended, which could itself lead to dissonance in what the character means versus what the player thinks they might mean.

        I do agree that the shortened dialogue options in Fallout 4 isn’t a very good implementation, and really didn’t have any issues with the way the previous games were done.

        • It could be “better” depending on the player. It’s like the phrase, “I never said she stole my money.” That phrase has several different meanings depending on which word is emphasized. If it’s a response to an NPC, and you’re reading it, it’ll fit whatever meaning you think your character has.

          Yes, it’s the illusion of choice, but it’s a good one.

  18. Zak McKracken says:

    So … if you find Supahewok’s argument plausible (which it looks to me), why are you burning so many columns and podcasts on Fallout 4 and so few on the Witcher? And only a little small part of one podcast on Pillars of Eternity (IIRC)?

    I’d say there is must be something about Fallout 4 that makes you want to discuss it a lot more than those other games, even though it already is everywhere. Or maybe that’s exactly the reason (because “everywhere” includes your head)?

    • Shamus says:

      “why are you burning so many columns and podcasts on Fallout 4 and so few on the Witcher?”

      I talk about stuff that is:

      1) Interesting to me.
      2) Likely to be read by others.

      I think we have a pretty good record for not falling into the hype cycle. Sure, we’re talking a lot about Fallout 4, but that’s because we’re PLAYING Fallout 4. And our conversations are pretty critical. We’re certainly not falling into the pattern Supahewok describes. (Praising a game as the BEST THING EVER for a month and then forgetting about it forever.)

      • Supahewok says:

        I don’t want to give the impression that I think y’all are doing that. I mean, last week was all “OMG Fallout 4 guys!!!” and this week y’all started going over what’s annoying, what’s still bad after 3 or 4 games, and such. If there is a hype cycle as I described (and I’m not infallible, so it’s a definite “if”), I wasn’t criticizing y’all for being a part of it, because I don’t think y’all are. And even if you were, you went through it, like, 10 times faster than the cycle I hypothesized, which doesn’t exactly support my argument, does it?

    • Humanoid says:

      It helps the conversation when all five members of the crew are playing the game at the same time. I think around the time The Witcher 3 launched, maybe only half the crew at best were playing it, which doesn’t make for an engaging Diecast or whatever.

  19. Gawain The Blind says:

    I do not like the voiced guy either, not because the voice is wrong from what is in my head (it is, but that isn’t that big of a deal to me), but because of how limited the options are, and I loathe the 2-word conversation system. I have the mod that gets rid of that but I haven’t installed it yet because i’m lazy. But all it will take is another instance of my guy saying something completely opposite of what I expect from the 2 word clue and my rage will overcome my lazy, I expect.

    Really though, i’m mostly pissed at how MMORPG the conversation system is in general. For example, here’s something I did just recently:


    The brotherhood discovers that Danse is a synth! oh no! and Elder Burn The Heretics wants me to go kill him. I decide that he can go jump off the airship, because I like Danse way more than him.


    A couple of the resulting conversation options are basically “no, go fuck yourself.” but choosing them only results in him getting angry at me and then there I am staring at the same 4 options again except one of them is now grayed out or whatever. Oh, it’s going to be one of those. This is the way that MMORPGS deal with conversations (looking at YOU, Old Republic) because obviously you can’t go off the rails and have an NPC shoot your level 10 grinded character in the head for being a dick, or divert from the carefully planned plot. A prime example of this is if you play an inquisitor in Old Republic, you can repeatedly tell the guy in charge of your training to go to hell. But all that happens is the next dialog he says is “arg i’m so mad at you! I should kill you! aragh!” and then it just loops to wherever it was heading anyway.

    And that’s exactly what Elder Purge The Unclean does. I tell him no, I call him names, and yet here I am, chasing Danse down to some bunker some place because there is no other option if I want to advance this plot.

    I tell Danse i’m not going to kill him, I convince him not to kill himself, and then we go outside and Elder Skulls For The Skull Throne is somehow waiting there, by himself. And boy is he mad! And here is where you get to decide finally to kill Danse or not. Even though This whole trip is a railroaded waste of time as far as i’m concerned.

    I again go through all the same responses, “no, go fuck yourself,” “No, he saved my life,” whatever. And then Elder Blood For The Blood God gets really mad and exiles Danse, and tells you to report back to him in the airship.

    You go back to the airship and he says, and this is the most ridiculous thing, “I’m never going to mention what happened in the last 15 minutes again!” which is basically Bethesda saying “we don’t want to record different dialog for this guy based on your choices, so just bear with our terrible system!” because from that point on, all of his responses are as if you had killed Danse. You get promoted to paladin “because there’s suddenly an opening now that the traitor is gone!” (clever! works for both exile and death, nice job writing team. wink wink nudge nudge.) And now the plot just advances along the same path, except now Danse is alive and you can pick him up to kill things with you.

    Promoted! You outright refuse to follow orders, tell him he’s an idiot, refuse AGAIN, threaten the guy, and then get promoted for forcing him to let the “traitor” go into exile. Because the game needs you to be promoted for the plot to advance. And I don’t know for sure but I doubt he ever brings it up again.

    It’s clumsy and obvious and awful. I actually quit playing after that and did something else for the rest of the night I was so irritated by it. I am probably remembering 3 and NV with rose-colored welding goggles but I don’t ever remember being that disappointed in the way a conversation played out. I felt like I was getting an abject lesson in how the sausage is made and the concessions they had to make in order to have a voiced protagonist and have the limited 4-response system. It felt like taking a giant step backwards, and I’m obviously still irritated about it.

    • What’s really odd is that they apparently gave LOADS of random “oh, isn’t this very specific thing interesting to see or do?” dialog to the companions, lots of NPC dialog that seems (for Bethesda) them trying very hard to be immersive (i.e. many will comment on your power armor, Vault suit, or Silver Shroud costume), and voice direction that’s light-years better than their previous efforts.

      Maybe it comes down to their desire to never, ever kill off their questgivers? I don’t get that either, since gamers are well used to the “canonical” ending for a game that informs a sequel vs. “options you can take to have a different ending if you want to be Reginald Cuftbert on Jet” events that give players an ending they want.

      • Gawain The Blind says:

        I think it probably has to do with how much easier it is to have a few options of dialog for random npcs based on what you’re wearing when you enter their radius, since its just a single line to record, vs having to change the way you interact with the brotherhood from that point on. It’s easy to do “Faction reputation = good or bad” but its harder to do “faction reputation = bad but still useful so don’t throw him off the ship without a way down.” They would have to record a whole other set of dialog for Maxson for every time you interacted with him because he knows you’re completely willing to refuse to do what he says based on your own sense of morality instead of blindly following the brotherhood’s dogma. It would be a lot easier, and less expensive, for them to have just said “fine, you two are BOTH exiled!”and then set the faction rep with the brotherhood to -100 or whatever so you’re kill on sight. Except then you would miss out on all of the brotherhood content that they so carefully crafted. I think that would have been a better way to go though, if Maxson was at all realistic.

        • Except that makes even less sense as you’re already forgoing loads of content (presumably) by signing on with a given faction. I don’t see it being much more work to turn on a faction and still have a catch-all faction that’ll take you back for some questwork. Most likely, that’d be the Minutemen.

    • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

      I was kind of expecting it after I did one thing for Danse, he made me an initiate, then we went to see his commander who immediately says “Big Whoop! Lets make him a Knight if you think he’s so special, why not.” Only . . . he wasn’t being sarcastic. Becoming a Brotherhood Knight is only slightly more difficult than being a Discordian Pope. Makes me wonder about all the people who have been here longer who are still Aspirants and Initiates? They must be real losers. I think one of the techs the Brotherhood is hoarding must be a protagonist sensor.

      • Though if I were running the BoS like nearly every other jerk we’ve seen, it could be the fastest way to get people you don’t like killed. It’s not like they aren’t sending you into danger, is it? I never did anything for the BoS after getting the snazzy laser rifle anyway.

    • Humanoid says:

      At first, I was a bit mixed on my decision to read all the spoilers in this thread. Now I’m very glad I did. I’m only about 10 hours into the game but I feel my playthrough is slipping away already and I have to force myself to fire up the game instead of the usual new game thing of wanting to launch it as soon as I turn the PC on. I tried to roleplay as best I could despite the knowledge that this is a Bethesda game, but I’m just not good enough to do that.

      I’m going to start over with a character that treats the events of the game with all the respect it deserves. In New Vegas it took until my 4th or 5th game before I wanted to go all crazy and do this sort of wildly metagamey, often chaotic stupid, cheat-code abusing, degenerate and exploitative playthrough, but I’m just going to go ahead and do it immediately.

  20. Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

    Now I’m leaning back.

    I’ve been comparing this to other RPGs I’ve played recently that were unvoiced. Earlier Bioware games that offer some illusion of choice (bubbling choice) and Obsidian. Both are known for their writing and Obsidian especially is known for trying to account for what the player would want to do.

    But Bethesda has never been good at that. Even in Skyrim, with that being my first game in 16 years and having no basis for comparison in terms of story driven games, I remember times when I didn’t feel like I had the option to express myself properly and was taken aback. If I’m being honest, I don’t feel like voicing a Bethesda protagonist is really stripping away much because they weren’t using it fully anyway.

    That said, they’re doing an even worse job of delivering on what a good voiced protagonist can do. Something that is even more clear after Jennifer Snow’s posts.

    • This is another reason why I’ve never objected to voiced protagonists per se–because even without the voice, I rarely can do (in conversation) what I WANT to do.

      I think having a voiced protagonist (and everything that ought to go with it) actually works quite well in a game with a “morality meter” system. That system is already “steering” you to a certain extent–particularly if it’s well-implemented.

      It would work even better in a game like Jade Empire where there was actually a notion (although it was mostly ignored by the game itself) that the morality paths were actual “philosophies”. Having a voiced protagonist who was articulate about the meaning of the different philosophies and how they applied to different situations in the world could have been AMAZINGLY meaningful.

      You know what might be really interesting? To have a voiced protagonist with an “internal monologue” in a game like Jade Empire, so that when you come to those “Open Palm/Closed Fist” decisions, when you put the selection onto one of the options, the protagonist will have a little “internal monologue” where they explain the *meaning* of the decision internally, something like:

      “Violence will only beget further retaliation.”
      vs.
      “If she does not stand up for herself now, she will spend the rest of her life assaulted from all directions.”

      Which would also do a lot to make the paraphrases work better. Also, there could be some interesting doings from this, because then the writers could have things not work out always as the protagonist expected, and it wouldn’t seem so much like they were just jerking you around. That’s always a problem as well, because a lot of times in games (particularly with a voiced protagonist), if the writers set up an expectation and then invert it, it feels like they’re MAKING “you” act like a moron. It’s not a reasonable consequence, it’s a writing dick move. But then you have this problem where if everything always comes out exactly as you expect it’s DULL.

      Conversely, with an unvoiced protagonist those kinds of “morality meter” things tend to come across as incredibly stupid, artificial, and pointless.

  21. Incunabulum says:

    “. . . they oblige me to roleplay as the stupidest person in the entire wasteland.”

    “This compromise is the worst of all worlds. Everyone loses. I can only hope this isn’t their plan for all games going forward.”

    Two things here.

    1. *All* game writers seem to do this all the time. There are probably only a tiny handful of videogames where the protagonist isn’t carrying the idiot ball most of the time. You’re pretty much always a moron doing stupid things for stupid reasons.

    2. It’ll be their game plan going forward. If there’s a pattern to how Bethesda develops its games it seems to be to dump half the really good things from their last game, never improve the marginal stuff, and find something eye-stabblingly stupid to include in the next iteration.

    Really, these guys should have this type of game down to a science now – keep the good stuff, improve what you can of the bad stuff, slightly increase the scope of the games.

    Instead of each game in the series being an iterative improvement over the last, the just roll the dice each time hoping that their luck holds.

    • manofsteles says:

      While large open sandboxes are awesome, it seems that Bethesda long ago hit the point where expanding the scope of their sandbox actually makes things worse (at worst without even more obscene injections of cash).

      Daggerfall seems to have been on the extreme end of the large sandbox, where the world needed to be procedurally generated instead of merely copy-pasted. It seems that just like, voice-acting and graphical fidelity, AAA developers have long ago hit the point where adding more voice acting, or improving their graphics, or expanding the scope of their game is providing so little bang for their buck that I wouldn’t be surprised if more developers simply back off from improving them.

  22. manofsteles says:

    I’m sorry for being unclear in my above post, but I don’t object to the presence of side quests which distract from the main quest, the emphasis on side quests, or the high number of side quests. If the aim was to emphasize those side quests, I just wonder if it would have been better for their sheer quantity to be lowered a little if it meant that scarce development labor and money could be redirected towards polishing the best ones, or making sure that a greater proportion of them stand out. And the dilemma of quantity and breadth vs quality and depth is still a very important question with no definitive right answers (especially for Fallout).

  23. Grampy_bone says:

    The flaw in commenter Supahewok’s logic is they seem to think game reviewers are the main arbiters of game quality, when the typical reviewer is more likely to rate a game based on whether he wants the game to sell well or to sell poorly. Modern game site reviewers seem to get offended when suggesting sales determine quality, and not the other way around.

    Sales are the only metric for quality, and for being such awful bad unplayable no-good terrible games, Bethesda titles sure do sell a lot of copies. Skyrim was a rare evergreen title which continued to sell well past it’s initial release. Each Bethesda game seems to attract all sorts of amateur advice on what they are doing wrong and how their games should be fixed, and yet mysteriously no other major company seems to be able to achieve their same level of success with the same type of game. Kingdoms of Amalure, Dragon Age 3, and Witcher 3 all came close, but no one does it like Bethesda.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Sales are not the metric of quality.Sales are the metric of how much money a piece of art has made,nothing more,nothing less.Sometimes a brilliant piece of art can sell for pittance,and sometimes pure shlock ends up selling for zounds of money.It doesnt depend on the quality at all.

  24. Heather B says:

    Reading this has given me an idea how I’m going to rp my second playthrough of FO4. My character was so thoroughly traumatized by the opening act that she suffered a dissociative break. Now, in every conversation I roll a 4-sided die to determine what state of mind I’m in at that second. It will be fun to see what effect this will have on major plot points…

  25. Daniel says:

    Witcher 3 has another few advantages on Pillars of Eternity: CD Project Red’s good reputation in contrast with Bugsidian (Especially after Witcher 2’s Enhanced Edition), a larger marketing campaign, a lot more voice work, an established sequel, and it didn’t have the Kickstarter Stigma (Thanks Broken Age) to pass through.

    That, and it had a new DLC drop just back in October, with another slated in January.

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