"Country roads, take me home": hope for "Fallout 76"

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Mon Oct 22, 2018

With “Fallout 76,” Bethesda Softworks highly anticipated spinoff to their “Fallout” franchise scheduled for release on November 14, there remains a pervasive sense of worry that has persisted since the game's announcement back in June. The idea of turning the traditionally strong single player game franchise into an open world survival sandbox seems rather trend-chasey, albeit chasing trends that died off half a decade ago. The result is a mixture that leaves both hardcore fans and relative newcomers doubting Bethesda’s ability to pull it off. As a long dedicated fan of the franchise, I can’t say my perspective on the game thus far has been much different. The "Fallout" games’ strength has always been its storytelling, lore, and characters; and it seems "Fallout 76" will be waning from all of those. While it will certainly be interesting to get a first time look at the wasteland only 25 years after the Great War, the game seems to have put its emphasis in other places. To those watching closely and hoping for the game’s success, every positive is a blessing.

But there is one reason that I still hold hope for "76," one big reason that may seal the deal: the engine. Yes, the engine. The same engine as "Fallout 4." No, no I am not joking, let me explain: it isn't that it has the "Fallout 4" engine, it's that it already has an engine. Meaning that it does not need to create a new engine and can instead spend its time working on everything else. The majority of development of most new games is dominated by not actually making the game, but rather making all the stuff to allow you to make the game. First and foremost on this list is the game’s engine, the underarching system of mechanics, physics, visuals, and software on which to place levels, characters, weapons, and the likeness. Creating an engine for a game takes an inordinate amount of development time, leaving any game needing to make its own engine with much less time to actually work on story, characters, gameplay, and the content we buy the game for. Games that do not hold this limitation are free to spend that time working on all the stuff we look for in games.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the "Fallout" franchise itself, with “Fallout: New Vegas.” "New Vegas" is almost universally considered the best "Fallout" game, despite being released only 18 months after “Fallout 3.” "New Vegas" ran on the same engine that "Fallout 3" did, and as such developer Obsidian could spend all of that 18 months developing story, characters, weapons and content, gameplay, lore, and all that other good stuff. In only 18 months Obsidian was able to create not only the best "Fallout" game, but one of the best games of all time. All because they did not have to worry about developing an engine. A second great example lies in another one of the most beloved works in gaming history, “The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask.” It’s predecessor, “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time” is considered by many to be the greatest game of all time, but I would argue that the game is just okay. As in, the very definition of okay. A perfect 50.00%, the ultimate middleground by which I judge all other games, if I enjoyed it more than "Ocarina of Time," above 50%, if I enjoyed it less, below 50%. It had some nice gameplay, music, and puzzles, but was bogged down by bland characters and substandard story; it was just going through the motions: Baddie captures princess, hero rescues princess, dungeons in between. It fell back on formula in part because so much time was taken to working out the new 3D engine for the game, which was a huge undertaking at the time. "Majora’s Mask" on the other hand, had no such liabilities. As such, "Majora’s Mask" greatly outshined its predecessor by doing away with the tropes of the previous games, featuring a new setting, mechanics, characters, and villain; the delightfully creepy Skull Kid. Unconstrained by such burdens, "Majora’s Mask" easily came out on top by virtue of focusing on the most important aspects of a game. "Fallout 76" will, of course, be utilizing the same engine as "Fallout 4."

Now by no means was "Fallout 4" a bad game, but by the standards of "Fallout" games it was somewhat disappointing; in a series containing some of the greatest games of all time, of course there's going to be competition. Bethesda has already announced that "76" will be four times as large as "Fallout 4," and some speculate this means they’re spreading themselves too thin, the traditional “large but empty” trope. But with the recycling of the "Fallout 4" engine, they could very well have the time and capacity to pull it off. What remains untested is the games success as a crafting-survival game, a drastic shift from every other "Fallout" game, though to be fair crafting and survival are kind the whole deal of the post-apocalypse. These untested waters will no doubt prove to be the games greatest obstacle, but with the benefit of a finished engine to base the game on, it may very well deliver.

 

 

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2018 - Fall - Issue 7
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