Fallout 4 has no multiplayer and fixed content – so why can’t I stop playing..?
I broke Fallout 4 with my third character.
My first two runs were exploratory and incomplete. At first, I really struggled. This is something I heard from a lot of my friends, especially those coming from a shooter background rather than RPGs; they just felt underpowered and overwhelmed.
This is a good and correct thing. Now that we’re all spoiled by mainstream accessibility we forget that classic western RPGs are deeply unforgiving. It’s entirely possible to put dozens of hours into older games and be completely mired by difficulty spikes because your build was badly thought out. Your patchwork attempts to turn things around often mean you’re always playing catch up with enemies of supposedly equivalent level. If you save somewhere you can’t get out of without defeating an enemy who proves to be too hard for you, and forgot to make a backup save, you have no choice but to restart the whole game.
“It’s quite easy, when carelessly levelling up in Skyrim or Fallout 4, to build a useless character – especially if you avoid the upgrade paths which appeal most strongly to action players.”
This kind of thing isn’t always fun, but it makes levelling your character much more meaningful. Instead of being made automatically more powerful, you’re given an opportunity to invest in your character’s future, and need to think carefully about how to proceed. When you start a classic RPG, you have three choices: use trial and error to identify good builds and accept the lost time; study the game systems and figure out what to do ahead of time; or consult a build guide.
Bethesda hasn’t abandoned this approach. Both Fallout and The Elder Scrolls offer increasingly streamlined RPG systems, but they’re not the toothless gamification shells many other titles offer. It’s quite easy, when carelessly levelling up in Skyrim or Fallout 4, to build a useless character – especially if you avoid the upgrade paths which appeal most strongly to action players (usually the soft, accessible option).
In a concession to modern player demands, Fallout 4 offers a way out of potential build traps by scaling enemy levels to location rather than character level, so you can always go away and come back stronger – but I did not accept this. When my first Fallout 4 character turned out to be a useless mess, I restarted the game, using what I’d learned to put together a stronger build. About a dozen hours into this run I discovered the Deliverer, and after a few more hours I knew I’d found the seed of something very, very special. I restarted again, and set out to slowly and carefully build what eventually became the Infiltrator.
After spending up to a hundred hours with this build across multiple characters (it’s hard to tell exactly how long; I keep restarting in the same save stem to avoid the whole Vault 111 trek) I have refined and improved it (if you check out my Infiltrator guide you’ll see it’s been given a bit of a polish up to benefit from this experience). I have experimented with other builds (have you tried One-Punch Man yet?) and enjoyed myself very much, but I keep coming back to the Infiltrator, because stealthy, ranged, glass rogues are kind of my jam – and because the Infiltrator is a relatively low investment build, making it easy to put points in upgrade trees suited for settlements and role-playing as I go.
Nevertheless I’m hanging out for DLC, because I’ve run out of challenges. Even turning the difficulty up, I rarely struggle; it’s too easy to switch to Deliverer, open VATS, and take out entire crowds. Hanging around the Glowing Sea, I almost never break a sweat. So why am I still playing? How can I enjoy this cheap approach?
Putting aside the fact that I keep playing in order to put together the world’s greatest settlement network and have a “perfect” save for every ending, the truth is I am still enjoying the combat, even if it’s not challenging my twitch reflexes. The beauty of Fallout 4’s combat, for me, is not the headshots and the explosions (although the gore chunks do amuse me very much): it’s everything that happens before that. I greatly enjoy finding good builds; for me, much of the game plays out in the menus, and when I’m lying awake at one in the morning thinking about the synergy between legendary weapon effects and perks.
“It costs tens of hours of invested time to turn a character into an avatar of destruction. When I make a perk choice, it’s not a whim, and it’s not luck.”
I do also enjoy the moment to moment act of playing an Infiltrator – the constant vigilance for threats that could end me in a heartbeat, if they ever actually saw me; the tactics of approaching an enemy cluster from just the right angle so as not to ping their radars, but to have a clear head shot on each and every one; gaming the AI into my traps. But the end result – the few seconds after I execute in VATS and every enemy on the board topples like dominoes – is the least interesting (though most spectacular) bit. It looks “cheap”, yeah; on a pure physical level, it wasn’t difficult.
It wasn’t cheap, though. It costs tens of hours of invested time to turn a character into an avatar of destruction. When I make a perk choice, it’s not a whim, and it’s not luck; it’s the benefit of years of general RPG play and hours of Fallout 4 play and research. A great deal was invested to achieve this result; it came at a cost. I give it to you for free, as does everyone who posts a build guide on the Internet. Who’s being cheap now? You’re welcome. (As an aside, I’m stunned that anybody would call the Deliverer a cheap weapon; its damage output is absolutely laughable, even when fully modded. It’s only god-tier with the investment of the correct perks – or on easy mode.)
As it happens, there are dozens of similar paths to rampaging glory in Fallout 4. For some RPG fans, finding these broken (?) builds is what makes the game fun. For me, it’s some of that – but it’s also enjoying the fruits of my investment.