Fallout 5 isn’t coming out any time soon, which allows plenty of time for a good old whinge about the failings of the series’ biggest disappointment: Fallout 4.
I hopped aboard the Fallout train at Fallout 3, and, while I know there are some diehard fans still pining for the isometric roots of the franchise and consider the switch to first-person to be blasphemy, Bethesda’s first crack at the series meant console heathens like me could immerse themselves in the post-apocalyptic world at last.
Escaping Vault 101 to look for my runaway father didn’t elicit quite the same sense of wonder and awe as emerging from the cave at the beginning of Skyrim, but it was still a thing to behold. The bleak landscape was brimming with colorful characters, and its vastness offered an overwhelming sense of freedom. Sure, I kept an ear to the ground for word of my dad’s whereabouts, but with Vault 101 behind me, I had a whole world to discover, and I was eager to explore.
In Obsidian’s hands, Fallout: New Vegas was more akin to a joyride than the placid plodding of Fallout 3 – the imminent threat of Megaton’s atomic bomb notwithstanding.
New Vegas opens with you getting shot in the chest at point-blank range and then buried alive. It’s a strong motive to seek vengeance on your would-be-killer, Benny. Though, with him thinking you’re dead, you can take your time, slowly stalking him through the city, like the thing in It Follows. As an aside, and as we’re closing in on Halloween, the film is in our list of the best horror movies and is a kind of allegory of sorts about STDs – which is apt, because Benny screwed us and now he’s in for a world of hurt as a result.
And then along came Fallout 4, to shaft us again.
Fallout 4 opens with a couple having a chit-chat in their bathroom – the character creation screen essentially. You switch between them, depending on which gender you opt for, and, soon after, discover that you’re both parents to Shaun, a wailing baby that’s being dealt with by your robot nanny. This intro takes place before the Great War that’s responsible for the nuclear apocalypse. I’m taking minutes before. You get a brief window of time to soak in the vibrant color palette of the pre-nuked setting before the sirens go off. After that, it’s a mad dash to get to Vault 111 and into a cryogenic freezing pod – baby and spouse in tow – before the bombs drop.
Things in the vault quickly go awry. Spouse – murdered. Baby – kidnapped. Terrible state of affairs, but everyone needs a good backstory. And I’m always down for more avenging. “Not a problem,” I thought. “I’ll lose the dead weight and be free to roam the wasteland in a couple of hundred years. So long, manacles of domestication! Ta-ta, bonds of parenthood! I’m single and ready to mingle.” That notion was dashed all too abruptly. Right off the bat, it quickly becomes apparent that everything is about Shaun. I’ve been on ice for 200 years, and rather than jumping feet-first into this strange new world, I stumbled into a Heavy Rain meme. “Shaun! Shaaauuuuun! SHAUN!”
Story-wise, that’s what the entirety of Fallout 4 feels like. If there was ever a game that serves as a cautionary tale of the complete loss of your self-identity in the sticky label of parenthood, this is it.
Fallout 3’s quest for your MIA dad didn’t feel overbearing at all. The man left the vault of his own volition to do his own thing, and our character – the Lone Wanderer – is chased out and then left to their own devices. Yes, we want answers, but not in the scrabbling, desperate way of Fallout 4. And before you call me a heartless synth, I know we play a parent. But come on. Shaun is obviously not a helpless baby by the time we thaw out. He should be long dead – from old age, if nothing else, given the timeline. I was geared up for a fiery revenge thriller or slow-burning mystery; instead, I got a wet blanket of a character who rained on my parade.
It seems that Fallout 4’s protagonist can’t function without parenting someone. A couple of centuries in crypto and we emerge in a barren, alien land. Despite being a newcomer that’s completely out of the loop, suddenly, we’re burdened with setting up supply routes between settlements, building and developing them for an influx of residents, and dropping everything to hotfoot across the map at the first sign of trouble. These are hardened wasteland veterans moving in. Why are they now dependent upon me for their survival?
The Shaun situation was bad enough, but having to parent entire colonies while trying to live my own life felt suffocating. Try as you might to set them up for success, someone, somewhere always seems to need tending to like a fussy baby. For such a big game, it felt unconscionably stifling.
It’s funny, God of War director, Cory Barlog, has talked in depth about how his own experience of fatherhood shaped the game. I had a little dabble, and tramping around with Atreus in tow was great fun. By comparison, Fallout 4’s flavor of parenting left a bad taste in my mouth.
I want nothing more than to see Fallout 5 ditch the dependants and embrace the wasteland wanderer again. What’s the point of society collapsing if you still have responsibilities in the wasteland aftermath? It’s one of the few perks of an apocalypse.
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Shabana has been writing about games for almost a decade now, as well as covering tech, politics, food, and other random tidbits at Gizmodo UK. She's stepped outside of news every now and then to write game guides, and always appreciates a DM if she's helped get you out of a pickle. During her time freelancing, you may have spotted her words at VG24/7, GamesRadar, and IGN. She's also held the position of news editor at Gizmodo UK, T3, and The Sun Online.