Fallout 4 is missing a lot that New Vegas had: skills, ammo types, faction reputation, location reputation, advanced companion commands, full dialogue trees, special dialogue options based on S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats or perks, equipment degradation and repair, killable companions, and prostitutes. Fallout 4 certainly took a step forward in some areas like graphics and the feeling of guns, but there are some features which I think need to return from New Vegas.
1. Ammo types
The Fallout series seems to be moving in the direction of being an open-world first-person shooter rather than an RPG. If the series continues on this trend, then it may as well be a good first-person shooter. With no advanced movement mechanics, bullet sponge enemies, and little meaningful enemy variety, the combat is poor as it stands. Although enemy AI and the feeling of shooting has improved, there is still a lot of room to improve combat. Bringing back ammo types could be a good way to increase depth for a shooter that currently leans on being able to basically skip the combat with V.A.T.S.
2. “War never changes.”
This line appears four times in the first few minutes of Fallout 4 so one might think it’s a central theme of the game’s story. The line seems to be included merely as a matter of tradition, without care for making a game that tries to support the claim that “war never changes.”
In New Vegas, each faction reflected facets of ideologies from the Pre-War world, complete with many of their flaws. Despite the world changing so much, people seem to be thinking, acting, and fighting in the same way and for the same reasons. Fighting over energy are three main factions: an expansionist Republic rife with corruption and mixed intentions, a brutal totalitarian regime run by slave-drivers that wants order and unity at all costs, and a rich technocrat who only wants to fuel his own private enterprise at the expense of the welfare of the Mojave at-large.
Fallout 4‘s story seemed to be concerned with different themes. For example, at what point do sufficiently complex artificial intelligence deserve to be treated as people? Also, what should humanity sacrifice in order to advance science and technology? There are four main factions in Fallout 4 (or three if you don’t include The Minutemen, who are essentially generic good guys who act as a way for players who betray all the other factions to finish the story). None of them seem to reflect on Pre-War nations, factions, or ideologies. I don’t think New Vegas chose the only correct way to prove the thesis that “war never changes,” but Fallout 4 didn’t even seem to try. The next Fallout should either abandon that motto or fully return to it.
3. Plot-gameplay harmony
When story is present in a game, it should be as harmonious with the gameplay as possible. The story in Fallout 4 wants you to rush out and find your son as soon as possible, like any parent would. You would want to go straight to any hint of him you got, and avoid distractions. The gameplay wants you to do the exact opposite; gameplay-wise, the best way to play is to get wrapped up in every distraction you can, whether it’s exploring every nook and cranny of the map or completing mundane side quests like retrieving a drink-dispensing robot.
Compare that to New Vegas, where you wake up from being shot in the head in the course of a robbery. Your would-be assassin Benny acknowledges that the attempted killing is not personal and that from your perspective it must seem like bad luck to be the courier who happened to be delivering this package. It makes sense to either pursue Benny for revenge and information, or to chalk it up as bad luck and move on without getting involved with dangerous men like Benny. Not only does it makes sense, but the gameplay supports it. You have choice in dialogue, where you can either ask about where to find Benny or just ask what’s going on around town.
In Fallout 4, you’re faced with the kidnapping of your child. What could stop a loving parent from going after their child? Apparently, protecting dinky farms from raiders and combing the Commonwealth for duct tape. It’s true that you have the choice not to rush to story moments. However, when you reach those story moments, you will only have a few dialogue options, all of which are similar in being voice acted as a parent who has wasted no time and who is desperate to find his son. A necessarily linear plot is being forced onto a role-playing game, and the game suffers for it.
4. The post-post-apocalypse
New Vegas takes place hundreds of years after the bomb as fell, and civilization has come a long way. There are established settlements with reliable sources of food and water. The NCR has become a massive force in the region, and is butting heads with a number of other powerful factions with long histories. It’s by no means perfect, but there is clearly significant progress shown, as you would expect after hundreds of years.
Fallout 4 also takes place hundreds of years after the bombs fell, but Bethesda doesn’t seem to take that into account when building their world. Rag-tag raiders who shoot on sight still run rampant nearly everywhere, the streets in most places are still strewn with junk, there’s a kid alive in a fridge that’s been sealed since the bombs fell, and there isn’t any hegemonic order like the NCR that has risen after two-hundred years. Bethesda should choose to make either a post-apocalyptic game or a post-post-apocalyptic game, and build the world appropriately.
5. Depth in dialogue
Fallout 4 sacrificed depth for breadth. There are plenty of new features and helpful tweaks, but much of the depth is gone. Dialogue is now a wheel without significant branching paths, gunplay feels better but has been simplified, and story moments and faction interactions have been made linear. Dialogue is the most significant of the sacrifices, and it hurts the game a lot. Much of the depth of New Vegas was in its dialogue. The dialogue was where many of the choices the player made were leveraged. Choices regarding perks, S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats, factions, play styles, preferred plot points for the world, character interactions, and so on were all either made through the dialogue or had results that were shown in the dialogue.
By contrast, Fallout 4‘s dialogue system is mostly just an end in itself, and it’s pretty bad as a stand-alone feature. There aren’t many choices you can make that lead to different dialogue choices, and not many dialogue choices lead to much else besides slightly different spoken tones. Bethesda should realize that dialogue is not a pesky annoyance in the way of the gunplay, but one of the main ways Fallout games provide interesting depth.