It Never Changes

Another week gone, and my deluge of Fallout 4 playing continues largely unabated. 
I think this appearance suits a modified Codsworth better, and he can still carry 350 pounds!
Though my character is now level 31, I cannot say my exploits over the last week of Fallout 4 have been particularly exciting:
  • I wandered a little south of Greygarden and added Oberland Station to my settlements.  Great, more mouths to feed.  I built a mostly-empty cube of a 4 floor building there, rocket turrets ringing a roof garden.
  • I did generic improvements at my existing settlements.  Just about any settlement can be improved with more elevated rocket turrets and a trader emporium.
  • I cleared out the Federal Ration Stockpile and Beantown Brewery.  The Raiders staying in these locations were tied together by a blackmailing scheme gone wrong.  Fortunately, I have found bullets solve all Raider problems.
  • I keep getting dragged back north by requests to defend my settlements.  These are usually good fights... and I can't complain when the loot comes to me!
Above all, I've been scavenging.  I have moved literal tons of virtual junk, supplemented by shipment purchases of wood from vendors.  Yet, it is still not enough to slate my settlements' need for improvements.
Oberland station realized as a boring cube-shaped building.  It has an elevator in the middle.
It is no idle procrastination that has brought me to Fallout 4.  Basically, it is perhaps the closest example to the game I have been wanting to play.  To go over those criteria again:
  1. It should be an immersive role-playing experience.  The main reason Bethesda Gamebryo-based games review so well is because they nailed the immersion... although the RPG mechanics are usually just above serviceable in sophistication.
  2. It should feature a dynamic, virtual-worldly simulated environment.  I think what I was trying to say here is that the simulated environment was large, persistent, and possessing of emergent gameplay.  Since it is mostly made of handcrafted content with rigid solutions, Fallout 4 is not quite as capable of emergence as I would like, but it does have some features that can be considered promoting of emergent content.
  3. It should include the extra-worldly simulation of a strategy game.  And here is where the settlement mechanics really swing it.  Saving the Commonwealth, building sanctuaries for settlers, adds some of that extra significance to my actions.
Along those lines, I can think of a few games which do this reasonably well, for example:
  • Hinterland - A top-down isometric game about being an adventurer who founds a city while fighting back monsters.  The city-building is rather crude, but it is novel for a game of this type.
  • Factorio - A game about building factories so you can help colonize a new planet for arriving colonists.  It is just a plot point, the colonists never arrive, so their needs never need to be met, but the factories sure feel like they have a real impact on the environment.
  • Even Animal Crossing: New Leaf could be construed as a contender.  There's no real conflict, and your childlike animal neighbors have no real needs beyond the occasional fetch quest, but all that money grinding goes to something other than your house because this time you are the mayor so you can funnel some funds to building (mostly cosmetic) town improvements.
I can't really say any of these were the immersive roleplaying game I was hoping for, but to me it felt like they did a fair job of adding a greater purpose than just increasing the power of my character and advancing the plot.  Finally!  So few RPGs bother to do that!  They achieved this through an idea of having other characters whose well-being your characters' endeavors support.

That is how this greater purpose can be found in Fallout 4: the settlement mechanic pairs the ability to build settlements with NPCs who have needs which need to be addressed. 

That said, Fallout 4 is still wholly inadequate to be the ultimate incarnation of my dream game.  There is a few ways in which it, too, is a half-baked realization.  For example:
  • The settlers are mostly generic nobodies you have little reason to get to know or care about.  Even the named ones have a very limited narrative scope.  The childlike Animal Crossing characters have only eight personalities between them, but each one has a lot more flavor and content than the single personality shared between all Fallout 4 settlers.
  • Considering how much work goes into them, you get surprisingly little benefit out of settlements.  Colonists can be put to work to make food, find scrap, mind stores, and perform a few other services.  I am happy to say that these things raise settlement building above being purely cosmetic, but each benefit can be found in adequate abundance elsewhere in the game.
  • The settlements' overall impact to the game world is minimal.  You might meet your caravaneers on their rounds between settlements.  You can summon reinforcements and mortar fire nearby your settlements.   Other than that, the wasteland near your settlements is just as hostile and inhospitable as when you started, right down to the respawning Raider neighbors.
After awhile, there is no true sense of civilization building in Fallout 4.  Settlements are just scattered locations that you can eventually turn into safe havens that support 10 + [your charisma score] of colonists and a few services.
In these ways and others, despite being one of the closest realizations of my dream game, Fallout 4 is still a far cry from Minecraft with Civilization on top.
Guess which one of these settlers is the more a mindless automaton.  (Hint: It's not the robot).
But I think my enjoyment of Fallout 4 demonstrates that there is more than one way go about it.  For example:
  • Instead of a first person survival building game (e.g. Minecraft) with a 4X game (e.g. Civilization) on top, how about a roleplaying game (e.g. Daggerfall) with a single-settlement focused management game (e.g. Dwarf Fortress) built on top?  
  • Maybe I should play more Mount and Blade, which is essentially Sid Meier's Pirates! with the action segments replaced with a first person medieval combat simulator (e.g. Chivalry: Medieval Warfare).
What, exactly, is it that I feel is missing?  What's the game mechanic required to meet this desire?  I am still figuring that out, and this is what prevents me from simply making the game myself.

In the meanwhile, I have critical hits to land and junk to haul: Fallout 4 fills the void better than most, and that is why I have been playing it.


Wicked Voxel said…
Game mechanics? Well, I've recently been doing some thinking about this myself, and "Research" is probably the biggest factor missing. I need to be able to research new building types, new weapons, etc.
geldonyetich said…
I recently wrote up something on the Elite: Dangerous reddit that I think was a pretty close estimate on what exactly is missing here.

Basically it came down to recognizing that in order for a purpose to exist, the player character entity needs to have an identity, or role, in the game. A lot of open-ended games deliberately avoid this, for fear it will interfere with the open-ended potential of the game. But, later on in the game, you run into that missing endgame that is basically the result of the reality: the player character was never given a true identity in the game and, as such, they don't really have any business being there. They purpose is lacking because they're essentially excluded.

So what are the essential parts of that missing identity? Because I would argue that simply having a backstory isn't enough. E.g. "I was guy from before the apocalypse who was frozen and now want to find my kid." Great start - now why does the apocalypse need you, and why even live? Maybe a bad example because, in a post-apocalyptic setting, it's understandable you have nothing and want to start picking up the pieces. But Fallout 4 does not go far enough for some reason. The role is incomplete, despite what has been given to the player character. It is finding those mechanical parts that are missing that might advance the purpose of the player characters' endeavors in the game.

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