When Fallout 4 was announced at E3 in 2015, its star feature was the ability to break down and rebuild the very Commonwealth around you. What began as one of the most exciting features in gaming, though, quickly turned sour. Those expecting perfection from such a huge addition to Bethesda’s formula missed the point, and, as a result, they missed out on one of the coolest features in any game released last year.
They might have also missed out on the whole direction of Bethesda’s development history.
Bethesda Wins E3 2015
As Bethesda boss Todd Howard discussed the new gameplay mechanic, alpha footage playing on the giant screen behind him, and the crowd’s awe is audible. Seriously, you can hear people literally “ooh”-ing and “aah”-ing as the reveal unfolds.
In the time since the games release, however, fans have turned against building in a big way, to the extent that Fallout 4’s final DLC, Nuka-World, only features one customizable settlement in the entirety of the park (and you can’t even get there until you’ve cleared out the rest of the DLC’s content).
The Cracks Don’t Ruin the Foundation
Okay, yes, Fallout 4s building is far from perfect. Getting walls to snap to each other correctly can be infuriating. Connecting wires to the various bits and bobs they power can be logically discombobulating. Assigning settlers to crops is a dice roll at best. At times it can be sloppy, and the under-the-hood performance hasn’t improved at all with the addition of the game’s various Workshop DLCs.
Those complaints have their validity, for sure, but they don’t amount to something that ruins the overall experience of Fallout 4’s building, which is an impressive technical accomplishment and giant leap forward for the developer.
With the building mechanic, Bethesda created a simple interface that allowed for an incredibly diverse array of projects. Within the confines of Fallout 4’s settlements, players could build a high-rise, a small town, or a maze intended to torment their citizens. Players willing to thoroughly experiment with Fallout 4’s electricity mechanic could also bring a touch of old-world charm to settlements.
The building process itself can be a zen-like experience, a wondrously time-sucking counterpart to the tense hours spent wandering the Commonwealth in fear for your own life (or in search of a fast-paced fight). Hell, the building mechanic even provides great incentive to wander the Commonwealth aimlessly in search of duct tape and old oil canisters.
Whatever its flaws, the implementation of building in Fallout 4 made the world around your little haven more vital and inviting than any other Bethesda creation.
A New Life, In a New World
In the instruction manual for Bethesda-created Oblivion, the dev team included a letter that stated the company’s aim with The Elder Scrolls was to let players, “Live another life, in another world.”
It isn’t a stretch to say that Fallout and Elder Scrolls have become sister series since Bethesda took the Fallout franchise over. The two borrow features, technology, and even a similar aesthetic from one another. The two series have also shared the same ethos expressed in that decade-old letter: to help create another life, in another world.
Building was the next logical step forward in that endeavor. Though the basic premise of building new characters and having adventures hasn’t fundamentally changed in Fallout 4, the ability to build something in the Commonwealth that’s really yours blurs the lines of ownership in new ways.
These places are more than simply static plantations. Settlements are living, breathing communities that could flourish into bastions of civilization in an otherwise hopeless world. They represent the measure of your player’s positive impact on the wasteland. In doing so, the building mechanic does its part to make your contribution to Bethesda’s world more palpable than ever before. For the first time, you can stake your claim and grow your home, rather than satisfy yourself on the lip service of happy customers.
The Beautiful Frustration
It might help to think of Fallout 4’s building mechanic as something of a beta run for the feature, unless gamer complaints have permanently turned Bethesda off the mechanic. If the developer’s enthusiasm hasn’t wavered, then chances are good that you can expect building to make a reappearance in not only future Fallout titles, but Elder Scrolls titles as well.
For my money, that would be splendid, because the building mechanic is one of Bethesda’s greatest accomplishments in its quest to transplant gamers into a brand new life.