Fallout 4 made me stop preordering video games. Over the years I’ve come to appreciate it more than I did at launch, but it disappointed me so badly I vowed never to be made a mark by the hype machine ever again. I still get excited for games, I just don’t give them my money months in advance. Fallout 4’s most talked about sins were its voiced protagonist and dumbed-down RPG mechanics, and while Bethesda seems to have learned its lesson and chosen to avoid those pitfalls for Starfield, the next Fallout should look back to the world of Skyrim for inspiration.
Fallout 3 is one of my favourite games of all time. I adore the desolate setting and the masterful use of blinding light as a visual motif, but I spend the first hour of every playthrough running to Rivet City to grab the Intelligence bobblehead to make sure I can get more skill points when I level up. Skill points might appeal to traditional gamers, but I much prefer the use-based skills of the Elder Scrolls series.
Rather than magically getting better at shooting or picking locks or bartering upon leveling up, Fallout 5 should use TES’ skill system. There’s a wonderful sense of flow and mastery that comes with using a bow in Skyrim, or a sword in Oblivion. The same can’t be said for small guns or energy weapons in the world of Fallout. You don’t gradually get better over time. It’s not a curve as much as it is a staircase, with a small jump in power every time you level up. It also leads to some intense min-maxing, as you can have a level three character with 70 points in speech if you make your build right and grab the necessary bobbleheads.
Fallout 4 ditched skill points entirely relying instead on a perk system with boring buffs like extra damage or improved aim. These are the kind of things that naturally improving in a skill could offer instead. Making the numbers bigger in specific instances can be engaging and change your playstyle. In Skyrim, backstabs with daggers and sneak attacks with bows doing absurd amounts of damage are fun because it turns them into instakills on all but the toughest of enemies. In contrast, rifles doing double damage in Fallout 4 barely makes a difference and doesn’t impact the way they’re used at all.
I’d also like to see some more fantastical changes, like the ability to become a ghoul or super mutant. Fallout is satire, and often ventures into the realm of the silly, so some sort of temporary transformation powers like becoming a werewolf or vampire in Skyrim wouldn’t be out of place in Bethesda’s post-apocalyptic world. I’d love to see it go further, though, and have three different starting points a la Cyberpunk 2077 based on if you start as a human, ghoul, or super mutant.
There’s so much potential still to be unlocked in the Fallout universe, but it won’t be unlocked by stripping mechanics out of the game and making everything appeal to the lowest common denominator. Bethesda should learn from its own successes and those of other developers to make Fallout 5 a game worth preordering.
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