Fallout 4’s voiced protagonist was a massive mistake. Many worried a specific voice for either gender option would twist the intended tone in a way that could never be taken back. They were right. Dialogue options were so unclear in their potential delivery that fans were quick to conjure up a mod that changed things.
It sucked, with Bethesda seemingly hoping to modernise the formula even if it meant removing the emotional intimacy that made Fallout 3 and Skyrim so special. It still feels bizarre, and no disrespect to the performers involved, but Fallout 4 had both permutations of its protagonist react to awakening in a nuclear wasteland with a weird sense of dismissal. They should be losing their fucking minds, not cracking jokes with sentient robots and immediately establishing themselves as overseers of makeshift communities.
The voice hindered our immersion at every turn, something that could have been alleviated with a player character who knew when to shut their mouths, or at the very least let us move it for them. Fallout 4 was a game that moved the needle in all the wrong ways, even if it remains a decent experience in the Bethesda pantheon all these years later. It was underwhelming, and we’re now hoping for Starfield to both rectify its mistakes and abandon a malaise that the studio has now been hindered by for years.
Starfield will not have a voiced protagonist, with Bethesda weirdly choosing to confirm this in a random tweet instead of mentioning it during the gameplay showcase last week. It’s a big deal, and will be a huge component of the moment-to-moment gameplay as we embark on quests and talk with myriad NPCs across the galaxy. I suppose we should have predicted this was the case given how dialogue sequences return to a first-person focus on an individual’s face, with our character staring people down like we’re either about to murder them or profess our love -both of which can often be true in Bethesda games.
This is a brilliant decision, and gives me hope that Todd Howard and co. have learned from their mistakes and want to create an RPG that appeals to the millions who fell in love with his work through the likes of Oblivion and Fallout 3. While our character in those games didn’t have a voice, they still had so much to say in a way that saw our own personalities injected into every line of unspoken script. We could be a good samaritan, a mutual mercenary, or a sadistic menace who would do everything in their power to murder and pillage. This silence would benefit the overall experience because we weren’t limited by a vocal performance that needed to feel cohesive to the entire game, with the writers able to have fun with the most absurd of ideas because an actor wouldn’t be interpreting it, that responsibility fell to us.
Fallout 4 was the exact opposite, with the protagonist having a pre-ordained personality that made it feel like we were living through their adventure instead of creating our own. It was a fundamental betrayal of the Bethesda formula, and saw the game’s storytelling and character development suffer massively as a result. We don’t remember specific locations and moments from Fallout 4 like we do from 3 and New Vegas because we weren’t steering our own journey, but merely acting as a passenger in someone else's that we only had so much influence over. That and the comedy was terrible. I remember going to a friend’s house while at university and he had a ‘Fallout 4 Funny Moments Compilation’ playing on his television for hours on end and I wanted to burn the place down. Maybe I should have.
What I’m saying is that Starfield has a lot going against it right now, with many rightfully criticising its approach to scope (1,000 planets, anyone?) and how despite seeking to take us on a futuristic jaunt across the galaxy its combat still boils down to shooting baddies with a shotgun across bland industrial spaces. We haven’t seen enough of the game to judge it concretely, but the lack of a voiced protagonist is a step in the right direction when it comes to making Starfield the experience I and so many others want it to be.
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