Fallout contradicts itself. On the one hand, the action takes place in a post-apocalyptic retro future, where resources are scarce and people barely survive. On the other hand, it’s an RPG where a sniper rifle shot to the face usually doesn’t kill. Radiation hardened everyone’s bones? If the Adamantium Skeleton perk is to be believed, then yes. Maybe the original isometric games did a perfect job of balancing resources and enemy survivability, but I haven’t played them yet so I don’t know. What I know for sure is that Fallout is supposed to be a survival horror game.
Bethesda isn’t even thinking about Fallout 5 right now, and when it does, it certainly won’t listen to me, but it should. One of my favorite Fallout 3 playthroughs was when I set the game to very easy difficulty and focused entirely on the main quest. Driving to the subway station to sneak into the ruins of Washington DC was scary because I had almost no supplies. A couple of stims, the Overseer’s pistol, and a hunting rifle I stole from the sheriff of Megaton. The low difficulty meant that a lucky bullet would kill a raider instantly, and their absence meant I often had to resort to using melee weapons until I looted a few spare parts from their corpses.
It gave me the opportunity to appreciate Bethesda’s story about the environment and the breadcrumbs it left me to bite into. There is a worker’s pantry in the subway with a locked safe containing a laser gun and an energy weapon skill book. This is the first energy weapon you encounter in the main quest, and it’s in a terrible state, but if you turn on the gas, you can use it to set fire to a room full of ghouls and clear your way without any problems. At least you can on very easy difficulty. On higher difficulty levels, ghouls just get a little burned and angry. What’s the point of using the environment in this way if it’s only slightly damaging to their health?
Shifting focus away from lame RPG difficulty settings, where enemies have more health and deal more damage, will allow Fallout to use its settings properly. Bethesda won’t do this with the main Fallout game because they make too much money to ever really risk anything, but a survival horror spin-off would be incredible. We already have Fallout spin-offs like Tactics, 76 and New Vegas, so take the plunge and start playing on the subway right after the bombs fall.
It’s hard to believe that everyone is barely making ends meet when I can quickly become so overloaded with caps that my pockets jingle as I walk. Fallout, in which people have to survive on whatever they can carry into the tunnels as long as nuclear sirens are heard and every bullet counts, will finally create that scarcity and add delightful tension to every enemy encounter. You can go to a freshly irradiated surface to search for food in the still-smoldering ruins, or set the game a little later when surface travel is possible but still deadly due to the radiation. After the terrible launch of Fallout 76 and the muted reception of Fallout 4, the series needs something fresh, and survival horror is the way to go.
…I just described Metro 2033. You have to go and play. So does Todd Howard.
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