Bombs & Bugs: How We Talk About Fallout 4

Bombs & Bugs: How We Talk About Fallout 4

Many love Fallout and Bethesda, to the point that it feels like the developer can do no wrong.

Fallout 4 is an amazing game. Fallout 4 is a buggy game.

You've probably heard both statements in tandem across many reviews, forum threads, and social media moments. In our community, a Bethesda game is an event, coming once every few years. Alongside these grand sandbox experiences, throwing us out into fictional worlds unlike our own, we've become used to the idea that every Bethesda game will be full of bugs.

Where did you go, Dogmeat?

To be honest, most major titles these days tend to work pretty well. The bugs I'm used to tend to be on the smaller side. In open-world games in particular, there's always a host of small, expected bugs, due to their nature: if you fill a game world with hundreds of random NPCs and objects, occasionally the game will make an error in populating that world. In open-world titles I tend to see physics-related bugs or issue where models are either dropped into the world at random or are applied to the wrong objects. I've seen these issues in every game: Assassin's Creed, Mad Max, The Witcher III, and Batman: Arkham Knight this year. These are known issues that generally don't affect my play much.

That's not to say that I don't run into larger bugs. Tales of Zestiria crashed to the PlayStation 4 home screen three times during my review period. In Assassin's Creed Syndicate, I placed a hostage in a carriage, only to have him disappear, thus preventing me from finishing the mission. I was in an endless stalemate with Professor Pyg in Batman: Arkham Knight; I couldn't hurt him and he couldn't hurt me. Most of these are bugs that I hit and moved on.

In Fallout 4, my persistent (but not my only) bug is one involving terminals. Anytime I use an in-game terminal, there's a rather high chance that once I leave the terminal, my character will be rooted in place. If I had to guess, the game still thinks I'm using the terminal. To get around this issue, I simply save before using any terminal in the game. If I can walk away freely, no harm done. If I can't, I revert to my save before the terminal and everything's golden.

I'm not alone. Others have experienced their own special bugs. There's a substantial bug that causes crashes for many when trying to do a settlement quest that takes you to Monsignor. There's leveling glitches. Startup crashes. A number of bugs involving companion AI, frequently with the companion simply missing.

Not a bug.

Which is all par for the course. Again, the bigger your game, the more likely it will probably have bugs. What I find interesting is the lionizing of Bethesda's brand of bugs. It's not just that Bethesda's game has bugs, it's that the company is lauded for it.

"Whenever a new Bethesda game comes out, I hope and pray that it's just as buggy and unpolished as its previous games," wrote game designer Zak McClendon for Wired today. "Thankfully, Fallout 4 is no exception, with reviewers and players calling out its creaky engine, poor companion AI, sub-par animation, and many other glitches and bugs. Some see this as a failure of Bethesda to get with the program and embrace modern-day AAA polish. I don't. Each time a new release is as rough and buggy as those that came before, it shows Bethesda is focused on the right things."

McClendon argues that there's no way around the bugs, that they are a result of the freedom to games provide and relatively small team on Bethesda's projects. I've seen that argument before, but it pre-supposes there's only two options: either there's freedom and tons of bugs, or no freedom and few bugs. Bethesda is a small team, the Gamebyro engine is straining at this point, and yes, the world is huge. Bethesda builds a detailed sandbox and lets you go play in it. Some jank is to be expected: pathfinding issues, some textures, the occasional busted NPC. But does that really excuse major bugs in a $60 product launching nearly 12 million units worldwide? As Bethesda itself noted, that's $750 million in sales. With those resources, is the only answer really no answer at all?

I like Fallout 4, even if I think Bethesda needs to realize it's making games for more than us. More than just the fervent PC and console players who will overlook major issues in the search for freedom. When you put a commercial on prime time television, you're reaching out to the average consumer and they deserve a mostly working product for their $60. That's true whether you're Bethesda, EA, Capcom, Ubisoft, or whoever.

That's not my point though. In fact, I think that consideration for the occasional issue that doesn't break the game should be extended to other developers. The truth is, we're all willing to overlook issues in products if we love the rest of it. A game isn't just the framerate, the resolution, the story, the characters, or even the bugs. A game is an experience, the combined effort of tens or hundreds of creators working together to provide a unified vision. It's blood, sweat, tears and compromise. That's the truth when you play a game and that's the truth when we review it. Is this experience good enough to cover the jank and creak? That's a very subjective point of view.

The fact that it's a subjective point of view should be remembered for every game. Every experience reaches a different person; you may enjoy Guilty Gear Xrd more than Batman: Arkham Knight. You may love South Park: The Stick of Truth more than Divinity: Original Sin. Dynasty Warriors could be your cup of tea, while The Witcher simply leaves you cold.

Hold your developers to higher standards in the aesthetic and mechanics of the games they make. Always use your voice to let them know what you want from the products you pay for, including fully-working games. If you have a problem with the bugs in Fallout 4, let Bethesda know. I'm down with that, as I feel your voice as a consumer is always important.

Remember though, that all games have their own context, between the player and the game. And for many players, the experience they get from Bethesda titles makes the jank and brokenness worth it. For them, it is a part of the experience. I get that. I'm just saying, perhaps that same consideration should be extended beyond Bethesda. They are unique, but they're not the only company that makes games out of a sincere love and geniune effort. And they're not the only developer who shouldn't draw a red card when a texture flickers or NPC is vaulted into the sky.

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Mike Williams

Reviews Editor

M.H. Williams is new to the journalism game, but he's been a gamer since the NES first graced American shores. Third-person action-adventure games are his personal poison: Uncharted, Infamous, and Assassin's Creed just to name a few. If you see him around a convention, he's not hard to spot: Black guy, glasses, and a tie.

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