Fallout is one of my most favourite video game series’ of all time. It’s up there with Metal Gear and Final Fantasy. Sure, the games can sometimes be buggy and full of glitches but the open world, sci-fi, post apocalyptic experience of the games is immersive. The series and its games are ones that I keep coming back to year after year. In fact, I recently replayed Fallout: New Vegas. That’s a game that came out five years ago which still hold vast entertainment in replaying and re-experiencing the world within.
Part of the appeal of Fallout is the ability to create your own character. You mold the character’s facial features, pick skin tone and hair style. Then you place points in categories relating to seven different attributes; strength, perception, endurance, charisma, intelligence, agility and luck, known in game as S.P.E.C.I.A.L. On top of that there are skills relating to objects and interactions such as the melee skill which affects the character’s proficiency with handheld weapons or the lockpick skill which allows the player to open locked doors with bobby pins. And then there’s perks, which can do anything from boosting a particular skill to making kills more explosive. Character creation and development in Fallout is extremely layered and dense.
It is understandable then that fans may be peeved, to say the least, at the notion that such a main feature of the series may be restricted or truncated. This debate comes hot off the heels of the first Fallout 4 trailer released earlier this week wherein the main character, for the first time in Fallout history, speaks. Audible characters is not new to gaming, and in fact, Fallout has a long history of famous voice actors, including Ron Perlman, Laim Neeson and Matthew Perry. The main character, however, has always been silent.
Fallout 4 is finally joining the ranks of games with voiced main characters. Wonderful. What does this have to do with character creation within the game? It stems back to a Reddit user and former Bethesda employee, Sandra Reed, who revealed intimate game details online after having been fired. In the expose, she mentioned the Boston setting, the prevalence of the Brotherhood of Steel and that the main character would speak. Fast-forward to June 2015, and we have our first Fallout 4 trailer. In it the Bunker Hill Monument is shown, the Brotherhood of Steel feature heavily and the main characters utters the words “let’s go,pal” to a four legged companion. At the time, the post was criticised but now it seems that Ms. Reed may not be so crazy.
The problem? The tidbit about a voiced character came with a caveat. Fallout 4 will be more story based and to fit that story the main character that you play as can only be male. If you want to play as a female character you have to finish the main story and then change gender. For a role playing game that’s a heavy blow. It’s saying that you can play whatever kind of character that you want so long as the character is a man. That’s going to put a lot of fans off playing this game, especially women; women, who spend their entire daily lives having the live up to male standards, do not want to come home and relax by pretending to be a man.
I’m rather dubious of the rumour anyway. Firstly, to say that Fallout 4 will be more story based suggests that previous games have not been grounded in story. Fallout games have always been story based. Fallout 3 follows the vault dweller as he searches the wasteland for his father and becomes involved in Project Purity. Fallout: New Vegas sees the courier survive a bullet to the head and cross the Mojave seeking revenge, eventually having a pivotal role in the battle between the New California Republic and Caesar’s Legion. Fallout has always been about story, but there’s always been the option to become invested in various side quests. And I don’t believe for one second that a more story based Fallout 4 means less side quests.
Secondly, this is a franchise that has always valued player creativity and character freedom. Players were upset with the black and white approach of Fallout 3, so Bethesda attempted to rectify the issue through downloadable content. Fallout: New Vegas was largely seen by players as an improvement as choices were less clearly good and evil and factions were affected by decisions as much karma was, sometimes more so. It’s hard to believe that Bethesda, knowing it’s players appreciate options, would then take a major option out of character creation. Even if it can altered later, that’s still eliminating a female perspective from a large chunk of the game.
Furthermore, even pretending for a moment that this game will be more story based, I’m not sure why that means that the character has to be male. There are relatively few, if any, stories that exclude a female perspective. Maybe a story about erectile dysfunction? Can’t imagine an entire Fallout storyline revolving around that though. If they have a problem with the main character being a woman and having a wife, it seems lazy that they can’t script in a male body if the main player character is set to female. That the game is story based doesn’t really seem like a good enough excuse for eliminating the gender option in the opening character creation.
That’s not to say that Sandra Reed was lying and those reveals were lucky guesses. But just because she was right about parts of the game doesn’t mean that she will be right about everything. A lot can change between her post and the finished game. Concepts that are present in the early development stages don’t always make it into the final release. While I completely believe that at one stage there may have been the idea to go with a single gendered story, I expect that Bethesda will want to give its players the most well-rounded, open experience that they can offer. Of course, if Sandra’s time table is correct, we’ll have our answer in October.