ScreenCritics Sam investigates why Fallout 4 became Bethesda’s greatest success, overtaking the likes of Oblivion and Skyrim.
Bethesda recently and very proudly proclaimed Fallout 4, 2015’s juggernaut hit of the popular Fallout franchise, as the company’s greatest success, much to the dismay of fans and gamers’ lukewarm reception to the game. However, seeing as how there’s been enough time to ponder over what Fallout 4 did right and wrong, it’s safe to say there’s a few key ingredients in this title achieving the heights of success it did; something that Bethesda might rule over in the industry in terms of gaming marketability and appeal – hype culture.
It’s no secret that Fallout 4 was one of the most anticipated gaming releases in recent memory. Since Bethesda’s helping hand in bringing the series out of a mostly obscure shroud of lesser known but great RPG’s, the series has enjoyed an explosion in the mainstream spotlight since Fallout 3 completely revamped the games mechanics while retaining the essential elements that made the first two games beloved cult classics. Fallout 3 was both a critical and commercial success on release, with many praising the clever move to a first-person and third-person perspective while painting a bleaker, more realistic picture of a nuclear apocalypse. It wasn’t until Fallout: New Vegas, however, did the series really welcome a large fanbase with its hype and promising appeal.
Where Fallout 3 mostly fell short, New Vegas improved upon and tweaked to accommodate players hoping for a deeper story with a more satisfying pay-off, all the while balancing a stronger focus on RPG mechanics and a particularly unique visual spin on the Las Vegas/Nevada desert setting. The results were an immediate hit as New Vegas took off to become Bethesda’s crowning achievement in open-world game design, but not before shortly being sidelined by The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Regardless, the Fallout fanbase had already been secured, and all Bethesda really had to do was build upon the elements that made these titles such monumental successes while bringing something visually and mechanically fresh to the table for next-gen platforms.
To understand why Fallout 4 succeeded, we first need to consider its release window. 2015 was a mostly dormant year for the company. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim had a good four years to bathe in the spotlight and little was known about Bethesda’s new undertaking of the rocky Doom franchise. Many gamers were yearning for something fresh and eye-catching, and with the RPG genre already setting high bars for itself in 2015 (both Bloodborne and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt becoming critical and commercial sensations), it wasn’t long before the kings of the RPG would have a retaliation plan in store in the form of Fallout 4.
Apart from a new Fallout entry being announced which gave its considerably huge fanbase something to be excited about, Fallout 4 was backed up by quite a relentless marketing campaign and an abundance of hype behind it. 2015’s standalone E3 Bethesda conference was a half an hour demonstration of the games’ potential, even highlighting the new Doom in a glorious old-school mash of violence and nostalgia. Fallout 4 had suddenly appeared as a blip on many gamers’ radars, even those who weren’t familiar with the series. Needless to say, the conference caused a hurricane of anticipation. Many, including myself, were highly impressed with what the game was shaping up to be, and considering its November 2015 release date, there was just enough time for the media to hop aboard the Fallout 4 craze and push the game to the forefront of gaming hype culture.
However, upon release, there were bewildered, divisive opinions on the game. Many still praised it for its extremely in-depth character customization, new levels of interactivity and a drastic shift to focus on shooting elements, but it seemed like the fans were upset to find out exactly how far Bethesda strayed from the Fallout formula while somehow managing to make a moderately good game.
The RPG mechanics, while there, were stripped bare and simplified to the point where it resembled a standard leveling system to complement the shooting mechanics as opposed to the past games’ extremely detailed character progression system and player immersion. The story, which was not far off from any of the previous titles’ formulas, was bogged down by the very ambition Bethesda aimed for. Plentiful side quests, endless but meaningful grinding, and explorative elements in a world so densely populated and rich with lore ironically distracted the real crux of the games’ emotional narrative heft – a “problem” that was strangely critically favored in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
Fallout 4 managed to achieve extraordinary numbers in terms of sales, rising quickly to become Bethesda’s best-selling game to date (and continues to do so today). The appeal of the game solely rests on the company’s name as its greatest selling point. After all, they already earned a spot at E3 and a ton of critical acclaim in the past to not go unnoticed in the gaming industry. Backed by the tremendous hype and promise of a game on equal footing with Bethesda’s greatest past works, the entry itself may have failed to be on equal footing with its own franchise. Nonetheless, we got a game that both surprised, captivated, and caused several discussions and furrowed brows in the process, more than any other in the companies history – on those merits alone, it deserves to be recognized as their greatest success.