With the release of Fallout 4 last week, gamers have now seen two massively open world RPGs hit shelves this past year. Many people have met Fallout 4 with rave reviews, while others have panned Fallout 4 for not doing anything decisively new with the series.
However, how does Fallout 4 stack up against the other great RPG to release this year, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt?
Some would say you cannot compare the two; Fallout 4 is a different game and a different experience when compared to The Witcher 3. However, you can, and should compare the two games as benchmarks for what role-playing games should be in 2015.
Two Different DirectionsFallout 4 and The Witcher 3 are reflective of two different studios going in two different directions. Both games were in development at the same time, and to Fallout 4's detriment, Witcher released first. As a result, CD Projekt Red's game sets a fantastically high bar, but it's a bar that has to be discussed. However, as it's been discussed before, where The Witcher emphasized everything from exemplary gameplay to stunning visuals, it's been put on record that Fallout 4 sacrificed visuals for complex game systems that, in the end, are entirely ancillary.
The main issue here is Bethesda's unwillingness to build a new engine for a new generation. As a result, Fallout 4 looks and feels dated. From character models that look like wax mannequins on display at Madame Tussaud's, to stiff, buggy animations that are all too familiar for a Bethesda game, Fallout 4 harkens back far too closely to Skyrim on last gen hardware. Yes, it does look better; the inclusion of volumetric lighting, god rays, better anti-aliasing and so on make the game look decidedly better than its predecessor, but when stacked up against The Witcher 3, the two games look like a generational leap apart, as opposed to simply being released months apart.
It's a shame because The Witcher 3 showcases what can be accomplished when all facets of the game are emphasized and important. Visuals were just as important to CDPR as the complex crafting system. The overall complexity of the world wasn't at the expense of the other systems, yet they all work in tandem. You could honestly go 200 hours in Fallout 4 and never dive into the settlement building that the game puts so much emphasis on at the beginning. So much focus has been placed on those ancillary, and entirely optional systems, that you can clearly see where parts of the development just weren't as important as others, namely the visual look of the game. Across platforms, Fallout 4 looks dated, especially in direct comparison with The Witcher 3.
Game Size MattersThe worlds of Fallout 4 and The Witcher are very different worlds, yet both have the same core foundation as open worlds with a large amount of interaction. However, where Fallout 4 feels dead and barren, which makes sense given the backdrop, even the war-torn areas of The Witcher feel alive and teeming with activity. Couple this with the fact that Fallout 4 doesn't feel much larger than the previous Bethesda game, Skyrim, and you've a disappointing comparison. It makes some sense that the game world feels smaller than what The Witcher produced, since we're comparing a Commonwealth to multiple, varied lands in Witcher. However, a game should still feel like an evolution, and Fallout 4's world just doesn't. In fact, the size of the world is made even more apparent by how close everything is to each other. Fallout 4 is crammed with "things to do" and explore, yet it often feels too crammed. This is a result of trying to busy the player with a lot of content and masking the fact that Fallout 4's size is simply marginally larger than that of Skyrim.
Gameplay Should EvolveThe largest issue with Fallout 4 as it compares to The Witcher 3 is simply it's lack of gameplay evolution. Take Fallout 3, for instance. Everything in Fallout 3 can be seen in some way (though it's not a 1:1 carry over) in Fallout 4. Yet, Fallout 4 doesn't meaningfully evolve and iterate upon the gameplay presented seven years ago. V.A.T.S. is still integral, but is pretty much the same as it is in Fallout 3. Gunplay doesn't feel as floaty, but it's definitely not Destiny-esque, as was alluded to by the Fallout 4 developer to Forbes. The additional systems do add to the game, but at its core, Fallout 4 simply doesn't feel as though it's really evolved to provide a new gameplay experience.
Again, The Witcher 3 shines here, and the comparison is entirely valid. Each successive Witcher game has improved and evolved its gameplay. From the confusing combat and movement mechanics in The Witcher to the groundwork laid in The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, the newest game in the series meaningfully evolves and improves upon the last. The emphasis on improving the user experience is visibly evident in contrast with Fallout 4's seeming desire to just give the player more stuff to do.
All in all, both games are good in their own right. Yet, when compared -- as they should be -- you can see what a game should be in 2015. The Witcher 3, by direct comparison, is an achievement, and example, of a studio who's emphasis on delivering the whole package can be seen across the board, rather than Fallout 4's seemingly scattered focus. Fallout 4 is a good game, but it's not a definitive RPG for 2015; rather, it's a game that feels as though it could have been released a few years ago, and as a result, is disappointing on multiple fronts.
What are your thoughts on Fallout 4? Sound off in the comments below.
[Images via Bethesda, CD Projekt Red]