If you’re like me, you’ve accepted the fact that the remainder of your year will be spent trying to find every little secret hiding in Fallout 4. There is just something about Bethesda games that brings out the explorer in me, makes me want to search every nook and cranny in ways that other games just don’t. Whether doing quests or just wandering the Commonwealth, there is an uncanny feeling that there is always something just around the corner. It is something I have found to be uniquely Bethesda. The way they build their worlds, the way the fill it with all things interesting, it seems like Bethesda, almost more than anyone else in the industry, understands how to make a proper open world title.
What makes their games special is the way they introduce to the world. After a linear opening designed to introduce you to the basic mechanics and the kind of world you live in, you’re free to do anything. You can just as easily complete the next story mission as you can turn off the marker, pick a direction, and go. The main quest line in Bethesda games is never the best one. No, that series of quests serves a much more important purpose. They introduce you to new parts of the world and take you to places where you will find other quests from some often intriguing characters. I can vividly remember the first time I completed the Thieves’ Guild quests in Oblivion, stealing an Elder Scroll and saving the Grey Fox from a life of anonymity. Though Oblivion did have a surprisingly strong story, I can tell you far more about the Thieves’ Guild or Dark Brotherhood from memory.
Then you have hidden gems like in Skyrim where looting an otherwise unassuming chest led to possessing a talking artifact that later hoisted me into the sky in one of the more memorable quests in the game. There is an apparent amount of care put into quest design that keeps them from feeling like busy work. Something that starts as simply as gathering supplies can quickly become a dark ritual aimed at reviving a lost god, or something equally fantastic. Of course, other games have fantastic quests littered about, but no other games are so consistent.
Fallout 4 is a prime example of why Bethesda is worthy of their status. While much improved over the likes of Fallout 3 and New Vegas, gameplay is only good, not great. Visually the game is good, not great. Sound design? Good, but not great. Fallout 4, at surface level, is a good, but not great game. By itself, the gameplay or visuals would not warrant praise, but when combined with these other “good” elements and the superb design of the world and its quests, it makes for a truly fantastic game that is next to impossible to put down. Again, other games have done this. The likes of The Witcher and Grand Theft Auto come to mind as open world games brimming with personality, but neither of those strikes quite the same chord as the likes of The Elder Scrolls and Fallout.
Bugs aside, and yes, there are still plenty; Bethesda is the clear leader when it comes to crafting an open world game that avoids open world fatigue. No matter if it is playthrough one or playthrough five, there is always a new approach to play and something new to discover. As developers become more acclimated with current hardware and open worlds continue to grow in size and intricacy, my only hope is that more developers look Bethesda for inspiration and craft stronger worlds full of wonder.