I was in attendance at QuakeCon in 2011 when Skyrim got its first major showing. I'm not the type to give in to hype, but I still remember being in awe of the majesty and grandeur of it all, and leaving the auditorium as excited as I could be for an upcoming game.
Friday's Fallout 4 presentation at QuakeCon 2015 made me feel like that again. Though we were packed into the auditorium like survivors in a Vault, none of us were complaining. The “oohs” and “aahs” echoed through the hall with every new reveal, interrupted occasionally by raucous cheering – usually after some heinous act of on-screen violence.
The bad news is, if you weren't there, you probably didn't get to see it. I'm a little iffy about the notion of giving exclusive footage to conventiongoers, especially since it usually leaks onto the Internet a short time later (as Warner Bros. now knows). Though we were asked/warned not to record, I'd wager it's out there somewhere, or soon will be.
For now, though, I'll work with the notion that you haven't seen anything. My words can't do justice to all the awesome, but I'll do my best to enumerate the cooler points.
It's all in the details. Bethesda is known for its attention to detail in its immersive, open-world games, and one of the first things we were shown was the layout of a pre-war house in the Fallout world, with about a hundred different adornments. Having spent plenty of time in houses in Fallout 3 and New Vegas, the sheer number of items seemed to dwarf those games' now seemingly measly decorative palette.
It's not just the interiors of houses that are getting some attention. Todd Howard showed us the inside of a Mr. Handy service robot, complete with all the tubes and gears, so we could “blow the pieces off” in-game. It was enough detail to make me think you could almost build a real one.
Speaking of Mr. Handy, Howard explained that the voice actor had recorded over a thousand names, so that it could refer to our characters personally. An audio clip replayed several of the names “that our players like to use,” including the ever-popular “Mr. F***face.” Does that mean the game won't be rated E?
Who needs friends? You do. Maybe. Anyone who watched the E3 presentation immediately fell in love with Fallout 4's adorable canine companion. She's modeled after the pet of one of the Bethesda employees, and we were treated to a video showing off some of the ways in which her movement was translated to the game – emphasis on “some.” We didn't see, for instance, how they directed her to rip open a man's chest. That would have been against HR policies.
We also got a look at two other potential companions in the game, patriotic freedom fighter Preston Garvey and street-smart, fast-talking reporter Piper. Though we did get a look at some of Preston's actor's motion-capture session, Howard explained that, owing to the sheer number of characters in the game, not everything character goes through the full mocap process.
Now here's the part I'll admit to not fully understanding, but what I think Howard said is that there's a fair bit of procedural generation going on under the surface for faces and bodies and then faces are mapped onto the frames. Sorry if that doesn't come out too clearly, I was writing as fast as I could to keep up with the technical explanation. Major characters should all look the same, but does the promise of procedural generation mean that my random NPCs will look different from your random NPCs? I'm not sure.
Overall, there are “about a dozen” companions, said Howard, and romance options will be available, regardless of the player's gender (at least for the human companions). But if you'd rather brave the apocalypse by yourself, Howard says there will be in-game incentives if you choose to play without a companion. Anti-social loners FTW!
Mutants in the outfield. Owing to its Beantown location, a theme of colonial patriotism and a general sense of historical significance runs throughout the game, as you'll start your adventure prior to the globe-altering nuclear war. We saw a panoramic poster that traced the history of the Fallout world from the American Revolution to World War II to the nuking of just about everything to the “modern” day. Many of the weapons help convey that old-school feel, like the laser musket and a kind of hand-cranked laser shotgun. Don't worry, there are still sniper rifles and mini-nukes.
Diamond City is the name of one of the areas of the game, centered around the ruins of Boston's Fenway Park. (When people cheered at this revelation, Howard wondered aloud whether people were just happy to see something new or if they particularly hated the Red Sox and loved seeing Fenway in ruins.) This is where we meet Piper, whose sweet-talking skills get us past the security checkpoint and into the concourse.
S.P.E.C.I.A.L. education. Sure, gameplay and screenshots are nice, but who doesn't love looking at menus and subscreeens! OK, they're really nice menus, and you can even move your in-game wrist – and its ubiquitous Pip-Boy – around quite a bit, a nice touch.
As with previous Fallout games, you'll acquire various perks as you level up, but in Fallout 4, they're more closely tied to your attributes. The perk selection screen, a colorful Vault-Tec poster, was like a giant grid, with each S.P.E.C.I.A.L. attribute along the top and vertical ranges from zero to 10. For instance, if you had Agility of six, you could select any perk in the Agility column down to row six. Start with 10 in an attribute and you can get a kick-ass perk right from the start! Many of the perks have multiple ranks; Howard said there were 275 total perks you could select if all ranks were taken into account.
Gimme shelter! For you Fallout Shelter fans, or would-be fans who don't own an iOS device, good news! Fallout Shelter will be coming to Android on Aug. 13 and will also have a content update for iOS, adding new attacks from molerats (not so dangerous) and deathclaws (super dangerous), as well as Mr. Handy, who will conveniently pick up resources for the player. Howard said that while the success of Fallout Shelter was a wonderful surprise, the company is committed to “support [it] for a long time.”
Blood and guts. Finally, Howard laid down the mic and we got an extended look at some gameplay, as a survivor made his way through ghoul- and raider-infested Lexington. More than anything else, it's difficult to fully convey the awesomeness of it all without seeing it. All the conventions of previous Fallout games are there – the V.A.T.S. system, lockpicking, hacking, exploding heads when you whack them really hard with barbed-wire-wrapped baseball bats – the usual stuff.
There were a few new twists, though. Ghouls dropped down from above, hidden by street-spanning wreckage until you get close, and when they close into melee range, you can whack them with your gun to drive them back. In the little bit of flamer action we saw, the weapon set some of the environment on fire, creating an additional hazard. And, if you need a few extra explosions in your life – and who doesn't? – you can shoot a tank of hazardous materials next to a bad guy and watch it go BOOM!
With Fallout 4, Bethesda's got another Game of the Year candidate on its hands. The apocalypse arrives Nov. 10 on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC. Just like the civilized world, you'll be blown away.