Fallout 4 is a game full of intriguing questions.
Questions like: What is that cool-looking location looming in the distance? How do I find The Institute? Why do all of the ghoul NPCs sound like Krusty The Clown?
And, most importantly: Why in the name of holy Atom is it so unbelievably easy to get bogged-down in an endless onslaught of repetitive, tedious radiant kill missions and fetch quests, and so bafflingly difficult to discover the game’s (genuinely great) fully fledged side-quests?
I’ve recently returned to the game, to catch up on all the content I missed on my initial playthrough, and I’ve been staggered by the sheer stack of compelling side-plots and thrilling missions that totally by-passed me throughout my initial campaign.
Over the past few nights, I’ve adopted the guise of a retro superhero to battle crime in Goodneighbor, taken part in an audacious underground heist, and encountered something very interesting off the coast of Boston’s eastern docks. Oh, and I also saved a kid who was trapped in a fridge. So there’s that.
But here’s the thing: I only got around to initiating these quests after looking them up on the Fallout wiki. Because actually triggering them is far more elusive than it should be – and I really don’t think this is just a case of me being utterly clueless.
Before completing Fallout 4’s decent but unspectacular main storyline (I went with the Railroad by the way, because they’re by far the coolest), I spent literal days exploring Bethesda’s expansive and vast post-apocalyptic gameworld, stumbling across countless locations, slaughtering Raiders and Mirelurks by the thousand (because Mirelurks, for some reason, are basically everywhere), and engaging in the occasional top-notch diversion.
Nick Valentine’s vendetta against a pre-war gangster took me on an epic sleuthing adventure; the whole Cabot storyline was an utter joy. And yet, these were rare narrative treats among a quest list that read more like a work schedule of go-there, do-that tasks for the factions I aligned myself with.
In Fallout 4, you can’t so much as sneeze without Preston Garvey showing up out of nowhere and asking you to chat to some settlers about some monster problem they have, or demanding that you recruit another bunch of feckless farmers to your increasingly stretched enclave of fledgling towns, all of whom require micro-managing by yours truly – and demand that you rush heroically to the rescue should they come under attack (adding yet another ‘randomly generated’ assignment to your creaking timetable of tedium).
(We should have turned around and walked away right here)
Garvey’s unwanted job-assigning assholery turns being General of the Minutemen into an endless bore, and yet this sort of thing supplies the bulk of the game’s quest content. At least at first glance.
For while these kinds of radiant missions get thrown at you left, right and centre, the more rewarding, detailed and downright fun side-quests are often smuggled away in places you wouldn’t necessarily look.
Some quest-givers are hidden away in the back room of a downtown location you wouldn’t think to visit again once you’ve dispensed with its function in the main storyline; others are lurking at the very edge of the map on a dock somewhere, behind a shattered building surrounded by murky sea.
Things get even more weird when you consider that arriving at a location that is absolutely central to a particular quest doesn’t even necessarily trigger it. On at least three occasions (I kid you not), I eventually managed to trigger a side-quest by following the instructions on the wiki and finding a particular quest-giver etc, only to find I’d already explored and emptied the place they wanted me to go to, and practically completed the objective without having the pleasure of a story-driven motivation along with it.
In those cases, I either had to re-trace my steps just to grab a particular object or something, or I was promptly told the quest had been completed and handed a token amount of XP. Not exactly the most satisfying of outcomes.
In my ‘favourite’ example of the kind of illogical stuff at play here, an overheard conversation during my initial playthrough of the game gave me a tip to investigate the Museum Of Witchcraft, promptly yielding me a map marker and a ‘Miscellaneous’ objective. So I headed to the museum on foot, entered it, took a look around the creepy place, got the absolute be-jesus scared out of me by a VERY fearsome enemy, and promptly scarpered off the premises – only returning 20 or so levels later so I could slaughter the foe.
But guess what? Turns out I was supposed to flag up the ‘Miscellaneous’ objective in my quest list, so that the marker would specifically guide me to a spot outside of the museum, which would trigger the actual quest that I was meant to be undertaking there. What kind of bizarre logic is this? In Fallout 3 and New Vegas, I can’t remember ever experiencing this kind of thing. It’s as if the process of finding and embarking on meaningful side missions has become an extended mission in and of itself, rather than the simple pleasure it needs to be.
In any case, I love Fallout 4. I love its gameworld, I love its gameplay, and – given the genuine pleasure that comes with indulging in a ridiculous, bittersweet jaunt like ‘The Silver Shroud’ storyline – I absolutely love the simply splendid, content and backstory rich side-quests that are spread out far and wide across its epic expanse of gameworld.
I just wish it made it easier for me to find and enjoy those side-quests.