Fallout 4's detailed E3 showing leaves rivals looking meagre
The 'best showing' of E3 is usually determined by factors like who shouted the loudest about past successes or who had the biggest 'megaton' announcements. This year Bethesda were smart enough and well-presented enough to circumvent that this year - and it was largely down an incredible press conference presentation for a little game called Fallout.
Series boss Todd Howard appeared on stage to grin his way through a confident, detailed cross-section of the new mechanics in the game. For us at RPG Site, it was particularly enjoyable - in an age when even companies like Square Enix and Bioware gloss over their RPG mechanics during trailers and presentations, Bethesda showed us menus, leveling up, crafting and character building - even if they had to fast-forward some of it to show it uncut.
That's the point, however - they showed it uncut. Sure, plenty of time was given to slightly less deep but interesting to the mainstream concepts like the dog companion (who Bethesda later confirmed won't die in a cruel, manipulative manner) and the wonderful trailer of gleefully silly open-world destruction that closed out the presentation - but Bethesda took the time to show off the core of Fallout 4 - which in itself is a love letter to RPG players.
Throughout E3 Bethesda continued to nail it - and while there was no chance to play the game or chat to any of its team for most press, including us, Bethesda continued to disseminate some great information via live streams.
The game itself looks rather impressive too. Set in Boston, Howard claimed it is the most expansive, detailed and dense environment the team has ever created - and its broader scope allows for a more colorful and varied world visually than Fallout 3 and New Vegas, both of which were often guilty of being a little too brown - even for the aftermath of a nuclear apocalypse.
While Bethesda has always been about players building their own stories, Fallout 4 seems to also be focusing on expanding a more traditional narrative also.
It makes the first time that the protagonists will be voiced, and the mission structure has been tweaked to offer more branching paths, with the game better able to handle quest failures, feeding them back into the narrative.
Other small changes appear to seek to increase the depth of role playing in minor ways that'll hopefully add up to something significant. The fact that none of the loot in the world is useless now - everything will have some purpose or application, with even junk used in the detailed crafting system - Fallout's post-apocalyptic Boston will hopefully immerse even further.
Weapons can be stripped for parts or scrapped, and the number of unique combinations available sounds mind-boggling. When you're done customizing your weapons, you can do the same for your other gear and of course for your Brotherhood of Steel style Power Armour - all very welcome features.
The tent-pole new mechanic of settlement building will of course feed into Bethesda's famed Radiant AI system - a system that sometimes seems amazingly intelligent and other times appears to exist solely to cause hilarious AI pile-ups. Founding multiple settlements with defenses and running trade routes between them will allow for another level of role playing - and, one hopes, another level of ridiculousness as the AI routines pile up.
As per usual for Bethesda, all these new wrinkles are optional - if you want to play it straight without them, you can - you determine your Fallout experience.
While the RPG systems are important, Bethesda appears to have made the same discovery Bioware did for Mass Effect 2 - that traditional action combat is by no means a negative. VATS will return, but Bethesda promise regular real-time combat has also been improved significantly.
Studio synergy helps here - Doom's id Software has been drafted in to consult on how real time shooting is handled, and during an E3 stage show Bethesda also revealed they'd hired in some talent from Halo and Destiny studio Bungie - all solid claims to a better system. The typical RPG mechanics remain under the hood, so if you want to play more with VATs, you can.
It's difficult to touch on absolutely everything shown of Fallout 4 at E3 - it was an impressive blow-out. Even now as I hurtle towards a wrap-up I feel compelled to mention other elements such as the impressive new character creation suite, the far more vertical open world, and the dawn of PC-style mods on console, something Bethesda says they've been advocating for many years now.
So, sure - Fallout 4 looks pretty damn good. Who would've guessed? The real shocker, though, is the confidence and breadth with which Bethesda chose to present it - something that, honestly, makes other companies look a little silly. It's out in November - and we can't wait to go hands-on at last.
Fallout 4 is out in November, and is available for pre-order now.