Dear Fallout 4,
From January to December 2018, we enjoyed a whirlwind relationship in a lamp-lit room with the curtains closed in the daytime. We weren’t in a motel, and you were hardly a secret of mine; I couldn’t stop talking about you. “And then, the Brahmin were on the roof, the ghoul fell through the desk, and I’d bought a dog off a man trapped in a bush.” We would laugh together. I would laugh anyway, gently rocking in my concave wingback to stimulate blood-flow to my legs, having spent over 300 hours with you in those first three months alone.
I am reminded that when you first appeared on the scene in 2015, I had promised myself that I would avoid you with your tricksy temptations of open-world misadventure and your bobble-headed trinkets. Afterall, I had played Fallout 1 and 2 in my youth during the Summers of ’98 and ’99. By “during,” I mean “entirely encompassing,” in the same way that the Fat Man mini-nuke entirely encompassed the Radroach, the building he was formerly within, and the surrounding town and its environs when I accidentally pressed the “fire” button in-lieu of something much less cataclysmic, like “jump.” My stance changed with 2018 proving to be very much an eventful year in my life. By “eventful,” I mean “terribly horrific from the outset,” so let us not dwell any further here.
During our adventures, sunny in outlook but punctuated by hazy green radiation storms, I met and made the companionship of one Nick Valentine, a raggedy gum-shoe automaton. He was more of a Metropolis Bogart than a Tinfoil Magnum. When it came to freeing prep-school prisoners, killing centuries-old mob bosses, and risking our lives for the Railroad emancipation movement, “Valentine loved that.” In return, this is my Valentine’s love-letter to you, Fallout 4.
Lest you feel that this is the simple story of a man and his extra-special relationship with a sentient robot, there were other companions along the way, which yes, some of them I shamelessly romanced for their perks. There was a cheery, spherical butler; a fella who seemed neurologically interconnected with the fates of all settlements across the Commonwealth and constantly reminded me as such; a French-speaking scientist that I dressed as a cavewoman (with authentic Grognak battle axe accessory!); a gravel-voiced, desiccated rogue in revolutionary-era garb; and a sassy journalist modeled after the screwball comedies of the 30s, only this one was less His Girl Friday, than “Our Girl Post-Apocalypse and everyone is dying of radiation poisoning and being attacked by really big, what are they, flies or wasps or something?” They were mosquitos, Brian; they were mosquitos.
In our travels, the companions helped in the battle against evil, both in their colossal and bite-sized forms. There were fearsome Mythic Deathclaws that stalked the wasteland, nobly looking to protect their last remaining eggs from an uncertain future, who could also be rag-dolled into the upper-atmosphere with a judicious application of can-do attitude and the right amount of ordnance. There were also these naked, saggy-assed mole rats that repaid us with permanent whack-a-syphilis after we tried to hit one with a shovel to save some feckless, faceless boy for reasons I entirely forget. The Assaultrons assaulted, the Mirelurks occasionally lurked, and the Fog Crawlers did not crawl. The Radscorpions were also not as cool as their name lead me to believe. They were real jerks.
Across the map, Incredible Mutant Hulks with miniature brains fought against a less-credibly-minded Brotherhood, who had the assistance of self-righteousness, a battle-blimp, and a hardcore Iron Giant that we helped to build. A secret synthetic army rose from the ashes of the scientific past to fight cowboys in a cannon-defended fort that we helped to liberate. Cunningly, like the ignoble Littlefinger from Game of Thrones, we carefully schemed and plotted and played everyone against each other until we thought we would get caught out. Cunningly, like that gif where Homer steps back into the bush and surreptitiously disappears, we responded to the narrative’s pivotal moment of player agency through buying the theme-park DLC, Nuka World, where we went on to have many more consequence-free laughs at the expense of a neon-tiger-faced man called Mason and a UFO cult that spectacularly exploded in an entirely accidental and not-of-my-doing fairground Trip to the Stars.
With you, like a god, we stomped across the landscape in armoured power-suits coloured after off-brand fizzy drinks, radioactive blue then blood red. One of my outfits made me look like a cheery Napoleon, another gave me the bona fides of a noirish superhero. I shot a man for his moose helmet. I didn’t even wear it, and I am not even sorry. My companions were less supportive when I both gooseyed and gandered across the wilderness in naught but my good humour and a white-rimmed pair of “fashionable sunglasses” (Charisma +1). I saved my tight-fitting Nuka-Girl rocketsuit for special occasions, like swimming in Swan’s Pond.
Together, we wall-pinned the wicked with harpoon guns like a mad, cackling space-Ahab; we struck kited packs of glowing ghouls with bowling-ball launchers like a Mad-Max-Flintstone; and we squirted Overboss Colter with a simple children’s water-pistol, sending several thousand volts of electric comedy through his overbearing metallic frame and out through his sizzling dome, making pâté of his scrambled pate in a hubristic act of Humpty Dumpty electrolysis.
Crossing the world, as defined by the geographically implausible but perfect form of a square, we bravely tip-toed onto a 200-year-old nuclear Chinese submarine and a baseball stadium city, making disheveled friends. We carelessly stepped into witchcraft museums, regional schools, and comic book shops and found twisted enemies. Enemies of education and in a very real, physical sense. In fact, more the latter than anything else as I recall. In the Deep South, where the land gets foggy and spectral, there were no fields of wheat to skip through; this was the Glowing Sea and it was majestically grim, populated with pre-fight terrors, post-fight carrion, and the outline of a mysterious pyramidal structure. Every Vault contained a secret, and every secret found a way of clawing at our face.
Fallout 4, thou art fairer than Fallout 76, which being beset by all sorts of difficulties is like comparing a donkey to a pot of glue, neither of them are going to win the Grand National, but at least one of them could attempt to compete.
Did I save you? Yes, frequently. I filled the hard drive of my PS4 with my regular proclamations of our love, outside every new building and we even did it that one time in the lift. Each save was a mini-exaltation of our achievements, freeze-framed, which I could defer to when our latest adventures proved untenable, such as when a companion spontaneously disappeared through the floor, my controller would not stop vibrating, I could not complete Tinker Tom’s weathervane mission, and sundry other lovable quirks that set me back, often hours at a time. I also wound back the clock on Nuka World to track and eliminate every single gang member in the park, but that’s a blood-thirsty story for another letter, another audience, and another drink.
Did you save me? Well, as with quality entertainment, the good cheer I found in your fictional world did make the car crash, familial death, and the shadow of the Big C a little less all-encompassing and consuming in 2018. You could not hope to compete with the year-one reign of King Aelfred, my glorious nephew, but you did help make life more manageable in my anxious downtime.
Did I complete you? No. Despite the time invested, I never completed the main quest or your DLC. We parted ways with me stood on an island, looking down where my feet should be in search of meager treasure from an ambiguous map of hearsay and conjecture. I feel that this is an appropriate ending to our relationship, one full of impressionistic flair and imaginative promise, which, like the Brahmin on the roof never failed to amuse and enrapture me, whatever the outcome.
Did you complete me? No. In December I gave you to my friend, Colleen, who will use you for good. By “good," I obviously mean to create further Vault tests on unwitting virtual victims, which I declined to carry out, because I don’t much see the point in world-building when I can tear it down and clown-paint my face in its nuclear ash and embers, while wearing its chefs/sailors/top/bowler hat.
Besides, on January 1st, 2019, I became engaged to someone else. Rebecca: a real-life person for real-life Vault experiments.
Farewell with love and gratitude,