Bethesda... Bethesda never changes
Before you think our glasses are too rose-colored regarding a Bethesda open-world game, it’s time to offer some sharp reminders of that fact. And I say that with a straight face, despite those thousands of hours I’ve sunk into the Elder Scrolls and Fallout series over the years.
First off, there’s the matter of the user interface. In one word, it’s terrible. If you need proof, the existence of DarNified UI and SkyUI should be enough. Even though Bethesda often hints at treating the PC platform like a first-class citizen, the harsh reality is that the interface seems to have been designed with consoles and controllers first.
Take the trade and transfer windows as an example. Even though there’s a ton of screen real estate, they never show more than a few lines at a time. The same flaw is evident with the Pip-Boy. While it’s cool to have a wrist mini-computer at one’s side, the Pip-Boy uses enormous fonts that force the player to waste time scrolling and scrolling, especially in the late game when you’ve amassed a huge collection of notes and recordings.
Things just get worse in the crafting system, which reuses the same part of the screen for a four-deep nested menu. There are no icons or colors to help you during this process, just a bunch of uniform text. I found it trivially easy to get lost in this interface. And the list scrolls, of course, because (surprise!) only a small portion of the screen is dedicated to the crafting UI itself.
The confusing keyboard shortcuts don’t help matters. The Tab key brings up the Pip-boy, but it’s also used to back out of terminals and other menus. I remapped Tab to a mouse button, only to find I have to use the key anyway in many places. The keyboard shortcuts aren’t consistent everywhere, either. For example, “take action” or “accept” is often done with E, but skill points are confirmed using Enter. You’d think Enter also applies to confirm a trade, but no, it’s R instead. It’s simply maddening. I’ve sunk about a hundred hours into the game, and the inconsistent keyboard shortcuts tripped me up until the very end.
There are other minor but chafing UI bugs. Trying to skip conversation lines by pressing the left mouse button is possible, but it has to be done with care, as I’ve shot people in the face by mistake when trying to skip through Brotherhood of Steel pontificating. And don’t even get me started on the lack of in-game help with settlement building. When a player that’s been around the block a few times needs to bounce to Google every 10 minutes to find out how to do something, you know you screwed up.
There’s a great UI feature in Fallout 4, though. In the previous games, you had to press E to loot a container or body, which brought up a menu that paused the game. Players then had to rummage through that filing cabinet or refrigerator before pressing E again to get back. Now, a pop-up window appears when you’re close to a dead guy, a closet, or any other sort of container. Just move close, scroll through the items, grab anything interesting, and move on without interruption.
Of course, a Bethesda game could never be complete without the usual slew of bugs, too. In confined spaces, Dogmeat probably spends as much time inside walls as he does by your side. Enemies’ AI will lock them in place, making them dance in tight circles. Your weapon can turn invisible. Certain areas have sharp framerate drops even on powerful hardware. To top it off, if you want to configure the game beyond the basics, like adjust the field of view or disable mouse acceleration, you have to edit the game’s configuration files manually. This is Fallout, not Debian.
If I had to describe Fallout 4 in one word, it’d be "uneven". You can very easily get immersed in its vast world for a while, only to be yanked right back out thanks to an annoying interface bug or technical glitch. If, like me, you’re a sucker for open-world exploration and have it in your heart to forgive flawed games, by all means, go ahead and buy it. The hours will surely fly by. However, if you’re still on the fence, I’d advise you to wait for a few more patches and mods. This Honest Trailer’s jokes cut a little too close for comfort.