For a couple of days now, I’ve been trying an experiment with Fallout 4—and it’s completely transformed my experience with the game.
Last week, I read a thought-provoking piece by Tom Chick, who lauded Fallout 4’s geography but lamented that the game’s mechanics undermine that landscape:
Bethesda has no interest in addressing the difficult problem of meaningful geography, which is ironic considering how good they are at creating geography. Their worlds are carefully calculated so that there’s something interesting over every hill, so that landmarks are noticed, so that vistas happen, so that traversal is a delight. And then Bethesda subverts it all with fast travel. Once you’ve gotten somewhere, there’s no reason to ever travel there again, to ever delight in the going, to ever care about distance. Instead, you just teleport through a loading screen. Everything is as close as everything else. Convenience is the prime directive.
After reading this, I reflected on my own experience with the game. I noted that there was a stark difference between the start of my adventure and when my Commonwealth map was empty, to what it’s like playing Fallout 4 now, after I’ve discovered a ton of locations. After my map filled up, I fast-travelled everywhere. Of course I did. Fast traveling got me where I need to go; it’s a handy convenience. But was it possible that fast travel was ruining the experience for me somehow?
I decided to play the game with no fast travel for a weekend, to see how I like it. I started out on my Red Rocket settlement, and I set a mission down south. Then, I walked. Slowly but surely, I made my way down to the marker, making sure to take everything in along the way.
Here’s the thing about Fallout 4: yes, there are a ton of locations on your map. But there are just as many locales, events, and general things that aren’t noted on your Pip-Boy, too. I knew this going in—special environmental stuff has been a part of every Fallout game, pretty much—but the point was really driven home for me after this weekend. Walking around Fallout 4, I came across unmarked graves, hidden treasure, errant terminals in random abandoned buildings, a traveling bartender, some hidden caves. I came across randomly spawning enemies, who had ridiculous battles in the middle of nowhere. I walked past an area full of rabid dogs, and in the middle of the canine den, there was a brutally murdered corpse. The skeleton was lying next to a couple of dog collars, dog armor, and a dog bowl. There was no mission there, no marker. It just existed in the wasteland.
But perhaps the most astonishing thing I experienced last weekend was a mysterious building full of Saw-like horrors. There I was, making my way to a mission on Jamaica Plains, when I noticed some arrows painted on a building:
Curious, I went inside. What I found was...more arrows:
Eventually these arrows led me into a fucked up maze full of traps, puzzles, spooky tableaus full of corpses, and enemies. Tiptoeing carefully through the entire mess, all I could think to myself was, “who the fuck BUILT this?” Why was it there? What was the point? How many people had died trying to make their way through this sick labyrinth? And the best part was, whoever made the thing seemed to be mocking me! Arrows would point to dead ends, with giant question marks reminiscent of the Riddler. Things that could murder me seemed to be placed almost playfully, with a wink. The puppetmaster had a deadly sense of humor, and I had become their plaything.
It freaked me the hell out. Despite that, I still made my way to the top of the parking garage anyway. I had to know what was up there, or if perhaps I would meet whoever made this thing. I wanted to talk to the psychopath that made me go through so much. Instead, I found this:
Two cells, rigged to some cables. Inside each cell was an assortment of goodies that I could take. Here’s the thing, though: the second you open up one of those cells? The other one explodes. Whoever built this place wanted to give the survivor a prize for enduring their fucked up game, but they wanted the loot to come with a twist. Of course.
It’s one of the most amazing (and scariest) experiences I’ve had in Fallout 4 thus far. And I would have missed it entirely had I fast traveled, especially since this maze existed in-between a couple of places I thought I had already explored thoroughly.
So here’s my advice to you: if you want to get the most out of Fallout 4, try playing it without fast travel. It doesn’t have to be a permanent thing or anything, and if you’re trying to do a supply run or deliver a bunch of junk to your settlement, then of course fast traveling is the most convenient thing to do. But if you’re doing a quest or exploring? Walk there. And don’t be afraid to re-explore places you’ve already discovered, too. Even if you think you’ve seen all there is to see, chances are good that you missed something, or that something novel could happen along the way. Fallout 4 is best when it surprises you, and you diminish the opportunities for that to happen when you choose to teleport everywhere.
Oh, and if you want to experience the house of horrors I found while wandering? Here you go. It’s more or less at the bigger arrow.