I feel like I need to apologize to Fallout 4.
The hype leading up to Fallout 4 was immense. My mom and I are both huge fans of the franchise, so from the day it was announced to its release, it was all the two of us could talk about. We went through forum after forum reading theories about what the plot would entail and watched trailer breakdowns, trying to get a sense of exactly what we were getting ourselves into with Bethesda’s latest title. When release day came, I went to pick up the title at midnight and eagerly began playing. What followed, I can honestly say…was one of the most disappointing gaming experiences of my life.
It’s not like I hated Fallout 4 in my first playthrough. The world was interesting, especially since Boston is one of my favorite cities to visit, and I did find the settlement building system to be engaging enough to keep me constantly chasing the elusive 100% settlement happiness score. Even still, there was so much missing and I couldn’t help but be underwhelmed with the end product. After about forty hours, I rolled the credits with a disappointed sigh.
For years, I have cited my time with this game as one of my greatest disappointments. I have discussed my numerous issues with anyone who will listen about the lackluster story, characters, and gameplay for years now. Still, after playing a few dozen hours of Fallout 76, I realized that, regardless of my issues with Fallout 4, I missed building settlements and wanted to start a new playthrough. I am now thirty hours into my new vault dweller and I have come to a single conclusion that horrifies me: I love this game.
This has sent me into an existential spiral about my own tastes. Have they changed over the years? Am I too hard on games sometimes? What other games did I once find disappointing that wouldn’t be today and, possibly even worse, what if there are games I say I love that I wouldn’t enjoy upon replay? For several weeks, these questions have been haunting me, but I think I have ultimately found a root cause for why my opinions on Fallout 4 have changed. In short, it is a victim of its own hype.
I thought back to all of the games I’ve played over the years to find some titles that stuck out in my head as overly disappointing, as well as some that I found surprisingly good. After a while, a trend began to appear. Games that I find disappointing correlate overwhelmingly with games I had astronomical expectations for. These are titles where I absolutely adored prior entries in the series, or saw a particularly stunning trailer and fell in love. Persona 5, Dragon Age Inquisition, and Fallout 4 all fit the bill here perfectly. I stared at trailers, followed all of the wikis and social media threads, and went into all of them fully expecting them to be my new favorite game. When they were anything less than that, my brain couldn’t help but register them all as disappointments, even though none of them were bad in the slightest.
On the other end of the spectrum, I have a number of games that I went into with low expectations, either because they weren’t in a genre I typically played or I hadn’t heard great things about them, and some of these titles became new favorites of mine. Danganronpa, Horizon Zero Dawn, and Mass Effect: Andromeda are all examples of this phenomenon. When I don’t expect anything from a game, any pleasant surprise that I feel gets amplified, leaving me with a far more positive feeling about the title as a whole.
Now that I’ve identified my own bias when it comes to games, how do I fix it? The hype cycle around video games has spun so far out of control that it’s nearly impossible not to get excited about every major release coming out these days. Likewise, when games are disliked by fans upon release, it’s difficult not to see the player reactions on social media because people need to vent. Still, if I’m trying to avoid going into a title with preconceived notions of what my playtime will feel like, I need to keep my expectations in check.
I don’t have much of an answer here, apart from looking at trailers and hype through a critical lens. No one has played the game in full yet, so there’s no way to know how good the title will be only from the trailers and small snippets of gameplay previews. Moreover, sometimes I get excited about features that, as it turns out, were never formally confirmed or denied by the developers and don’t make it into the game. It’s not fair to the game or its developers to be disappointed about the absence of a feature that was never intended to be there, so making sure that the hype isn’t getting so out of hand that it’s actually promoting falsehoods is also a key part of keeping expectations at the right level.
Fallout 4, I am sorry for ever doubting your quality, but I have been taught a lesson through this experience. Hype is really fun and it’s great to theorize with other fans about what may or may not be in an upcoming title. If I want to actually enjoy the end product, however, I need to be careful not to get my expectations up too high or create a game in my head that will be infinitely cooler than what is actually released. Hopefully, I can avoid grossly over or underselling a game in the future.
Have you ever let the hype (or hate) for a game get to you? Let me know in the comments below!