My absolute favorite thing in Fallout 4 so far, and perhaps will remain so forever, is the base building. I spend hours scrapping crap, planting crops, making water collectors, decorating houses, etc. This is just SO COOL that I can take parts of the world and make them my bases.
One thing I’m not looking forward to is the sub-game of base building. I don’t know what it is about single-player RPGs these days and the need to cram in a base building system, but I do not care about such things outside of persistent worlds. I’m not going to spend 30 hours building up a base in a game that has a “Game Over” screen, and it’s not important to me here.
Many of the blogs and reviews I've read make Fallout 4 seem like something I'd really enjoy. The descriptions and screenshots of the autumnal New England setting were almost enough in themselves to trigger a purchase. And then, when I first read Syp's observation on the sheer futility of base building, diametrically opposed to Keen's gushing delight in the exact same game system, it was as though the clouds had opened and ray of pure light was shining directly into my mind. Here, in a nutshell, is why I can only play MMOs.
All these long years, going all the way back to that fateful late November day in 1999 when I first installed EverQuest and increasing strongly the further away from that watershed I travel, I've struggled to express just why it is that I find even the best solo RPGs a bleak and unconvincing an experience. By comparison the prospect of even a poorly-translated, unimaginative piece of MMO shovelware positively glimmers with possibilities.
Well, there's the answer: persistence.
The widely offered and even more widely accepted rationale for the grip MMORPGs exert on us is that we become reliant on the social ties they foster. Supposedly, it's the communities that coalesce around and within them that bind us: our Guilds, our friends, the people we meet and the people we have met.
Well, that explanation has never flown for me. In sixteen years I have remained in touch with precisely one person that I met while playing MMOs. With the exception of a short period when WoW was trending outside of the MMO niche I have never met a single person in real life who plays them or even recognizes the acronym. I have very few ties to any people who play the games I play.
It wasn't always so. Yes, there was a prolonged period, more than five years, when my MMO play was intensely socialized and most sessions were as much about conversation as they were about gameplay. That, however, had at least as many downsides as up and the succeeding years in which those social connections have atrophied and fallen away, far from leading to disengagement and dissatisfaction, have, by and large, brought a deeper and more satisfying enthrallment with the hobby.
The explanation I usually end up with for the deep and often irrational sense of commitment I feel toward certain MMOs is that I care about my characters. This is true. I care about them in the way I care about characters in books or, more precisely, about characters I have created and written and imagined for myself. Nevertheless it's equally true that I am fickle in my affections and unsteady in fidelity when it comes to those characters.
There are characters that were important, vital, to me scattered across a dozen, a score and more of the MMORPGs I've played in a decade and a half. Many I lived with and through for hundreds, thousands of hours of real time. I can name them and describe them in detail, their looks and their adventures, their likes and dislikes. But I don't play them.
The characters are key to the unbroken connection to the games, it's true, but the real cord is that persistence Syp finds so lacking in Fallout 4 and which Keen doesn't need at all. It's a particular kind of persistence because aren't all computer games "persistent"? Assuming you have the hardware to run it and the saved game files, could you not fire up a game you left half-finished in 1997 and find your character still standing exactly where you left her, fresh and ready to begin where you left off?
Before I found MMOs I played a lot of offline RPGs and loved them. I didn't stop immediately either. It always throws me that Baldur's Gate, which both Mrs Bhagpuss and I played intensely and which is the only RPG I have ever played all the way through twice, came out after we'd been playing EQ for over a year.
I went on to play BG2 and finish that as well, although just the once. On and off, I picked away at a few others across the years, but by the time we got to Dragon Age: Origins a decade later it was apparent that the magic had flown. The explanation for the change of heart has proven elusive but now Syp has nailed it for me at last.
What matters is not that the worlds are still there, waiting, when I come back to them. No, what matters is that they won't wait. With me or without me these worlds move on. Even my characters change in my absence. Those infuriating flurries of pop-ups and tool-tips that greet the prodigal player, informing him of the myriad changes to systems and processes and items and expectations that have happened behind his back are evidence of history, of existence, of a kind of ethereal solidity that mirrors life.
The persistence of the worlds in which our characters exist, its malleability, its flux, represent a quality of conviction that, for me, no offline RPG can offer. What's more, the mere understanding that this is a persistence shared with thousands, even millions of other players around the world, compounds and magnifies that conviction to the point where it becomes indistinguishable from the sense of sharing our actual world itself.
Persistent, virtual worlds, no matter how trivial or baldly realized, have an innate existence denied to the discrete, unconnected islands of offline RPGs. Actions, even inaction, in them matter, somehow, in a way no action in an isolated, unshared instance that ends with powering down can match or hope to match.
In a way it gives substance to my unshakable, if whimsical, feeling that all my characters carry on with their lives whether I'm there to guide them or not. They do, measurably, change and alter, even while I'm away. Much, much more vividly and unarguably do their worlds grow and change.
Norrath, Azeroth, Tyria, Telara, Eorzea - none of them wait on my word. Dragons shake the cliffs into the sea, new continents open up to trade and discovery, caves to the underworld yawn wide. These worlds don't just persist, they live. And whenever I return, while I may have missed the events, I'll yet live with the consequences.
That's why, to me anyway, making a mark in any one of them seems to matter in a way that building a base that only I can see in a world that only I can change cannot. And why it's such a true loss when any of these worlds comes to an end.