Sun. Feb 5th, 2023
Stealth in Fallout 4 is like a developer-sanctioned god mode

For better or worse, you know what to expect from stealth in a Bethesda game. In Skyrim you can walk into a room, steal everything from everyone present – including their clothes – and walk out without raising a single eyebrow. If you wanted to, you could cut off each of their heads one by one, crouching between each swipe of your sword, and no one would notice the bloody carnage.

Squat is everything Fallout 4 also: if you crouch you are much less likely to be seen and give you an indication of how aware your presence is to nearby enemies. Enemies can see you, but they are more sensitive to movement than to what is actually there. If you are noticed, you can often be saved by standing still. Enemies can also hear gunshots and head in that direction, and any enemy you shoot but don’t kill will investigate where the shot came from. So logical so far… from a gameplay point of view, at least.

But the enemies within Fallout 4 are also incredibly stupid, forgetful and oblivious to their surroundings. In my game I have a silenced sniper rifle and I shoot things in the head (Gun Nut 2 to attach suppressors to guns, Ninja perk to increase damage bonus for surprise attacks). The enemies within Fallout 4 simply have no defense against this tactic, as they are made to handle head-on attacks and fail to notice that their mate’s head has just exploded a few feet away. In fact, they like to patrol over it. They can even see you in the flesh, as you go about killing their dear commander, but if you run and crouch, it’s all forgotten 20 seconds later.

What makes this stealth system unusual is the way it scales – because in a mechanical sense it can’t. In a stealth game like Metal Gear Solid V, you gain better gadgets and outfits that open up new ways to attack. In Fallout 4, you crouch and use weapons in exactly the same way from start to finish. Bethesda gives the player more options, not by adding more options, but by giving up the appearance of them Fallout 4 is based on a physical world.

That’s odd considering the game’s world is built on the illusion of realism. There are countless lines of NPC dialogue to be heard, choices to be made, and endless spontaneous engagements in the wasteland, all designed to create a living, breathing world. Certainly, Fallout 4 is not entirely realistic, but it is a game that we should take seriously. And yet, as you level up the stealth system, it becomes more abstracted from what’s visually represented. Enemies become blind to your presence and walk right past you as you crouch in the open. As the game progresses, enemies become more like dumb AI than living creatures: rough rules that are easy to understand and play with.

The stealth approach sometimes suffers from technical glitches, like this shot hitting an invisible wall.
Enlarge / The stealth approach sometimes suffers from technical glitches, like this shot hitting an invisible wall.
Gotta love how, in the middle of the explosion, he still looks surprised.
Enlarge / Gotta love how, in the middle of the explosion, he still looks surprised.

A method in madness?

It’s all too easy to point out tensions in AAA game design, like every enemy in the game getting more and more blind, without realizing that those who made the game are probably well aware of it. The route Fallout 4‘s stealth operations sometimes seem madness, but there is also a method behind it.

Stealth skill is improved by choosing the right perks, including Stealth itself. At each level, it applies a percentage reduction to your chances of being seen alongside other buffs. At level 4 you don’t even have to bend over. The effect is that enemies usually stop seeing you – and even when they do, you have the ability to escape Houdini-like from almost any situation simply by crouching. Add to that the various buffs you can apply to a sneak attack, and most enemies will go down in one fell swoop while their friends look on as if nothing happened. At the end of the stealth trail, you can actually walk among the crowds and casually eviscerate anyone you like. No one frowns.

This is so bad it’s brilliant. That makes absolutely no sense Fallout 4‘s enemies react the way they react, but at the same time it’s a lot of fun to use as a player. The game is no longer just about completing missions or killing things, but the objective evolves into approaching enemy groups and messing with them, observing what they do and trying insane strategies.

In effect, this turns stealth into a kind of developer-sanctioned god mode—something that was so deliberately overpowered that it wasn’t reworked or removed because it just so nice. I was focusing on muted weapons for stealth in my game, but then I saw this GIF posted by Reddit user CyborgWalrus, showing off a stealth melee build with the “Blitz” perk that lets you teleport directly to enemies in VATs . I’ve never looked at my sniper rifle the same way since then.

Of course, this huge leap in power is also a huge break in the system itself: a low-level stealth character is horrible simply because the various passive bonuses aren’t active, while the higher-level character is incredible.

There are other issues with stealth in Fallout 4world. The overheard dialogue has a few gems, but it’s mostly generic padding. There’s the fact that the stealth systems are analog – so your movement speed and sound are always crucial – but the on-screen feedback is rudimentary. At lower levels, it’s annoying how enhanced the enemies’ senses become during a [CAUTION] phase, although that could be taken as another video game-esque touch. And while it’s not a fair comparison, MGSV‘s guards are more interesting to observe than those in Fallout 4which is hugely important if you spend hours figuring it out.

Amazingly, wearing Power Armor doesn't seem to affect your inconspicuousness.
Enlarge / Amazingly, wearing Power Armor doesn’t seem to affect your inconspicuousness.

While MGSV offers a much more satisfying stealth experience, it has the advantage of being a uniformly hostile open world. Stealth is everything MGSVbut in Fallout 4 it is a small part of a much larger system. This is why Fallout 4‘s stealth, despite improvements, remains so mechanically basic. For example, light is an important part of the enemy’s sight, but you can’t shoot lightbulbs. You have no means to distract guards. The idea of ​​actually sneaking Past a group of enemies, instead of sneaking in to detonate them, never really get a look.

All these features, and the stark ones [HIDDEN] icon, remember where this kind of stealth logic started. years 1997 Thief by Looking Glass Software was the first FPS to make stealth a core mechanic, and many of its ideas have survived intact. The idea that crouching not only makes you invisible in the right light, but also makes enemies forget they ever saw you may be Thief‘s most durable mechanic.

If Thief is the mechanical root for Fallout 4The series’ stealth system, the series’ own past, dictates how it works. The 2D Fallout games made non-combat specializations viable builds, a trait that makes them all the more combat-heavy Fallout 3 and Fallout 4 struggled to represent. Into the stealth system Fallout 4 is essentially this combination of the two – the nuts and bolts are classically signposted FPS stealth mechanics, but their actual usefulness depends entirely on background stats.

It would be easy to say that the sheer silliness of it all breaks immersion, but this is a narrow view of what immersion is in a video game. The wildness of a world, all those UI elements like a score or a life bar, and explicit systems can be powerful elements of immersion themselves. You can sacrifice narrative and visual logic with abandon, and many AAA games do, but as long as what the player is doing is fun, they’re not necessarily pulled out of that world.

The bottom line is a weakness in our critical vocabulary about games – a gray zone surrounding a system that’s both a hodgepodge of easily identifiable flaws and capable of delivering surreal brilliance on a regular basis. Such a thing cannot be labeled as good, bad or even lazy. It feels more organic than that. It’s something no designer would have ever imagined, but different teams, in different games, have created it through accumulation and accretion.

I don’t know what to call Bethesda’s take on stealth: insane, stupid, brilliant, amazing, surreal, frustrating, nonsensical, irresistible. The rudimentary parts drive me crazy, but if you end up as a cross between Rambo and the Invisible man it completely changes the game – it almost feels like a cheat code. Fallout 4‘s stealth is a massive mess that is simultaneously foul and irresistible. Even if you’re the beneficiary, it’s hard to tell if you’re laughing at it or with it.

Rich Stanton is a video game journalist who has written for Eurogamer, Vice, The Guardian and others. His first book, A Brief History of Videogames, was published this year. You can find him on Twitter at @richstanton.

By akfire1

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