Rain has finally arrived! That sounds weird, seeing how I live in the UK and it’s usually notorious for how much miserable rainfall we get. This summer has been different, but finally it seems I get a break from the heat, at least for a little while.
In my last Flawed Games title, I covered four games which give me immense enjoyment, despite them being fundamentally flawed. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter much if a game has problems if other factors make up for their shortcomings. Once again, I’ll use Cyberpunk 2077 as an example: 250 hours played says it all, really. The combination of addictive combat, a solid story with characters I genuinely care for, and a beautiful (if sometimes sterile) world makes it worth playing.
My previous article supposed to be a one time thing as I work on my Steam Deck and Indie Corner series, but I ended up with so many games to talk about. After going through my games library, I realized just how many flawed games I enjoy. So, I figured it would be great to make this a series! I plan on returning to my work with the Steam Deck shortly: I have something in the works about squeezing the most battery life out of the device, so if anyone has a Steam Deck and wants to know more, you’ll want to check that out. Today though is all about more flawed video games!
I want to kick off today’s instalment with Bethesda’s divisive Fallout 4. You’ll find that Bethesda’s games make up a large amount of my ‘flawed yet enjoyable’ games.
My true inspiration to begin my series on flawed games started when I played Fallout 4 on my Steam Deck. I haven’t played or installed Fallout 4 since dropping the game in early 2016, so that was an interesting experience. While Fallout 4 performed well, it hasn’t been very popular with the Fallout community. From what I remember, I wasn’t very enthralled with the game either though I did find it comfortable to play. While the 2015 instalment of the Fallout franchise made several improvements over Fallout 3 with graphics, shooting and movement, it struggled with making an engaging story, and poor design choices with dialogue made it a poor Fallout game. It certainly paled in comparison to Obsidian’s Fallout: New Vegas, which many fans believe to be among the best in the franchise. I’ll admit, I never found the New Vegas obsession appealing. It’s a great game for certain and it’s probably my favorite Fallout game in the franchise, but I wonder why it’s on such a pedestal. It’s just as broken as Bethesda games, even more so.
That was a big problem when The Outer Worlds came out in 2018. People were so frustrated with Bethesda following the pile of molasses that was Fallout 76 that Obsidian’s new RPG ended up with some over-inflated reception. That has cooled somewhat, and now The Outer Worlds while solid, is a relatively mediocre game.
Bethesda’s suffered greatly in the eyes of consumers in recent years. Simplifying game mechanics in favor of mass popularity, while effective for sales and finances has gone down badly with fans, and Fallout 4 is a more streamlined experience. Skyrim was a major inspiration for it: big and wide worlds, but lacking in depth. The terrible launch of Fallout 76 was a major blow for Bethesda, and I don’t think they’ve recovered from that sting yet. While I’m excited for Starfield, there’s a lot of concerns. I’m happy to reserve judgment until it’s out in the wild.
The dialogue system in Fallout 4 baffles me to this day. Why change it so much from something that already works great? I don’t understand them. The story and mission design is overall a mixed bag with few real standouts, although I remember the Far Harbour DLC to be one of the best Bethesda has put out in years. I didn’t really care for the story at all, and in my current playthrough, I still don’t care much!
Despite these issues, I’m finding a second wind playing Fallout 4. Even taking all the memes aside with Preston Garvey’s settlement obsession, I do find the settlement building relaxing, and installing the excellent Sims Settlements mod makes it an autonomous experience, making it easier for me to focus on exploration. I like slowly building up my growing outposts, and looting everything helps: you can break down almost anything for crafting, so there’s a reason behind the classic RPG problem of scavenging everything in sight. While the world design isn’t as stellar as other Bethesda games and competing RPGs on the market, there’s still a lot to see and do, with interesting locations. The combat and gunplay is also rather impressive; something I found a big improvement over other titles. One of the biggest pitfalls an RPG makes is in this department, and having a clunky combat system can make even the strongest games difficult to stomach. I plan on writing a longer review for Fallout 4 later in the year, as it’s been years. It deserves another chance.
Continuing the Bethesda trend, I want to bring up their biggest title, Skyrim. Their 2011 behemoth continues to sell like hotcakes, with all sorts of ports. We have three different versions with a recent Anniversary upgrade which bundles all their controversial Creation Club content into one package, and it’s on the Switch. They keep reselling and repackaging it, and it seems to work: for all Skyrim’s problems, it keeps on trucking.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim still reigns supreme as the RPG I’ve put the most time into, with over 300 hours on the Xbox 360 version and over 500 hours total on PC, although most of this is with mods. Most of this time was with the original Skyrim version, though I put plenty of hours into the more stable Special Edition. I put an additional 80 hours into the excellent total conversion mod Enderal: Forgotten Stories, which is such a good version of the game that many people prefer it to Skyrim’s base experience. While I largely agree, I’m one of those people who to this day, believe Skyrim gets a bit too much hate these days. Yes, it’s shallow, with significant issues plaguing it like bugs, questionable story design and weaker quests than its predecessors. For all the faults Oblivion and Morrowind had, I was more invested in their many stories.
Skyrim suffers from a rough plot and weaker questlines. The College of Winterhold questline still reigns as one of the worst I’ve ever played. I had a lot of enjoyment with the expansions, however. I find Dawngard and Dragonborn a blast to play even to this day, even if they pale to the Shivering Isles expansion for Oblivion.
Like Fallout 4, I’ve found Skyrim to be a perfect ‘junk food’ game. With over 800 hours in the game, it used to be one of my favorite games ever made, and there’s a great amount of interaction with the world; fully animated and physical items in the game world to move around, great music and a sandbox to do anything you want. A decade on, there is still a woeful shortage of role-playing titles on the market which pull off what the Elder Scrolls series can. Skyrim is deeply, deeply flawed, but to this day, Skyrim has a permanent home on any system I use. There’s just something about it.
I still highly recommend using mods with it. I hate Skyrim’s base interface.
The final game I’ll cover today is Pokemon Sword and Shield. They received a fairly bad consumer reception, even if they ended up being some of the best selling games in the franchise. For such a gargantuan series, that’s impressive in itself. Sword and Shield were the first major Pokemon titles for the Nintendo Switch, after the Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee games saw solid success. I rather enjoyed Let’s Go in spite of its odd mechanics, and they are decent, if unspectacular remakes of the first generation. If you can get them on discount, I recommend them.
For Game Freak’s first major title after jumping from the 3DS, I have to admit I was put off. Sword and Shield had plenty of controversy: The lack of a full Pokedex, poor route design, no improvements to animations, weird game choices and weak graphics made for no shortage of things to nit-pick. I found the routes uninspiring, not helped by the terrible draw distance. I know the Nintendo Switch is underpowered, but seeing poorly drawn trees pop up into existence as if driving in heavy fog. The lack of difficulty, while always a problem in the Pokemon series, didn’t help matters, especially when the EXP Share option can’t even be turned off. I got around this by experimenting with a few dozen Pokemon, rotating team members out constantly to test them out, but I always prefer a toggle. If Generation 7 could have good difficulty, it can be repeated.
I picked up Sword during the first big lockdowns in 2020, and while I found the game uninspired, I still enjoyed my time with them. I loved the new Pokemon designs, and even with the lack of full Pokedex at launch, there is a huge variety of Pokemon to catch and train; the wild area and Max Raid mechanics gave me plenty of things to do. The gym leader challenge is incredibly well designed, with characters who I cared about. Even if the poor writing, I found the cast surprisingly solid. While they aren’t up to par with Sun and Moon/Black and White, they are still underrated. At least they are better than the characters in Pokemon X and Y. I can’t even remember anyone from those games!
While the expansion pass was a strange change from Game Freak’s usual ‘let’s make a third, slightly different version’, I ended up liking both the Isle of Armor and Crown Tundra DLC. They had some great ideas that fixed several of the main game’s problems.
Pokemon Scarlet and Violet are due for a November 2022 release. After the immense satisfaction I had with Pokemon Legends: Arceus, I’m keeping tentative hopes for this one. I hope for Game Freak’s sake they improve on Sword and Shield in many ways, but time will tell. It’s still going to sell millions, no matter what.