I didn’t want to believe that Fallout 4, the sequel to one of my favorite games of all time, wasn’t really doing it for me. So, like any rational person, I made myself miserable trying to convince myself that I was having A Really Great Time.
I think it’s happened to us all at some point or another: a game you’ve idolized from afar finally comes out, and you’re ready to make sloppy, unfettered love to it with your eyes and hands and hopefully only those things. You boot it up and brace yourself for magic.
Hours pass. Magic still hasn’t happened. This is... unexpected. That is when you begin your Dante-esque multi-stage descent into a very unique sort of madness: disappointment.
Stage One: The Sinking Feeling
You are playing what should be the game of the century. You watched, you waited. In spite of yourself and your best efforts, you bought into the egregiously over-manufactured hype. (YOU DIDN’T PREORDER, THOUGH.)
But it’s just not clicking. This stage can best be summed up as, “Something’s wrong” or perhaps, “I feel a disturbance in The Force.” The second one is especially apt if you were disappointed by the new Star Wars movie.
Stage Two: It’s Not You, It’s Me
This stage is pretty similar to bargaining, one of the five stages of grief—you know, that thing people experience when somebody dies.
When I first realized that Fallout 4 didn’t have its hooks in my very essence, I figured that, you know, maybe I was just doing something wrong. Surely I’d managed to bungle my way right past all the interesting stuff and into the game’s (comparatively small, I hoped) handful of generic, predictable locations. Of course that’s what happened. Classic Nathan, am I right? What a buffoon.
Know what else? I probably built my character poorly. I mean, obviously. A focus on strength and melee combat, for my first character in a new Bethesda Fallout game? I was clearly asking for it—even though on some level I knew that Fallout 4 would eventually let me spec my character build into every specialization, and that lack of consequence (or indeed, authentic weakness) was one of the things that made me experience the sinking feeling in the first place.
So yeah, it was my bad. Obviously. Re-rolling my character and exploring new locations would fix everything. Of this, I was certain.
Stage Three: Fooling Yourself
Everything I did in stage two worked! I am now satisfied with my decision to sink upwards of 40 hours into this game and not play numerous other, smaller games or finally finished The Witcher 3. Thank goodness.
I mean, sure, maybe Fallout 4’s factions are kinda boring and there are no characters as interesting as Fallout 3’s Tenpenny or Fallout: New Vegas’ House or Caesar’s Legion or really any of the tribes (let alone anyone from Fallout 2), and yeah, the interface is godawful, and OK, the main story ending could’ve been way better, and fine, it’s littered with the blanched bones of a far more interesting game, and alright, the dialogue system is needlessly vague and renders persuasion nearly useless, and yes, it’s full of stressful junk, and fair enough, there’s I guess a chance I could get hit by a car while playing it.
The combat’s way, way better, though. So much better. So it’s all good. Everything is good. I am not wading into another random factory and bracing myself for yet another terminal story that doesn’t really go anywhere, and I’m certainly not emerging from a vault thinking, “Goddamn it, that was so close to being a heartbreaking story of human passion and scientific distance clashing like dysfunctional lovers, but it rushed to conclusion that wasn’t really, well, conclusive.” Go away, rising wellspring of negative feelings. Go!
Stage Four: Reluctant Acknowledgment
Shit, I’m pretty disappointed, aren’t I? And yet, every spare second I have, I keep booting this game up hoping to find some small, almost intangible spark—something that’ll reignite the torch I carried for so long.
Maybe I’ll just... maybe I’ll just go stay at my mom’s for a weekend. Or a whole week. No, video game, this isn’t the end. Calm down, calm down. I just need to think for a bit, is all.
Stage Five: Acceptance OR Rejection
The final stage can go one of two ways: either you accept the game for what it is—despite the fact that it didn’t live up to what you wanted it to be—or you give up and lower your expectations associated with every future feeling of childlike excitement accordingly. Sometimes it comes down to exactly how much the game disappointed you. Other times, it’s a matter of taking a long, hard look at what you’re playing and asking yourself, “Am I having fun? Is this game, despite the broken heart it’s given me, at least decent?”
The disappointment probably won’t go away, but you can still accept a game (or anything else, for that matter) on its own terms. For what it’s worth, I’m finding Fallout 4 to be a fun post-apocalyptic action romp—a series of intriguing combat encounters that I can approach with an increasingly Pentagon-esque arsenal of gadgets and tactics. I’ve taken to attempting to punch every enemy in the game off the top of some sort of building. I laugh every time it happens.
But let’s say you find a disappointing game that you simply can’t accept, not even on its own terms. Plenty of other games (not to mention movies, albums, events, and even people) disappointed me last year. It was, unfortunately, an unusually fertile year in disappointment’s sordid soils. Seeking similar thrills from similar games and events and things ultimately yields diminishing returns. I remember listening to new albums from bands that were once formative—fucking foundational—for me and thinking, “What happened?” I remember visiting longtime friends and family only to find that we’d grown apart, that reminiscing about old gags and escapades just left me longing for new ones. That in mind, though, disappointment is an opportunity. Find new stuff. Love it more than you ever loved the thing that ultimately disappointed you. There are tons of weird, interesting games out there. Try them. Sleep less. Stop eating. Teach your dog to take care of itself, then you. TRY THEM ALL. Eventually, you’ll find a winner.
Bonus Stage: Pray For Mods To Make Everything Amazing
Modders are crazy. They’ve already added a million things (including longtime Skyrim BFFs Macho Man Randy Savage and Thomas The Tank Engine) to Fallout 4, and they don’t even have Bethesda’s official creation kit yet. In a year or two, it will probably be a totally different game. Is this hope I’m feeling, or is it self-delusion ? It’s tough to say. I’ve found that both spring eternal.