Fallout 4's Nuka-World sticks too rigidly to the tracks

Raiders of the lost park.

By Kirk McKeand. Published 1 September 2016

"Too many folk these days count on violence to solve their problems. You only have to look around to see where that got us," declares my android companion, Nick Valentine, as I turn another raider's face into crimson mush. He's right, of course. Still, there's nothing to be done - nobody's feeling chatty and I don't want to become a red smear on a post-apocalyptic dodgem.

Nuka-World is Fallout 4's final story DLC. Taking you to a dilapidated theme park filled with fizzy drink mascots, rusty rides and bloodthirsty raiders, this expansion lets you embrace your dark side, becoming a raider overboss and sending your crews out to pillage, maim and murder, even if that involves trampling your own settlements. Seeya, Marcy Long.

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In this way at least, it's been a long time coming. One of the recurring complaints about Fallout 4 is how it forces you to be the hero - though possibly one who is a bit of a dick. Sure, you can side with whatever faction you empathise with - as a dad, this decision came easy - but each believes they are doing the right thing, and for the good of the Commonwealth. Nuka-World goes in the complete opposite direction; if you're role-playing as someone noble, your only real option is to walk away.

There are problems, however, and they cut to the core of the game. From stripped-back dialogue options to the streamlining of the Perks system, Fallout 4 is certainly leaner than its predecessors. After 100 hours of exploring the glowing wastes, ramshackle towns and enemy-filled dungeons of the main game, these simplifications begin to seem like limitations. Nuka-World is Bethesda's last chance to deliver something experimental with Fallout 4, but instead the developer plays it safe and, in the process, forgets what makes the series great.

It won't fill that Megaton-crater in your heart, but you can still be pretty bad.

Nuka-World opens with a gauntlet - a series of traps laid out by the theme park's raider residents. Your first interaction with this new world is violence, as you battle your way through a maze of gun turrets, mines and jury-rigged deathtraps. You fight or you die. This is to become a theme.

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The first room you enter is filled with turrets. There's no side route for the stealthy, and there's no terminal to hack for the technically-specced. Let's hope you turned up with more than high charisma and a winning smile! Considering the breadth of choice available in other series entries and, indeed, even modern Fallout's inspirations, the lack of choice here is more disappointing than a post-apocalyptic Ferris wheel ride.

"No other game had as much influence on Fallout 3 than Deus Ex did," revealed Fallout 3 lead designer Emil Pagliarulo in a 2010 interview with RPS. He was talking, I think, about the kind of RPG that allows you to wallow in choice. Even Skyrim, which simplified The Elder Scrolls to a similar extent to Fallout 4, had flashes of that trademark emergent play. Placing buckets over shopkeeper's heads so I could rob them blind was a personal highlight; this is a genre that should be able to make you feel like you broke the rules with your solution to a given problem.

Meanwhile, Nuka-World's opening reduces everything to allowing you to bypass some traps if you have a high lockpick skill. Beyond that, which weapons you brought in and which weapon perks you have are the only choices this DLC respects.

Nuka-World itself is beautifully crafted, but it's just set dressing.

And this never really changes. The trap gauntlet ends with a dull boss fight. An NPC tells you exactly how to fight them as you rummage through a room filled with supplies just before the encounter. You know the type of room - the ones you remember from the olden days. There's a fusion core in here; you loot it and it powers down the boss's shield by 30 percent. The NPC congratulates you for being clever. Problem is, this isn't a conscious decision - you're just looting out of habit. There's nothing clever about it.

Beyond all that, there are five sections of the park that you have to clear out, each filled with reskinned versions of enemies you fight in the main game. Bethesda has built this wonderful playground full of distinct zones, each with its own flavour, and then the developer filled them with things to shoot. There aren't any meaningful choices to make, beyond which of the three raider factions you want to hand land off to when you've murdered everything inside. Even then, the consequences of these choices are purely cosmetic.

Where did this focus on straight-ahead blasting come from? In the lead-up to release, Fallout 4 director Todd Howard spoke openly about the game's Destiny influences. It's also widely known that Doom developer id Software helped tune this RPG's shooting mechanics. There's no denying the gunplay is Fallout 4's biggest area of improvement, but this polish seems to have nudged it away from Fallout 3's immersive sim inspirations, and that's a huge shame.

With Nuka-World releasing in the same month as Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, you can't help but mourn the loss of the game that could have been. If you want to be the bad guy, Nuka-World is still worthy of your time, but it could have been an essential send-off for one of last year's highlights - if only it stopped using Fallout 4's guns as a crutch.

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