War… war never changes. Unless it’s in VR.
This week saw Bethesda Softworks finally announce what has to be one of the most anticipated titles in some time; Fallout 4. Yes, the developer of The Elder Scrolls series is heading back to the wasteland to bring fans more bandit-fighting, Nuka cap-trading, mutant avoiding adventures from everyone’s favourite post-apocalyptic universe. This is the first title from the developer since 2011’s The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and its debut on both PlayStation 4 and Xbox One along with the expected PC version. A wide range of new features and improvements are expected as a result, and wouldn’t it be great if virtual reality (VR) was one of them?
HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus head-mounted display (HMD) support would be more than welcome on the PC and PlayStation 4 iterations of Fallout 4. This is a series that paints an uncompromising picture of the nuclear fallout, with decimated landscapes that are littered with rusty metals, crumbled buildings and the bones of those not strong enough to survive it. Exploring this world in VR in first-person could be one of the most powerful experiences that the technology has yet seen. Bethesda Softworks is known for its richly-detailed, expansive open worlds and we expect Fallout 4 to be no different. One of the joys of VR in its early stage is exploration and no one but no one does it better than this studio.
It also appears that players will get to explore the events leading up to this grim nuclear winter this time around. The reveal trailer above shows a number of sections in which players make their way to one of the many vaults that will serve as their home for many years to come as the world tears itself apart. Being able to experience the panic and tragedy of this situation may be something we never want to experience in real life, but it could make for incredibly powerful VR setting.
Companionship also forms a big part of this franchise, with players able to gather a party of faithful – if more than a little strange – allies. VR helps players to grow stronger bonds with a videogame’s characters by helping them to believe that they are actually standing in a room with them and not through the window of a TV screen. Making eye contact with these party members (however many eyes they might have) and holding proper conversations with them could bring us closer to them than ever before. The trailer hints that the protagonist will have his own voice, making this entirely possible. Traditionally, these characters have done as they pleased when it came to combat, but in VR they could be issued much more detailed orders to help the team fight as one.
And, of course, who could forget Dogmeat? The ever-loyal mutt has featured in every main entry in this series since its beginning and, judging from this week’s reveal trailer, it looks as if either he or some other helpful canine will be accompanying us once more. The bond that players can form with Dogmeat in any entry in this series is simply one of the strongest that they will grow throughout their gaming careers. VR presents an opportunity to grow even closer with the loveable sidekick. Imagine setting up a camp for the night, waking up in the morning to find him lying at your feet, or petting him on the head as he happily retrieves the throat of a bandit stupid enough to challenge you.
One of the most iconic features of the Fallout series is the Pip Boy, a wrist-mounted device that displays player’s personal information. This is already a perfect example of how to make a user interface for VR, having a menu and stats exist within the world itself rather than plastered on the front of the screen, which is an easy way to pull players out of the experience. From here players could perhaps also command the Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System (V.A.T.S.) system, which aims to add depth to the combat experience by allowing for strategic aiming that’s success depends on the player’s levels.
Admittedly this is a feature that has struggled to make it into more recent additions of the franchise, but VR could help it feel much more at home. Imagine coming into contact with a Radscorpion and, instead of randomly opening fire at it in hopes of striking a killing blow, bringing up the Pip Boy, assessing the battlefield, carefully selecting a weak point and taking aim. The device’s screen could even present the battle in the top-down view that was used in the original two entries from Interplay Productions, something that would surely please purists.
Fallout‘s return is easily one of the most anticipated events in the videogame industry right now. It’s a longshot to say the least, but the franchise seems to be the perfect fit for VR at this stage. We may have to wait until next time, but this is one world that we long to discover in VR.