[Warning: Story spoilers for Fallout 4 follow]
Like everyone else on Earth, I've been playing a ton of Fallout 4. In fact, I probably played it too much last year. I lived and breathed that game. Hour upon hour was spent exploring the bronzed Boston wastes, wondering what adventure I'd stumble upon next.
For even longer I scavenged for scrap – searching every nook and cranny in the hopes of striking lucky – finding enough copper to wire up that new light installation that my shanty town version of Fort Independence sorely needed. Times were good. Just myself, my companion Dogmeat, and the open road. In hindsight, I was a fool. It was never going to last.
I could only delay the inevitable so long, and I was right. I had to sacrifice my own narrative to finish Bethesda's – find my partner's killer, take revenge and save my son.
I didn't want any of that. By then, I'd carved out a happy existence in the wasteland, but I'd stretched things to breaking point, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to convince myself that my survivor would rather make home improvements than find his long-lost family.
I mean, he just wouldn't shut up about that kid.
This is Fallout 4's biggest problem – and one Bethesda must acknowledge. It's obvious from the start that Bethesda pulled out all the stops to give Fallout 4 a main quest worthy of the silver screen. The broken family, a dead spouse and stolen son, the shocking twists and turns forcing you to make unthinkable choices.
It's all there, wrapped up in a layer of explosive action, grandiose set pieces and finely tuned gunplay. In principle, I can see why the team felt compelled to up the ante this time around. They wanted to give us, the fans, something bigger, something better: a fully fleshed-out tale worthy of legend.
In the end, what they ended up giving us was an unnecessary distraction that only drags us away from Fallout 4's real main event: the Commonwealth itself.
In fact, the more "progress" you make in Fallout 4's main quest, the more content gets snatched away. Want to work with the Brotherhood or Railroad? Best not side with your Synth-hating son, then. Fancy finding out what the deal is with that gigantic blimp the Brotherhood call home, or why the Railroad are intent on saving androids? Well, you might want to wait before you help the Institute out with literally anything.
Rather than opening new doors as the main quest progresses, allowing us to explore even more of the fascinating world they worked so hard to create, Bethesda seems intent to only shut them behind us, teasing us with glimpses of worlds unknown before locking them away forever.
During my playthrough things got so bad that I felt the need to run my choices through the Fallout wiki to make sure what I was about to do wouldn't burn any bridges. Immersive, right?
I know that so far, this has probably read as a hate-piece. A furious rant slamming Bethesda for daring to try and give us a narrative-driven experience. This is not that. The only reason I wish Bethesda would do away with the main quest altogether, or at least scale things back in that regard, is because none of its games are better for it.
Instead of asking us to make choices that will eventually push us down certain unforeseen paths, locking us out of quest lines we didn't even know existed, Bethesda should give us a blank slate, a wasteland wanderer with no agenda, except that of their own survival.
Indeed, the studio's biggest strength is in telling stories beyond the dialogue, through the world itself. A nuanced art mastered through years of practice. That's what sets them apart in the open world market.
No-one, and I mean no-one, has ever bought a Bethesda game to burn through the main quest. We buy them to lose ourselves in their unique worlds, full of a richness it's almost impossible to find anywhere else.
One memorable moment from Fallout 4 didn't involve me taking down the Institute with an A-bomb, fighting a Deathclaw in power armor, or going toe-to-toe with a super mutant behemoth. It was simply a chance encounter, a routine stop during a scavenging run.
I was searching for supplies in a signal tower by the side of a railroad, I noticed a trapdoor in the floor. Spurred on by the thought of even more scrap – perhaps, a treasure trove of desk fans and hotplates – I opened it up.
There was no junk. Instead, a woman strewn across a flatbed trolley. Dead.
A brushed steel lamp illuminated her lifeless body, and as I surveyed the scene I realised I'd wandered into a makeshift torture chamber. The bruises on her face and the blunt instruments around her answering every one of the questions that raced through my mind a second ago.
That, right there, was one of the finest, most convincing pieces of storytelling I encountered in Fallout 4. A sobering, organic moment that lingers in the mind and tells me everything I need to know about the world I now inhabit.
Moments like those are the reason I can't wait to lose myself in Bethesda's gorgeous, comical, haunting worlds time and time again; they're the reason Fallout 4 was one of the best games I played last year; and ultimately, they're the reason Bethesda needs to stop with the forced Hollywood narratives and focus on what it does best.