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I'm afraid to play Fallout 4

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Don't get me wrong, I'm going to play Fallout 4.

I've been waiting for the game since I finished Fallout 3 in 2009, though I've returned to it repeatedly over the years. I even played through the game a second time on PC, dealing with Games For Windows in an attempt to chase some of that initial satisfaction.

2008 was a year with some pretty big games — Gears of War 2, Dead Space, Left 4 Dead, Fable 2 and plenty of others (along with the launch of some stupid movie streaming service on Xbox 360 called ... Netflix, I think?). I loved all of those games for different reasons. But Fallout 3 was special.

It helps that it came along at a specific time in my life. In October of 2008, I was drifting. The political landscape was tumultuous and I knew I was only a couple of months from losing my contracting gig at a dotcom in San Francisco, and I also knew I probably wasn't going to have an easy time finding another job after that. But worse — in my head — I had allowed someone back into my life after they had broken my heart a year earlier in one of the worst ways I had ever experienced, and almost as quickly as things rekindled, they ended. Poorly.

I wanted someplace to hide, and Fallout 3 was perfect

It all looks pretty minor from seven years down the road. I've had plenty of other breakups since then, and this year has been difficult as well. But at the time, it was overwhelming, and the only thing I wanted to think about was ... well. Nothing, actually. I didn't want to think about anything. I wanted someplace to hide from my mid-20s angst.

Fallout 3 was perfect.

The wonder of discovery

No one captures the wonder of discovery in their games the way Bethesda does, and that doesn't just go for Fallout. I earned a thousand achievement points in Oblivion, and in 2011 my fixation on Skyrim became a little unhealthy, though I was thankfully (?) single-ish at the time. But neither of those games (or Obsidian's work on Fallout: New Vegas) hit me the way Fallout 3 did.

There was so much happening in Fallout 3's world beyond the conceit of the post-apocalypse. There was a sense of not just history, but a dimly recognizable alternate American history, where the '60s sci-fi future happened, and everything was destroyed anyway. Looking at the ultimate failure of an alternate future through the nuclear paranoia of the time period it calls back to was so incredibly loaded.

Fallout 3 also managed a casual poignancy that no other open world game I've played has. It was full of snapshots of death and sadness — skeletons in a closet holding each other when the nuclear fire swept through; computer journals glibly describing the ways in which technology would go on to betray its makers. It felt like a place where people were, before they suddenly weren't anymore. And then to see the struggle of people building a life on the remains of that world, sometimes successfully, sometimes not, was intense.

Fallout 3 was a game that in so many ways dealt with death and loss and moving on

There was plenty of silly shit in Fallout 3, of course. But it was also a game that in so many ways dealt with death and loss and moving on. It was a sledgehammer of a metaphor for me as someone who had graduated from college and was looking, desperately, for a means to build a life with an education that was seemingly more mis-aimed as the days passed. I know how maudlin that sounds! But hindsight is helpful to give me perspective now, I guess.

Now, I'm coming off of a year that involved a painful breakup and other personal challenges, as well as the death of my father in September. I don't know if I need an escape the same way I did then, but I think I would still value one.

But how could Fallout 4 possibly live up to all of that? It's an enormous, undue amount of pressure to place on a game that's releasing years later. It's not fair, obviously, and though I am reviewing it, I will be aggressively managing my perspective because I know where I was and where I am are different. I'm a little afraid that Fallout 4 can't possibly live up to even those carefully modulated expectations.

I'm damned sure going to find out, though.

Fallout 4: Trailer