This weekend, someone at Microsoft posted the details of Fallout 4's install size to its Xbox.com product page, and portions of the internet collectively mused about what it all meant. A representative from Bethesda would not confirm the page listing's veracity with Polygon, but as of now, the information remains visible on Xbox.com.
We're in an era of massive install sizes, huge day-one patches, and frantic shuffling of the default Xbox One and PlayStation 4 storage space of 500 GB, as players make hard choices about what to keep and what can go. There's an expectation that big games will be, well, big.
The question obviously is: Should Fallout fans worry?
Fallout 4 is 28.12 GB on Xbox One. But Grand Theft Auto 5 is 49 GB on Xbox One (and 16 GB on Xbox 360). That's huge! That's 21 (ish) GB bigger than Fallout 4! Even Destiny is 30 GB on Xbox One (and Xbox 360, according to its Xbox.com page), a game that's somewhat notorious for not having a lot of content.
But these are bad comparisons to make.
Bethesda Game Studios has consistently worked to optimize the footprint of its games. In 2006, there was some controversy over whether The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion would fit on an Xbox 360 disc after the announcement of the PlayStation 3's Blu-ray drive. At launch, Oblivion was 5.87 GB, sitting comfortably within the space constraints of a DVD. Bethesda didn't have any problems with Fallout 3 two years later, a game that was much larger than Oblivion that nonetheless took marginally less hard drive space at 5.48 GB. Three years after that, Bethesda released its biggest game yet with Skyrim ... which launched with an install footprint of 3.68 GB (coincidentally, the Windows PC version was more or less the same size).
Bethesda's brand of open-world exploration and discovery employs a clever method of repurposing assets and building a world from a pool of objects, and the company has only gotten better at that over time. The suggestion based on pre-release information is that Fallout 4's post-apocalyptic Boston is several times larger than the base map of Skyrim.
My questions pertain to more specific issues than the "will Fallout 4 be too short/small/inadequate" anxiety I'm detecting in the wake of these revelations. One of the biggest culprits behind ballooning game install sizes this generation is higher-bitrate audio (which can account for much more than half of the file size of some titles). Does this mean Fallout 4's audio is compressed, if there's much more content than Skyrim? Does it mean textures are over-compressed? Is too small a pool of assets reused?
The simple answer: I have no idea, and there's no way to know from a number removed from context. 28 GB means nothing, right now, because there's no way to know how Bethesda is using that install footprint.
This console generation has been plagued by a new kind of spec war, where fans take numbers and throw them at each other in an attempt to find a superior position — how many lines of resolution, how many frames. Those numbers can matter, for sure. But that depends entirely on how the developer uses them. The file size of every Bethesda Game Studios release of the last 10 years added together is "smaller" than Fallout 4's install size, which tells us that we still don't really know anything about how long Fallout 4 is, or how big it is. The only way we're going to find out is once someone who doesn't work for Bethesda plays it.
A representative from Bethesda declined to comment on Fallout 4's install size, but said the company would release console and PC requirements for the game at a later date.