An Open Letter to Bethesda Game Studios from a Humble Fanboy, Concerning the “Contraptions” DLC

Dear Bethesda Game Studios,

Let me start by making my position clear: I LOVE YOU GUYS. You have given me two of my favorite games of all time, and you can bet your bottom bottlecap that Fallout 4 is one of them. This letter is not meant to be abrasive, mean, or to otherwise throw shade in your direction. I merely want to ask some questions, knowing that in all likelihood I won’t receive answers. But if Socrates has taught me anything, aside from that I know nothing about everything, it’s that I should ask questions anyway, even if there is no clear answer.

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That said, let’s talk about your Contraptions DLC. This feels the most ‘unlike’ you so far, and I can’t really see the point to it. I enjoy building my settlements, but I do so either for role-playing reasons (e.g. literally rebuilding the Commonwealth), or as way stations to give me a safe haven when I need to rest, repair, and resupply. Do I indulge in a little trophy building? Sure. You should see my Power Armor museum in Sanctuary. Boy, is it ever self-aggrandizing.

But what I don’t want is to build just for the sake of building or to see what ‘clever’ things I can cook up using Settlement mode. This is what perplexes me so much about Contraptions: it seems that this is for players who couldn’t give two shakes about the game’s story and just want to use the game as high-res version of Minecraft. A lot of thought and energy went into things like the ball tracks, new switches, mortars, and logic gates, etc.

Why? (No really, that wasn’t rhetorical. I really want to know why.) Was there that much call for it? Is this just for Twitch and streaming players to show off?

What’s more, those things that do appeal to a more utilitarian player like myself seem oddly executed or not thought out completely. Some of them really have me baffled, because this is not like you. Even though Wasteland Workshop was panned by some, we still got fusion generators, concrete structures, and the contamination arch out of the deal, which I have made extensive use of in my Survival run.

Maybe you’ve spoiled me, but I’m used to your products being polished and well reasoned, maybe a little buggy sometimes, but I am pretty forgiving on that last score. Contraptions, however, feels more than a bit frustrating. Thus begins my list of questions to you:

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Workshop Link-up? — Was there some reason we couldn’t link manufacturing machines up to our Settlement’s Workbench? Carting resources back and forth, and worse yet, scrolling through hundreds of items trying to find items that contain fiberglass is a bit of a pain. I’m not sure why this couldn’t work like armor and weapon workbenches, that draw resources directly from the main workbench’s pool. If you were worried about accidentally depleting certain resources, particularly if you have supply lines to other settlements, could we have set a limit for our factories to produce? So, a Vault-tec lunchbox costs 3 steel. I could potentially make 10,000 of them, but I don’t want to utterly deplete my steel reserves, so I instead a put on cap of 50 on the production run. It prints off 50 and then stops, regardless of how many more it could create.

Factory Automation? — Why are factories limited to producing goods only when I’m present in the settlement? Isn’t the point of automation that it does its thing while you’re away, so you can come back and collect? It is cool to watch the conveyor belts and all, but when I’m creating 30 sets of 2mm EM cartridges, I don’t necessarily need — or want — to watch them roll off the assembly line. I know that settlements do at least some resource bookkeeping while I’m away, so wouldn’t it make sense for this to be a part of it?

Dress Dummies/Weapon Racks — I hope I don’t sound like an ingrate when I say this, so here goes: why are we just now getting these? I’ve been wanting to display weapons and armor since the game premiered in November. So, why did you wait until the fourth DLC to finally give them to us? Not to make too many comparisons here, but Skyrim had this in the base game. Also, what gives with the ‘corkboard’ weapon displays using so much space to display just one weapon? The game’s title sequence shows several weapons and add-ons together in a fairly tight area. Is there no way to be a little economical with the wall space?

Fireworks – Misc Tab — Was it necessary to have these guys live on the ‘Misc’ tab of the inventory, instead of, say, the Weapons tab? The Misc tab is likely the longest of all of them. It’s not too bad to scroll down to ‘F’ for ‘Fireworks,’ but it is quite a chore to scroll down to ‘W’ for ‘Weather Control’ whenever I want to get rid of a rad storm.

Armor Forge — Okay, this is a big one. Why would you randomize the armor pieces that are produced? Why can I not specify that I want the right leg of Sturdy Combat armor? Or the left arm or Heavy Leather armor? Why can’t I tell the machine exactly what I want on the terminal? It feels like the cost in terms of resources is the equivalent of convenience store prices for an unmodified piece of armor, so why must I then waste even more resources waiting for it to produce a full set? You see, I wanted to build a museum of the different armor types because they look so cool and distinctive. Doing so is surprisingly difficult and wasteful with the armor forge as it stands, when it should just be point-and-click.

Also, where is the Synth armor? Or the Trapper armor from Far Harbor? Or the Robot Armor from Automatron? It feels like if you have completed these DLCs you should be able to produce those armor types as well. Possibly more than other aspect of Contraptions, the Armor Forge is the one that leaves me scratching my head. Honestly, how did all this get past you? Surely, you didn’t make it almost unusable on purpose, right?

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Mark it on my map, will you?

Ammunition Plant — In contrast, the Ammunition Plant is perhaps the most useful thing I’ve found in this DLC. It fills a gap that seems long overdue. I use a Gauss Rifle, so ammo is always rare, and this allows me to do something about it. But I have to ask…why are there ammo types missing from the line-up? We’re already paying a premium cost in terms of resources to use this, so where are the mini-nukes? The rockets? The fusion cells? The flamer fuel? Heck, where are the railway spikes? Those are literally iron or steel spikes. Why were those ammo types left out, along with many others?

Food Processor — I think I can sum up my confusion with this facet in just one word: Cram. It takes mongrel dog meat, Brahmin meat, and radstag meat to make a single Cram. In terms of healing, each component is comparable or far better than the end product, and the bonus 25 to carry weight for grilled radstag is really too valuable to waste. Why would I do this for anything other than novelty purposes? I don’t understand. The same could be said of the Builder. Other than the Vault-tec lunchbox, why would I want to pay more to produce a teddy bear/Jangles the Moon Monkey/etc. than what I can scrap it for?

Explosives Mill — Maybe I’m missing something here, but we could already make explosives at the Chemistry station. If automation is not a thing, why would I use choose to produce grenades at the Explosives Mill and receive no XP for it, when I could just as easily do it at the Chemistry station gain XP for every one? You basically gave us something we already had, though with no XP reward and more complicated. What gives?

Autoloom — It’s interesting to be able to make new, clean clothing. I like putting my settlers in new clothes rather than the rags they rolled in wearing. Still, and this seems like a no-brainer, but where is the ability to make Vault-Tec jumpsuits? It would be so cool to make jumpsuits from any of the vaults that we’ve visited, even ones like Vault 118 that didn’t have a jumpsuit you could pick up. That’s an iconic part of the game, so why was this overlooked?

Okay, so I could go on and on, but those are the major points. If you’ve stuck with me, kudos to you. Now let me hit you up with my wish list of things I’d like to see for settlements and general gameplay convenience. Submitted for your consideration:

More Reasons to Have/Make Settlements in the First Place — My first run through I built all sorts of stuff in more than 20 of the settlements, and I tried to make sure I built each one with the idea that people would actually live there. Much of it was just RP, of course, but it dawned on me that there was really no point other than to have them as a convenient place for various workbenches, to store stuff, and to sleep. Settlements take on a whole new dimension in Survival mode, but with a lack of fast-travel abilities, it’s better to never set up that recruitment beacon. If there are no settlers, they don’t get attacked at random intervals.

To me, settlements should be more than just blank canvasses to build wacky or over-the-top stuff, they should have some reason for being. Right now, they really don’t.  Even if you set up a robust set of shops, it takes far too much effort, perks, and caps to get them going properly, and even longer for them to start making money to justify their existence. If caps are what you want, you can do more with a couple of perks in Fortune Finder and then just wandering the wasteland.

So why not give us something in Settlement mode that we can’t get anywhere else? Say there’s a key ingredient in something we want that only grows at one or two farms. What if one settlement had a power switching station that could provide power to settlements around it, using the existing and still-standing power lines, if you made extensive repairs? What if there were Settlement perks that we get if we bootstrap the Commonwealth back up to a certain point? Not just achievements, but something worthwhile, like unlockable upgrades that benefit the player personally, but also help the settlements out. Really, what I’m trying to say is here is: give us an incentive to care about these settlements beyond just the basics.

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You made it this far? You are awesomely awesome with that unmistakable air of mystery and danger! Read on!

Fixed Level 4 Vendors — Speaking of the shop system, could we get a fix for Level 4 vendors? Smiling Larry and the Scribe continue to be bugged beyond repair. I play on the Xbox One, so I don’t have the console commands to teleport them to my location. And really, I shouldn’t have to. This has been a problem since day one, and none of the patches have thus-far fixed this.

New Unique Items — If you can get the top tier vendors to work correctly, it seems that they have only a single piece of unique gear in their inventory. If you want to spice things up for a workshop DLC, how about giving us new unique items in all of the named vendors, across the Commonwealth? Perhaps this is a tall order, but it might give us a reason to revisit some of the guys that are no longer really relevant just to see what they have.

Named/Unique Settlers — You guys are all about immersive play, which I adore. So when I have to sort through 20+ men and women who are just called ‘Settler’ it gets a little stale after a while. Why not give us the ability to name them ourselves, or have them come with randomized names (or both)? Also, it would be great to find unique settlers that did something extra. I wooed Sheffield to my side with a Nuka Cola, but he does not do anything more than any other settler. Maybe we find a badass mercenary who alone raises the our defense score by 25 or more, or a gardener that can tend far more food than normal, or make it produce more often. Perhaps there’s a negotiator that brings prices down in whatever settlement he’s assigned to, or a chef that improves the quality of the food that you bring to him. The possibilities are endless here, and you haven’t even scratched the surface of it.

Permanent Item Placement — This goes back to a gripe of mine about Skyrim. I would like to place objects on tables or shelves and have them stay there. I don’t want to leave and come back and find my carefully placed items on the ground or knocked over. Again, this goes back to immersion. Let us set up a bar with a myriad of different bottles, or place sentimental items together without them going all over the place.

An “Opt Out” Clause for Settlement Attacks — My version of Sanctuary Hills has a defense of over 300. Only the wildest, most unthinking beast or the most stupid Super Mutants would ever consider attacking it. Yet, Raiders, Gunners, and the Brotherhood do, even though it’s suicide. Perhaps they will slightly damage a few of my turrets before they are cut down, but it makes no sense and is just sort of mindless. Plus, Settlement attacks have the worst timing. I once got a notice that Tenpines was under attack just as I was going through Kellogg’s memories. Sorry, Tenpines…it’ll be a minute before I can make it. Another was Oberland Station while I was deep in the depths of the Mechanist’s Lair. Ugh. In Survival Mode, it really sucks to hear that the Abernathy Farm is under attack when I’m hanging out at the Castle. So, give us the option of either turning that functionality off, or give us some in-story way to avoid or stop it. Pretty please, with sugar on top.

Sort Items In the Order They Are Picked Up — This is more of a convenience thing, but while I’m wishing, here you go. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve picked up a holo-tape and then can’t find it again because I don’t remember the name. It gets lost in the tons of keys, notes, and other miscellany of that tab. Is it possible to get a sorting protocol that can show me the last thing I picked up? Even if it’s only for the ‘Misc’ tab, that would be a HUGE help.

Increased Stability in Survival Mode — Again, nothing to do with settlements, but just for my own sanity. I’ve noticed a dramatic uptick in game-terminating bugs while playing on Survival mode. Since you have limited save points to beds (and for some reason you can’t carry a bedroll around with you), nothing chaps this player’s hide like getting through a long section of the game, where there are no beds to save along the way, only to have the game freeze up before I can save. Too much of that makes me think ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.’

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Whew…

Okay, so if you made it this far, you are a darling. Thanks for listening, or reading as the case may be. If anyone from Bethesda does read this, I hope you will think about what I’ve said here. Food for thought, at least. I have spent more hours than I care to count in the world of Fallout 4. It is a titan of a game, and the DLCs don’t fall far from tree. Automatron was a bit light on story, but the Robots! Holy cow, the ROBOTS! Wasteland Workshop had some useful things in it, and I always appreciate more lighting options. Far Harbor was beyond awesome, with a story that was incredibly engaging and morally ambiguous. Love it!

But then there’s Contraptions, which has some of the Sesame Street vibe of “which one of these is not like the others?” It wasn’t meant to have a story, but the utility it does have seems half-hearted and half-baked at best.

Now I don’t say these things to tear you down. Quite the opposite, in fact. I’m used to getting a certain ‘plussed’ experienced from you, to use a Disney term, and Contraptions is lacking that. It’s like a friend who is super extroverted becoming suddenly withdrawn and anti-social. It just doesn’t fit the pattern of behavior I’ve come to expect. You have to stop and ask, “Are you all right?”

I hope that you are. All right, I mean.

And here’s hoping that the upcoming Vault-Tec DLC will put you guys back on the top spot.  Not to blow too much smoke here, but you guys are the best.

Respectfully,

– Matt Carson

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2 responses to “An Open Letter to Bethesda Game Studios from a Humble Fanboy, Concerning the “Contraptions” DLC

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