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What if: Fallout 4 got a roguelike mode?

We imagine a better endgame for the Commonwealth

Exploring a vault in a Fallout 4 roguelike mode

In case you didn’t see the news, Hitman 3 is getting a roguelike mode. It sounds like the perfect fit for the trilogy: a more challenging remix of targets and sandboxes from all three games, with meaningful progression and proper consequences if you fail a mission. You earn better gear as you murder your way through idyllic vineyards, grandiose country houses, and Berlin techno raves, which you can store at your safehouse for use in subsequent assignments. However, if you die during a mission or your target escapes, then any gear you took with you is gone for good.

It’s a genius mash-up of ideas. But it’s got me thinking about other games that could benefit from roguelike elements, and as a long-time Fallout fan it hasn’t taken long for the pieces to click together. So, what if Fallout 4 got a roguelike mode?

One of the enduring frustrations with Fallout 4 is that, despite having such a robust building system, there’s very little to actually do in each settlement once they’re all set up how you like them. There are vendors you can trade with and you’ll routinely have to travel around the Commonwealth bailing settlements out of trouble, but when everything’s running smoothly there’s really no reason to hang around the villages and homesteads you’ve helped establish. Similarly, once you’ve cleared out every vault, raider hideout, and historic landmark on the map, your best bet for replayability is to start modding or begin a fresh save.

But what if you could take direct control of wastelanders in your settlements, form raiding parties, outfit them with basic gear, and head out on expeditions across the Commonwealth?

View of the Sanctuary settlement in Fallout 4

If that sounds familiar it’s probably because sending your citizens out in search of loot is the basis for Fallout Shelter’s endgame. As the overseer of your very own vault, you can round up your best and brawniest, go Supermarket Sweep on the vault armoury, and dispatch them topside to pick through the bones of the old world for rare weapons, armour, and resources. You can’t control much on standard loot runs other than deciding when to recall your vault dwellers, but there’s a procedurally generated log of their journey that creates small narratives for each adventurer. A post-launch questing system developed the idea, letting you put your dwellers into teams and then steer them through crumbling tower blocks and factories, pursuing specific objectives.

It’s not particularly fun. To be honest, it’s downright tedious after your first couple of runs – you’re essentially clicking on different rooms and waiting to see if your vault dwellers survive the encounter. But if you transplant the basic structure of Shelter’s questing into a more interactive game like Fallout 4, it could be brilliant.

Your wastelanders could each have different SPECIAL stats and perks just like the Sole Survivor, and by building gyms and schools you could start training your own crack squad of treasure hunters. At the start, however, you’ll have to make do with some rusty old pipe pistols and a ragtag selection of your settlement’s most expendable residents.

A wastelander farming in a settlement in in Fallout 4

Whoever you pick as the squad leader will be your playable character throughout the expedition, and should you die while hunting for rare gear, that character will stay dead. Any gear you were carrying is now in the gigantic, bulging hands of the super mutant that killed you. Your body? Probably parcelled out among gore bags and hung high over the streets of Boston to ferment.

Of course, if your raiding party is successful then you’ll return with boosted stats, new perks depending on what harrowing experiences you endured, rare weapons, and bottle caps to reinvest in the settlement’s facilities. With a couple of successful outings under your belt, you may be tempted to strap on some of your best gear and take on a much more challenging excursion.

At some point, inevitably, you’ll get too cocky and your party will be wiped out, putting a dent in your settlement’s development, but there’s always some sliver of progress: maybe you unlocked an important door or disabled some turrets before you died, so the next raiding party has an easier time clearing the building.

Gore bags in downtown Boston in Fallout 4

As for locations, the simplest solution would be for Bethesda to stuff key locations from around the Commonwealth full of random loot, traps, and high-level enemies, and present it to the player as incursion-like map events. You’ve probably cleared Monsignor Plaza of raiders during Fallout 4’s main story, but now it’s occupied by high-ranking gunners, and they’ve brought some tantalising loot with them. Major locations like Vault 95 already have respawning enemies, but a few unique monsters, some light redecorating, and a refreshed loot table would go a long way towards making it feel like a fresh adventure.

Alternatively, Bethesda could take inspiration from Far Cry New Dawn and set its expeditions outside the open-world map. Because nothing that happens in this roguelike mode would be considered canon, Bethesda would have carte blanche to create whatever endgame gauntlets it wants. Ghoul-infested shopping malls? Virtual reality worlds à la Vault 112? Spooky rural mansions? Considering Fallout 3’s Mothership Zeta DLC took players aboard an alien spaceship, not even the sky’s the limit.

None of this is really all that different from Fallout 4’s current endgame, which randomises enemies, locations, and objectives to make infinitely repeatable quests. These ‘radiant quests’ could definitely benefit from being scaled up in the changes they make to existing locations, but the real problem is that there’s really no sense of progression, whether narratively or in the gear you find.

Shooting a Triggerman with a combat shotgun in Fallout 4

A roguelike mode introduces a means for players to create brand-new stories with a fresh cast of playable characters. Separate from the achievements of the main character, but occupying a shared space so you can always step back into the Sole Survivor’s shoes to marvel at how far the Commonwealth has come.

And if anyone at Bethesda is reading this – hey, Todd – then it’s not too late to turn Fallout 5 into a roguelike spinoff. How cool would it be to start out as a fledgling raider and steer your camp to glory?