Bethesda received a bit of flak for Fallout 4‘s Survival mode at launch, which increased its difficulty without really fundamentally altering how you play. A recent tweet from the developer teases that it will soon be addressed.
We’re also doing a complete overhaul of Fallout 4 Survival mode. Food, sleep, diseases, danger and more. Stay tuned.
— BethesdaGameStudios (@BethesdaStudios) February 11, 2016
As Survival mode currently exists, enemies now do more damage, are harder to kill, and healing is slower. While it certainly increases the challenge for more hardcore players, it doesn’t do much to alter the player’s behavior other than encouraging greater caution. The addition of food, sleep, and diseases, however, would add different and new concerns to keep track of, making the mode more than just a linear difficulty increase.
The Fallout series has featured a more immersive, survival-oriented gameplay mode before, but not under Bethesda’s stewardship. The Obsidian-developed Fallout: New Vegas‘ Hardcore mode added that the player had to eat, drink water, and sleep on somewhat regular cycles or else they would start to suffer negative effects ranging from stat penalties up to death. Companions could also permanently die, instead of passing out and waking up after the fight concludes, as they currently do. Like 4‘s Survival mode, it also made medicine less effective and increased the effects of radiation.
In the wake of Minecraft, the survival sub-genre of games has flourished, with games like Don’t Starve, The Long Dark, and DayZ gathering large and passionate audiences. Perhaps related to our cultural preoccupation with apocalyptic scenarios, the fantasy of living off the land by one’s own effort apparently has broad appeal. As insulated as we are from the means of our survival by modernity, it’s easy to romanticize the Robinson Crusoe fantasy of living through wit and will alone.
While Fallout 4‘s settlement system is certainly fun and encourages creativity, in practice its dynamism runs shallow, creating a somewhat flimsy illusion of a lived-in world. A more robust Survival mode, however, could go a long way to making that ability to alter the world more meaningful, as food, water, and shelter become much more valuable commodities.