So I promised that list and here it is. It's late and it's not as thorough as I'd hoped. I also wish I had images handy to illustrate every point where helpful. So, in no particular order - a subjective set of desired features for Fallout 4:
Things to keep or expand from previous games
- No level scaling
This may be a controversial choice but the avoidance of level scaling gave a sense of reality to encounter design for New Vegas that Fallout 3 lacked. While 3's scaling model fixed the broken systems of Oblivion, it did not fit well with the setting; it was simply too gentle on the player for an unsanitary environment filled with monsters and wild animals hell-bent on murdering anything which crossed their path.
- The Damage Threshold system from New Vegas
It made the use of such things as armor-piercing ammo an important choice and the need for alternatives (such as the Piercing Strike and Shotgun Surgeon perks or the creation of Max Charge ammo for energy weapons) for various builds increased variety while maintaining viability of player choice.
- Dynamic encounters from 1, 2, and 3
The occasional attacks by Talon Company, Rangers and contract killers were not hand-placed but actually handled dynamically. It was very impressive and the stilted, predictable arrival of various death squads by passing obvious cell border checks in New Vegas was never quite to the same standard. Occasionally getting intercepted by raiders, pressgangs, Enclave patrols, the bridge from Monty Python's The Holy Grail, packs of mutants and so on added variety, life, excitement and danger to 1 and 2's overworld travel and it was, again, done dynamically.
- Survival Features
It does not automatically increase 'difficulty' nor is it necessarily about creating a 'post-apocalyptic feel' (Fallout was never really a post-apocalyptic series but post-post-apocalyptic), but it always does ground the player's relationship with the character and the environment that much more. They should perhaps still be optional but something as severe as survival requirements seen in jSawyer should be available for those who want it.
- Environmental variety
3 boasted an elaborate (though apparently somewhat artistically liberated) reconstruction of much of Washington DC's underground rail network. It also had rolling hills, the remains of small towns, blasted out ruins, vaults, post-war settlements and so on. This, combined with good use of geometry to hide LOD noise and long distance Z fighting, resulted in a world much more interesting to explore and simply poke around in than New Vegas' Mojave desert.
- Environmental coherence
What New Vegas lacked in variety it made up for, some might say more than made up for, in sheer intelligence. While bland the Mojave makes sense. Its environments are realistic and believable. The intelligence comes in caring enough about that to bother and respecting the player enough to assume they would care too. The next game need not sacrifice good spatial design or interesting concepts to get it. It requires an attention to detail both local and global; each area has to naturally make sense and all the areas in the game have to relate to each other properly.
- New Vegas' version of SPECIAL, traits included
In New Vegas all the attributes mattered more than in 3. Charisma is still mainly a dump stat no matter the player build but that can be changed with some modification in a future game. The value of the stats themselves carried weight above and beyond adjusting various skills. Most weapons have a strength requirement and significant penalties to their effectiveness incur in not meeting it. Extreme options such as miniguns, the Fat Man, super sledge hammers, and anti materiel rifles have hefty strength requirements to go along with steep skill requirements (every single item mentioned above required 100 points in the relevant skill to use effectively) to force a player to commit to non-reversible choices and even reversible but difficult ones about loadout. But please remove the New Vegas version of Skilled or replace it with something similar to 1 and 2. In New Vegas it's broke as a joke; the only reason to not take it is for the self-imposed challenge.
- Weapon modifications, ammo crafting, etc.
The modification system gave some low-tier weapons longer viability than they would otherwise have (9mm pistols are excellent varmint guns, the Laser Rifle can do significant damage against most anything) and ammo crafting made a variety of equipment more functional than it otherwise would have been. Additional crafting setups (such as gunsmithing) would further embellish it.
- Sighting systems
Something along the lines of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. with tools such as sight adjustment to compensate for bullet drop at long distances. It could also be an optional feature but it would be nice.
- The faction and karma systems
Providing a 2-dimensional reputation by having a personal renown or infamy for past deeds plus a set of variable attitudes regarding the player's relationship with various groups provides the possibility for many other interesting setups and makes for a more involved playthrough. New Vegas contained content which the player can only experience on multiple playthroughs; it was locked off for believable and logical reasons and it amounted, in total, to more content than was found in 3's main quest.
Things to toss/make optional
- Color washes
Whether the green wash in 3 or the orange and brown washes in New Vegas they are generally an eyesore and serve to pointlessly obscure the often excellent visual design in both games.
- Forced tutorials
There are something in excess of ten million people who have played this game or something enough like it (TES III-V) that making the tutorial optional would not be a bad idea as these same millions will be the majority of Fallout 4's players. Fallout 3's PC users can always install the Wanderer's Edition mod for alternating starts or just skipping the entire prologue, but the tutorials being optional is more than a convenience to longtime players - it's a gesture of respect to every player's intelligence.
- Pre-order DLCs
The pre-order equipment packs for New Vegas didn't really add anything to it but more bugs that could not be fixed by the developer or the publisher due to the file structure. One thing jSawyer.esp did was remove the packs from the player's possession at the start and seed them into various places in the game world. This was a definite improvement and the whole preorder DLC thing was just sleazy.
- The PipBoy 3000 Glove
Some of the most popular mods for 3 and New Vegas involve removing the Pipboy glove (to fix armor textures) and replacing the wrist-mounted computer with a handheld model. It would be a very nice option (or even a mechanically significant choice within the game, e.g. the PipBoy 3000 cannot be used with heavy armors but has other useful features someone not concerned about wearing Power Armor might want more) for the player to have out of the box.
Things to add
- An overhauled difficulty option
Likely an impractical idea but if increased difficulty did not simply buff enemies and/or nerf the player but actually changed how encounters worked altogether it would make playthroughs on different difficulties that much more compelling. Imagine, for example, a Talon Company encounter in 3 but on Hard they provide each other covering fire (which is much more lethal so the player is therefore encouraged to take cover or at least maneuver) so shorter-range combatants (grenadiers and melee) can get in range more easily.
What if Death Claws hunted in packs? What if Raiders appeared as roving bands as well as holding specific locations? What if on Hard all the Very Easy and Easy locks were removed so the player had to invest, heavily, in Lockpicking to get anything? What if the player got fewer perks and a lower level cap? What if firing off even a single shot while in a downtown area surrounded by hostiles of various types carried enormous consequences due to the sound revealing the player's position? What if a lot of things were not so much scaled as rethought in changing the difficulty? Learning to play it on Very Hard would be a very different beast than even Normal. Again it is a highly impractical suggestion but it would be a nice idea.
- Masters and Plug-ins clean on delivery
This is more of a PC-centric issue but the .esm (master) and .esp (plugin) files arriving without any dirty edits would make the implementation of mods and DLC that much simpler and more stable. It would also remove the cleaning step for end users which would make more advanced modding setups more accessible.
- Everything in Peter Thoman's PC Gamer article
Peter "Durante" Thoman (best known for GeDoSaTo and DSFix) lays out a list of features for PC gameshere and it would be just dandy if the PC version of every multiplatform game and every PC exclusive had all of them.
- Better UV mapping
Even with hi resolution texture packs installed Skyrim looks muddy but mods which fix the UV mapping of those textures onto models fix the issue without affecting framerate at all. The information is there; it's just used inefficiently.
- A Way to 'Write' Previous Games into the Current Game's Backstory
While importing saves as in The Witcher, Baldur's Gate, Dragon Age and Mass Effect is perhaps out of the question (except on PC with some kind of flag-check tool) it is still possible to do something similar to what Obsidian did in Knights of the Old Republic II with early dialog touching on key plot points in the previous game to effectively 'write' one's previous result into The Sith Lords' backstory. Being able to affirm a high-functioning independent ending for New Vegas with optimal endings for all four story DLCs (or even the secret ending for Dead Money nullifying all other possibilities) or to summarize how the Lone Wanderer left the Capital Wasteland before moving on would not only help to cement the new game's ties to the old ones, it would add the possibility of a variety of optional content that players may want to replay just to see.
Things to avoid where possible
- Large scale scripted setpieces
Bethesda's technology has not, from Morrowind on, gotten significantly better at handling them and the insistence on forcing the player to mostly spectate one at the beginning of Skyrim is, by far, the weakest aspect of the entire game. The systems used don't work very well to support it so even though it's about a dragon inadvertently saving the player's life while trying to kill them it is also very boring. To put it another way - the sequence five minutes after the game starts where the unarmed and helpless player must desperately flee for their life from one of the most dangerous creatures in the game who is there to kill them personally is more boring than managing inventory.
- Sequences in which the player is reduced to a passive spectator and/or robbed of agency
Any situation in an open-world/sandbox RPG where the player is suddenly deprived of character control that they may witness some animated spectacle or watch some important event as dictated by the developer breaks the relationship the player has with the game. To the extent that either 3 or New Vegas had done so it was always contextually justified. Anything of that nature coming in now would be less than savory.
- A plot which makes no sense
Fallout 3 really does not get raked over the coals nearly as often or as severely as it deserves in the press for how utterly terrible its story was. It was completely broken - of the few characters who had any motivation at all for anything they did (James, Li, Lyons, Eden, Autumn) their actions made no damn sense: James and Li were both just as incompetent as Pinkerton said they were but there is no way to actually do anything about this, Lyons' desire to hold the purifier is pointless, Eden's plan is self-defeating and a bad recycle of elements of Fallout 1 and 2 and he should already know this as both sets of events occurred decades ago, Autumn has no reason to stop either James or the Lone Wanderer from doing exactly what they intend for he wants the exact same thing and knows it. And this did nothing to further their goals. While the only way to expect writing on par with New Vegas would be to farm the game out to Obsidian, and that's highly unlikely to ever happen again, Bethesda can still learn a few lessons from New Vegas' approach to writing.
- Making the protagonist 'the chosen one' in some sense
In Fallout 1 the Campbellian Hero's journey is brutally subverted while Fallout 2 starts jabbing at such standby RPG conceits right from the start and just keeps lacerating them throughout. Fallout 3's lone wanderer is such a stock 'chosen one' that it's downright absurd. Practically every checkbox for the trope and the flaws with the trope are checked without a single hint of irony in the third entry in a series which never played it straight.