Fallout 4 Could Do With a Proper Hardcore Mode

Just as with many of their previous titles, with Fallout 4 the folks at Bethesda didn't simply iterate on all the features present in the previous games but decided to add and remove systems depending on what they thought best suited their design. One of the features they decided to not implement was Hardcore Mode, a survival-focused mode implemented by Obsidian for Fallout: New Vegas and inspired by many Fallout 3 mods and mechanics that have been present in other post-apocalyptic first-person games such as STALKER.

For the most part, I haven't seen too many complaints about the removal, but Edwin Evans-Thirlwell argues that a similar difficulty mode could have helped improved the experience in Fallout 4. According to him, the Survival difficulty mode present in the title simply doesn't actually provide an experience that enhances the game's post-apocalyptic atmosphere:

[Hardcore mode] also represents a side of Fallout that's actually in synch with its own supporting fiction. Fallout 4, though an undeniably great game, is also a model for that slightly suspect brand of escapism that delights in the bleak mood and texture of a post-war landscape, but represents it in practical terms as a fat pile of loot and XP. It's a narrative universe that wails continually about how tough we all have it while burying you in guns, armour, food and meds. The geography, as Alex Wiltshire has explored at length over at RPS, is jammed weirdly between "200 years post-Fall" and "immediate aftermath" - houses are stuffed full of goodies from before the war in a manner that doesn't exactly chime with the prospect of a rabid scavenger population who'll shed blood over boxes of toxic snacky-cakes. There is, lest we forget, a suit of actual Power Armor propped atop one of the first few buildings you're likely to visit in the game.

Fallout 4 does, in fairness, have a "Survival mode", but it's misnamed. Where Hardcore Mode introduced modifiers that reshaped and rejuvenated New Vegas, Fallout 4's notion of "Survival" is enemies who do twice the damage and take much less in return. You can also expect more in the way of Legendary foes, those tricked-out goons with exciting nicknames who wield the tastiest firearms. There are, of course, long-term ramifications to these tweaks - more resistant enemies means fewer rounds to spare, so you'll have to think hard about whether the material toll of an engagement is worth what you'll collect from the ensuing corpses - and Fallout 4 on Survival does carry over the idea of Stimpaks that take time to work. But it's still basically just an artificial difficulty hike. It doesn't alter the tempo and sensibility of the game like Hardcore Mode did. Bulletsponge enemies also make it more tempting to exploit the AI's failings, e.g. by going bonkers on stealth, or by luring imbecilic juggernauts into explosives, which naturally saps the authenticity of it all. A more productive strategy might have been to imitate Metro 2033 and Last Light's knuckle-whitening approach, whereby shots become more deadly for both you and your opponents on higher difficulties.