Fallout 4 – A pale shadow of an RPG. (Spoilers)


Okay, so I’ve thrown a bunch of time at Fallout 4 and I’m feeling the need to ‘review’ it / rant a little. The following post is going to contain a bunch of spoilers. Normally, I’d refrain from such a spoil heavy post, but everything I’m about to say is already spread across the internet, so people who are looking for spoilers have no trouble finding them. If you are concerned about ruining the plot (bear in mind a game would actually have to have a plot to ruin one), proceed at your own risk.

I have been a fan of Wasteland/Fallout since the mid 80s when Wasteland came out for the Commodore 64. Unfortunately, due to some legal wonkiness with Electronic Arts, the people who made the original Wasteland couldn’t use the name and so created Fallout 1, and later 2. Even more unfortunately, Black Isle Studios is no more… and Bethesda wound up doing Fallout 3. Now, I am firmly of the opinion that Wasteland/Fallout RPGs should be turn based, and the shift in Fallout 3 to a first-person shooter with a half-assed “Hey, this is a RPG, see… VATS!” mechanic did not impress me. I wound up waiting a long time before begrudgingly deciding to play Fallout 3… and while it lacked much of the feel and mood imparted to the world by Black Isle, it wasn’t too bad.

Fallout 4, alas, has lost this… and has replaced it with tedium and sameness.


story Issues

Story Issues

First (and here’s where the spoilers will come into play), the game has a serious lack of story. What plot there is feels flat, rushed, and one-dimensional. Here are some of the story issues I found annoying/shoddy/jarring.

RIP - The creators of Fallout 1 and 2.

RIP – The creators of Fallout 1 and 2.

Missing Feel – Alas, Fallout 4 has completely lost every trace of its former creators’ sense of humor, wit, style, and the only thing it shares with the Fallout world is the name and the quasi-1950s nuclear aesthetic. In short, Fallout 4 is a dumbed-down “let’s squeeze this into a console” first person shooter “with RPG elements.”

f04 power armor

Fallout 4’s power armor.

Power Armor – For much of the series (and Wasteland), finding “power armor” was a late-game thing that gave you a feeling of accomplishment. After slogging through hours of play time and getting shot up over and over again, that moment when you find the ‘power armor,’ was like a gamer’s holy grail. In Fallout 4, they hand you a suit of power armor within 15-20 minutes of starting the game… and you wind up (at least I did) using it for that quest, and then leaving it behind.

I’ll get more into the implementation of the power armor in the design issues part of this post, but suffice to say any and all feeling of achievement or magic associated with the sacred cow of the Fallout world has been stripped away. Gone is the YES! Power armor! Feeling, replaced with, Oh, another walking trashcan.

Father, the son?

Father, the son?

Father – (Okay, spoiler time.) The game starts pre-nuke war, with you and your spouse (and baby) at home. After buying a space in the vault (convenient timing btw) – within 5 minutes of signing the vault tec contract, the bombs fall and you go running off to the vault. In keeping with the shady practices of Vault Tec, you wind up being tricked into cryogenic sleep as an experiment. You wake up, watch someone kill your spouse and take the baby, then get refrozen for what feels like a minute or two. Later, you wake up and learn that your son is now about 10 years old, and you start searching for him. Later, when you reach the Institute (more on that later), a sixty-year-old man claims to be your lost son, and just happens to be the leader of this Institute.

There is a dialogue option “bullshit” to say you don’t believe he is your son… but the only thing the dialogue comes back to that is “you’ll just have to take it on faith,” and the character has no option to demand proof. They have the technology to make human-like synths, but they can’t do a simple paternity/maternity test? Seriously? “Take it on faith?” They expect the character to just believe that this old man is their son without any proof – especially since for the entire game leading up to the point where you arrive at the Institute, everyone is filling your head with horror stories about how twisted, evil, and cruel the Institute is?

You know they hired a merc to abduct the baby, said merc kills your spouse, and your supposed ‘old man son’ refers to the loss of his father/mother as ‘acceptable collateral damage’? Horseshit. He’s either lying, or he’s a psychopath. The narrative never clears up if he really is your son or not, and I can’t tell if it’s because they did a crummy job trying to build up the institute to sound so evil, but when you get there they play the “misunderstood scientists feared by the ignorant people on the surface” or because they just did a bodge job and rushed this game out the door.

Second, it’s never explained why they feel the need to make human like synths in the first place. Are they trying to help the human race or replace it? It’s a scrap of a plot thread that’s waved about and discarded without an afterthought.

Replacing people – More on the point of the Institute being built up to be evil, while you are traveling the Commonwealth, you continuously hear stories that the Institute replaces living humans with synthetic replacements who appear to be human. No explanation is ever given WHY they do this. If you side with the Institute, you get a mission early on to bring seeds to a synth man who was inserted into a family (replacing the father) so they could test seeds topside. I’m asking WHY? Why replace people? Why not just set up a farm of ALL synths, and make them look like a normal group of settlers?

There’s some discontent at that farm, where the guy’s workers suspect he’s a synth and want to kill him… would it not make more sense to establish a small settlement of only synths to avoid this kind of problem? Also, aside from the flimsy “we need to make them sound like body snatching bad guys up until the player actually gets there” reason, there is never once any explanation given for why the Institute feels the need to replace people with synths. There are better ways to accomplish what they want to do, and this seems unnecessarily shady/evil to make them artificially “the bad guys” for the first 70% of the game, made worse by not giving the player the chance to understand/investigate any of these ‘dark deeds.’

Your baby from the opening pre-game game.

Your baby from the opening pre-game game.

Clean DNA – The reason provided by Father for the Institute abducting the player character’s infant son is that they needed a source of clean DNA untainted by the radiation of the surface world. I find this a bit feeble… the Institute has been living far underground in a sealed vault only accessible by teleportation for 200 years. How is it possible they are getting irradiated? Whenever the Institute humans go topside, they wear a full rad suit with a face mask – so they’re clearly considering themselves pure enough to need such protection to be on the surface… this makes the taking of the infant seem contrived. Plus, the merc killing the spouse felt like gratuitous horribleness. They want to keep the parents alive as backups. Kellogg is a trained mercenary, the spouse is groggy from cryo-stasis and unarmed. Couldn’t he have just knocked him/her out to keep them on ice for later use? Having him shoot the spouse who refuses to let go of the infant seems like overegging the pudding. More tragic!

Overstated effects of nuclear war – Two hundred years after the war and there’s still supposed to be glowing pools of radioactive muck lying about? People settle in Hiroshima and Nagasaki now, and it hasn’t been 200 years. (Granted, those weapons were low yield, but still…) The radiation is overdone for Hollywood effect… almost to a comedic level. ALL water is radioactive? Even running water in rivers? Seriously?

Factions – Second to the forced storyline of Father, the biggest story problem I had with Fallout 4 is the factions. I tend to like to take the ‘good guy’ option, but none of the factions offer a clear-cut sense of being the good guy. (I know some of you are probably thinking, it’s not all good and evil – and you’re right… but the problem is ALL of the factions are shady. With any one of them you pick, it feels like you’re on the bad guy’s side.

Minutemen – The first faction you meet, the MM are the most benign of the lot… up until the end. It seems like they are primarily concerned with establishing a people’s militia to protect settlers and the like from raiders, super mutants, and anything else that would attack them. Okay, fair enough… these guys seem like a decent option.

Most of their focus is on establishing settlements and performing an endless series of randomly generated “go here and kill this stuff to protect this settlement” missions. However, toward the end game, for no explainable reason, they get a bug up their ass about the Institute, and want to sabotage their nuclear reactor and set off yet another huge nuclear explosion in downtown Boston… killing thousands of innocent scientists (as well as the handful of bad ones making the Institute do wonky things.) So the benign protectors suddenly go all bloodthirsty… feels out of character.


BoS – The Brotherhood of Steel – For the most part, unlike previous incarnations of Fallout, the BoS here feel like fascists. They, more than the Institute, left me feeling an ‘evil’ vibe. They want you to bully the citizens, steal their food, steal their tech, kill anything and everything that isn’t a pure human without so much as a hello… (though to their point, super mutants are hostile all the time except for two individuals you meet.)

Furthermore, when doing their quests and interacting with them, they are all condescending pricks to you. There is nothing likable about them at all (except for the free, easy upgrade to power armor.)

Later when something is revealed about a companion you’ve spent a lot of time with, one of their most trusted Paladins, the leader demands his death no questions asked, no regard for how much he’s done for them in the past. And of course, they want to nuke the institute because “no one can have tech but us.” Again, mass murder by nuke.

Railroad – These guys are a clandestine underground “resistance” movement who believe that synths are sentient beings entitled to rights. Okay, they sound noble… but if you listen to the Institute’s angle on this, the synthetics are machines running programs… and as much as they appear to be human and have emotions, it’s all software. Add to that, these guys are paranoid, fanatic (willing to kill any number of real humans to ‘free’ a machine), and again, want to nuke the Institute (killing thousands of innocent people – presumably since they’ve been living underground there’s also children there too.)

Later, it’s revealed that if the PC sides with the railroad, the synths band together and try to wipe out humanity. So yeah, these guys are loons. (Plus I found the Railroad companion to be extremely annoying.)


Institute – Portrayed by rumor as the big bad main antagonist of the game as soon as you start talking to people, the Institute is composed of scientists and doctors who have continued on with their development of technology as though the war never happened. Hiding under the university grounds, they’ve lived in isolation for 200 years and have developed human-like androids called Synths. For whatever reason (not explained), they feel that they need these synths to “redefine mankind.” It’s never explained why they want to make these synths… it feels like a flimsy plot device to make them seem like bad guys until you meet them (as does the whole replacing people for no justifiable reason.)

They’re at the same time portrayed as trying to help humanity as they carry hints of dark experimentation (FEV mutagen, replacing people, killing topsiders who discover them) but none of their evil acts are ever ascribed a motive. It’s like the only reason they did some of these things was so that they could seem like the bad guys for most of the story. It makes no sense to replace people (adds all that risk of being discovered as a fake, stirs up paranoia and ill will) when they could send up a whole team of synths to blend in without replacing anyone.

Considering the Institute is the only faction who when the PC sides with them does not set off a nuclear blast in the middle of Boston, they wind up seeming like the least evil – even though it’s clear they’ve done some shady things… but without any justification for why it all feels hollow. Poor writing.

No impact on the companions’ paths – Throughout the game, you have the option to have several companion characters. While travelling with them along, they will either begin to like or dislike you. As you advance through the stages of being liked, more dialogue options and backstory come out. For example, Piper, confides that she tries to stay away from her younger sister because she doesn’t want the girl to “turn out like her” and expose herself to danger all the time. Okay, that’s nice, but there’s no option to tell her to go the hell home and take care of her little kid sister.

All the companion dialogue feels like fluff/color/background and the player has no bearing/impact on anything to do with their storyline aside from hearing it.

Faction Leader? – For at least two of the factions (MM and Institute), the player character winds up as the leader of said faction. However, members of that faction don’t treat you like the leader, nor do you have any option to change anything about the faction (aside from headcanon) during the game. Despite being these factions’ leader, you still wind up being their errand boy/girl. “General, we’ve found a part we need for such and such. It’s a 40 mile hike to the west and any one of our low-ranking morons could go get it, but I really think you need to do it yourself.”


design issues

Design issues – Aside from the shoddy plotlines, the game suffers from several design flaws.

Scavenging Tedium – Throughout the time playing Fallout 4, it feels like the average player is going to spend about 75% of their time picking up trash. They decided to make a game where no item is junk. Everything you find, you need to pick up so you can scavenge it for parts to build your settlements up. This of course leads to frequent hair pulling as your inventory fills up reducing you to a slow ass walk (painfully slow to the point where you simply cannot deal with it). To add to the middle finger factor, you can’t even “fast travel” when you’re inventory is full to dump junk.

Fallout 4 - 5% questing, 15% inventory management 80% tedious.

Fallout 4 – 5% questing, 15% inventory management 80% tedious.

Picking up all that crap is testicle-smashingly tedious. To add to the lolz, once you build up a settlement and trick it out with shops, turrets, buildings and whatnot – it serves no purpose other than playing in the sandbox. The game’s ending doesn’t change whether you have zero established/built settlements or 10. It doesn’t matter how built up you make each town. In something like 60 hours of play, I’ve had a settlement attacked once, got notified about the attack too late to get there in time (it said quest failed), and when I arrived there, the settlement was fine. No one dead, nothing missing, nothing destroyed… so why exactly are we scrounging for all this junk?

This is what the character really ought to look like.

This is what the character really ought to look like.

Sometimes ‘cheating’ at games is not so much cheating as slapping an idiot designer to the side. After about a day of this drek, I decided to use the console to add crafting supplies just to play with town building without having to spend another 99 hours with a full inventory and hunting for one little screw. I built up a settlement or two, ringed it with turrets, and there it sat… completely pointless.

Limited weapons – The character I joined the Institute with is still using the very same 10mm pistol I started with in the first vault when I woke up. The selection of weapons in the game is gallingly lame. There’s no RPG-like progression to more advanced/better weapons as much as you’re expected to take the “gun nut” or “science” perks and modify/improve your existing weapons. Why add more models/variety to a game when the player can tinker with the current weapon and make it do more damage by replacing the ‘receiver’ of a gun. Two pistols using the same 10mm ammo, one does 18 damage one does 59… /scratches head.

The only gun you'll ever need.

The only gun you’ll ever need.

Also, the selection of weapons and the way the game handles firing rate makes things laughable. The rifles hit hard with single bullets, but they’re bolt action – so they fire slow as hell. The combat rifle is a little better, as is the assault, but neither one of them can fire as fast as the 10mm pistol can. (As fast as you can click the button.) I find I’m doing far more damage with a silenced 10mm pistol than I can with heavy weapons, .50 caliber sniper rifles, or even automatic assault rifles.

Speaking of automatic weapons – for some inane reason, the same 5.56 bullet that does 90 damage when fired single shot does 28 damage when the weapon is made automatic. /scratches head. This, I don’t understand. In a setting where ammo is scarce, why would anyone ever want to use an automatic weapon when there’s such a drastic downgrade in damage per bullet?

This is a .50 cal next to a .308. I dunno about you, but I think that's worth more than 20 points of damage.

This is a .50 cal next to a .308. I dunno about you, but I think that’s worth more than 20 points of damage.

.50 Cal – after drooling over the option to upgrade a sniper rifle from .308 to .50 cal for many hours of play, I finally got the gun nut perk up to the rank where I could… and the damage went from 127 to 141. O_o. Clearly, the people at Bethesda wouldn’t know a .50 BMG sniper rifle if it hit them in the eye. Considering the rarity of the ammunition, this was a sad and thoroughly pointless disappointment.

The weapons selection felt lazy to me. A lot of the thrill from an RPG comes from finding new weapons that are better than the ones you’ve got. Here, you get the perk and make it yourself… from a limited selection.

God Pistol – After playing around with various weapons (the fat man was idiotic… flies like a piglet launched out of a slingshot, and I hit a power armor right in the face with it and it didn’t even do a point of damage to him) – the inanity presented itself. The 10mm pistol is the best weapon I’ve found. It effects the highest damage-over-time of anything.

Coupled with sneak damage from stealth, it gets silly fast. Take Swann for example. (A giant mutant in the pond.) On my sniper character (with the supposed .50 rifle), I lined up a head shot, fired, and he barely noticed. Then, he proceeded to instantly spot me and chase me around, killing me over and over again until I wound up finding a space to hide in where he was too big to reach, and tediously killed him with a bolt action rifle shot after shot.

On my next character, I went stealth-pistols, and expected to have a hard time with Swann b/c the damage on the pistol at the time was about 53 compared to the 140 of the rifle. However, because of the fire rate, I levelled Swann before he took two steps.

Stealth – Well, this is a Bethesda/Skyrim game, so its “go stealth archer or don’t bother.” Like Skyrim, the stealth mechanics go from almost useless (everything sees you right away) to the point of ridiculousness where you can step on someone’s balls and they don’t notice you. I haven’t tried a non-stealth build yet since they don’t give you that much ammo.


VATS – the Vats system is their attempt to shoehorn “feeling like an RPG” into this game. It’s a quasi pause (it doesn’t actually stop things, just slows them to a crawl), and lets you target body parts and fire with action points like you were sorta playing a turn based RPG. The only problem is that Fallout 4 is a first-person shooter, not a RPG. This kludge does not fix that. You can have a 18% chance to hit something’s head in VATS, but land every shot in FPS mode doing it manually. Add to that, “crits” only happen in vats, and only when you hit the space bar to trigger one after filling your crit meter. Gone is the thrill of getting that random lucky shot.vats

Oh, and another problem with VATS – if you’re next to an object? Every shot will plow into that sign post before it goes after your target.

Grenades – Lol. Don’t bother. If you throw a grenade, it will bounce off that fence you’re standing next to and kill you. Or, if you actually do get it to fly forward, all the enemies will use their ESP to detect the incoming grenade and run away from it before it goes off.

Offset targeting – This game is clearly designed to force you to play in first person. When you roll back the mouse wheel to watch over 3rd person view, all the targeting is ever so slightly offset to the left. Think you’re going to peer around a corner and shoot that guy in the head? Nope, your character feels the need to shoot the wall six inches in front of them rather than where the crosshair is pointing.

Not an RPG – Fallout 4 is not an RPG. It’s a first person shooter with a couple of extra bells and whistles added to make it kinda-almost feel like an RPG. I imagine the Institute killed a FPS and replaced it with an RPG? Nah… This game is dumbed down for the console people. The stats are largely useless (the biggest thing they do is dictate what perks you can have access to, and your carry weight.) Charisma unlocks a handful of dialogue options to bypass things more easily by talking. Perception affects your accuracy in VATS (which is completely useless if you are playing it like a FPS.) Agility affects action points (also largely useless if you’re not using VATS) as well as some effect on your odds of stealth. Since the stealth went from everyone sees me regardless of what I do, to I can stand 3 inches away from them and not be seen without a middle ground, it was hard to gauge how important.

By and large though, the stats felt like window dressing. (Hey, this isn’t really a FPS, it’s an RPG, see? We have stats!).

Skills – The game removed skills entirely. I don’t know how this got through the design phase. The Fallout series and Wasteland have been skill based from the start, and removing them just reinforces that this is not really a RPG, but a shooter based on one.

Power armor – Earlier I mentioned how sad it was that they throw power armor at the player so soon into the game. It’s no longer a sacred cow or an earned achievement. It’s a clunky mess that makes you feel like you’re walking around in a glorified trash can. I’ll give them one thing, the animation of getting into/out of the armor is pretty cool… but that’s about it.

I can’t say I’m a fan of the design of it, it looks cumbersome and unwieldy. (That, I freely admit to being an opinion, and as I prefer the stealth characters it didn’t feel right to be clunking around in it.) But, what lackwit knuckledragging mouthbreather decided to make the power armor require a short-lived battery, and then mount that battery in the middle of the back where the operator can’t reach it?

fusion core armor

Anyone sneaky can come up behind a power armor and pickpocket their fusion cell, effectively taking the thing out. How in the nine hells did anything like that pass military testing without heavy bribes? In order to change the battery, the operator would have to get out of the armor (in a potentially dangerous situation) close it, and replace the soda-can sized pod before getting back in.) Granted, if you’re not alone, your buddies could do it for you, but it seems like a moronic design.

Plus, the batteries don’t live so long. It makes it more of a hassle to maintain the power armor. The only real benefit to them is being nigh immune to radiation when you’re inside one. Again to the pistol god, my 10mm pistol character rips through power armor in seconds. For all its supposed armor rating out the wazoo, a little pistol is shaving it off faster than a minigun can do it.

How can a 10mm pistol shred power armor when it laughs at a .50 rifle? Is there no concept of penetration / glancing? A 10mm pistol shouldn’t be able to scratch power armor… but then again, what Fallout 4 has isn’t power armor… it’s a trashcan welded to an exoskeleton. Wearable hit points. Power armor got left behind in Fallout 1 and 2 where it felt like a significant achievement that actually protected the user from damage… not like this game where it feels more like the marketing guy is saying “hey this really is Fallout… see, there’s power armor!” (then hides the crumbling wreck behind his back with a used car salesman’s smile.)

Ammo – If ammo is so scarce, how come enemies are always fully armed? And this is a complaint I’ve often gotten from players at tabletop games whenever I get the itch to run a post-apoc game. They frequently grumble about having to scavenge and manage ammo when the bad guys (who have a life expectancy of seconds to minutes) never have to worry about ammo. If this is a world in which it’s supposed to be a pain to find guns and bullets and the PC spends the entire game at a critical low ammo level, why does every bad guy you run into have a full load [and never seems to run out of ammo until you kill them and find their last 5 bullets?]

In conclusion – So yeah, as a rabid fan of Wasteland/Fallout, this game was a giant disappointment. Ham handed storyline with laughable mechanics, a dumbing down of the RPG elements to the point where it can only barely be called an RPG, and a thoroughly unfulfilling ending (every faction choice feels like you’re picking the bad guys), makes this game something else. Something else in that it is not part of the Fallout universe. Someone made a shooter and slapped Fallout-inspired graphics on it, scribbled off a half-assed storyline on a piece of toilet paper, and gave us a sandbox full of stuff to shoot at.

And oh yeah, there’s nuclear explosions.



Author Interview | Kate McIntyre

Greetings all,

I had the opportunity to interview Kate McIntyre, author of The Deathsniffer’s Assistant! She’s a joy to chat with, and her book was a lovely read as well. I’d seen the cover going around the CQ groups for awhile, and despite several past bad experiences with ‘steampunk,’ the itch to check out what lay behind this amazing cover kept needling at me.

When Kate posted to express interest in doing interviews, I figured that was as good an excuse as any. Fortunately, I was far from disappointed.

Darrington City is on the verge of total political and economic collapse. Olivia Faraday. the eccentric Deathsniffer, is the only employer willing to consider the resume of impoverished rich boy Christopher Buckley. Soon enough, Olivia and Chris have a grisly murder to solve — if they can manage before the city is torn apart around them. The Deathsniffer’s Assistant combines fantasy and mystery and is available via BookBub for .99c on November 30 and December 1st!

Beautiful cover by Amalia Chitulescu

Beautiful cover by Amalia Chitulescu



Note how the author lulls the trees into a sense of complacency by hugging them. Soon, they shall be books.

  • In Deathsniffer’s Assistant, you’ve established several categorizations of magic-using people. What percentage of the population has gifts? Are there any categories that you’ve come up with that weren’t included?

In times of yore, about 99% of the population would be awakened to a magical gift during the categorization process. But in the era I’m writing, it’s down to about 75%, which, as you can imagine, has made quite a dent on the infrastructure!

The Timeseer’s Gambit, the sequel to TDA, really delves into the process of categorization. You’ll see a few categorizations that weren’t in the first book, like hymnshapers who can amplify or dampen sound waves. You also learn what happens  when categorization doesn’t find any gifts in you.

  • What inspired the story / world? Are any of the characters based on anything specific?

I taught myself to read using Nancy Drew novels, so I had a great love of mysteries implanted young. In my early teens, I read a short story by Mercedes Lackey where a mystery was solved using magic. Thus began my quest to find more fantasy murder mysteries… which are in short supply! I decided to write my own.

As for the world and characters, Darrington and its inhabitants are kind of a composite of a hundred different things I wanted to do in a book. The lynchpin of the whole thing was that I wanted to write something set in a fluffy and wondrous world with unicorns and faeries where everything was magical. And I wanted to write something where the arcane was mundane and the characters lived normal daily lives, oblivious to the magic around them. Making those two worlds one and the same was a huge part of my vision for the series.

  • Can you give us a little hint of where the story might be going / what your future projects may be?

In The Timeseer’s Gambit, readers are going to see Chris and Olivia growing up and growing together. They’ll definitely see a lot more of the mysterious timeseer, William Cartwright. There’s a cathedral, a serial killer, a grand ball, and quite a few escaped elementals. There’s also some romance as Chris gets in over his head with his personal relationships.

As for future projects―I’m working on a historical fantasy set in 1960s Ireland. Like TDA, it combines the magical and the mundane when a half Irish lawyer from London fleeing a falling out with his politician father ends up fighting faeries in the Otherworld.

  • Deathsniffer’s Assistant seems to blend aspects of Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Victorian setting, and a little dash of Steampunk together. What genre would you consider it? Did you set out to hit a specific genre or did you have a story in mind and genre be damned?

Oh, that pesky genre question!

I was only aiming to combine the fantasy and mystery genres, I swear! But others kept sneaking their way in. The Urban Fantasy happened when I decided to contain the project to one city to prevent scope creep. The Victorian happened when I wanted my narrator to be overly concerned with the rules of society to contrast his employer. I don’t even know where the Steampunk came from! We’re not even done yet―wait for the sequel when Romance takes a major role!

I really never set out to create such a chimera of genres, but if I can be honest, I kind of like my lumbering creation. While the parts seem disparate, I like how they fit together. I think it’s because I never intended this much genre melding. It happened naturally, pieces from different puzzles just fitting smoothly together as I wrote. Nothing was grafted on to meet some market demand or give my book a little of this flavour or that scent.

  • Are you an outliner or a pantser? Have any of your characters ever taken umbrage with the way the story was going and made you change something?

I wish with all my heart I could be a pantser, because I hate outlining. I hate it so much! It’s the worst part of the process for me and it takes a lot of discipline to get through it.

But Kate without a roadmap is Kate wandering around in a forest swearing she’s not lost right up until she walks into the bear cave. Much as I wish it were different, I can’t write a damn book without an outline.

But that doesn’t mean my outlines are immutable. Far from it. I’ve changed plot points, plot arcs, and even added or removed entire characters. Scenes with Olivia in them are harder to outline reliably. She’s a sneaky little bugger and never acts exactly the way I want her to once I get her in the moment.

We all get to the same place we originally planned, but sometimes we make a few pit stops.

  • What would you consider the most difficult part of writing Deathsniffer’s Assistant? And what was the most fun part?

The most difficult part was sitting my fat butt down and writing the damn thing. I’d been in a funk with original work for years before I got going on TDA, and I struggled with shelving it quite a few times. I had to learn a lot of discipline and a lot of confidence in order to get through the first draft. But of course―that was the most fun part, too!  There’s a moment after the initial grumbling that you’re writing when everything clicks and words just start to flow. The more I made myself write, the easier I found myself sliding into that groove. My best memories of writing the book are from the last quarter of it. Something just took hold of me and I couldn’t stop writing until the last word was down. What a rush!

  • Tell us something that happened during your journey from having a manuscript to holding your book in your hands that you never expected?

Actually, this is a really good story.

My amazing agent, Caitlin McDonald, exchanged quite a few emails with me while she was reviewing the novel and considering representing me. I made one of the biggest goofs you possibly can in early communication with a professional contact: I sent an email from the wrong account and emailed Caitlin with the address I’d used for writing fanfiction.

I was pretty sure my chances had been completely blown by that screw-up. My old, embarrassing work was really easy to find via Google once she had that email. I breathed a sigh of relief when she asked to represent me, anyway. Phew! She’s being professional even though I wasn’t.

And then she asked: “Are you the same _________ who wrote _________? Oh my gosh, I loved your stuff!”

The world is too small!

  • About the gorgeous cover – how much of the design came from your suggestion, or did you let the publisher/artist run with whatever they thought of?

It’s so beautiful, isn’t it? I contributed a bit. I requested both Chris and Olivia on the cover, and suggested the misty blue sort of feel to it. Gosh, but all my expectations were blown away when I saw the first drafts. That was the moment when it got real. Amalia is talented beyond belief. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with for the sequel!

  • During the story, it seemed that a relationship might’ve been brewing with Christopher and Ana, as well as the story giving off a sense that Chris and Olivia might be drawn together despite the ten year age gap. Are you seeing that going in a romantic direction or more of a quirky partnership / friendship angle?

There is definitely romance in Chris’s future―but definitely not with Olivia.

It was really important to me from the start that Olivia maintain her agency apart from Chris. And a big part of that is that she couldn’t become his love interest. In fact, Chris’s romantic plot was created specifically to eliminate speculation that he and Olivia were an item.

A lot of people love them together, and honestly, I don’t blame them. Chris and Olivia have a ton of chemistry, and the bond they forge is at the centre of everything in the series. But I always wanted that bond to be a platonic one.

  • Do you have any idiosyncratic habits around your writing? (Need certain things in place to be able to write, or tend to do something while writing like my first word thing?)

Gosh, yes.

I can barely write a word unless I’m at my local Starbucks, with a venti Very Berry Hibiscus Refresher made with lemonade instead of water, with my writing laptop, sitting in my special spot. It’s something that I trained myself to do, because I used to write in my house, and it’s just too easy to slack off when you’re in easy arm’s length of your main computer, or your Wii, or the kitchen. I needed discipline, and I read about writing rituals online.

The downside to my system is that if I can’t get out of the house, nothing gets done. But the upside is that I work much, much faster. The Deathsniffer’s Assistant took me almost three years to write, but The Timeseer’s Gambit took me only five months!

  • If you don’t consider this a spoiler, how does Rosemary feel about the elementals? Does she regard them as poor sentient souls trapped in slavery or as talking batteries? The part with the undine when she’s first introduced makes it appear as though she thinks of them as people, but she doesn’t seem to have much of a problem stuffing them back in their boxes when necessary.

Rosemary is an odd duck. She’s young enough that she hasn’t really had the opportunity to form her own opinions, but strong willed enough that she’s formed them anyway. The problem is that she holds those opinions in tandem with the ones her father taught her, and she’s still too sheltered to see where they conflict and try to reconcile them.

Right now, she thinks that she can see them as poor sentient souls and talking batteries. But the real world is crashing in on her, and she’s definitely going to realize those are incompatible viewpoints and decide where she really stands soon enough.

  • How has it been for you working with Curiosity Quills? Tell us how you found them and a bit of your journey from querying to being signed.

When Caitlin contacted me with the offer from CQ, it wasn’t the only one. I had to make a choice between publishers, and it was really, really hard. The following weeks had a lot of phone interviews with people from the different options, and while I liked them all, I really felt a connection with Vicki Keire, my acquiring editor at CQ. She convinced me to give CQ a close look.

Ultimately, I chose them over the competition because they promised a close relationship between the publisher and the authors, and between the authors themselves. And that’s exactly what I got. I’ve always felt like CQ is in my corner. Not just the editors, marketing folks, and production crew, but all the other authors signed with me―like you, Matthew! When I told the community about my upcoming BookBub promo, I couldn’t believe the offers to help spread the word. The people I work with are all wonderful. I wouldn’t trade them for a bigger name.

  • What books/movies/authors would you say are your greatest influences?

Oh geez, so many. Like I said when discussing genre, The Deathsniffer’s Assistant is kind of an amalgam of a hundred different things I’ve seen and liked over the years.

Right now, I’d like to give a shout-out to the absolutely brilliant Robin Hobb. Hobb’s novels inspired me in a way I’m not sure anything else ever has, because of how damn human her characters are. Robin Hobb doesn’t care whether you like the people she’s writing about or not, so long as you understand who they are, why they are that way, and how that decides their actions. I’ve always known I wanted to write characters like that, who aren’t likeable so much as real. Her work really gave me the courage to find the humanity in my characters, even when it wasn’t pretty.

  • What would you like to say to your readers?

I love you so much!

A writer is nobody. Words written in the dark that nobody ever reads are nothing. We write because we want to share the stories crammed up in our heads, and anyone who says otherwise is talking nonsense.

I could write the greatest novel ever written, have it win every award on the planet, and it wouldn’t be worth as much as just one person telling me they cared about what happened to the people I created. To everyone who’s read my book, thank you from the bottom of my heart. You’re the reason I do this―the reason any of us do this.


I wasn’t quite sure what to expect going in to The Deathsniffer’s Assistant. The beautiful cover gave off a Victorian / steampunkish vibe, which had me apprehensive as I’ve had bad experiences with steampunk in the past. I’m happy to say that this novel is more of a Victorian fantasy with magic and elementals.

This is a world where the binding of elementals to power items is commonplace (and dangerous). Enchanted objects from the necessary (lights) to the frivolous (amusement park rides) to the grim (executions) are infused with the essences of unwilling elemental beings. There’s an underlying story arc of a conflict between traditionalists (the enchanters) and progressives (those who wish to wean society from magic and rely on technology), though it serves as a subtle backdrop to the events of the story. In this society, most non-nobles are ‘categorized’ according to their magical abilities. Some people have power over the body and get assigned to work in the medical field, others are ‘heartseers’ and know the feelings of those around them. Some are also ‘truthsniffers’ who are supposedly able to detect lies – though this ‘power’ seemed a bit underwhelming in the story. (I’ll come back to that.)

The story is told from the POV of Christopher Buckley, a ‘fallen aristocrat’ from a once prestigious family who is struggling to provide for his younger sister after the death (several years before) of their parents. His family fortune has dwindled, and he is forced to take work. He winds up in the office of ‘deathsniffer’ O. Faraday, who is a truthsniffer specializing in the investigation of murder. Her occupation (and proud embrace of it) keeps people away out of superstition, but having no other options – Mr. Buckley decides to accept work as her assistant. His magical gift of being a wordweaver allows him to cause writing to appear as fast as he can think it, and his job is to ‘take notes’ of everything that goes on.

The major characters and the antagonist are all richly developed, full characters with believable quirks and unique personalities. With a murder mystery afoot, the author did an excellent job keeping me guessing as to the identity of the killer (though a few hints gave me a strong suspicion which later turned out correct.)

If I had anything somewhat negative to say, I thought the ‘truthsniffing’ was underplayed. The titular ‘deathsniffer’ didn’t seem all that much different from an ordinary investigator with the occasional ‘hunch.’ A minor character (timeseer) wound up adding more of a magical essence to the investigation that I think would’ve felt better coming from the deathsniffer. For the reputation she has, her effect on the story seemed almost brushed aside – Christopher did as much or more figuring out as the primary investigator, and her magical ‘truthseeing’ didn’t feel magical, more like a detective with strong instincts.

I’m looking forward to seeing more of this world, as the conflict between the enslaved elementals and humans looks to be something that Buckley’s sister might play a pivotal role in changing. The way the author portrayed even the elementals left me feeling sympathy for them, and I am wondering if one of the characters is going to wind up leading a crusade to emancipate them at some point.

All in all this was a wonderfully woven tale of murder mystery laced with magic, set in a rich and detailed alternate world England.




Amazon – http://amzn.com/B00ZH2AM5O

Kate’s Blog – http://kate-mcintyre.com/

Twitter – @KateMcBooks

Kate on Facebook – https://en-gb.facebook.com/people/Kate-McIntyre/100006231767485

Update – November 20 2015

2015-11-10 20.47.40

So, I’ve been a bit busy as of late and perhaps a little slow on updating the blog. Some updates:

  • New kitten (Dorian) is settling in and playing with existing cat (Loki) like they’re brothers. (Yay)
  • The new final chapter of Emma & The Banderwigh is done and the ebook should be updated.
  • About halfway done with the first edit pass on Division Zero 4 (Guardian) and it will likely be ready for some beta readers within a few days.
  • Heir Ascendant seems to have gone over well with Curiosity Quills and I anticipate a contract offer soon.
  • Daughter of Mars 1 – The Hand of Raziel should be coming back from first round publisher edits any day now.


Somewhere in the middle of all of that I managed to sneak in a few hours of Fallout 4. I’ve been a major fan of that franchise since it started, from the first day of Wasteland back in 1984. I can’t say I’m big on the first person shooter feel of Fallout 3 and 4… Perhaps I’m an old stodge, but I like the top-down turn based RPG-feel of 1 and 2. Wasteland 2 was awesome… Fallout 4, no so much.

Now, before the torches and pitchforks come out, I’m not saying F04 is a bad game. One glaring thing I’ve noticed early on is that the sense wry humor that infused everything about Fallout 1 and 2 is notably absent. If not for the use of the ubiquitous Vault Boy, power armor, and the quasi atomic-1950s styling of things,  this could’ve been any generic post-nuke apoc game. The “feel” of the fallout universe is thin at best. The original creative team (Black Isle Studios I believe) who did Fallout 1 and 2 lent the game a unique atmosphere which F04 utterly lacks.

Second, I could’ve done without the “build a village” mini-game. It’s cumbersome to try and place/arrange buildings from a first person view, and having to assign individual people to single plants to farm is testicle-smashingly tedious.


As far as the story is concerned, I haven’t had a whole lot of time in yet – but the main character’s baby is abducted in the opening sequence by parties unknown, and the game seems to expect the character to set this aside and run around doing miscellaneous crap for total strangers, set up a village, help this person and that person, and be content NOT to focus all effort on finding the missing infant immediately. To me that feels a bit odd to set up such a high-emotion storyline and then fall into the typical RPG trope of random quests.

I suspect there is a way to ignore everything and chase down the missing baby, but the dialogue options are pretty thin and short of guessing where to go, the character isn’t given much story options/agency in trying to find their kid as priority 1.

Grenades – I’m not sure why they even bothered adding grenades and moltovs to this game. The handling of them is so clumsy they seem to exist only to show off the game’s dismemberment animations when you blow yourself up with them. If there’s even a single blade of grass between you and a target, the grenade will find a way to bounce off it and come back to you. (Forget taking cover, the character is incapable of throwing the grenade over/around anything and it will bounce off the wall/car/chair/desk/table whatever and hit you in the face.  (Also, never, under any circumstances give explosive weapons to companions. They will kill you.)

Giving this to your companion is a REALLY bad idea.

Giving this to your companion is a REALLY bad idea.

Still, I am looking forward to having some time to set aside for the game when I can, but the pull to edit/write is stronger than the pull to play video games.

Maybe I am getting old.