Fallout 4’s settlements system isn’t for everyone. Though it was exciting to see such a feature make it into the game, settlements never really had much of an impact on the main quest, and no matter how long you spend working on each plot they never feel like an organic, lived-in part of the Commonwealth. As an idea it’s dripping with potential, but with a restrictive in-game build limit and an overdependence on the player, its implementation scarcely realises even a sliver of that promise.
You can spend a hundred hours sprucing up Sanctuary alone and still wind up with a lifeless settlement that more closely resembles set dressing than a credible post-apocalyptic community. And to do even that much places enormous strain on you. Every last wall, piece of furniture, and ornament needs to be painstakingly placed; you have to find space for a robust power network; you need to ensure there’s enough food, water, and shelter for everyone; and if you don’t keep the place adequately fortified then you’ll have to repair the damage. Nothing happens without you, so even after you down tools, stand back, and reflect on the town you’ve crafted from scratch, it’s hard to shake the feeling that this is all just an elaborate dollhouse.
That is, until you start experimenting with Fallout 4 mods, and in particular Sim Settlements 2 and Rise of the Commonwealth. These mods effectively automate settlement construction, leaving you to handle the big picture stuff like taxation, supply lines, defences, maintenance, recruitment, and even tourism. The experience is transformative. You decide on a city plan, pitch in with supplies, and organise things at the macro level, and over time your settlers build a whole city. Every one of them has something to do, new municipal plots like caravan services and power plants add more variety, and there’s always something new to survey whenever you visit.