Fallout 4 Review
You know exactly what you’re getting into when you play a Bethesda RPG. You’re getting a sprawling open world to explore; filled with interesting people, deadly enemies, and loot filled locations. You’re getting a tremendous sense of power and ability, with characters that you devote countless hours to, building up from a nobody into a godlike hero or villain. You’re getting a time sink which will eat away the hours as you explore just one more location, finish just one more quest, or level up just one more time. You’re also getting something that’s not the most smoothly polished of titles, that’s often buggy, and that doesn’t have exceptional storytelling, but that’s usually considered an acceptable trade off when it comes to the sheer scale of their worlds. Fallout 4 delivers exactly what you expect, continuing and building upon the enormously successful formula of Bethesda’s previous titles and providing an excellent and almost overwhelmingly expansive gaming experience.
Fallout 4 opens in 2077, just before the bombs hit and the world goes to hell. Your character, your spouse, and your newborn son are living in the suburbs, a happy little family in a world at war. As the bombs fall you flee to the nuclear shelter Vault you’ve been registered to. Of course, old fans of Fallout know perfectly well that the Vaults were never meant to save the people in the event of a nuclear war, they were messed up science experiments. In your case, with Vault 111, it’s a cryogenics program. Frozen, you ride out the years, awoken briefly to see your son kidnapped and your spouse gunned down before your very eyes as you watch helplessly. When you finally escape, you’re the sole survivor. It’s been 210 years since the bombs dropped, and you’re now in a crazy post apocalyptic Boston trying to find your son and get some revenge. Of course, finding him will be difficult and will involve a lot of wacky adventures, dangerous enemies, varied locations and interesting characters. And while it starts with finding your kid, it ends with you deciding who can rule the wastelands as you run into the various factions intent on changing the Commonwealth for good or ill. It’s an interesting world filled with a bit of moral ambiguity, and even the bad guys; the sinister mad scientist types known as the Institute, can be sympathetic and a faction that you’d want to ally with, even if you find them reprehensible.
While the writing isn’t as great in comparison to more narrative focused RPGs, it’s some gripping stuff that’s helped out with the addition of voice acting for your character. However, the new dialogue wheel is simplistic, and often doesn’t properly explain what your character will say if you pick it. It’s actually a step back from Bethesda’s old dialogue systems which, while clunkier, where considerably more detailed. Also of note, a long standing feature of the Fallout series, the ending slideshow, isn’t present in Fallout 4. In previous games you were treated to a summary of the effects of your decisions. Wiped out those raider camps? In time, trade caravans will flourish, and settlements of peaceful civilians will grow. Completed that quest in a certain way? Great job, while you wanted to do the good thing, countless innocents will now suffer as a result of misplaced mercy. Fallout 4 doesn’t offer that, with a rather disappointing ending cut scene that’s extremely similar regardless of what faction you pick that more or less robs you of the impact of your decisions. Still, as any fan of a Bethesda RPG will tell you, it’s not about the main quest but the side quests. Similarly, it’s not about the main narrative, but the little stories you see, and participate in as you explore the wasteland.
Gameplay wise, Fallout 4 builds on Fallout 3 and New Vegas, while also changing things up. At its core, the gameplay remains the same. Travel the wasteland, kill foes, hack computers, pick locks. However, there are some changes that make things more streamlined, and changes that improve upon things. Firstly, the level system has been altered. You still have SPECIAL stats, Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility and Luck, but they’ve removed the system of skill points. Instead everything is now tied in with the Perk system, and the Perk system is linked to the SPECIAL stats. Every time you level up, you get a point which you can place into SPECIAL or use to buy a perk. Perks have SPECIAL stat and level requirements, and it’s highly beneficial to branch out and ensure your stats are well balanced. For example, I’ve been focussing heavily on crafting, both for myself and for my settlements. As such I’ve put the points into the necessary stats, and gotten the perks to customise weapons and armour, to create medicines and explosives, and to improve my settlements. Secondly, there are minor changes to combat; grenades can now be thrown as a sub-weapon, rather than having to swap weapons directly to grenades. VATS is now bullet time, rather than complete time stoppage. Using guns is also more accurate and satisfying, with improved shooting. Thirdly; inventory and condition. Radiation poisoning now isn’t just some stat you can comfortably ignore for a while. It reduces your maximum health until you get it cleaned up.
Weapons and armour no longer degrade at all, and you no longer need to continually cannibalise weapons and armour to keep your stuff in top shape. This simplifies things considerably, and frees you up to sell all of that junk now. Which is necessary because caps aren’t quite as easy to make off traders any more. Armour now comes in parts. You have three types of armour. Clothing, Armour, and Outfits. Outfits operate like old Fallout games. Equip one thing, and that’s the whole set of armour. Armour comes in individual body parts that you can equip separately in varying combinations. Clothing serves as an under layer. Most notably though is that Power Armour has undergone a complete overhaul. You can no longer have it on indefinitely and is now a finite resource. Rather than just something you equip, it’s a walking tank you climb in and out of, and that runs on a limited supply of Fusion Cores. It’s basically the ace in your sleeve and something you only break out when you really, really need it. For example, one of my settlements in a dangerous part of the wasteland was attacked by a horde of super-mutants. Going with my regular guns and armour, even when dosed to the gills on combat enhancing drugs just got me killed messily. Several times in fact. So, I donned the power armour, grabbed a mini gun, hummed Black Sabbath’s Iron Man, and then locked myself in mortal combat with them. And it was still a damn close thing.
The biggest change to gameplay though is the crafting. Aside from the small stuff like crafting chemicals and explosives and cooking food, you can now modify weapons and armour in a number of interesting ways. Have a laser pistol with an excellent effect? Attach a long barrel and a rifle stock and you’ve got a laser rifle. Slap on a longer barrel and a scope and you’ve got a sniper rifle.
Still all of that is simplistic compared to the biggest and most radical part of crafting; building settlements. Now, rather than just helping innocents and their ramshackle towns, you can create them. In specific locations you can build up settlements, managing their needs for food, water and defence. Aside from giving you valuable experience points, you can get all sorts of things from the settlements you build, and while it’s not necessary to participate in, and might throw people off, it’s immensely satisfying. Build up a town, invest time and effort, and you’ll get rewarded. A helpful supply of goods for crafting. Food and water you can sell for caps. Stores which bring income in for you. Home bases for you to store your equipment. Progress far enough with the Minutemen faction and you’ll gain the ability to deploy artillery strikes with smoke grenades, artillery launched by the settlements you’ve created throughout the wasteland. So I’d say it pays to build up some settlements.
The new crafting system also makes ALL the junk you see in the game become useful. All those useless coffee cups you could pick up? Break them down into ceramic. Tin cans? Turn them into steel. Toy cars? You better be collecting those, because they give you screws and you can always do with more screws. It makes collecting everything like some deranged hoarder more important than ever because now it’s actually useful.
Presentation wise Fallout 4 is fantastic. People will grumble about the graphics, the PC Master Race will complain it’s not high end enough, people will say the art direction and colour palette is almost cartoony, but it makes for a gorgeous world to explore. Boston wasn’t hit anywhere near as bad as Fallout 3’s Washington, so it doesn’t linger under some horrible dusty haze. It’s also not in a desert like New Vegas, so there’s a nice blend of environments to travel through. Boston is surprisingly intact, and seeing skyscrapers in the distance, clear blue skies and starry nights, it’s a great looking place. Although if you want true post-apocalyptic horror, special mention should be made to the glowing sea, which is the epicentre of the nuke that hit Boston and as such is a hellish, yellow fog filled with deadly creatures that’s so radioactive it’ll kill you in seconds. It looks like an alien world and is fascinating and terrifying to explore.
Sound wise, the majority of the voice acting is fantastic. I was expecting a lot more “Bawston” style accents though. I was hoping it would be like the set of the Departed or something. Oh well. Voice acting for the protagonist is also appreciated, but could be better, with the male protagonist often sounding bland. The music is fantastic. Inon Zur has created an excellent musical score, with a stirring theme for Fallout 4, and the in game radio is the usual fun selection of 1950’s era tunes. Performance wise, Fallout 4 is seemingly less buggy than their previous titles. It runs relatively smoothly, and apart from some weird character spawning, pathfinding, and clipping issues i.e. characters phasing through stuff, a Brahmin appearing on a roof, and another one appearing inside a room despite not being to fit through the door, I haven’t experienced too many performance hiccups, and there’s doesn’t seem to be many serious issues.
Fallout 4 is what you’d expect from a Bethesda RPG. It’s an excellent, albeit slightly buggy game, set in a huge open world that’s addictive as all hell, sucking the hours out of your life as you continually explore the world and improve your skills and abilities. While the storytelling aspects can be a bit light, the gameplay makes up for it, providing you with a ton of things to see and do, as well as interesting and game changing new ideas like settlement building and management. It’s comfortably familiar, but different enough to draw you in with its exciting new features. Like they keep saying in all the Fallout 4 promotional material; “Welcome Home.”
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