Far More than Boston Common
For many, Fallout 4 will be what they hope to replace Skyrim with. For others, it’ll be what they hope builds upon the sheer awesomeness that was Fallout: New Vegas (though it was made by Obsidian). For me, I was just hoping Fallout 4 could live up to the immense hype that Bethesda themselves have created. Does it?
In a word, yes. In a few, it’s still a Bethesda game. Character animations are improved, but still wooden. Graphical glitches and bugs are still abound. But I’ll be radioactively damned if Fallout 4 didn’t grab me more than any other RPG this year. I began playing the game on PS4, and switched to the PC when Bethesda was able to provide that copy a few days later. Even starting the first several hours over wasn’t a chore because you have so many meaningful choices to make in those first few hours.
Oh, and perhaps most importantly, you finally have a voice. Your character talks, man or woman, has their own personality, and develops as a character depending on the choices you make. It’s clear Bethesda took a queue from BioWare here, as even the dialog choices feel distinctly “BioWarian” – and that’s not a bad thing.
And yes, for those hoping the overarching story might be more memorable, it certainly is. By setting a personal tone to the narrative from the very beginning, you’ll be locked into the tale of the survivor from the start. Whether you choose the male or female, family plays a big role in the entirety of the story. And yet still, FO4 will send you on a multitude of lesser tasks which keep you from chasing down the main plot line. It’s a little weird, given the main task at hand with the beginning of the game, but come on… it’s an open world RPG.
The side quests and exploration are part of the game, and a means to an end. Don’t let that fool you into thinking they’re inconsequential. Every little space in Fallout has a purpose, and every little mission feels like it has an impact on the world. You’ll have to suspend belief a little that you’d stop doing one thing to do another, but Fallout 4 would be a far lesser game without its myriad diversions.
There are a multitude of companions to find, unlock, and play with in the game as well. From the last Minuteman Preston Garvey, to your humble robotic butler Codsworth, to of course… Dogmeat. There are loads more too, should you unlock them, and each one can be assigned to various settlements to help protect them. Each one also has their own relationship with you, and special quests and dialog choices open up based on how you impress or anger them with your actions throughout the game.
For me it was really hard to not just use Dogmeat the German shepherd the whole time because he’s that awesome, but each of the companions has their own set of skills and reasons to come along. Codsworth the robot butler has a flamethrower for Pete’s sake.
There’s also the Power Armor, oh the lovely insane Power Armor. You’ll unlock this fairly early in the main quest, and you’ll find more and craft more throughout the wasteland. You can stash multiple sets across the map, and while they take rare fusion cores to power them (limiting their use a bit), they’re always there when you need them for a mission you think might be too tough to take on alone. You take no fall damage, your attacks are amped up, and the whole UI changes to match the fact that you’re inside the Paladins’ iconic armor.
Played from a first or third person perspective depending upon your preference, Fallout 4’s action is akin to any other shooter. Crouch, snipe, shoot, sneak. The VATS system makes a return, allowing you to pause and take careful aim at any part of an enemy’s anatomy, and for those of you less attuned to the shooter sensibilities, it’s a nice way to take part in the action without relying so much on reflexes and your own pinpoint precision. It’s go an energy meter tied to Action Points that must recharge between uses, but it’s still fairly easy to use mostly the VATS in fights should you prefer that sort of tactical combat.
Throughout the Wasteland that is the Boston Commonwealth, you’re going to pick up a lot of crap. Not literal of course, but a nuclear fallout leaves behind a lot of trash. But one ma’s trash is another man’s treasure, and Fallout 4’s crafting is probably the series’ deepest yet. Literally everything you pick up can be used to make something: weapon, armor, food, first aid, and yes… entire towns. The settlement system is one of the newest additions to the Fallout series, and combines the building of structures and defenses with the traditional upgrading and tweaking of your own character’s equipment.
However, though the Settlement system is novel and cool to toy with, it feels tacked on. 30-plus hours into the game and there’s very little reason I can see to actually focus too much on Settlements. They work towards quest lines and giving you places to find respite in the world, but it still feels somehow inconsequential to the overall purpose of the narrative.
See, there’s that narrative-at-odds-with-the-freeform-game-experience thing again. You can’t have such a freeing RPG experience and expect it all to make sense with the story, I suppose.
You’ll make defense systems, furniture, farm fruits and vegetables, set up power generators and light entire towns. You’ll make beds for people to sleep in, buildings with roofs to sleep under. Quite simply, the Bethesda team took their environment design tools and gamified them. It’s either wonderfully addictive to build these little outposts up, or a needless distraction to the more pressing matters of the game, depending on who you ask. However I can see tons of people building really insane outposts, as the tools are incredibly robust and easy to use.
The new SPECIAL system is actually really great at letting you build your character the way you want. Unlike Skyrim or other TES games, you don’t get better at something in Fallout simply by doing it. You have levels, and each level you’ll gain a point to spend in your SPECIAL talent tree. S stands for Strength, and it goes all the way down to L for luck. If you buy the game on console, while it installs you’ll be treated to the handy animated videos explaining what each stat in SPECIAL is for. The talent tree not only adds to these stats, but also adds perks to your character. Having more points in one stat unlocks deeper more sought after perks. It’s a really clever and unique way to do the whole progression system.
I’ve put over 30 hours into Fallout 4 already, and I’m nowhere near finished with all the game has to offer. I plan on taking my time and working my way through all of the wasteland beyond the final main story mission, because the game allows that to happen seamlessly. DLC and future content updates are bound to come, and I can’t wait to see what the mod community does to this game either. There are bound to be two camps this year. One who loves the Witcher 3 with all of its heart, and one whose love belongs to Fallout 4. For my part, I’m torn between the two. But for what it’s worth Fallout 4 has certainly topped its predecessors as my favorite game in the series and sets a new bar for what to expect from a Bethesda RPG in the future.
VISUALS AND SOUND – 9 | While not absolutely bleeding edge, you’ll find few games that do what Fallout 4 does and does so well. Its score from Inon Zur is fantastic, and the voice acting is superb throughout.
GAMEPLAY – 9 | Minus the somewhat unnecessary addition of settlement building and upkeep (which is still a fun system!), there’s nothing in Fallout 4 that feels half-baked. The stories will have you gripped from beginning to end, even the smaller ones.
POLISH – 7 | It’s a Bethesda RPG. One of the pratfalls of a huge open world RPG is that there’s no way to keep the bugs and glitches from rearing their heads. I never ran into crashes, but more than one time I’ve seen strange and weird animations and had awkward interactions with NPCs. I doubt time will fix these quirks either.
LONGEVITY – 10 | Potentially hundreds of hours await you here. The main campaign is meaty, but it’s all the extra stuff that will keep people playing for dozens more hours.
VALUE – 9 | It’s hard to deny that you’re getting a lot of bang for your $60. But we all know the DLC will come fast and furious, and while it’ll likely be good additional content, you have to wonder how much will be stuff kept out of the initial game.
Our review was done with the PC version of the game primarily, on both a laptop with an NVIDIA 770m (Medium Settings) and a desktop with a dual-SLI Titan X setup. Our copies were provided by Bethesda PR in advance to meet the embargo date of November 8th, 2015 at 8am EST.