Format: PC, PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One
Released: November 10, 2015
It was a stellar moment finally emerging from the darkness and isolation that I’d been holed up in for so long. The beams of sunlight hit my face, and I raised my hand to shield myself from the sudden bright. I looked out to a vast open world, calling out to me, and I wondered what was out there, waiting for me.
Then my girlfriend asked me, “Have you really been playing ‘Fallout 4’ this whole time?”
That’s when it dawned on me: Bethesda Game Studios has done it again. This total absorption, the ability to keep my attention and neglect the real world for days on end – it’s the kind of thing I haven’t experienced since Bethesda’s last outings, “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim” and “Fallout 3.” And with “Fallout 4” they have crafted yet another massive world filled with danger, unsavory characters, wonder, and intrigue that threatens to endlessly consume hours of my time. But to be honest, I couldn’t be happier to feed this ravenous beast. This game is a true gem, offering a plethora of fun and proving itself as yet another classic staple in the series that reminds us that “War Never Changes.”
Once again, we return to the post-apocalyptic wasteland of 2287. But before that, in this outing, we actually get to see a brief glimpse at life before said apocalypse hits. We create our character in the safe and thriving retro-futuristic 2077, and soon rush to the signature vaults for safety as the bombs hit. We later emerge 210 years later as the sole survivor of Vault 111, then go on to explore the remains of the greater Boston area, now known only as The Commonwealth. Our main goal is to reunite with a lost family member, and this hunt quickly pits us against the area’s most notorious boogeymen: The Institute. They’re shrouded in dreadful mystery and infamous for kidnapping people and replacing them with convincing synthetic copies – think if the Illuminati was run by Terminators.
Along the way, we come across a multitude of memorable characters. There are several companions out in the wasteland that are willing to accompany you on your journey, each with their own distinct personalities, combat preferences, and unique perks to bestow upon you. One is the hard-boiled detective Nick Valentine, who would look just like Humphrey Bogart if it weren’t for the fact that he was a cyborg. Another is the self-described as nosey reporter Piper Write, who wants to do good by the people even more than write a good story. But of course, if you aren’t interested in those two or any of the others you can find, you can always bring along your trusty canine, Dogmeat.
Factions make a return as well, each one with their own strict and ideology and plans for the Commonwealth that you can choose to join or thwart. The iconic, power-armor-clad Brotherhood of Steel are back, their mission to secure all technology for themselves and preserve humanity now zealously driving them to cull all synthetic life. New to “Fallout 4” are the Minutemen and The Railroad– the former a philanthropic movement to bring unity and protection to the common people, and the later an underground society committed to freedom of synthetics from the Institute and their well-being. And finally, let’s just say that the Institute doesn’t have to be your enemies…
Admittedly, the first act of the game presents itself at a whiplash-inducing speed, going from the bombs being dropped to stomping around in power armor within about twenty minutes. However, once you get past the first couple of mandatory quests and you’re free to roam as you please, it’s pure bliss. The Commonwealth is significantly bigger than the Capital Wasteland of “Fallout 3,” filled with brilliant and diverse scenery filled with danger and treasure with everything from historic tourist sights, to broken down ships, to even a Museum of Witchcraft. It’s nearly impossible to stay rigidly on the course of single quest lines, as you’ll constantly be stumbling across new buildings and bits of interest that you just have to explore. Will this burnt down hospital be filled with tons of ammo crates, packs of Super Mutants, a legendary enemy, or stat boosting magazines? Who knows! Like previous Bethesda titles, the game shines its brightest when you’re just out in the world caught up in the excitement of exploration.
However, while that overall essence of roaming the wasteland is still the same, “Fallout 4” introduces its fair share of changes to the experience. One of the biggest changes you’ll come to know right away is how it handles leveling your character. You still have your seven S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats – Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, and Luck – which you can spread a set amount of points across, with each stat carrying its own effect (Strength determines your carrying capacity, Charisma your chances of persuading people in dialogue, Agility your amount of Action Points, etc.). However, in previous “Fallout” titles you would then have Skills that you can also spread points across with each level up, and then additional Perks to add bonus effects. “Fallout 4” on the other hand does away with the Skills entirely, rolling whatever benefits they yielded into a broader Perk system. Where in “Fallout 3” you’d have to splurge a series of points in the to the Medicine Skill to up the effectiveness of healing items, now in “Fallout 4,” you spend your single level-up point to obtain the Medic perk.
And yes, you read that correctly. One point. That’s all you get with each level. While this might be annoying to those who liked to put a little points here, and a little points there when leveling in previous “Fallout” titles, it ultimately leads to more tense and thoughtful approaches to advancing your character. There’s three ways you can spend your point: do you use it to up one of your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats, do you use it to grab a new perk, or do you use it to obtain a new rank in one of the perks you’ve already obtained? It’s a tough choice to make every time, but the end result is that each choice has some weight to it.
The dialogue system has been overhauled as well, taking a more “Mass Effect” route of having a voiced protagonist with limited responses. The benefit of this is being more invested in your character as we see more emotion in their acted performances, which are thankfully spot-on thanks to the voice talent of Courtney Taylor and Brian Delaney (If you play female or male character, respectively). However, a lot of the time, the dialogue options leave much to be desired. For every moment you need to speak that doesn’t involve a charisma attempt, you are often only given 4 possible flavors of response: inquisitive, blunt and rude, polite and comforting, or cringe-worthy attempts at being clever. To add to the annoyance, often the descriptions for each speech option are just plain vague. At one point a doctor told me I needed to venture out into highly radioactive wastes, and I picked the response simply called “Sarcastic,” expecting a snide dismissal of such a ridiculous plan. Instead, my character chuckled like a goof and said, “Radiation? Fingers crossed it gives me superpowers.” Moments like these don’t necessarily ruin the game, but they definitely detract from attempts at serious roleplay.
But let’s talk nitty-gritty. You want to know how it feels to shoot super mutants in their ugly mugs. Well, I’m happy to say that the combat feels much more intuitive, more visceral, and just plain more fun than in previous entries. Bethesda has gone on to say that they modeled their combat after Bungie’s shared-world shooter, “Destiny,” and it shows in the best way possible. Aiming and shooting at enemies feels fluid and snappy, and the new ability to use action points to sprint is much appreciated when the going gets tough. It’s a vast improvement from “Fallout 3” and “Fallout New Vegas,” where if you weren’t using the stopped-time targeting system, V.A.T.S., then you were handling incredibly clunky weapons in stiff, detached firefights. The game feels much more like a true to form shooter in this outing, much like how “Skyrim” felt like real hack and slashing compared to “The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.”
To complement the streamlining and increased speed of the new combat, enemies are quicker and more aggressive in this game – every firefight feeling like a hectic fight for your life. Staple enemies such as feral ghouls were once just lowly trash mobs, but now charge you in wild packs with such reckless abandon that they literally crash and stumble about when they miss their lunges. Combine this with their infliction of radiation damage (which now cuts off your total amount of health) and my heartbeat skyrockets every time that I see that I’ve disturbed a group of them. That being said, there are some niggling concerns I had with the combat. V.A.T.S. no longer stops time, instead just slowing it, making what was once a way to tactically plan my attacks to in my experience, just a way to frantically charge up and execute critical hits. And be warned: enemies are very grenade happy this time around, so expect many deaths by explosion – explosions that can only be avoided by sprinting, but alas, often your action points are drained from V.A.T.S. use.
Thankfully, you can put just as much hurtin’ on the enemies with the incredible selection of weapons and modifications. Several “Fallout” staples return, such as the trusty Hunting Rifle, the punch-packing Power Fist, and notorious Fat Man mini-nuke launcher, but to add to that are a series of newer weapons like the jerry-rigged pipe-weapons and deadly radiation weapons. And every single gun in the game is susceptible to a plethora of modifications to increase their power and tailor to how you want to play, leading to any weapons combos from a snub-nosed, fully-automatic laser shotgun, to a silenced, night-vision-scoped .50 cal sniper. These mods are accomplished by a new and ingenious loot system, where literally every single item of junk that you find out in the world can be scrapped for valuable crafting materials. “Fallout 4” may be the one game where you’ll pass up on grabbing a missile launcher so that you have enough space to carry more duct tape and toy cars. Those adhesives and screws are just too precious of commodities to pass up.
Armor also has its fair share of avenues for customization. It’s a confusing system at first given there’s no clear explanation for how it works, but essentially there are four armor types: under armor like your vault uniform or raider leathers; armor pieces for the legs, arms, and chests that go over the under armor; complete outfits that cover all the body and can’t be covered or modified; and lastly, power armor, which runs on limited resources to wrap over your body in an “Iron Man” fashion and bestow incredible strength and defense. The first and the third types can’t offer anything other than their base defenses and stat boosts, but the second and fourth are free reign. Invest in the Armorer perk, and you can make your gauntlets give you better stability aiming with scopes, your legs offer more time sprinting, and your chest piece riddled with extra carrying capacity. Or if you want to play like a tank for as much as possible, you can supe up your power armor to even higher defenses or even slap a jetpack on it. The fusion cores that fuel the suits are limited at first, but if you take the time to gather some up and deck out the suits, you’ll be stomping through raiders with ease and making Tony Stark proud.
In case crafting weapons and armor weren’t enough to satisfy your creative itch, “Fallout 4” also allows you to build up houses, towers, and anything else you can think of in its new and expansive Settlement system. When you discover various farms, towns, and outposts, they become a settlement, completely at the whim of your wishes, imagination, and gathered resources. You plant food and create water wells to attract and sustain new settlers, who you can then use to tend to your crops, manage defense towers, or run supply lines between your various settlements. Then you can select from a wide array of prefabricated buildings, or erect entire structures yourself piece by piece and deck it out with turrets, decorations, and whatever oddities you can come up with. It doesn’t actually forward the story or mission progression in the game (in fact, it is entirely optional), but it is a fun addition to anyone who feels up to the challenge of rebuilding society, or at least wants something equally absorbing to do once they’ve wrapped up the main quests.
However, it seems you just can’t have a Bethesda game without the litany of bugs and glitches. Frame rate drops, textures not loading, objects and characters all clipping in and out of each other – all of them seem to just be an unfortunate part of the package when you want a gameworld with as many working pieces in it as “Fallout 4” has. I also noticed that the sub-titles for the dialogue are frequently laggy, often displaying text for lines spoken four responses ago, if even updated at all. Some people are reporting serious glitches in various quests, ranging from annoyances like not being able to prompt a needed response, to those that simply crash the game for no discernable reason. Then of course there’s the hilarious hiccups in AI, allowing the dog to fly from one corner of the room to another, or having slain enemies’ bodies start spinning like ferris wheels. For the most part, these instances are benign, or even endearing, but they are nonetheless blemishes on what otherwise feels like a totally polished product.
I could go on and on and on about “Fallout 4.” The wealth of content, the variability of player experiences – hell, I haven’t even mentioned the game’s support for the game-modding community! The point being, this a massive experience. Whether you are the silent assassin that wants a to experience an engaging story, or the sledgehammer-swinging cannibal who robs every person they meet, there’s a good time waiting for you in the Commonwealth. It has its share of issues, which stop me from calling it a perfect game. But there’s just so much to see, so much to do, and so much fun to be had throughout it all. It’s a game I’ll be playing for years, maybe even until the world really ends.
Score: 9.0 / 10