When it comes to a franchise as beloved and lauded as Fallout, the pressure that developer Bethesda felt must have been substantial. Since Fallout 3 launched to critical success in the fall of 2008, gamers everywhere had waited patiently, then impatiently, for years with absolutely no word from the gaming giant. Clues for announcements seemed dismal leading up to E3 2015 – Bethesda had released a press invite including characters from their many IP’s and none of them appeared Fallout related. Well gamers who thought Bethesda was skipping yet another year were pleasantly surprised when an actual gameplay trailer launched just before the Electronics Entertainment Expo. Bethesda knowing the expectation of the fans and having a new advanced hardware to work with, hopes were high that this would be yet another epic western RPG with hundreds of hours of content. When more time was spent analyzing gameplay footage and remembering that they were reusing the game engine that was featured in Skyrim, many people both in press and at home had some severe doubts if Fallout 4 would be more of an incremental improvement over the last, or something truly next gen and special. Here we are now, a month removed from the launch of Fallout 4 and if you happened to have missed scores of reviews or played it for yourself, now is your time to find out how it is, and let me tell you, it does not disappoint.
Taking place in the year 2287 in post-apocalyptic Boston, you play as a sole survivor emerging from a vault to explore the wasteland. I won’t spoil any of the story details here, but things don’t go as planned in the vault and your motivation for exploring the world is strong. Of course being an open world RPG, where you go and how you go about it is really up to you. Want to speed run to the far end of the world and explore half sunken ships on the coastline? Go ahead. Feel like playing it safe and spending an exorbitant amount of time in the starting settlement crafting buildings and starting trade settlements? Be my guest. You see that is what makes Fallout 4 so special, there are hundreds of things that players can choose to occupy their time, and most of them are so in depth that they are tied in with fully evolved side quests.
Take the settlement crafting as one example. Fallout 4 includes a fully-fledged crafting experience that was not expected by anyone. You are given the tools to tear down structures in certain settlements and towns, create new ones, furnish them and then plant gardens in the backyard. Why don’t you then go ahead and move in some settlers and assign them to gardening duty. You can create a wall around your town and arm it with turrets as well as create generators to supply energy to flood lights. More people in your settlement requires the use of more resources which in turn requires extra settlers to manage the new crops and defenses. Want to become a master trader and set up supply caravans between your towns? Go right ahead. The intricacy of some of these systems is nuanced and there is absolutely no hand holding of the players. While this may not be a very casual friendly approach, the constant ability to find new things you can do and ways to overcome problems enables great reward for players and a feeling of accomplishment.
Thinking back to Fallout 3 and New Vegas, I had very little reason to collect the myriad of in-world items littering the floor and on buildings shelves. When I first ran into those games I collected everything and then quickly found myself over encumbered. As it turned out, only a few of those items were useful for various weapon components or as fodder for your Rock-It Launcher. This time around Bethesda has created great usefulness for every game item. This allows the resources to be allocated to however you see fit. Each in game item can be broken down into basic items such as screws, metal, wood etc. Every item you want to craft, whether it be a generator or creating a weapon mod will need these base components in differing amounts. This creates a new incentive for searching for more rare materials or simply just picking up everything you find in the world. If you thought you liked to carry a lot in Fallout 3, this time you may wish to heavily invest in the Strength skill and go for the Heavy Back perk.
The way that you level up has also been adjusted this time around. The famous S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system for each of your characters attributes is now the frontrunner of the level up screen. Investing points in individual skills such as small guns or explosives is no longer an option. Instead each of those skills is now covered under perks which are listed under each of the special stats. Each of your abilities has ten levels of perks, and most of them can be upgraded 5 times. The amount of player customization is huge and how you approach it is up to you. If you really want a perk on the Luck tree, but it is level seven and you only have Luck level 4, you can choose to use your skill point and add it directly to the Luck tree. Those attributes are no longer chosen at the beginning and then remain stagnant throughout the game like before. Let’s say that now you have that level 7 perk and you decide it is what you had been waiting for. You may want to level it up to 5 right away, but that is buried behind level cap walls. So the amount of progression is timed right to carry a player through many levels of play without enabling them to become over-powered too early.
Let’s be honest, if you’re this far into my review you know what Fallout has to offer. You likely know that it is your cup of tea and you are looking for that last little bit of justification before making the purchase. But let’s assume that you know nothing of this game and you are wondering if it is really for you. Let me speak as a true gamer and just advise of its strengths. Fallout 4 is chock full of content. You can spend scores of hours aimlessly exploring, being drawn into the lore of the universe one random building at a time. You can decide to stick with the main storyline and feel yourself attracted to its better than normal writing and create your own character to your perfect specifications.
Sometimes in life it’s the little things that are able to bridge the gap between fact and fiction; the barrier between plausible and implausible. This is the factor of immersion and it is so important in video games today. Fallout 4 is impressively immersive. Carrying one of your many companions along with you changes up the experience in several ways. Taking Dogmeat with you enables you to travel with your trusty canine and interact with him in special ways. I was on the opposite end of a ravine as Dogmeat. I looked at him and was able to call for him. My voiced character belted out a yell across the large divide. Another time I was crouching in a room mere feet from enemies and I called for Dogmeat and my character whispered for him. Another time I was traveling with Piper, a rather special companion and we were stealthing through a building. She started asking me a question and she yelled it out pretty loud for about the first half of her sentence. When she realized that she was giving away our position she changed to a whisper and said “sorry!” under her breath. It is these little details that sell the entire experience and make you feel as if you are there in the world.
On that note, for the first time in Fallout history you play as a voiced protagonist, either male or female. Bethesda has been trying to make the whole dialogue experience less rigid for quite some time and one of their biggest changes is to the voiced character. Having a real person voice our characters works really well for the story direction of Fallout 4 and makes the writing so much more layered. It is worth noting that the dialogue options do a feel a bit limited and my answers are relegated to either yes, no, give me more info or a sarcastic approach. I have yet to find a time where this has really limited the gameplay, but it does feel a bit underutilized.
You can’t have a revised conversation system alone without revamping some of the other game systems. Shooting this time around is way more developed. Bethesda, a now proud owner of id Studios, has taken some of their coworker’s advice and incorporated their proper shooting advice. Gunplay is smooth and shooting from the now slow motion V.A.T.S., or in real time, feels equally as beneficial and rewards real skill. Cover is now a more practical solution to avoiding bullets and a “peer from cover” mechanic now allows gunfights to be more real time in nature. Load times are still present, albeit more infrequent and ladders are still non-existent. The limitation in engine sophistication has not been detrimental to these awesome developers. The cities are dense and many buildings are open and explore able with no load time. There is a verticality this time which enables much more freedom and strategy when fighting enemies. Whether I just climbed a fire escape of a building to ascend to the rooftops to carefully snipe enemies, or I’m shooting at foes through the floorboards of a rickety old apartment, the ability to add height to the game is freeing.
I feel like I have rambled during this review. If you felt like you had trouble keeping up with me then you have a general idea of what to expect. You may be deep in a quest and solving all of its intricate mysteries just to be pulled from your plans by a random pedestrian telling you that they need your help immediately. You follow them into an abandoned alley and may realize that it was a plan to rob you. Once you have killed your attackers you may have found yourself exploring another historic ruin just to find a new quest available on your map. This is what Fallout is all about. Exploring and staking your claim to this malleable and changing post-apocalyptic world. Sure, Bethesda’s ever present glitches are still here in full display, but they show character. One of my favorites is entering closed off buildings early. Many of the in-game buildings which are inaccessible except via loading screens have open windows which allow you to look inside. If you are lucky enough to peer inside and find a seat or a chair, you can interact and choose to sit down. You will instantly be pulled inside the building and will find yourself sitting on the chair. You’ve just clipped through the wall and saved a few minutes of exploration and it is pure laughable humor. These small things give the game its infamous glitches which are talked about for years.
Fallout 4 is an imperfect game which gets about everything right. It’s a huge world with immaculate art design, intriguing lore and quests, and a newly voiced protagonist. They all play together in a symphony of cohesion that is rarely found in gaming today. While the gameplay is not perfect and some flaws keep it from sheer mastery, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and is deserving of any real gamers valuable time. I wholeheartedly recommend this to any person alive today.
Fallout 4 is available now on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 from Bethesda Studios.