Bethesda Game Studios’ latest in it’s post-apocalyptic open-world RPG series, Fallout 4, was released last week and I’ve spent around 60 hours with the game so far, and I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. The game’s setting, characters and sense of discovery have their hooks in me, and I am itching to jump back in.
2008’s Fallout 3 was released to critical acclaim, and it thrust the series into the mainstream. Does Fallout 4 fill those shoes?
Set in post-nuclear war Boston, Massachusetts, now known as The Commonwealth in the similar-yet-strange Fallout future, Fallout 4 takes everything that made the previous game’s setting interesting and builds upon it. Capital Wasteland begged to be explored, despite remaining pretty brown and grey, and The Commonwealth begs the same but with an added splash of colour and environmental variety. There are forests, cities, farms and literal patches of inhospitable, green, radioactive wasteland for you to explore which all look definitively different from one another.
The game begins with a rare look at pre-war life in the Fallout universe, and you play as The Man or Woman Out of Time. This small section of your home life serves as the tutorial and character creation section of the game, but things quickly turn sour as the bombs begin to fall. You race to Vault 111 with your family in tow, and don’t emerge until 200 years later. The main story starts off strong, and it definitely has it’s moments. Filled with moral grey areas, it had me questioning if I was doing the right thing or siding with the right people multiple times, but like Fallout 3 and Skyrim before it, it ultimately falls flat in all of the games multiple endings. Fortunately, it doesn’t end there, as there are no shortage of side quests to conquer, locations to discover and characters to introduce yourself to. This is where Fallout 4 really shines. Most of the side-quests are more interesting and enticing than the main story, and this seems to be the norm with Bethesda’s games. There are also a tonne of sometimes tragic, sometimes hilarious small stories being told by terminal logs, holotapes and where bodies are left laying that you can easily miss if you’re not paying attention which adds a real lived-in feel to The Commonwealth.
Most of the story characters are interesting enough to keep you pursuing their needs and wants, and some of them you love to hate, but the real character gold comes from your companions. Each has their own personality, likes and dislikes and special skills, and no two are the same. From robots, to dogs, to boring-ass humans, each has an interesting backstory. Almost all of them have special Mass Effect-style loyalty quests tied to them that you can complete, but other than earning a few extra brownie points and undying loyalty, these don’t really lead to anything spectacular. You can also dismiss them to any of your settlements throughout the game as you recruit more, but be warned, dismissing a companion is the scariest thing I’ve encountered in the game thus far. I’ve had companions (who I’ve loaded a shit tonne of valuable loot onto, might I add) disappear, only to turn up at the settlement I sent them to many real-life days later, and act as if nothing happened. To keep the heart healthy, I’ve started dismissing them to the settlement when I’m actually there instead of miles away from it, so they don’t get lost or whatever the fuck else they were doing Tuesday through Friday last week.
Another welcome change is the overhaul to many of the game’s mechanics. As expected, Fallout 4 runs a lot smoother than the previous in the series. It’s no secret that V.A.T.S was introduced to address the lackluster combat mechanics of Fallout 3, and V.A.T.S is still present in Fallout 4 (probably because it’s an iconic mechanic that is instantly recognisable and really, really fucking cool) but it’s live combat mechanics have increased dramatically. Controls feel responsive and tuned, and you can now aim down the sites instead of exclusively firing from the hip. I often find myself using V.A.T.S to scope out enemy areas instead of actually fighting with it. That’s a testament to how much the gunplay has improved. It no longer feels like you’re firing blind into a crowd of enemies.
V.A.T.S has also been slightly altered. Instead of stopping time altogether and giving yourself a moment to breathe, it now only partially slows time, meaning the pressure is never off. The change leaves you feeling vulnerable, and really adds to the tension of a fight.
Looting enemies and containers has been streamlined as well. The game no longer pauses and opens a menu for you to transfer items between yourself and the corpses of your victims/a fridge (although that window is still available with the “Transfer” button.) A window will hover over the container/dead thing in realtime and you can decide what to leave or take without slowing down the game.
Speaking of looting, it is now an essential part of the newly added crafting and base-building mechanics. Each item of “Junk” you find can be scrapped for components such as Steel, Wood. Glass, Copper etc, and it really made me sweat trying to decide what to keep and what to drop when I’d reached max carry capacity. Each structure you build or weapon you mod needs a certain amount of each required component. There are various settlements throughout the game that you can become allied with, allowing you to build structures and defenses within them to keep the settlers safe and happy. Kind of like a post-apocalyptic Sims. Although fun in theory, I felt that it wasn’t executed very well, and the game never really makes you use the feature unless it’s tied to a story beat. Weapon and Armour Crafting, however, is incredibly fun and customisable. I’m constantly looking forward to going back to my home base after a mission and seeing what utter monstrosities I can create with what I just picked up. Each mod to your weapon significantly changes the appearance of it and makes it feel like your own. You can also rename your weapons, which is a lovely little addition. (Shoutout to Splatta’ the Shotgun.)
Armour mods don’t alter the appearance as dramatically, but work in much the same way. You can also mod your Power Armour, which has gone under a total mechanical overhaul this time around. Instead of being a wearable peace of apparel, it acts more like a vehicle that you can enter that has a finite amount of fuel. You’re given access to a set right at the beginning of the game to drive this point home. This is your Power Armour. You can build upon it in whatever way you see fit. I loved the change. Much like the weapons, it made the armour feel like something I owned and something that was unique to me, and the fuel being a finite resource moved me to only taking the Power Armour out of it’s garage when it was absolutely necessary.
For everything the game does great though, there are a couple of problems. Unfortunately, that patented Bethesda Jank™ is back. Other than the risky companion dismissal mentioned earlier, there have been a couple of times where I’ve had to reload a save because I walked off the wrong platform and got stuck in the world, with no amount of jumping or shimmying loosening the virtual grip on me.
The Bethesda Jank™ is forgivable, though. Throughout Fallout 3, Skyrim and now Fallout 4 it has been present, and Bethesda get a a bit of a free pass because no other games are as wide in scope or as ambitious as their’s. No other game lets you interact with the world the way a Bethesda game does. It’s admirable, and it’s done better now than it ever has been. It may not look or run as nicely as it’s open-world contemporaries like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt or Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, but Fallout boasts levels of interaction unparalleled in video games, and I think that’s a fair trade off.
Fallout 4 has it’s problems, sure, but it’s sense of exploration and adventure easily outshine these issues. It’s world, characters and countless modifications you can make to your character and weapon make it an extremely personalised affair and no two people will play the same game twice. Fallout 4 not only fills it’s predecessor’s shoes, it had to buy new ones because it’s feet were way too big for them.
Verdict: Play this game.