Although I’ve played Fallout games before, this would be my first major foray into the series, which has always held a soft spot in my heart for the richness of the alternate history lore. There was a huge sense of apprehension – would Fallout 4live up to the hype that has been built both before and after the official reveal earlier this year? And would Bethesda, who haven’t really ever missed a beat in terms of games, finally drop the ball with one of the serious game of the year contenders? Well, after a 30+ hour trek through the Wasteland, I’m pleased to say that none of my fears were justified. Fallout 4 is another example of Bethesda’s open world RPG formula succeeding again, with so many more new features thanThe Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and earlier Fallout instalments that it’s hard to imagine how we played without them.
Where to start? The open world is probably the best place. Taking place in a post-apocalyptic Boston, dubbed ‘The Commonwealth’, the game world is massive, colourful and full of a million and one things to do. From the first moment you step out of Vault 111, your compass lights up with silhouettes of nearby locations, which immediately piqued my curiosity. Discovering these locations can lead to anything, ranging from simple character interactions to entire quest lines. For example, investigating a radio signal on your Pip Boy leads to a wonderful and wacky quest line involving a pre-War superhero. In an effort to further expand the world, the game begins slightly before the bombs fell and create the wasteland that you explore for the rest of the game. This was a smart move, as it allows you to compare the town your character lived in before to what remains over 200 years later. The rest of the world is much the same as described, with huge variety and diversity. The massive cityscape of downtown Boston gives way to radiation infused cracked earth, ruined towns, rolling beaches and desolate imagery of abandoned tanker ships in a corner of the map.
The world also feels more alive than ever, partly due to the colour that now enriches the landscape which you explore, but also in the creatures that you encounter along the way. The enemy types vary massively, from the signature Deathclaws, to Mirelurks and Radscorpions. Each enemy feels markedly different to fight, something which is further enriched by the addition of Legendary enemies, which drop special apparel or weapons. This addition helps to give significance to each encounter and fight, lending a real sense of achievement when you take down a Legendary Deathclaw for example, especially as you venture deeper into the game.
The encounters work well, but they’d be nothing without both the context to tie them together and the improved mechanics. Without going into spoiler-y territory,Fallout 4’s story is amongst the best that Bethesda has ever crafted; it’s a personal quest, and one that becomes inevitably tied up in the various Commonwealth factions as the game progresses. Naturally, whichever faction you side with changes the outcome of the ending (I did all three) and the future of the Commonwealth. Each faction, even the ‘sinister’ Institute, had good reasons for supporting them, so it’s really worth doing them all. Another bonus is that you can continue playing on after the credits have rolled, unlike Fallout 3.
Having a fully voiced female or male protagonist at first seemed a bit superfluous to me, as Bethesda have never needed one before, but here it adds so much to be able to influence the way your character progresses, that in my view, the story really wouldn’t work without it. Sculpting the face of your character early in the game has also been made much simpler and more satisfying, as you literally drag and adjust the features of either a male or a female. The new system is a total success. The supporting cast are also well used, with many companions that you can take with you to journey’s end, including the ever-popular Dogmeat. Not talking about the story is making me miss a lot out about why I love Fallout 4, but it’s worth it to avoid any spoilers for you guys and gals.
The mechanics of Fallout 4 are probably the best additions to the game, and certainly one of my favourite parts. Firstly, the whole perk system has been made much more simplistic, yet still feels impactful. Choosing which characteristics under the acronym S.P.E.C.I.A.L (Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility and Luck) will be instantly recognisable to any RPG fan, and dictates which perks you can choose throughout the game. As you level up, you can either put points into perks, or raise one of your S.P.E.C.I.A.Ls to access more perks. For example, to access the best melee weapon bonuses you need a high strength level, and to gain access to some of the best weapon mods you need an Intelligence level of 6. And boy, do you want those weapon mods! Each weapon and armour piece in Fallout 4 can be adjusted multiple times depending on your perks and the components on offer, which are found in much of the seemingly random junk left lying around the Wasteland.
This completely changes the in-game economy, as in past games you’d find yourself bulk selling all your junk, in this you’ll want to hoard it at one of your various settlements to craft better mods. The only downside is that for most of the game you’ll have a seemingly minuscule max inventory weight. I know this adds to the realism, and you can use companions as portable dustbins, but I thought it’d be nice to do away with it after the game told me I was overburdened for the thousandth time. However, the crafting is a great system, as it allows you to keep weapons that you’d normally have just thrown away in your first hour right up until the end of the game. It’s also a smart system, as you can modify legendary weapons to cope with the higher levelled enemies. Of course, there’s also Power Armour customisation, which is hugely satisfying in itself. These endgame pseudo ‘Iron-Man’ suits are massively powerful, and despite requiring fuel in the form of ‘fusion cores’, it was nice to know that when the going got tough a suit was just a fast-travel away. You can also find different types of Power Armour around the world, leading to some fun mix and match options.
The combat in Fallout 4 feels more fluid and dynamic than in previous iterations, as the guns all feel impactful, V.A.T.S returns for the ever satisfying slow-mo critical hit, and first person is now more of an option due to improved iron sights. In fact, except for travelling long distances, I played Fallout 4 almost universally in first-person, as Bethesda’s camera work on third-person left a little to be desired when picking up junk or navigating tight spaces. In addition to the graphical enhancements from the PS3 and Xbox 360 to PS4 and Xbox One, this felt like Bethesda’s most mechanically pleasing game to date. The one area where the new ideas stumble a bit is Settlements. These are sites across the game world where you can build structures or towns of your own, attract settlers, and generally make an awesome community. Trouble is, it feels as if Bethesda was so intent on making these optional that they have little significance in the game after you’ve attracted a few settlers and built a couple of houses. They just don’t have the staying power, as they’re not tied into any significant quest line.
Finally, I’m not going to try and claim that Fallout 4 is without bugs or technical issues. As it’s a Bethesda game, we always knew it would be a little unstable at launch, and whilst this was probably the most stable a Bethesda game has ever been, I can’t tell you the amount of times I saw frame rate drops on the PS4, as well as dogs sinking into the floor and my companions randomly wandering about during dialogue scenes. Since this isn’t an issue that Bethesda has been able to fix, it seems that maybe these issues are just the price to pay for a world this big and immersive, and if I’m honest, I’m happy to live with the bugs. Two words of warning, SAVE FREQUENTLY! I didn’t run into any save corrupting bugs, but I’ve heard they exist, and you can easily lose an hour of progress if you don’t get into the habit of quicksaving regularly.
All in all, Fallout 4 is a strange mix of a game, its excellent shooting, dialogue and crafting mechanics are nice improvements and additions, and the story and open world are some of the best I’ve ever seen in a video game. But the persistent bugs and superfluous settlements do diminish the experience somewhat. Despite this, and the not perfect score I’ve awarded, Fallout 4 is the best game Bethesda have made in recent memory, and it truly deserves to stand as a GOTY contender for 2015. Writing this review has made me tear myself away from the game for far too long, and I really should get back to it, there’s a lot of people depending on me, and hopefully you too now. I’ve only spent thirty precious hours in the Commonwealth, there’s easily another sixty in it for me; I hope you time enjoy your time with the game as much as I have mine.
- Huge Open World
- Crafting System
- Interesting Side Quests and Main Story
- Minor Frame Rate Issues
- Potentially Game-Breaking Bugs (and not just the Bloatflies in the game)
- Superfluous Settlements that don’t influence the world as much as they could