It’s been five years since the last time a lone wanderer ventured out into the wasteland and left their mark on the future of humanity. The “Fallout” series is back with “Fallout 4” and this time we’re heading to Boston to explore the Bean Town wasteland. Is this sequel prepared to survive in a new frontier or will it succumb to the mistakes of the past?
Copies of the game were sent out last week and, since then, it seems like a lot of leaks were springing within the “Fallout” review ship. Because of this, people have built up certain opinions about the game in their head before ever actually getting their hands on it. So with this review I’m going to either set the record straight or confirm some of your suspicions. So try and keep an open mind as we go through the game’s major components.
I can’t speak too much about the story points involved in the game, but I will tell you that it features your basic “Fallout” plot structure. As the player an event happens to you that forces you to venture out into the Commonwealth (the Boston area) to follow clues and track down a person who has wronged you. Along the way you’ll meet a cast of characters who will aide or hinder your search by becoming an enemy or companion.
The biggest draw to the story, as you might’ve seen in the trailers, is that your character is a pre-war survivor. This means that they lived in America before the nukes devastated everything. It’s a narrative device that gives you a brief glimpse into Fallout’s past. However, no one really seems to make a big deal out of it. In my entire play through I ran into one character that quized me about the past, everyone else just kind of said “Neat!” and went about their day.
That being said, the characters that do care about your journey the most are your companions. During my playthrough I only managed to find a handful of companions, but I thought they were all mostly compelling characters. I only had one companion that I felt nothing for, but the others were complex characters with interesting histories and I wanted to spend as much time with them as possible to see where their stories would take them. I also wanted them with me on my journey to hear their opinions and see what their point of view would add. In previous Bethesda games I didn’t have any particular fondness for companions, but I found myself feeling a little tinge of regret whenever I did something a companion didn’t like.
Also, Cogsworth is my homie for life. He’s the eloquent sounding Mr. Handy you see in the trailers and he’s fantastic. He’s always got a good quip loaded up and his favorite method of attack is to chop off limbs and set people on fire. I sometimes like to sit back and gleefully watch him tear through a pack of raiders.
My biggest gripe about the story, though, is the way your dialog choices are managed. In previous “Fallout” games you were given numerous dialog options to chose from to really tailor your response. They basically boiled down to good, bad, and neutral responses, but they gave you a greater illusion of choice. And they also let you know what exactly your character was going to say.
In “Fallout 4” you have a four button prompt that usually breaks down to an inquisitive question, a no, a yes, and then a fourth option that could be some variation of the other three. And I ran into a few situations where the response I picked didn’t convey the severity of my actual answer. So it left me feeling like my character caused more drama rather than give the diplomatic response I wanted.
However, it wasn’t that big of an inconvenience as most situations provide you with enough context to know whether or not your response is appropriate. It’s just those moments when it becomes an issue that I really miss the old system.
Is this the best looking game I’ve played on modern consoles? No, unfortunately not. However, it is certainly the best looking Fallout game yet. A lot of shots have been floating around of the game at night and those don’t convey how nice this thing can look. When you’re in the daylight, or in well lit cities, the colors and details pop off the screen. Previous Fallout games look like they were filtered through a muddy lense, but this game is vibrant and beautiful. It really shows off that art deco style that populated pre-war America.
Of course, everything still looks like it’s been through the wringer. I mean, we’re talking about a town that was devastated by a nuke after all. But beneath the grime and rust you can see what once was and I think that goes a long way to convey what was lost and what came before. Towns like Diamond City are beautifully lit at night with neon signs and street lamps, which only helps to punctuate how dangerous the darker parts of town look.
Facial animations were another point of contention for people. There’s a gif floating around out there of this guy and, yeah, that kind of weird puppetry is present in the game. But not every face is like that and, to be honest, I only rarely noticed the weird facial jitters. Most of the time people seemed to function like normal people, especially amongst your companions. I saw eyes get wet as a person came close to tears and mouths convey the words they were trying to say. But when those weird mouth animations did come up, I was always momentarily taken out of the game.
Where the game really shines, though, is with it’s new weather effects. Rain looks beautiful as you as your clothes take on an appropriate wet sheen and the pavement soaks up the water. Early morning fog will sometimes set in and make it difficult to see more than a few dozen feet ahead of you. Sometimes the sky will become dusty as winds kick up dirt and impair your vision. But the scariest weather anomaly are the occasional radiation thunder storms that’ll roll in.
The first time I witnessed one I was freaked out and didn’t know what to do. I actually took shelter and just slept until it was all clear. These things are loud and terrifying. They spew out lightning and each streak across the sky deals a bit of radiation damage to you. Everything turns a dark and sickening green as the skies fill with green clouds. It’s an amazing effect that can be quite awe inspiring.
I should also note that load times between going indoors and outdoors can take a bit of time. We’re talking about big vistas that need to be loaded in, so it’s not too surprising that the game will take 20 seconds to load up the outside world. Once it’s loaded, though, you won’t have to worry about another load screen until you leave the world.
While “Fallout” largely remains like “Fallout 3” and “New Vegas” when it comes to gameplay, there have been a few significant changes. The first of which is you can now utilize all that junk you’ve been collecting for good, rather than profit.
In “Fallout 4” you can help build up settlements by using a crafting system that allows you to build things like generators, wells, crops, and even turrets for defense. You can also build homes, furniture, and special items for residents who request them. In your journeys you might also find magazines that’ll allow you to build new items. The crafting system is pretty generous and you’ll find yourself dumping hours into your first settlement to get it just right.
However, I found this system started to get slightly annoying after a while as the amount of settlements I had drastically increased and their needs became staggering. The problem is that the settlements don’t share one giant pool of resources, instead they have their own individual sources. For example, let’s say I dropped off a ton of steel at Settlement A. Later on Settlement B says they need to build some metal buildings. Now I have to go to A, get the supplies, then travel to B. With longish load times that can feel like a chore.
I also want to warn you about a mistake I made. Early on in the game I was taking all of my junk to Settlement A and scraping them there. What I didn’t realize is that when you scrap an item at a settlement it is tied to that settlement forever. The game didn’t communicate this particular detail and I wound up with tons of supplies at Settlement A, thinking I’d be able to use them elsewhere, only to be left with nothing for my other settlements.
So what’s the best option here? I recommend building storage chests at each settlement. Once you’re done with a mission, and you and your companion are loaded with junk, head to a settlement and drop off your junk there. Then rotate which settlements you do this for in order to ensure you space out your resources.
Unfortunately, your settlements will also need to be protected from attackers. This means that if a settlement says they’re in trouble, you’ll have to rush to their aide. This isn’t a huge annoyance, as it doesn’t happen too often, but if you don’t do it as soon as possible your settlement and the people in it can be wiped out.
This was especially frustrating when Settlement A was attacked. Because of all the resources I had there I had turrets and watchtowers all over the place. This place was practically a fortress. I also had some of my companions stationed there. So when a call for help came in I figured they’d be able to protect themselves. NOPE. Everyone died. I had to reload a save and go back to save them so I wouldn’t lose all that work I put into that settlement. The turrets supposedly reduce the amount of attacks a Settlement might undergo, but what’s the point if they don’t actually stop the attacks on their own?
By the way, all of the junk you’re collecting can also be used to modify and upgrade your weapons, armor, and power armor.
Yes, power armor is now customizable and is a prominent component in the game. You don’t have to wear power armor if you don’t want to, but the game makes it so that it’s in your best interest to put it on when you can. Power Armor is usually a high tier armor set, but in this game it feels even more powerful than usual. I killed a Deathclaw with ease while wearing my suit. I was so indestructible I found myself performing most missions by walking up to an enemy and shooting them in the head. I would just stroll through compounds laying waste to all that came before me.
And thanks to the new crafting system you can customize your armor in a way that’ll allow you to fit your play style. Want a stealth suit? You can build that. Want a suit designed for melee combat? You can do that too. Using the power armor is such an amazing power trip, you literally feel like Tony Stark tinkering away on Iron Man suits.
So why didn’t I use it all the time? Well if the suit takes enough damage the various pieces will break off and you’ll want to repair them and that costs resources. So if you don’t have the resources you need to repair it with, you’ll want to park it in your garage for safe keeping. Another factor is that the power armor runs on fuel called Fusion Cores. You can find these scattered throughout the world or buy them off of merchants for 300+ caps. But you’ll need to make sure your suit is fueled up in order to get the most out of it. Otherwise you won’t be able to sprint or use your V.A.T.S. system while in the suit. However, by the end of the game I found myself with 25 Fusion Cores, so supply isn’t an issue.
Another complaint I saw floating out there was the size of the map. Honestly, it felt like it was roughly the size of Fallout 3, but size doesn’t truly matter. You could have the world’s biggest gameplay map, but if there’s nothing to do in that map, what’s the point? “Fallout 4” may not have a large map, but it is densely packed with things to see and do. The game also seems to incorporate Skyrim’s mission generator where quest givers will try and get you to go to places you haven’t explored, encouraging you to expand your range of exploration. The problem some people might have though is a lot of objectives boil down to “kill everything and get the thing.” Too few quests will ask you to be anything other than a killing machine.
Thankfully you’ll have ample tools to be just that. The perk system has a good array of combat options, with the most intriguing options being in the melee sections. Really, when you look at the chart, it looks like building a baseball wielding maniac is a good way to go. I haven’t tried it yet, but I’m definitely going that way on my second playthrough.
The game also sprinkles unique loot throughout the map that you’ll have to acquire by fighting legendary enemies. These are enhanced versions of normal enemies that have unique modifiers to them. In the middle of a fight you’ll see a prompt that proclaims “The enemy has mutated!” and something about the damage they do or take will be modified. It never says what and I didn’t see any visual cues indicating anything, so I find that my tactics don’t change much in those fights. I just try and chip away at their life with whatever I have on hand.
For you Fallout diehards “Fallout 4” represents the end of your social life. You’ll spend countless hours building settlements, running missions for one of the various factions, and exploring every single corner of the map. However, this is the same Fallout experience that we got with 3 and “New Vegas”, but with a lovely makeover. That means the issues that have plagued the series since 3 are still there beneath the surface, despite the glossy new look. They’ve bolted on some nifty new features and removed features that could’ve stayed, but this is ultimately “Fallout.” And, depending on your relationship with the series, that’s either the best news you’ve heard since the announcement of “Fallout 4” or the worst news you’ve heard since the announcement of “Fallout 4.”