Fallout 4 is finally upon us, with 2015’s perhaps most anticipated game being the series’ first numbered release since 2008. Bethesda’s massive RPG series has always been all about creating a complex and demented world and basically just throwing the player into it and seeing what happens. The post-apocalyptic settings always feel unique to the series, and even though the overall gameplay mechanics are something that Bethesda relies on regularly it’s always just enough to suck people back in. Fallout 4 largely relies on the same formula that Bethesda has been using for years, but there are just enough improvements imbued into what is my new favorite Bethesda RPG setting to put a very big smile on my face.
While the plot of Fallout 4 follows a similar road of Fallout 3 in that you are searching for a missing family member (this time your son instead of your father), the game is notable for showing life briefly *before* the nuke hit. You and your wife are a young couple who have a newborn son and are living a pretty comfortable life in the suburbs with a weird, floating butler robot named Codsworth. These moments of ease are very short-lived, however, as it isn’t too long after the game has started that you suddenly hear of the nuke’s impending detonation. You and your wife take your son and charge for the Vault and make it inside just in the nick of time. However, you are put into a cryogenic sleep for over 200 years, and during that time your wife was killed and your son was kidnapped. How pleasant!
It’s after this that you are thrown into the viscous, post-apocalyptic world that Bethesda are so masterful at creating. This time the game is set in Massachusetts, which is a big plus for me considering it’s my home state. You go through town’s like Boston, Lexington and Concord where everything has been decimated and overrun with Super Mutants, Raiders and all matter of savage animals and Synths. There are many big landmarks that you’ll come across along the way that are fantastic to behold, such as the game’s stronghold (Diamond City) being Fenway Park, the State House, the Freedom Trail and a lot more that are perfectly incorporated into the game’s gritty world. There’s just something even more visceral about a game’s setting when you know it’s based on an area you’re familiar with, and Bethesda did a fantastic job of bringing Massachusetts to post-apocalyptic life (or death, I guess).
While your main object is to find your son, as is always the case in every Bethesda game you will quickly get side-tracked with the overwhelming amount of stuff there is to do in this game. There are several factions that all have their own unique quests, tons of areas to explore and loot and now you can even create your structures! All of the useless crap that you would find in previous games in the series can now be utilized to craft things like furniture, power grids and crafting stations where you can create and customize your weapons, armor and aid items. You’ll want to do this to protect the people in your group, as they’ll occasionally have to deal with enemies and the better your stronghold the better their chances of survival. The crafting system isn’t perfect, however, as you only have your first-person viewpoint to place objects. This becomes very awkward when you’re trying to place something precisely, and I really think that an overhead perspective (or at least the option to switch to one) would have improved this part of the game greatly.
Combat in Fallout 4 works largely the same as it did in the past, as you attack enemies in either a 1st or 3rd-person perspective with guns and melee weapons. However, the combat has been improved this time around, as everything feels more accurate and more on par with how many big-name first-person shooters control today. You also have the ability to get more strategic with V.A.T.S. which returns to allow you to zero-in on specific enemy body parts and then dish out the damage in a cinematic barrage of offense. The big change for V.A.T.S. is that it no longer freezes time while you are choosing your attack, as it instead puts the action in slow-motion. You’ll still have time to plan you attack accordingly, but wait too long and the enemy will get some attacks in before you execute. I actually liked this change as it kept the tension of some of the more intense shootouts (of which there are many) going strong.
Even though you’ll find all manner of crazy weaponry to defend yourself throughout your playthrough, you can get the extra power if needed by hopping into the beloved Power Armor featured on the cover. Doing this makes you a one-man army, with far greater offensive and defensive stats then you would regularly have. What keeps this being a game-breaking machine is the fact that it runs on fusion cores, which there are a limited amount of in the game. As a result, you need to plan carefully when you will use it, as fusion cores don’t last long at all. It’s basically like the armor that Tony Stark builds in the cave in the first Iron Man movie, as it’s an absolute beast but has a limited amount of time to wreak havoc before it’s useless.
This wouldn’t be a Bethesda RPG without some form of progression system, and Fallout 4 has changed that process significantly with the perk system. You now have a giant grid of perks that you can put points towards by gaining experience and leveling up, and if you keep on playing you can eventually acquire every single one. These perks do things like make you stronger or more persuasive in conversations, though they eventually funnel down to more specific perks like doing more damage with non-automatic pistols. You have complete freedom with the system and due to the fact that it’s so open and visual it allows you to customize your character with more control than ever before.
Even though Bethesda games are known for being incredibly buggy at launch, in my testing of the PlayStation 4 version I have experienced only very minor bugs and nothing to the extreme of the game freezing or crashing. The biggest technical shortcoming is one that many were bringing up even before the game launched, and that’s the game’s graphics engine. While this is undoubtedly the best looking game Bethesda has ever done, some of the character models are down-right atrocious for this day and age, and the animations and lip-syncing can be pretty wonky. Still, this is made up for thanks to the game’s fantastic design and voice acting of all of the game’s various inhabitants that is without question the best we’ve seen in a Bethesda game yet. Even the main character is voice acted for the very first time, which I thought was a huge improvement and adds a lot more emotional depth to the core experience.
Character interactions themselves have been refined and simplified compared to previous games, with you getting a handful of options to respond to the person you’re talking to and only a vague idea of what you’re actually going to respond with. You’re options typically range from seeking out more information on what the person just said, agreeing with them, disagreeing with them or replying with sarcasm. Some have complained that this has reduced the amount of really interesting conversations you can have with characters, but ultimately I felt it kept the conversations moving without babbling too much. Plus you can witness some pretty hilarious dialogue whenever you choose the sarcastic response. Your choices that you make in conversations are pretty important, as well, as you have the power to potentially avoid combat situations or get more information out of a person, especially if you max out your charisma stat early.
It isn’t ground-breaking, but Fallout 4 is nonetheless an incredible experience that is rivaled by few others in the industry. The post-apocalyptic setting of Massachusetts is consistently jaw-dropping, and the game’s plot deals with some pretty thought-provoking stuff regarding the humanity of synths and the best best interests for mankind going forward. It’s an incredibly dense world with plenty of content to tackle, with all of it feeling like an integral part to the game’s setting and lore. It’s a very scary world to live in and the various factions that are at odds with each other all have compelling arguments for their particular beliefs that make it hard to entirely side with one of them. Plus there’s the fact that the game is consistently a blast to play, with so many different mechanics for you to tinker around with and tweak to your liking. Simply put, Fallout 4 is a tremendous game that should not be missed by anyone with the means to play it.