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Fallout 4 Review

by Maylander, 2015-11-27

Introduction

The time has come to once again set foot in the Wasteland, in a brand new Fallout game. After experiencing Washington DC in Fallout 3 and Nevada in Fallout: New Vegas, we now get to explore the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, with the ruins of Boston at its center. I’ll try to avoid spoilers, so I won’t be mentioning specifics beyond that.

The game is utilizing a heavily modified Creation Engine, previously used for Skyrim, which is apparent as soon as the game starts. In fact, it’s easy to claim that Fallout 4 is to Skyrim what Fallout 3 was to Oblivion, but I feel that’s only partially true, as I never felt Fallout 3 really was “Oblivion with guns”. Fallout 3 had a different, more mature tone and an emphasis on roleplaying, allowing players to solve quests in different ways, which also forced them to take the consequences of their actions. There were no voice changes in the middle of conversations (that I can recall). Also, the level scaling was quite different, meaning that high level enemies would stomp anyone into the ground if encountered too early. All this was then present in Skyrim, and it is in Fallout 4 as well. In many ways, I feel Fallout 4 is closer to Skyrim than Fallout 3 was to Oblivion.

This is both a good and a bad thing: Good, because Skyrim is still a fantastic game, and bad because very little has changed. Compared to The Witcher 3, the current top RPG in terms of technology, Fallout 4 both has dated graphics and a high number of technical glitches, most of which were present in Skyrim four years ago. Weird physics that lead to killed monsters being sent flying when they’re killed? Check. Erratic companions? Check. NPCs or monsters falling from the sky, dying on impact? Check. Random crashes or freezes when loading a saved game? Check.

As with Skyrim, however, the good heavily outweigh the bad in my opinion, but I understand people being frustrated with such issues. If all you really want to know is whether you should buy the game, it’s really quite simple: Did you enjoy Fallout 3 and/or Skyrim?

While none of the changes made in Fallout 4 are likely to change anyone’s opinion on Bethesda games, a few of them are quite important:

  • Shooting: The shooting mechanic has received an overhaul, and now works significantly better than it did in Fallout 3.
  • Character development: SPECIAL is still present, but the perk system has been altered. You now get one point per level, and can use it to boost either one of your SPECIAL attributes or one of the perks you meet the requirements for. Requirements are related to character level and SPECIAL attribute level (for example hacking master terminals requires 4 Intelligence + character level 21). The system itself works well enough, but it sometimes feels a bit too incremental, as in upgrades often feel insignificant. This is probably related to the whole the removal of the level cap, which did not affect me as I have no intention of grinding monsters for experience points.
  • Durability: Durability is gone, as is the entire repair mechanic. To me, this is exclusively a good thing, as I never enjoyed it.
  • Crafting: The crafting system is new and actually works well now. Crafting is done at various crafting stations (weapons, armor, chemical, cooking or power armor), and is fairly simple. All you need is the proper perk (Gun, Melee, Armor or Science) and junk, found all over the place, and you can make mods for your items. The mods will drastically change the item itself, to the point where it even changes which perks will affect the weapon. Want an automatic weapon to suit your Commando perk? Attach an automatic receiver. Want that automatic weapon to be affected by your Gunslinger or Rifleman perks? Remove the automatic receiver. The same goes for sneaking attacks (use a silencer or suppresser) or sniping (attach a scope). The only drawback is that there are actually very few real weapon types in the game. Beyond that, it is mostly down to the mods.
  • Legendary items and enemies: Another new feature related to items and equipment is the introduction of legendary items. Legendary items gain a random perk in addition to regular mods, making them excellent base items for crafting. The perks vary greatly in terms of effect, from things like damage increases against specific types (Assassin, 50% damage to humans) and decreased damage from falling (Acrobat, 50% reduction) to SPECIAL bonuses (+1 Perception and Agility for example). These legendary items are gained from legendary enemies; beefed up versions of regular ones that are considerably more challenging and typically found while randomly exploring, which makes it all a bit more interesting. From what I’ve experienced, the legendary items and their perks are not to be confused with unique, named items, as they are often quite a bit stronger.
  • Settlements: This is a completely new feature, and it works out well enough. Through a faction known as “The Minutemen”, you get to construct settlements around the Wasteland, using all that junk you find to create beds, defenses, power supplies and so on. It’s a nice enough way to pass the time, but it never felt particularly rewarding to me. Word of advice: If you plan on doing a lot of work on various settlements, get at least six Charisma and the “Local Leader” perk, as that will allow you to dump junk at a single location and use it all over the place. Trying to juggle the junk by fast traveling back and forth is hopeless.
  • Companions: They’re more fleshed out than before, which is a very nice touch. I enjoyed the company of several of the companions quite a lot, but their behavior was sadly still quite erratic in combat. Sometimes they’ll charge in and get flattened, or perhaps just vanish entirely. There is a nice perk called “Lone Wolf”, boosting you when you’re solo, which is probably the best from a power gaming point of view, but I personally enjoy their company enough to keep them around despite the occasional blip.
  • Voiced main character: Yes, Bethesda caved in. The main character is now voiced. It works out well enough, but the game isn’t cinematic enough for it to add a great deal. It seems to limit the dialogue options a bit though, and we’re now looking at a “Mass Effect” system where you choose the type of remark instead of the actual sentence. That, in my opinion, can be rather frustrating at times as the actual comment wasn’t what I expected, so my advice is to save the game before any major conversation.

One thing that has not changed is the overall sound quality: It’s still excellent, both in terms of music and voice overs. Occasionally, I came across NPCs standing right next to each other with the same voice (I often heard Garrus and Ashley Williams from Mass Effect), but that is to be expected in a game this big.

Speaking of its scope: It’s a massive game, which is hard to complete in under 100 hours, especially for anyone who spends time on settlements. In terms of sheer size, it’s definitely the biggest game of 2015, even bigger than The Witcher 3, but the rumors of it being “X times bigger than Fallout 3 and/or Skyrim” are greatly exaggerated. It’s probably slightly bigger than Fallout 3, and about the same size as vanilla Skyrim.

Gameplay

In Fallout 4, it’s all about roaming the Wasteland, coming across interesting locations, finding loot and picking up junk along the way. Incredible amounts of junk. Horrendous amounts! Junk is actually useful now, as it can be broken down to basic items that are used both for settlements and crafting, so it’s not something to ignore this time around. As a proper hoarder, my inventory was constantly full, despite having doubled my weight capacity over the course of the game.

Believe me, this is a very long list to scroll through.

Unfortunately, the interface is, as we’ve become used to in recent years, completely designed for consoles. I’m sure it works well enough on consoles, as it’s hard to make anything better for a controller given the sheer amount of options and items, but as a PC gamer I find it frustrating. In the pip-boy, items have categories, which works out rather well, but during trading it’s just a giant list with a half-decent sort feature. If anyone finds a better way of doing this, please let me know, because scrolling through hundreds of items is incredibly frustrating.

The same goes for the settlements. It’s about as intuitive as reading upside down, especially some of the later “crafting puzzles”. I have no idea why they couldn’t simply create a simple, clickable interface instead of forcing us to use select items as if we’re limited to a couple of sticks for pointing. Perhaps I would have been more interested in settlements as a whole if it wasn’t so cumbersome; the idea is good, but the execution is lackluster.

They really should have done better with the PC interface for settlements

Luckily, settlements are mostly optional, and the loot issue is one of few, persistent frustrations in the game. The lockpicking and hacking mini-games are back (identical to Fallout 3), which isn’t all that exciting, but for the most part, the gameplay is excellent, and I really like what they’ve done with the combat system. VATS may not be as overpowered as it once was, but it’s still a good alternative to regular shooting, and the regular shooting is vastly superior to the previous system. It’s responsive, accurate and fun for the most part.

I also enjoy the new power armor system. Power armors are now way more than just a suit of armor; they now consist of modable pieces, and will instantly turn the character into a walking, talking juggernaut of destruction. It’s very satisfying to run around in one, and you can really feel the weight and “umph!” of it. To balance it out, they now run on fusion cores, consumable items that will run out rather quickly. It’s actually not a major issue though, as there are more than enough cores to bring a power armor into most heavy fights. I was too concerned with that at the start personally, so I ended up with a very high number of cores by the end of the game.

Power armors also enable the player to handle high level monsters before they’d normally be ready for them, which is nice if you happen to bump into such a creature in a place you really feel like exploring. That being said, it doesn’t make you immortal, so if you find yourself face to face with a high level deathclaw, he’ll stomp you into the ground, with or without armor. I had one such encounter about a third into the game, where the deathclaw tossed me around like a ragdoll. I loved returning 15 levels later with a Fat Man to blow that bastard apart, and that’s a sensation that is too rare in this day and age of not wanting the player to get properly flattened anymore.

What's better than a set of Power Armor? Two sets!

I also feel that radiation is a bigger issue than in the past, which can be annoying at times, but overall it’s a good thing. It’s still trivial for the most part, but every now and then some real protection is needed to survive. It makes radiation something to consider from time to time instead of something to forget entirely. It’s still not much of a survival simulator, which is going to be annoying for some, but I like the balance of being reminded that this is a wasteland without being forced to eat or drink every few hours.

Exploration

One of the most important aspects of open world RPGs like Fallout or The Elder Scrolls is exploration, and this is where Fallout 4 really shines. The map is huge, as expected, and filled with interesting places to visit. The compass at the bottom shows points of interest, and it’s almost always indicating some sort of location to visit. What’s worth noting though is that not every location worth visiting shows up on the compass, so in a lot of cases it’s more fun, and worthwhile, to simply explore by scanning the horizon.

There's a lot to explore, and the graphics are perfectly fine, but there's no denying it looks a bit dated

A criticism of previous Fallout games has been the lack of variety, and that’s still the case. This is the Wasteland after all, so it would be strange to suddenly find lush forests or similar. That being said, 200 years is a long time, and it’s increasingly hard to believe that so little changes, especially considering all the technology that’s actually available. In many ways, I feel that 200 years is simply too long, and that it would be more fitting if the Fallout games were mostly within the first century or so after the Great War, but that is not a fault of Fallout 4. If I recall correctly, that’s mostly down to Fallout 2, as it was set 160-170 years after the Great War.

While the timeline can’t be blamed on Bethesda, the lack of variety in terms of enemies certainly can. I can’t even recall the last time I played a successor with such a similar set of enemy NPCs and monsters. Certain enemies (molerats, feral ghouls, radscorpions, deathclaws etc) are slightly different, but there’s only one truly new type of enemy as far as I can tell, and they’re tied tightly to the story. In a way that makes sense from a lore perspective, as it’s still the same Wasteland, within roughly the same timeframe as FNV and FO3, and the new enemy type is introduced in a somewhat interesting way, explaining why they’re there and so on, but I can only kill so many feral ghouls before I get bored of them.

At any rate, exploration is still a great deal of fun, and the scope of the game is gigantic. Like I said previously, it’s probably on par with vanilla Skyrim, and that’s pretty much as big as it gets. Add a fantastic atmosphere, an improved combat system and interesting companions, and the result is a fantastic game for anyone who enjoys exploration in RPGs.

Writing, choices and consequences

Already in the beginning, it’s fairly evident that Bethesda is trying to make a more cinematic experience. They succeed, but only to a certain extent, as the technology doesn’t really allow them to go all out. For example, I often had to re-do conversations because something interrupted the conversation or the NPC simply walked away in the middle of a sentence.

The story itself is more interesting than it was in Fallout 3 by a fair margin, as are the characters, both in terms of companions and the people you meet in the world. There’s more substance and better writing, and I hope they continue improving. There’s still quite a gap between Fallout 4 and The Witcher 3, but it’s a vast improvement over previous titles in my opinion.

Diamond City is an important location in the Commonwealth

This doesn’t simply affect the main quest; side quests are also interesting for the most part, and a few of them are even quite funny. In fact, one of them is flat out hilarious, and I actually found myself laughing out loud from time to time. What’s also interesting is that this hilarious outcome is only possible by making certain choices, and I have no idea what the alternatives are. Luckily, I’ll be replaying it soon so I can find out.

There are a lot of quests like that: Where players have to make choices and live with the consequences. It’s no secret that I like that a lot. Both the game quest and side quests can be solved in various ways, which adds a lot of replay value and makes roleplaying much more interesting. There’s even a surprising amount of Charisma checks throughout the game, something Bethesda isn’t exactly known for. I was surprised, in a very good way, by how often I came across such checks. Unfortunately for me, I was expecting a regular Bethesda game, where Charisma can basically be used as a dump stat, so I’ll have to focus on that with my next character. I’m looking forward to seeing many of the scenes I now experienced unfold in a different manner.

I’m also looking forward to how the main story plays out if certain choices are made. Factions play an important role, and are mutually exclusive in a similar way to Morrowind. This is something I’ve truly missed, because it never felt right to me to become the master of everything, so I’m really enjoying the approach in Fallout 4. The only drawback is that I had a hard time finding a faction whose opinions I shared. They all seemed a bit fanatical to me; absolute in their point of view. It was all a bit too black and white for my taste, but still enjoyable.

Verdict

I’m fairly certain Fallout 4 will divide opinions. On the one hand, it’s a fantastic game for anyone who enjoys exploring for the sake of exploring. On the other, it has frustrating moments, technical issues and a cumbersome interface. Overall, it’s an excellent game for me personally, as I have a fairly high tolerance for glitches and what not if the content is good enough, but I fully understand people who want to wait a bit until certain things are fixed. It really does boil down to how much you enjoyed the predecessors, as the formula is almost identical.

Box Art

Information about

Fallout 4

Developer: Bethesda Softworks

SP/MP: Single-player
Setting: Post-Apoc
Genre: RPG
Combat: Real-time
Play-time: Over 60 hours
Voice-acting: Full

Regions & platforms
World
· Homepage
· Platform: PC
· Released at 2015-11-10
· Publisher: Bethesda Softworks

More information

Summary

Pros

  • Massive world filled with content
  • Improved combat system and character development
  • Good crafting system
  • Better writing overall, including choices and consequences
  • Excellent atmosphere, very immersive

Cons

  • It appears a bit dated already, despite Ultra settings
  • Quite a few technical issues
  • Cumbersome PC interface
  • Lack of variety, especially in terms of enemies
  • Inventory management can be frustrating

Rating

This review is using RPGWatch's old style of rating. See 'How we review' link below

Review version

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