Fallout 4 review: say goodbye to life for a while

Reviews

Reviewed on: PC

Fallout 4 is a beast of a game. I have spent a better part of the past eight days wandering the post-apocalyptic wasteland of Boston and have barely scratched the surface of everything this game has to offer. As many have come to expect from a Bethesda Game Studios title, Fallout 4 features not only an open world story-based game, but one littered with over arching side stories, random encounters and unique scenarios born out of each individual players’ interaction with its living, breathing world. Not since Grand Theft Auto V have I seen such detail packed into a game of this size, both in gameplay content and the complexity of the world’s inhabitants.

While I must say that not everything in the megatons of activities contained within Fallout 4 is good, this RPG is nonetheless a marvel to behold.

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Go ahead, behold. I’ll wait.

Carving your own story

Quick run down of the story: your character (depending on the gender you choose) is either a young war veteran or his lawyer wife who is searching for their infant son Shaun some 200 years after the nuclear apocalypse. When the bombs dropped, you and your family were kept frozen in an underground vault only to be awoken by raiders who take Shaun and kill your wife/husband, leaving you alone to be refrozen. Once you awaken again, you set out into the ruins of Boston searching for Shaun, where you encounter rumours he was most likely taken by an ominous sounding organisation known as “The Institute”, infamous for creating artificially intelligent synthetic humans, or “Synths”. Determined to find Shaun, your character will deal with various factions out in the wasteland, from the underground Railroad (wanting to free the Synths from the Institute’s rule), the Brotherhood of Steel (a military group determined to wipe “dangerous” technology like Synths off the face of the planet) and, well, the Institute itself.

That may sound like a lot, but it is barely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the stories that unfold across Fallout 4. From a narrative standpoint, Fallout 4 manages to maintain a very engaging story, filled with intrigue, some great plot twists and always sitting in a moral grey area when it comes to the quests you conduct for the different factions you encounter. Without giving too much away, who you work with will affect your relationship with the other factions, which in turn can open up and close off quest-lines as the game progresses, so choose wisely.

But this main story is just a single part of how each person’s individual journey can play out. We’ve written before about how RPG fans love their freedom to make their own path, and how the inclusion of an actual voiced protagonist may remove the sense of them being an avatar for the player. While this is true, instead there are plenty of options for player to inhabit a character. You can be heroic saint, a total asshole, fall in love with one (or more) of your compatriots on your journey, be covered in battle scars or seem completely “green” when it comes to violence. It may not be as “hardcore” as pouring over Excel spreadsheets of character stats, but the freedom is still there.

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For instance, I may have given myself over to the harshness of the wasteland, but I never lost my incredible sense of style.

Furthermore, the sheer volumes of random encounters that make you feel like you are present in a functioning world are just mind boggling. I was tricked by a civilian to come to someone’s aid, only to discover it was a trap set by Raiders. A UFO like thing flew over my head and crashed into a hillside, and I just had to go check it out. Situations like these don’t feel scripted, and aren’t drawn to your attention in any sort of way other than your own curiosity and judgement, and they really sell the illusion that you are a wanderer in this strange, strange land. It’s Besthesda doing what they do best.

It may be S.P.E.C.I.A.L., but still flawed

The character progression system in Fallout 4 continues the tradition of each level awarding a point that can be spent in one of seven skills: Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility and Luck.

Each skill has a list of perks associated with them, such as damage resistance, crafting abilities, lock picking etcetera, and the further down the list you go requires a higher amount of points spent in the original skill. So the first choice you have to make whenever you level up is if you want to spend your points on a new perk, or level a skill so as to unlock better perks for next time. As far as things go, this S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system works remarkably well in regards to allowing great freedom of character abilities for different play-styles. Much like Skyrim before it, those more inclined to be a sneaky thief or a raging death machine can spend their points accordingly and both enjoy the game while not being pigeon holed into doing things they don’t want.

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Seems this teddy didn’t invest enough in his Luck…

But Fallout 4, like previous iterations in the franchise, also commits an RPG sin that some, myself included, find hard to forgive: it asks you to choose which base skills you want to spend your initial points in before you’ve even started playing the game.

You are given 21 points to spend, but since you haven’t begun anything yet you’re just guessing as to what might be useful. For skills such as Strength and Endurance this may be a no brainer, there is definitely going to be combat, the carrying of items and on-foot travel in your adventure. But as for Charisma, how often will I need to be persuasive in conversations? Will not doing so lock off things for me? And as for making prices cheaper at vendors, how much cheaper and compared to what? Is it perfectly affordable at the base price? You don’t know, yet you’re being asked if you want a head start in it.

Granted, the game gives you an opportunity to alter your selection before you truly head out into the wasteland, but by this point you still haven’t encountered persuasion, bartering or any of the other elements, so again it is an uninformed choice. I ended up way behind in my Charisma, because even though I could have used points to rank it up and unlock conversation perks, I still needed to invest in combat more to just stay alive! Franchice fans may disagree, but I felt a system closer to Skyrim‘s, where perks were bought with level points but the base skills were ranked up by actually using the skills in game, would have been much more appreciated.

No hand holding

What passes for a tutorial to Fallout 4 is really just a linear path through your first vault, given instructions on movement and basic combat, hacking and lock picking. The game then promptly throws you outside and leaves you to explore the wasteland, either on your own or by following the first few quests. The rest of the game’s mechanics, such as crafting, bartering etcetera, are either given incredibly quick explanations in early quests or left up to the player to figure out for themselves.

For a seasoned Fallout player looking to just muck around in the nuclear playground the developers have created, I guess this is all well and good, but for people like me who aren’t entirely versed in the game’s mechanics/attributes, a lot of these details don’t stick. There is such a plethora of things to see and get distracted/killed by in the wasteland, and they can really take your attention away from the text box that just appeared informing you of important gameplay elements.

Not everyone will need it, and you certainly do pick things up after a solid few hours in the game, but maybe a more focused tutorial system could have alleviated these bumps in the road.

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Or cracks in the road, those are bad too.

This is my boom stick…

Combat has been vastly improved in Fallout 4, especially when it comes to the more traditional first person shooter elements. At PAX Australia, Bethesda informed us the team had collaborated with DOOM developers id Software to make the shooting feel better, and it really shows. No longer is fighting outside of the franchise’s signature V.A.T.S. mechanic a suicide mission, and guns aren’t so horrendously inaccurate nor enemies too quick to dodge your shots.

Having said that, V.A.T.S. is still as important as ever. Activating V.A.T.S., unlike in Fallout 3, now slows down the passage of time, allowing for the targeting of different body parts and offering statistics on how likely the shots are to hit. The slowing down time instead of freezing it is a huge difference, as it means enemies can still get shots off or a lunging melee attack can still hit you while you’re choosing which enemies to shoot, then carrying out the attack in cool, cinematic camera angles. It really lets V.A.T.S. continue to emulate the adrenaline rush of combat and still keep the RPG, almost turn based elements. It never stopped being satisfying to seeing a panning shot of your enemy’s head exploding from a well place V.A.T.S. attack.

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Shouldn’t have brought a shotgun to a laser rifle fight.

 

But those moments will not come for you until some time into the game, because until you find yourself some decent gear the odds are extremely stacked against you. Enemies are not scaled against your character, ala Borderlands, where they get progressively harder as you get progressively stronger. No, in Fallout 4, from the get go enemies are at their set levels, only gaining things like “Legendary” status as you get further into the game.

What this means is that nearly every encounter I had for the first few hours of play were almost unreasonably hard, with even the basic Raiders being able to end me in a few hits. I was given advice from others to run away from most battles until I could find/craft some better gear, but not every enemy can be outrun. Early on, I encountered a Radscorpion in the north-west area of the map that was between me and my objective. I could barely hurt it, so I just ran. I then discovered that Radscorpions can burrow underground and then magically appear next to you and proceed to pincer your face. After many attempts to outrun/tactically kill the bloody thing I opted for going the long way around that zone, as I was sick of constantly repeating that same area.

Much like the tutorials I discussed earlier, this problem goes away after many hours of play when you have good guns, a lot of ammo for said guns and more health kits than you know what to do with. But until then I was often incredibly frustrated.

It’s all too beautiful…mostly

Just prior to the game’s release, screenshots leaked that caused some to complain that the graphics quality was sub-par. Graphics quality is always a point of contention for some (“why have I bought this amazing new PC/console if the games aren’t going to look amazing?”), but for a game of Fallout 4‘s scope I was in constant awe of how gorgeous it looked. The screenshot complainers were right in regards to up close textures, they don’t look amazing, but when viewing the landscape it is hard to not just stop and stare. The desolation, the sun streaming through dead trees, it is truly a sight to behold, especially in the day time.

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Love me a sunrise through the blood flecks…

Sure, it is no Crysis, but open world games always have to make graphical sacrifices to keep the frame rate playable on lower end hardware. That said, the console versions do dip below their 30fps cap in intense moments, and the PC version has some notorious crashes. I personally encountered very few bugs or crashes, and certainly none that broke my game, but fellow editor Charlie told me he had some crazy glitches throughout his time with the PC version.

So, the game looks great, but can occasionally perform badly. Here’s Antonio Banderas demonstrating a comparison.

Leave Minecraft to Minecraft

One of the biggest reveals for Fallout 4 when it was announced was the inclusion of a settlement building mechanic, where players could demolish and rebuilt areas of the map into their own, personal post-apocalypse strongholds. The idea was to create areas that can generate resources for you, attract more traders and also have a tower defence like scenario against Raider attacks. But during the mechanic’s reveal, game director Todd Howard stressed that the whole thing was optional and could be ignored if you weren’t interested.

Fans of games like Minecraft will be joyous at the inclusion of the mode, but at a base level the mechanic did not grip me as there seemed to be little reward for taking the time to build something great aside from having done it and being able to say “yeah, I made this thing.” I never found myself without the money to continue funding my adventures once I got over the early game hurdle, so the resources income derived from a settlement hardly sounds necessary. It also doesn’t help that the control scheme to build your settlement is very clunky, at least on PC, swapping between using the mouse, arrow keys and the WASD controls all the time. And having to walk up to a person, select them and then walk back to the area you want to assign them to is just not good design

Look, if it’s your thing then it’s your thing, and it certainly adds another piece of longevity to those RPG players keen to create Minecraft-esque works of art, but with so little in-game reward compared to the effort required to actually make anything, I’m glad it isn’t mandatory for any main quests.

Conclusion

Like I said in the beginning, Fallout 4 is a beast of a game. It tells a compelling story, and frames it within a world teeming with other things to discover and explore. Despite some flaws/frustrations in its mechanics, it is definitely one of the best, and most fun, open world RPGs to date.

Pros: Beautiful to look at. Compelling main story and side quests. Random encounters make for a unique experience. Satisfying shooter mechanics.

Cons: Tough slog for the first few hours. Minimal tutorial. Settlement building tedious with little reward. Occasional performance issues.

8.5/10

Share your tales from the wasteland with Tom on Twitter: @tomdheath. Don’t forget to follow @load_screen and like us on Facebook.

Editor/Co-owner

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