In the Fall of 2008 one of my favorite games of all time was released. It completely redefined what an open world game could and should be for me. It’s depiction of the iconic landscape of Washington, D.C. destroyed by the arrogance of man was both immersive and shocking for its time. On paper you would think that the depressing setting should have easily kept myself and other games away but instead it’s characters and the stories they told kept us all coming back time and time again. The game was truly something special. It would take a lot from a game to trump the magic that Fallout 3 had captures. Fast forward 7 years to the present and here we are with Bethesda Game Studios attempting to do just that with Fallout 4. I’m happy to say that for the most part, they may have just done it.
It should be noted first that what you are reading is a ‘Review in Progress.’ The team at Bethesda provided me with a copy of Fallout 4 more than a week before its release. The game is massive and there are so many things to explore and experience in the game. As of writing this I have yet to finish the main story line and until then do not feel comfortable setting my review in stone. We will edit and update the ‘Review in Progress’ accordingly when the time comes. Bethesda has requested that I try not to reveal any story spoilers so I will do my best to honor that. It should also be noted that this write up is based exclusively on the PS4 version of the game.
Fallout 4 takes place nearly 200 years after the nuclear war between the US and China. The aftermath of that war has completely destroyed the landscape of the world as we know it. This time the game is set in a post-apocalyptic Boston now called the Commonwealth. Like Fallout 3’s Washington, D.C. setting, Bethesda has done an excellent job at recreating many of the iconic locations of Boston. From the Green Monster of Fenway Park, which in-game is now dubbed “Diamond City,” to the locations of the Battles of Lexington and Concord that sparked America’s Revolution, its all here recreated and destroyed in pure Fallout fashion.
In Fallout 4, players take on the role of a resident of Vault 111. Due to some circumstances that transpire early in the game, players experience the moment that the bombs fell and ended the civilized world as well as experience the rest of the game in the current state nearly 200 years after. The narrative set up for your Vault dweller is the most compelling set up the series has had to date. Bethesda has done a great job this go around at pushing the story and narrative. It feels like every quest and character is somehow connected through the overall narrative of the world. I don’t want to spoil anything but lets just say that the initial problem that sets your vault dweller on their way isn’t quite the ultimate problem in the world, but it is definitely tied to it.
With the Commonwealth wasteland Bethesda has done a great job at capturing the spirit of the New England area and infusing it into literally everything. Most characters you encounter in the world have ‘New England’ accents and the forested sneery of some of the landscapes are just perfect. Names of some of the factions and titles of some characters are all references to the revolutionary spirit of the area. One such group is the Minutemen who are an obvious reference to the American Revolutionary War era group. They’re mission statement and attire all capture that spirit to perfection. Bethesda smartly incorporates many of hese familiar references into the world. This adds to the theme of a civilization destroyed that is trying to endure with whats left and somehow hold on to its past.
The structure of the game is pretty much unchanged from the previous two iterations of the series. Players will explore the Commonwealth wasteland by either being directed by a quest giver or by just wandering in a direction and encountering whatever happens to be in that direction. The wasteland is littered with locations filled with their inhabitants, quests, and loot to discover. It is easy to become side tracked from the main story with the wealth of things to do. That has always been the appeal of these Bethesda open-world games. The PipBoy is back and allows players to keep track of their quests and provides a map that creates a simple way to locate them. Like in previous games, players can fast travel to previously discovered locations and this is again extremely useful.
Players can experience the game in either first or third person view. A simple press on the touch pad toggles this view mode. I played mainly in third person because I like to see my character wander throughout the wasteland. The field of view for third person can also be adjusted to a wider view depending on the players preference. This is a great touch for players who like to have the camera further away from their character or much tighter and closer to the action.
The game controls similarly to Fallout 3 however the shooting mechanic feels improved. The VATS system returns allowing players to slow down the action and aim at certain limbs of enemies to unleash crushing blows. It’s as useful as before but doesn’t feel as necessary this time around. The improved shooter mechanics make it feel a bit more like a modern shooter, I was able to disregard VATS fairly often in the early part of my play through. It was still useful though in hectic situations and with the new critical meter that builds over time, I was able to deliver devastating shots and take down difficult enemies. Later in my playthrough as I began unlocking perks that specifically affected VATS I began using it a lot more.
Speaking go perks, the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. perk system has been revamped. Players begin the game by assigning a set amount of skill points to each of the different attributes. Like the previous games these are strength, perception, endurance, charisma, intelligence, agility, and luck. The skill tree is essentially columns below each of these main 7 attributes. Depending on the amount of points in each column players can unlock specific perks. As players level up they can also assign multiple points to previously unlocked perks making them even more useful. An example is the ‘Idiot Savant’ perk. This perk in the Luck column randomly multiplied the XP gained from an action by three. After achieving a higher level I was able to add another point to it that made the multiplier from the perk jump to 5 times the amount of XP gained. This was a great perk to help my Luck based character level quick.
When it comes to difficulty Fallout 4 proudly declares that it is indeed a Fallout game. For those unfamiliar with the series this means that at times it can be brutal and unforgiving. The series has a history of turning many player away due to this. The wasteland is a harsh landscape populated with enemies and life ending hazards littered everywhere. Luckily Bethesda implemented a few options for players to save including an extremely fast ‘Quicksave’ option. This was a great and much appreciated quality of life addition to the series allowing me to save in just a few seconds. When I came upon a location that appeared like it was going to be difficult I could save my progress in a flash. This allowed me to load up a save if things didn’t go my way or even try to do things in a seemingly unorthodox way. Loading a regular saves did take a bit longer but outside of the initial load into the game at the start of each play session its not really that long.
The game runs pretty smooth overall on the PS4. This should come as good news for those who have played the recent Bethesda open world games on Playstation platforms. Their track record on the Playstation 3 isn’t that stellar. I must admit that for as compelling as it is to see the real world Boston locations in the game, the engine Bethesda used does feel a bit dated. Some of the assets in the game look stunning from afar while others seem muddied and are reused over an over. Some of the character models themselves look a bit dated too. Facial animations seem a bit off at times even to the point where the camera angles sometimes reveal whats under the texturing of their face. Overall the graphics are better than the previous game but compared to some of the recent graphical powerhouses on the market it just doesn’t compare.
Speaking of the camera, I had issues often with the camera. There were a few times where a conversation would cue up with an NPC and depending on what was occurring in the area around them, their face would be completely blocked by something or someone in the environment. I even had a situation where in the aftermath of a heated battle I was midconversation with an NPC and died by an exploding car that had been struck by a stray bullet during the previous scuffle. Unfortunately for me I didn’t quick save before the encounter and was forced to play out the battle again. This has been a recurring issue with Bethesda’s open world games and even though it’s not as much of an issue this time, it is beginning to become too common and should be addressed. I also had some issues where my analog stick would decide to not turn the camera and instead just strafe my character. This could just be a prerelease bug and I’m guessing will be resolved in a Day 1 patch.
Another problem that has seemingly carried over from the previous games are issues with companions. In the previous games they could be directed around the battlefield by players but often ended up being more of a burden than a true asset. Fallout 4 carries on this tradition by trying to implement a new system and interface. Player can point in a direction and tell companions where to go or what to do. I often found it a better option to just let them do their own thing rather than direct them on what to do. Using them as just another distraction for enemies was more useful. This is disappointing because most of the marketing for the game showcased Dogmeat, a German Shephard companion, appearing by the vault dweller in nearly every prerelease scene. Sadly I didn’t find Dogmeat to be that useful outside of one story quest where he is the main focus. I just dismissed him in favor of other companions who had guns or even a sledgehammer.
Even though the gameplay of Fallout 4 is a lot like the previous games in the series it does deliver a few new game systems that are sure to make the experience feel fresh outside of just the setting and story. The biggest addition is the new settlement system. Here players are able to set up settlements that become populated with other Commonwealth inhabitants. The settlers will grow food and gather water and even earn players some cash. Players unlock and claim these settlements by discovering them in the wasteland and then completing a quest or two for the current residents. Once you win over their favor they become a part of your network of settlements.
In the settlements players could easily spend countless hours building shelters and filing them with furniture and utilities. All of theses items are built at a workstation found in the settlements. When in this workstation mode the player switches to first person mode and wanders the space placing, moving, scrapping, or building objects. The system is extremely robust allowing you to pretty much build anything in the games catalog as long as you have the required material. Material for construction is gathered by either scrapping other items in the space or by scouring the wasteland and bringing them to be utilized to craft another item.
Bethesda has done an excellent job with this system making it practically a game within the game. With it they have been able to give value and meaning to the random loot that was always meaningless trash littered throughout the worlds of the previous games. Any player with enough ambition could literally spend countless hours building their settlements and avoid a lot of the main game. Bethesda even added the ability to fortify the settlements with turrets to help prevent raider attacks which are sure to occur. These attacks can even wipe out your settlements population if you’re not careful.
This system new system appears to be what could make Fallout 4 never end for many gamers. I could easily see a certain set of players becoming completely invested in this new system and use it as their main means to play the game. Personally I only dabbled in it. I built a few things throughout my current play through. For me I was more interested in scouring the wasteland in search of adventure. Interesting enough, the system isn’t critical to progress through the game. It could probably just be chalked up as a side objective. I find this a bit odd because this appeared to be one of the big additions to the Fallout formula this go around. For me it’s an appreciated addition but not really a selling point. I plan to dive more into the system in the future but for now my settlers are pretty much fending for themselves while I make a name for myself in the Commonwealth.
Crafting has also been completely revamped for Fallout 4. Previously, players could find schematics and build a few things here or there but overall crafting has never felt this robust in a Fallout game. Players can now craft or mod items at the Weapon, Armor, Chemistry, and Power Armor stations. These systems are excellent! Once again Bethesda gives purpose to the run of the mill junk you find throughout the world. Early in my play through I was able to craft an excellent pistol that helped carry me throughout the first 5-7 hours of the game. As the game progresses you are able to mod some excellent weapons that come with interesting perks helping your survivability in the wasteland. These crafting stations are primarily located in your settlements but can sometimes be found in the world too.
Speaking of Power Armor, the iconic apparel of the Fallout series has been reimagined in Fallout 4. Power Armor is now fueled by Fusion Rods found in the world. When applied to the suit they power it up for a certain amount of time. Generally this is about 20 minutes of in-game time. When in the Power Armor you are literally a walking tank. Your HUD completely changes to represent that you are in the armor. The armor is extremely useful and helped me face a swarm of Super Mutants and even cross an irradiated expanse that would have otherwise been impassable. It plays a major role with the Brotherhood of Steel (yes they’re back!) but remember, no story spoilers.
One final interesting point to bring up with Fallout 4 that could honestly make or break the game for some players is again the fact that it plays so similar to the previous two games in the series. Sure it looks better but a lot of what’s there feels like the previous games. With Bethesda rehashing some of the same gameplay systems they’ve used before the game feels a bit dated compared to the current lot of games on the market. The new settlement and crafting systems are great additions but may not be enough for some player with the raw gameplay being very much the same. For veterans of the series this may not necessarily be a bad thing but with some incredible open world experiences having recently been released like Witcher 3 and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain I can’t help but think this. If you want more of Fallout 3 or Fallout: New Vegas then you’re going to get it with Fallout 4. If you were looking for something that will be as ground breaking as Fallout 3 was for its time then I think you’ll be a bit disappointed.
I could continue to write so much more but honestly the best part of the games experience is discovering the game for yourself. The sense of discovery adds to the overall premise of your character discovering the world for himself. There is just so much to explore and experience in the world. From the problem driving your character for redemption, to the simple story behind an abandoned shack filled with test tubes and nuclear waste there is just so much to discover. Even with its faults Fallout 4 is just fantastic and a blast to play. It may not be as groundbreaking as Fallout 3 but for those willing to immerse themselves in its post-apocalyptic world it easily delivers a robust and memorable experience. Fallout 4 is hands-down the ultimate post-apocalyptic simulator fans have been waiting for and is a must play for fans of the genre. To hear more of my thoughts and experiences in Fallout 4 tune in to a special Fallout 4 episode of GeekNation Gaming News (check it out below).
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