Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Platform: PC (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: 10th November 2015
Note: Review contains minor spoilers about the game’s characters, locations and plot.
The Commonwealth is a terrifying but beautiful place, filled with deadly mutants, psychotic gangs, androids and robots and a handful of people that want to take what is theirs back. Mercenaries, zombie like feral ghouls and super mutants lay siege to peaceful settlements that just want to survive another day and you are dropped right in the middle of this world as a man (or woman) out of time.
Fallout 4 like previous Bethesda game is an open world sandbox game, this time set in post apocalyptic Boston. After the opening video you are given access to the character creator which allows you to customise you character and their spouse. After spending minutes or hours creating your character the game will give you control and the game will begin. After a glimpse of family life in the pre-apocalyptic world you wake up in a cryogenic storage chamber inside an underground bunker known as a Vault. You are given the quest to journey out into the wastes and find your missing son. Upon leaving the Vault you have free rein you do as you please although the game will heavily reinforce it’s wish for you to do the tutorial.
Bethesda games are known for their familiar formula and game engine and Fallout 4 is no exception. As expected Fallout 4 is running on the same engine as previous titles from the studio and for the most part has the same game mechanics as Fallout 3. Significant improvements have been made to the games shooting mechanics, whilst taking inspiration from New Vegas’ inclusion of iron sights and weapon modifications and Skyrim’s weapon and armour enchanting. Unlike previous games however there are no role playing mechanics included in this title which has divided the community on whether the game deserves to be considered a Fallout game. The dialogue system used in Fallout 3, New Vegas and Skyrim has been replaced with a new system that has been designed to accommodate a voice acted player character. This new system however gives the illusion of choice, since no matter what option the player chooses your answer will always be an agreement or acceptance. Instead of previous titles where you are given a menu of speech options that have been fully written out you are given four options that always result in the same answers, Yes, Yes, Sarcastic Yes and Explain more. This part of the game has been universally lambasted and rightly so, conversations are awkward and cringe inducing when you are aware that the choices you are given are illusions and that regardless of what you choose to say you will get the same result.
Improvements to the combat mechanics have been made across the board, shooting is no longer as clunky and awkward as it was in Fallout 3 although the iron sights in the game can be awkward to use due to the size of the weapon view models. The shooting is satisfying, guns have a nice kick to them without being too ridiculous. Melee has seen the most impressive changes however, taking some notes from Skyrim’s improvements over Oblivion and taking them a step further the melee weapons of Fallout 4 are a lot more fun to play with and are surprisingly the most effective way to take enemies down if you build you character right.
Sprinting has been included too, allowing for a burst of speed whenever you please. It costs action points to use which if you are a fan of VATS may be a put off. Sneaking has been improved a lot too, enemies no longer automatically see you from miles away but they are now more alert when in close quarters range with them, although if you specialise into the sneaking perks you will become and invisible death god of the apocalypse.
During the game’s tutorial you are given a suit of power amour and are encouraged to use it to fight the local gang of raiders and a deathclaw, although it is a really cool set piece the end result is anti-climactic. You now have a piece of equipment that makes the game ridiculously easy and one of the series most dangerous enemy types has been killed with little effort. I recommend choosing to leave the power armour some where and play the game without it, obtain it more naturally from a more contextual source such as the Brotherhood of Steel or wait until the game starts to pose a challenge to you and come up with your own reasons. Apart from devaluing power armour by making it usable by anyone without training and giving it to you immediately after the game begins the changes made to the system for the most part are pretty solid. Power Armour now functions like a vehicle, which has been hinted at by the lore of other games as what power armour is meant to be, a vehicular suit of armour. Power armour now required a fuel source to function, small nuclear fusion cores. These cores in the early game are quite scarce but after reaching level 10 they become ridiculously abundant. Power armour increases your carrying capacity, damage resistance and speed, which means that it has uses outside of combat. I found that using it for settlement building was a convenient way to carry more resources and with the jetpack upgrade I was able to use it to get to higher areas to place defences and structures.
Speaking of character building the changes to the SPECIAL, perks and levelling system have also been divisive, skills are completely gone and instead have been replaced with representative perks. The player character is capable of proficiently using every weapon immediately upon gaining access to it and does not require any perks to gain these proficiencies which devalues combat and the perk system. In previous titles upon a level up you would be asked to assign skill points and choose a perk, now you gain one perk point and can assign it to anything you have unlocked at a time of your choosing, I like being able to use my level up when I want, this is a feature I would have welcomed in previous titles. Special is now used as for gating out the unlock process and for minor stat increases. This is fine since it works with the rest of the systems that they implemented although I would have preferred the system used in New Vegas.
Some perks are unlocked outside of the levelling system by the collection of magazines and bobbleheads or by gaining affinity with certain companions. Some of the magazine perks can be very valuable to a given play style while others just unlock shiny things to place in your towns. Spec-ops manuals give you a bonus to sneaking, whilst firearms magazines will give you additional damage with the given type of weapon. Bobbleheads make their return from Fallout 3, offering a way to instantly gain one point in a given SPECIAL point or giving a buff to a particular game mechanic. It is possible to gain the additional +1 to your SPECIAL stats even after capping them at 10 but you cannot level it beyond 10 if you collect the bobblehead early. Gaining maximum affinity with the Brotherhood of Steel companion will award you with the Know your Enemy perk, which increases the amount of damage you do to mutant and synthetic enemies.
Level design is on par with previous Bethesda games with some minor improvements made to their environmental storytelling efforts. Military bases and government facilities share a similar aesthetic and design structure, as do shopping areas and every home in a given neighbour hood. One of my favourite things to do when I come across a settlement is to look for the infrastructural parts of the town like water supplies, farms and animal pens, to my surprise almost every major settlement had a fully connected and well designed infrastructure.
Settlement building and management is a new feature added to the Bethesda formula with this game and is without a doubt my favourite part of the game. Although it is my favourite part of the game it is definitely the most under developed and bug infested too. There is no progression towards new blueprints, everything is unlocked by perks that you can select at any time. Finding blueprints for new turrets or defensive placements. decorative or structural buildings or new way of gathering resources would have been a great incentive for exploration and interacting with the games factions. Regardless of it’s many faults, I found that I got more enjoyment out of this part of the game than the rest of what it had to offer. From equipping my settlers, traders and guards with better weapons, armour and clothing to finding new creative ways to build structures out of unlikely components and finding new towns and homesteads to improve there are so many things you can do that probably weren’t intended during development that even with it’s numerous bugs and under development this feature is happy accident that has me eager to see where Bethesda take it with their next game and future add on content for Fallout 4.
The world building pedigree of Bethesda really shines with this game. Every settlement is fully realised and has lots of interesting little stories to explore and secrets to hide. Finding a note that speaks about some hidden treasure may just lead you to some hidden treasure, or the remains of the last treasure hunter. There is a rich history that has been written for the commonwealth and you can learn a lot of it by reading every terminal entry, speaking to everyone you meet and experiencing some of the fantastic environmental story telling. Everyone has a history and with enough effort or persuasion you can learn who they are, where they cam from, why they are here and what they are doing.
Quests in Fallout 4 follow the familiar formulae from Skyrim, fetch quests, escort quests, dungeon clearances and assassinations make up the bulk of the games content. Although following a much better design than in previous titles, I found that after a while every quest got more and more similar over time. I tended to space out the time between quests by returning to my settlements and improving their defences and infrastructure before returning to the wastes to kill more people indiscriminately. There are some interesting quests though, my favourite was a detective mystery that had me running all over the wasteland to gather evidence for the location of a pre war murder to help a companion get his revenge. The randomly generated quests that are offered can be fun when they take you to new locations or if there are stronger enemies than usual but the content is for the most part the same. Outside of randomly generated quests there is a lack of well designed or well written scripted quests for the player to take part in. Although there are definitely some really good quests, they are quite few and far between.
Factions play a larger role this time that they did in Fallout 3, the factions that you choose to interact with are also optional this time too. Depending on the faction that the player chooses to end the game with will affect which factions will remain after the end of the game. All factions except the Institute will offer the same end of game quests but with minor differences, the institute offer different quests that are much more interesting. Once you have ended the game the remaining factions will offer randomly generated quests for you to complete. There is no major difference between the randomly generated quests offered before the end and offered after except a change in faction targets or locations. So it is easy enough to figure out which faction will offer the most enjoyable quests for you after the ending.
There is no mechanical facilitation for role playing. similar in a way to Skyrim. Everyone is oblivious to what you wear, what weapon you have and how skilled you are which results in awkward dialogue and inconsistent encounters. Outside of dialogue and certain quest requirements however you are able to play as you wish and use your own imagination to facilitate contexts for your actions since the game its self won’t.
As with the previous two Fallout titles the music choices and sound design is fantastic. The radio soundtrack has some of the most thematically relevant music choices I have heard in a game. The sound of gun fire and explosions in the distance is well realised too. The directional sound design is fantastic, I knew where the action was as soon as I heard it.
Aesthetically the game is pleasing to the eyes however the further you travel from the beaten path you will discover more and more poor quality texture work and inconsistent aesthetics. This combined with the games terrible performance and horrible loading times makes the game a technical nightmare to deal with. There is a very noticeable input lag between each key press and mouse click and the corresponding action in game. This gives the feeling of a wind up time and requires the player to start taking some actions before the game catches up. This may be due to the game logic being tied to the frame rate or it may be due to the changes made to the movement system but regardless of why it is in the game, it really shouldn’t be post launch.
A noticeable improvement made over Fallout 3 and clearly inspired by New Vegas is the new companions that the game offers, companions will react to the players actions and comment on the environment, although the comments will get repetitive quickly they do provide some nice background commentary from someone that has lived in the post apocalyptic world longer than the player character.
Legendary enemies are a new feature to the game, dependant on the difficulty level the game will randomly spawn enemies with higher stats, better gear, a random effect like radiation emission or super speed and they drop new legendary items. These items are similar to the enchanted items found in Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls series in that they are a standard piece of armour or a weapon that has been given an effect. Effects can range from -15% damage from bugs to +1 SPECIALs or even ammo bonuses that add explosive or plasma effects to the weapon.
Enemy AI has seen the biggest improvements over previous Bethesda games, enemies no longer run at the player shooting and swinging, they can take cover, throw grenades, shoot through openings in the walls and they will retreat when they know they are beat.
As far as Bethesda games go, this is a great title, it offers a lot of play time and play styles unlike Skyrim however the game is riddled with bugs and technical issues that hold it back. No matter how much fun I am having with the game I am constantly reminded that drastic improvements are needed. I would not recommend picking this game up on consoles, the PC version of the game is great because it allows the player to fix issues with the command console, although this should never be necessary. Although not an improvement over New Vegas, and in many ways it has taken a step backwards Fallout 4 is still an enjoyable open world shooter with interesting new ideas that allow your imagination to go wild and the game definitely offers something for everyone to enjoy. Unless you are desperate for a new game that will soak up lots of your free time I recommend waiting until the game has been patched and all add on content released. Otherwise this is a great evolution of the Bethesda formula and a decent game, I look forward to seeing where this game formula is taken next.
Rating: Diamond city in the rough.
Mod Recommendations: Please find listed below some mods I recommend that improve upon the vanilla experience of the game without infringing on the first time experience.