Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
Platforms: Xbox One (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PC
Release Date: November 10, 2015
Price: $59.99 US – Available Here $99.95 AUS – Available Here
Very few games can be announced less than six months before release and then given only the bare minimum of promotion and manage to excite gamers around the world as much as Fallout 4 has. Bethesda has kept Fallout 4 very close to their vest and with fans eager to see what the company can do with a new generation of consoles after the enjoyable Fallout 3’s release years prior; does Fallout 4 manage to deliver on expectations?
Anyone familiar with the Fallout series roughly knows what to expect when it comes to the setting of the title but Fallout 4 starts things off a little differently. Players will begin by picking either the husband or the wife of a couple with a baby boy and customizing the look of both characters if they wish. The thing is, the bombs haven’t dropped yet and your family is currently living a happy life with your baby in alternate USA where the threat of potential nuclear annihilation is indeed real.
Shortly after accepting an invitation to enter Vault 111, the bombs indeed start to drop and players find themselves running for safety with their family. Unfortunately as many know, Vault-Tec is far from clear when it comes to what is going to happen in these vaults and after entering, players find their brief reprieve from danger come to an abrupt end as they are cryogenically frozen for over two hundred years.
Without spoiling things, due to events that occur after this process players will find themselves thawed out and alone in a world that is far different from the one they previously knew. By placing players in the role of a character that existed before the war and showing how life once was, they have created an interesting sense of loss and displacement that we’ve never been able to experience before. Even with past Vault Dwellers it was known that something had happened, but for the player character it feels like yesterday their home was vibrant and full of life and today it is a dilapidated ruin surrounded by danger.
Of course stating more about the core storyline would spoil things but let’s just say that the main story path in Fallout 4 is better constructed than previous titles as it does set a number of clear mark posts for players to aim for if they wish to head down that path as fast as possible though doing so would be something of a disservice. I say that as there is still plenty of room for players to wander around and take on various side-jobs around the Commonwealth and joining up with the various factions and investigating the numerous locations around the map.
Like many of their past games Fallout 4 also offers plenty of replay value as both the storyline decisions you make at some points will end up turning certain factions against you as well as potentially lock you out of certain locations and the impressive amount of companions that you can find in the Commonwealth mostly all have a certain charm to them, a few of which can only be kept depending on certain choices the player has made. Not all of these companions are handled well but many of them will make numerous remarks about the places you’re exploring, certain actions made, and even offer their own mini-stories as they grow to like your character through their actions in the field. Though be careful, what one character likes may infuriate another, even if it is as simple as hopping into a suit of Power Armor.
It is worth noting that the storyline with some of these factions does appear to be rather weak at its core which is a bit of a disappointment but thankfully nearly every place that players explore in the densely packed Commonwealth will have its own small story based around it, with even a small shack by a pond having something for inquisitive players to investigate if they so wish. Fallout 4 also marks the first time that players will be taking on the role of a voiced protagonist which does mean that some of the more hilarious dialogue options do take a bit of a step back this time around but the conversation system, which is now handled via a four button wheel, works well and still provides an open enough feel to give your “Lone Survivor” their own personality.
Now while Fallout 4 may be using a modified engine of what fans are familiar with and many aspects may still seem familiar at first glance, Fallout 4’s mechanics have all been changed either for the better or streamlined in a way that may frustrate some hardcore fans. The most streamlined aspect is the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system that has been a long standing feature in the series. Standing for Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, and Luck players will be able to assign an allocated number of points into each of these categories when they create their character as before but now leveling up is handled in a far different manner than before.
Rather than featuring separate skills that are leveled up separately in order to increase the player’s efficiency, leveling provides the player with a skill point that can then be spent either increasing the point value of one of your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats or unlocking certain perks. Previous aspects such as hacking or unlocking Advanced, Expert, and Master level puzzles must now be obtained through this system. For example, this means that players will need to have at least 4 Perception to be able to access the Lockpicking perk and then three levels invested into said perk to be able to pick Master level locks.
This system is spread around throughout all of the mechanics of the game, with perks to increase the amount of damage done by certain weapons, sneakiness, pickpocket chance, and even the ability to craft fancier items contained in one streamlined system that may seem a bit overwhelming at first, since it is entirely possible, if not a bit crippling at the start, to invest ten points into a certain stat and then immediately gain access to high level perks, though even this is usually gated behind a level requirement, but it is rather easy to understand after putting a few hours into the game.
With players being able to build up their character in a variety of ways and the way of doing so being a bit more streamlined, I am pleased to say that the gunplay and the VATS system are better than ever. Fallout 4 plays a bit more like a standard shooter now than an RPG shooter, allowing players to have much more control over whether or not they’ll actually hit enemies they are aiming at in basic combat. This allows players to actually use basic aiming as a viable tactic and one that is well-honed while the VATS system no longer freezes time and makes player’s something immortal, instead time flows at a slower pace. This means that enemies can head for cover, attack the player, and even take a bullet for someone else rather than simply letting the player pick away at them as they wish.
This creates a far better combat system than what was previously offered, though some may be a bit disappointed to hear that basic critical hits are now far rarer as players are instead offered a critical meter that fills up every time the player does damage in VATS. When filled this allows players to make use of a manual critical hit that can be used to get out of a bad situation or simply to quickly eliminate a single enemy.
Another element that has been changed, which some may find issue with as it does change up the lore of the armor a bit, but I find a suitable change considering what it is, comes in the form of Power Armor. Rather than simply being equipment that is strapped on, Power Armor is introduced early as something of a miniature mech-suit that is powered by fusion cores. This makes Power Armor a strong but limited item that requires the constant use of fusion cores that can be found in the Wasteland or purchased from vendors, but provides players with plenty of bonuses as every piece of a Power Armor suit can now be upgraded or modified in some way to provide a special bonus and even various types of armor can be mixed and matched depending on what players can find in the Commonwealth, as certain enemies also have managed to track down their own special suits.
By removing the level cap in Fallout 4 Bethesda has made it possible to create vastly different characters as well as something of a Jack-of-all-Trades if you wish. There are also various Bobbleheads and magazines scattered throughout the Commonwealth that increase various stats and add new bonus perks while raising your bond with companions can also reward players with a unique perk. This allows for a massive level of character customization and that level of customization doesn’t end there.
Previously it was possible to gather plenty of junk around the Wasteland and its primary purpose was either to sell it for Caps or fire it out of a Junk Jet. Now every item in the game serves some purpose. Previous trash such as empty Nuka Cola bottles can be broken down into glass, cigarette cartons which usually were only for a quick buck now contain a number of elements that can be used to craft useful items and equipment.
You see, every element of the player’s arsenal is now customizable and numerous items can be crafted from seemingly nothing. Players now have the ability to craft numerous types of drugs using materials gathered from the dirt or enhancing other drugs such as Jet to create Jet Fuel, cook meat gathered from enemies to rid it of radiation as well as provide useful temporary buffs, and much more.
I have only touched upon the surface of customization however as what was previously seen as junk can now be used to enhance your equipment since most equipment players will find is now modular. While it is possible to wear a basic suit of clothing, there are also numerous types of clothing that provide basic stat boosts that can then have additional equipment worn on the chest, arms, and legs. Each of these pieces can then be customized to resist more damage, weigh less, add pockets to increase how much players can carry, and more. Weaponry is treated the same way as literally every gun and melee weapon in the game can be customized in one way or another, even rare legendary weapons.
Most weapons can be modified almost entirely, as players can change the type of barrel used, the stock, the trigger, the firing mechanism, even the types of bullets used, to craft a weapon that suits their purpose and melee weapons often can be made even more vicious by adding serrated edges, jet boosters, elemental damage, and much more. As mentioned before, with the occasional legendary enemies often dropping special legendary gear, which is usually standard gear that has a special perk on it, players can transform even the most basic laser rifle into something absolutely devastating if they choose to invest into the Gun Nut and Science perks.
Outside of creating things for yourself players will also find themselves gathering tons of junk items to secure a better place for themselves to live. You see, Fallout 4 now features a settlement building system where players can secure certain locations and then use a workbench to clear out destroyed buildings and create their own mini-villages. Using primarily wood, cloth, steel, and other basic materials players will find themselves constructing either pre-made houses or attempting to create elaborate structures using an unfortunately poorly explained building system that allows for quite a bit of creativity.
Each settlement requires players to build up its defenses, either through creating turrets or assigning settlers to constructed guard posts, plant various vegetables for food, establish sources of water, power to supply energy to certain items that are built and to turn on higher level machinery, and of course beds for everyone to sleep in. There is far more to this mode than many would expect as players can construct houses filled with luxury items and working lights to help increase the happiness of the villagers and establish a base of operations.
This helps give players an exceptional level of customization as well as a massive time sink in an already huge game, though it is also entirely possible to mostly avoid this mechanic if you so wish since certain elements do require players to dig through help menus as the game gives very few explanations regarding certain systems in settlement mode.
As many know, Bethesda’s open world games are well known for having a number of bugs at launch and Fallout 4 hasn’t dodged this bullet but from what I’ve experienced in over eighty hours of playtime is far less than any of my time in past Bethesda games. Enemies and companions clipping through the environment remains something that occurs more often than one would like but never did I experience any quest locking bug, though a few times I did need to reload my save or knock down an ally AI in order to make them move and properly activate a door that required their involvement. Companion AI also is a bit iffy at times but far less than before as they will regularly move to the side when trying to navigate through a doorway or can simply be told to move across the room.
Fallout 4 marks the first time that one of Bethesda’s open world sandbox titles has appeared on the latest generation of consoles and it does show a noticeable improvement here, though probably not as much as some would like. There are plenty of rough looking textures that can be found in the game and unfortunately only a few new enemies are introduced in the Commonwealth but many old enemies have been modified and given new characteristics, making Feral Ghouls a truly frightening fight at times.
That being said, the world is densely populated with a number of areas to explore as well as a decent variety for what can be seen. I never noticed a direct layout copy for any of the locations I explored and with a wider color spectrum gives the Commonwealth a fresh appearance from what many have been used to in past games. Of course this does mean that there are some moments where the frame rate will take a bit of a dive but it never appeared to last longer than a couple of seconds.
As mentioned before, this marks the first time that players will be taking on the role of a voiced protagonist in the game. This does remove some of the more ridiculous dialogue choices but the voice work found in Fallout 4 is very impressive as the developers have gathered quite a large number of actors to make sure that players won’t be hearing the same voices over and over again. It is worth mentioning that because of this, some NPCs do seem to have issues where they aren’t given actual voice work for certain generic lines, such as ones that are assigned from the randomly generated quests, meaning that players must make use of the subtitles to actually hear what they are saying.
The soundtrack is unfortunately something of a disappointment this time around. There are a wealth of catchy tunes found in the Pip-Boy’s radio but the disappointment comes from the fact that the majority of these songs are simply ones that have been recycled from the past two games. Only a handful of new songs are actually included in the radio stations and while they do add some freshness to the soundtrack, it would have been nice to see more tracks added in.
Keeping a game under wraps and limiting the details about a game such as Fallout 4 must have taken a lot of effort from Bethesda but it has certainly paid off. Although a few elements in the story could have used some more fleshing out, bugs remain an issue, and certain elements are poorly explained, this title offers a massive experience that players can easily sink over a hundred hours into the game and still find more to explore and customize making Fallout 4 an experience that is simply too great to pass up and easily lives up to expectations.
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