Fallout 4 Review - Agents of change in the Wasteland
Note: This review is as spoiler free as possible. I’m going to assume you know the basic premise of the game, but I won’t spoil major plot points.
When Fallout transitioned to Bethesda, gamers everywhere expected good things, with cautious optimism. Fallout 3 changed the Fallout IP tremendously, but the trade-off was that we got a legendary game that took the Fallout IP in new directions and has provided years of enjoyment for fans. Fallout 4 continues this path, taking Fallout in new directions, refining concepts that improve core gameplay and adding new elements that make Fallout an even more distinct style of game.
Fallout 4 continues the Bethesda tradition of evolving each installment of a series with a core concept in mind. In Fallout 4, settlements are certainly one of these core concepts and the ability to change the wasteland and create a breathing place cements Fallout's place at the pinnacle of the open world RPGs. Fallout 4 is a masterwork by the Bethesda team with a strong theme of change; while war never changes the Commonwealth will and you will be an agent of that change.
Let's be clear: this game is a masterwork.
In a departure from the drab surroundings of every other Fallout game Fallout 4 begins in the pre-nuclear holocaust era. Common, pre-nuclear war items are shown in fully working condition. I spent a few minutes just marveling at the shine on the items. There is immediately a hint that not all things are right though and the story, after a quick setup progresses briskly to toss you into the meat of the game. Fallout 4 is not heavy handed with deep and complex story concepts, choosing instead to hold back a few twists and to let the world play out.
As Fallout 4 kicks off you have time enough to establish what’s going on and time enough to understand the dynamics and then you are right into the game. Bethesda games are not famous for complicated, nuanced story setups and Fallout 4 does not disappoint in this regard and continues with a relatable story with a twist or two based on Fallout tech and lore. The story setup is straightforward and just enough to make you grit your teeth and want to kick some ass.
Fallout 4 introduces the Creation Engine to the Fallout series. This is the same game engine used to create Skyrim with notable enhancements. Zoomability in the map, object inspection, and a deeper crafting system all come along for the ride and weather, lighting, water effects, and color saturation have all seen improvements or have been added. The overall graphics of Fallout 4 are very, very good, the lighting touches are at times striking and the first time you see a storm roll in you will probably just stop and watch. The first thing you will notice though is color, and lots of it.
Fallout 4 has a full-color palette, and the improvement is dramatic.
Fallout 4's graphics are not at the absolute limits of modern computing, but they are exceptionally good and the game has a style to it with a bit of grit and an artistic tone that is unique. Instead, and I feel this was done purposefully, this tone was chosen over the overly sterile and plastic look often achieved with ultra high-end graphics. Fallout 4 looks very good and the graphic style will hold up well.
You are likely to have seen stand-alone objects that look better in other games, however, you are unlikely to have seen environments and interior spaces that look this good anywhere else.
The environments in Fallout 4 feel far more realistic than most other games. The game world is definitely larger than others, but much of the extra space is in the interior environments, structures, tunnels and bunkers that are far larger and more varied than previous Fallout games.
In addition, the environment is scaled up with doors and pathways that feel wider and have more space between them. There are many multi-story buildings and multiple multi-level factory style locations. This significantly improves the immersive feeling within the environment and the feeling that you are in a real place.
Continuing the immersive realism is the high-quality voice acting. There is a massive body of voice acting work in the game and a distinct lack of overused or reused voice snippets. When I first started playing I expected to dislike the voiced protagonist. While my personal taste still prefers a silent protagonist, the voice acting is well done and the dialog matches the sentiment chosen well enough that you don’t feel like your character said something you never intended.
Power Armor is simply awesome.
Fallout 4 goes well beyond the power suit as just better armor. The power armor provides a distinct feel changing your HUD and even disallowing certain game world interactions. The game has certainly been balanced with it in mind, though you can still explore in regular armor effectively if you want a challenge.
Once you get used to running around in Power Armor, you probably won’t stop. It can become a touch tedious to get in and out of your armor for certain tasks, but these largely make sense. For instance, you can't sit in a normal chair in a giant suit of armor. I never encountered issues with collision or similar in my armor.
At first I fretted about power armor fusion cores. You have to manage this critical resource for the power armor, but they are abundant enough and if you play without armor early on you can get a stockpile for later. I will just say the suits are awesome and you will become very, very attached to your suit (or suits) as the game progresses and you will add your own flair to them with modifications.
Companions are far more varied and have more personality.
Dogmeat looks amazing. Companions like and dislike you based on options you choose. They can choose to no longer travel with you if they don’t like you. Companions are still only mildly useful, but they add flavor when they are not blocking your path through a door.
Gone are the days of item durability in Fallout, and what enters is a rich, though not terribly complex, crafting system. The crafting system dovetails with the new perk system nicely. You will have to make tough leveling decisions making tradeoffs about damage and skills and core crafting abilities.
Crafting permeates the game.
Very little in the game world is useless and every piece of junk contributes something to your efforts. I suggest you hang on to every scrap of aluminum you can. It is worth its weight in caps.
Wood, aluminum, screws, etc (you use and more later in the same sent.) and more all combine to make new flaming weapons, scopes, barrels, magazines and more and you can combine and recombine weapons and break weapons down. The system isn’t infinite, weapons have a finite set of upgrades, and your perks determine what is available - but with 6 or 7 levels of each type and the usual compliment of weapon types there is enough variety to be interesting.
Fallout 4 contains the expected set of weapons. Tire irons, shishkebabs, handguns and hunting rifles abound. While crafting provides a way to customize these items there is a new wrinkle with a much wider range of variable item traits such as increased critical rate, extra damage, damage mitigation and more.
These item traits are only available via random drops. You can now find a random item with a particular trait then customize it to make it more powerful or more your style.
While item sorting sounds like an obvious inclusion, it has been absent from earlier games. In Fallout 4 you simply hit a key and items sort by weight, value, damage, etc. The search feature is much needed. The crafting system requires you to hunt for small items like duct tape and aluminum cans; it also requires finding items that can be broken down into those parts like adhesive from duct tape. It is easy to forget that aluminum can be found in a certain type of typewriter, but if you mark aluminum for search then a magnifying glass appears next to the typewriter when looking at it just as it does next to the aluminum can pictured above.
I do have one criticism related to inventory management, crafting, and search:
There is no comparison option, so when looking at a potential crafting upgrade you can’t tell easily if the resulting item will be better than what you have equipped. This leads to tedious scrolling, memorizing or writing down.
In it’s own way, the new looting UI may be the single best feature in Fallout 4. You no longer have to open every container. Simply looking at the container opens a mini-window that you can loot directly from. Looting a storage room has never been this easy. The only problem I found was that the previous looting style was so ingrained in my head I kept hitting Tab to close the loot window that resulted in my pip boy opening. Untraining my muscle memory on that one has been comical at times.
Settlements are the manner in which you make your mark on the landscape of Fallout 4.
You can tear down decrepit buildings, clean up fallen logs, break down rusty old cars and build new structures, defenses, and infrastructure. The end result is an almost mini-game-like piece of core gameplay that brings an unmistakable and very welcome sense of ownership to the wasteland. The settlements I've built are mine and I chose where that turret sits and I chose how to layout the storage and crafting benches.
At times I wished settlements had more immediate gameplay impact during regular gameplay, but Bethesda seems to have chosen to make them a distinct game component, which does have impact on the game long term, rather than something that constantly screams for attention. I think this decision was the proper descision.
I enjoyed creating settlements, and I enjoyed building them and improving them and that feeling of actually improving the Commonwealth is fantastic. However, if settlements constantly required attention, with dire consequences if ignored, the process would become tedious.
Before we end, let's talk a bit about console and PC.
Bethesda has been criticized in the past for poor PC controls. They seem to have made a real attempt to improve the keyboard controls in Fallout 4, but the result also seems to remove the mouse from the equation.
Whether you like this or not will be a matter of personal taste, but Bethesda does not seem to have forgotten the PC players. I played about 15 hours on the PS4 and another 25 or more on the PC. With the promise of mods on the consoles where you play Fallout 4 is largely a matter of personal taste. The usual caveats apply, though. Ultimately the best graphics and most intense mods will be on the PC, while the ability to sit on your couch (for most people) is provided by the consoles. It's really up to you.
There are valid criticisms for Fallout 4. The voiced protagonist you may not agree with, settlements seem to gain importance a bit late. You won't find every companion engaging, and you may find some settlers are annoying. Crafting can be a touch tedious, and you may find the art style a touch weird at times. That being said, my 40+ hours of gameplay was crash free and while I interacted with all of the major elements I know that I only scratched the surface of the total game. Once you are playing these little nitpicks will drop away and the voice acting, details, sound effects and customization options are top notch and will draw you in.
Fallout 4 will, deservedly, be Game of the Year and millions of gamers are going to spend untold hours over the next few years building settlements, modifying weapons, and exploring vaults in a more colorful, more realistic Commonwealth. War never changes, but you are change!