7 years ago Bethesda reintroduced the world to the nuclear wasteland in the form of a first person RPG shooter. It became an instant hit and stole the hearts of many wannabe vault dwellers. Now we’re here in 2015 and it’s time to don the Pip-Boy yet again as we explore a post-apocalyptic world full of dangerous raiders and bugs (of both the creepy, and technical persuasion).
Fallout 4 starts off by giving players a glimpse of life before the nuclear war. It opens with a pretty neat and powerful character creation toolset and you’ll have a bit of time to spend with your family before everything goes to hell and you’re forced to take shelter inside the game’s iconic Vault-Tec vault. Something catastrophic happens to your family later on which sets up the basic premise of the story. It’s a painstakingly slow burn, and even though I’m supposed to care about what had just happened, there was no proper fleshing out of the characters and it just ended up feeling all wishy-washy. Luckily I knew that the real adventure would begin once you leave the vault.
So there I stood, freshly emerged from the vault with the beautifully decrepit landscape teasing me, taunting and practically begging me to explore it. And explore it I did, only to be met with my demise by the hands of a few random raiders moments later. I seem to have forgotten what it’s like to be in a Fallout world, in a world full of danger and peril, a world where the immediacy of your objective seems to take a back seat to the urges of your inner adventurer. Having played Fallout 3 for dozens of hours, after a while, this game actually felt more like I was coming home after a long business trip rather than a wild holiday to some unknown destination. There was still quite a few new things to understand though before I could fully adventure out into the wild.
There are so many new additions to Fallout 4, some big, some subtle, and though the game may look and even at times feel hauntingly familiar, most of the additions and alterations help in making the game feel fresh and progressive. My favourite and possibly the biggest change to the game is how every piece of random junk has now been given actual meaning and purpose. Every little item that you can pick up can be scrapped to yield materials that can be used in the game’s robust crafting system. You’re now able to customize weapons and armour and craft all sorts of different items. You can customize your very own Power Armour too, which is indescribably awesome in so many ways. It’s hard to adequately relate the elation I got from amassing tons of junk and scrapping them all for parts for my weapons. As they say, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
The gunplay in this game has been drastically improved as well. Guns feel and sound like guns and they have a real punch to them. The V.A.T.S system which used to stop time to allow you to choose specific body parts to shoot has now been changed to slow down time instead of completely halting it. Levelling up has been streamlined as well, and while it may upset some people, it does cut away a lot of the fat. When you level up you gain a point that you can use to either upgrade one of your base stats, or to spend on a perk, given that you meet the requirements.
So once I got everything out of the way, I finally set out to continue my quest, only, I wasn’t done yet. I then somehow got swallowed into the new settlement creation feature.
Customizing your equipment was not the only use for your scrapped junk as you can now build entire settlements all around the map as well. Settlements will eventually attract more NPCs and you have to provide ample food and shelter and even a means of defence against scavengers and raiders. It’s a nice touch; I felt like I was building a real home for these people. It is just so unfortunate however that the actual controls for this feature are both tedious and wonky. There is no bird’s eye view and everything is done from the same perspective you play the game in, so even something as simple as putting a roof on a house was a nightmare. Your mileage might differ, but I wasn’t as caught up in this mechanic as I’d hoped to be.
Once I came to grips with what’s new in the game, I finally got on my way to continue the main story, or that’s what I thought I would do. There were just so many times when I’d tell myself that I need to progress the story, that there are much more pressing issues to deal with, but how could I? How could I just push through when at every turn there was a new location or dungeon just whispering sweet words into my ear? “Explore me”, I’d hear them say. It was as if I was under some weird spell, because I just couldn’t resist. And you know what? That’s alright. The ‘side’ content feels as important as the main story. Hell, I would even go as far as to say that those very side activities far outshine the main narrative.
The main story is in no way bad, but there are just too many key encounters and moments that feel as though they’re supposed to mean more or to have much more of an impact. Don’t get me wrong, there are some really awesome moments and the factions in this game are as interesting as ever, but I just can’t help but shake this feeling of indifference towards the storyPart of the problem comes from the new dialogue system which has been heavily watered down from previous games. During exchanges, you’re now given the choice of 4 responses, but each response only has a few words or even just a single word as a description, so it becomes hard to tell what exactly your character is going to say. Conversations end up feeling somewhat inconsequential and disjointed, and it kind of hampered my immersion. It’s countered somewhat by a well-voiced player character, but there’s a lack of gravitas – and as a result, impetus to push the story forward. Overall, the story is serviceable, but the real meat of the game lies in the world, and the stories you build up for yourself.
Bethesda does a wonderful job of marrying visuals cues with its lore and it results in some pretty special world building. I found myself so enthralled in my adventures. All I wanted to do was keep exploring, going further and digging deeper – and my exploits led me to some really interesting locations. Some places were disturbing, like a facility where people were treated as guinea pigs and subjected to chemicals and drugs while being paraded in front of an audience. Other locations were downright twisted such as the gallery of a murderous sociopath who seems to have a thing for displaying the heads and mutilated bodies of raiders in a macabre, artistic fashion. I could only imagine how these things played out before I discovered them, but audio and datalogs do a great job of helping me paint a picture of events that transpired. These are things that kept me going, that kept me playing till the early hours of the morning. What’s even better is that I feel like I’ve only just scratched the surface and there is still so much more out there waiting for me.
Fallout 4 also has a number of companions that you can take with you on your adventures and they’re actually both interesting and entertaining to have along with you. The more your relationship grows, the more you’ll learn about them – surprise! – I actually grew attached to some of them. It’s a system I really enjoyed, yet loathed at the same time. I have no issue with the characters themselves really, but my gripe lies with their AI. They’re usually as dumb as bricks that litter the destroyed Boston metropolis. I’ve lost count of how many times they’ve run straight into traps and enemies, how they’re constantly blocking doorways, pushing me out into the open and blowing my cover. I just stared in disbelief as they got stuck in the environment for the umpteenth time. Unfortunately this is where things went downhill for me and I became unable to overlook the overall lack of polish.
I understand that bugs and technical hiccups vary from player to player, but the usual Bethesda-ness happened far too often during my playthrough, and I became increasingly frustrated that these things even exist in the first place. Besides the horrendous companion AI, there were many instances where I would get knocked back into a wall or tree and find myself magically merged with the environment.
Conversations would cut off mid-sentence, my guns would disappear, I would fall through the floor, subtitles would get stuck on-screen, framerate would drop heavily, and bodies would float in mid-air while NPCs were walking through walls. Worst of all I even ran into a few hard crashes. There are so many other issues I can mention and I know we’ve come to expect this from Bethesda, but it’s just unacceptable for these types of things – that actually hamper gameplay – exist in this day and age.
Despite itself however, Fallout 4 manages to be an engaging adventure. It actually looks and sounds fantastic, and while some textures and most character models is downright ugly (I actually mistook a few human characters for Feral Ghouls), it still has a really good art direction and the dynamic effects help greatly in making up for its graphical shortcomings. I may have found it hard to overlook some of its flaws, but it’s still a world I want to get lost in and even as I write this and look back at all the frustrations I had, this game is still on my mind, and I can’t wait to hop back in.
Last Updated: November 23, 2015