Fallout 3 fostered international acclaim and brought back a series that had trouble finding new audiences after Fallout 2 in 1998. Bethesda Softworks nailed the Fallout universe but with their own take on open-world RPGs that is a little rough by modern standards but for 2008 it was phenomenal. Seven years later Fallout 4 sits on our laps with a new story and a new area to explore in the post-apocalyptic United States. But is it any good? Short answer; yeah, sort of, long answer; read on.
Fallout 4 takes place a decade after 3 but first gives a glimpse into pre-war times as the main character, the Sole Survivor, lives with his or her spouse and child in the year the bombs fell in a Bostonian suburb. Being at the epicentre at what were the end times for civilization was a fun twist on things and gives a good start for new players of the series and drowns returning players in plenty of fan service. After running to the nearest vault and being cryogenically frozen for 200 years you emerge with the purpose of finding your child after witnessing his kidnapping and the murder of your spouse.
The story goes to some cool places – you have standoffs with mafia gangsters, explore the mind of a dead man and even see familiar faces from Fallout 3 both in story and in passing as you wander through the world but those moments unfortunately reach a climax that like Fallout 3 somewhat disappoints but for different reasons. Where 3 pigeonholed players into siding with the Brotherhood of Steel, Fallout 4 presents freedom of choice in faction alignment but it feels like almost every faction’s ending leads to the same conclusion except there are different characters standing around you saying “We did it. Yay.” Obviously the story has to reach an over-arching conclusion, but to be forced to choose a faction and have that very choice undermined by poor payoff and little variation in the main story’s final moments comes across as slap dashed at best.
The fun I derived from Fallout 4 wasn’t in its main story whatsoever. I spent most of my 80+ hours clocked walking around the world exploring the dense urban environments and plowing through countless raiders, synths and other threats the Commonwealth is filled with and that was the most fun I had. Exploration rewarded me with side-quests, better equipment and new places to find from the hearsay of other citizens of post-apocalyptic Boston and that was where Fallout 4 shined brightest. Finding a crashed ship full of robots that think they’re sailors with a proud sentry bot captain that wants to push their vessel to the Atlantic Ocean is just an example of the ludicrous endeavours you’ll find yourself coming across.
Playing Fallout 4 you’ll notice some immediate changes to the existing formula. The aiming has been tuned to feel more like an actual shooter unlike the clunky ranged combat the previous games had. Enemies now take cover a lot more but they’re still not smart enough to keep their distance instead of rushing players that hide around corners with shotguns waiting to blast them away. The melee combat still plays like a clumsy mess. Your block is now replaced with a parry that knocks foes back so you can get a quick free hit and instead of holding down the swing button you use a shoulder button on controllers to wind up a power attack at the cost of your Action Points. This coupled with melee enemies that now constantly charge meant most of the time I engaged in melee combat was spent turning around to face my attacker and it just wasn’t fun in any capacity.
The gameplay loop Bethesda games have presented before makes a return with hoarding items to sell, equip or use in crafting but those last two activities have been expanded upon greatly. Equipment has been overhauled to feature more customization in outfits and armour. You can kit yourself out with different pieces of protection for parts of your body such as specific chest and leg armour and even upgrade what you wear with crafting but the system is ripe with poor explanation of its new mechanics. I wore combat armour all the time and it took me until the final hours to realize upgraded versions of existing armour can drop. Most of my time my eyes glazed over an enemy’s armour as I looted them because they’re usually slapped with meaningless adjectives like “Sturdy Combat Armour Chest Plate” and at first I had thought was just another upgrade from a crafting station as it was usually below my current armour rating unless I brought it TO a crafting station. This was obviously a mistake on my part for not picking up on it sooner but the lack of explanation is just one of Fallout 4’s biggest problems explaining its core systems.
Thankfully this naming structure doesn’t apply to weapons as their progression is solely tied to your ability to customize them with the ‘Gun Nut’ and ‘Blacksmith’ perks. You can modify guns to hit harder, shoot faster and hold more bullets and attach scopes and suppressors for whatever kind of approach to combat you choose and that system is as straight and narrow as it gets in the best way possible when compared to the armour system.
Another new feature of Fallout 4 is the base-building. Once you’ve helped a small group of folks out of a raider attack, their leader informs you they’ll seek refuge in the neighbourhood where the main character used to live in pre-nuked Boston. This opens up to allow the player to fortify and build the settlement and even bring in new settlers to work for you. You can decorate the interiors of houses, build functioning power systems with automated turrets and spotlights for defences and set up stores to generate income based on your population. The tutorial for building your first settlement gives you basic instructions to have food, defences, water and power for your settlers but once it opens up can be a little overwhelming at first. It’s a glitch-heavy system as well; Most of the time trader’s pack-brahmins will be inside your houses clipping through walls, many objects you place down won’t snap to a lot of walls and placing anything on a slope means half of the object will most likely float in the air. While neat and novel in concept, the idea isn’t very polished but thankfully as I said is completely optional.
It’s worth noting that regardless of Fallout 4’s great presentation, expansive world and intricate mechanics, it’s a technical mess. Crashing, poor texture loading, stuttering to single digit framerates and mission breaking bugs that require reloading are just some of the boatload of issues I’ve had with the game on PC and my short time I had with the console version didn’t fare a whole lot better. I had encountered a bug about 60 hours in that broke the game’s ability to display wetness on textures when it rained. Every time it rained the colours would become completely inverted or flash a blinding white light that never left the screen until I could crawl my way to a bed or chair to wait it out. I read turning off wetness in the graphical settings would fix the issue but it isn’t an excuse for what should be a functional game at launch and that wasn’t even my biggest problem.
My biggest problem in playing Fallout 4 was how it set me back almost 12 hours after doing nothing but main story progression. Out of nowhere the game decided it would lock itself up every 20-30 seconds and freeze the game for another five. I had been going off of quicksaves and tried to remedy the problem through different means but the only fix was setting my progress back significantly and that somehow fixed the issue. Obviously this is an edge-case situation and I would hate for it to happen to anyone else, but with these examples you can see how the game is obviously broken in a lot of mind-boggling ways.
There is still a great game underneath these issues. For what’s worth seeing there’s plenty, but if you’re still on the fence about picking up Fallout 4, the only question you need to ask yourself is how patient are you to put up with some of the problems I’ve mentioned. As someone who’s enjoyed Bethesda’s work before I found the issues this time around cut a little deeper and got more in my way of enjoying it this time around.
Another Fallout in both the best and worst ways possible