It’s been a seven-year wait for some Vault dwellers but Fallout 4 is finally here. Developed by Bethesda Softworks and announced only a few months ago, Fallout 4 is vying to be the game of the year, and as the followup to Fallout 3 and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, it has has a lot to live up to as the developer’s first game built for the current generation of consoles.
Early reviews agree that Fallout 4 is a hit, but is it really as great as some headlines depict? Are the complaints about dated visuals and design elements valid? Does Fallout 4 really do enough to innovate over its predecessors and other open-world games? Yes and no.
Gamers who love Fallout 3 and/or Fallout: New Vegas and Bethesda’s application of the open-world design and gameplay mechanics of The Elder Scrolls series to the lore, aesthetics, and RPG elements of Fallout will find the fourth installment familiar and immensely entertaining. It’s full of content, with so much do do and explore. It’s more of the same.
Unfortunately, it’s too much of the same and as a result, feels dated. Fallout 4 plays well (and is clearly designed) for consoles, and on a decent gaming rig, runs silky smooth. I’m running it with all settings on “Ultra” without a hitch and can even record gameplay at 60 FPS. In order to achieve that, Bethesda didn’t invest much in improving the graphical fidelity or game engine of their latest hit. It looks ugly up close and its seems show everywhere. The animations and scripted moments can be as janky as the textures are muddied. There’s already a fan-made mod to improve graphics because they’re as poor as critics complained about when the game was unveiled at E3 this summer. Thankfully, that’s not a deal-breaker and Fallout 4 almost proves the point that graphics don’t necessarily matter.
What Makes Fallout 4 Great?
Like its predecessor, Fallout 4 is an open-world first-person action RPG. It’s primarily a shooter but there are loads of melee weapons should you prefer to get up close and personal. The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic retro-future version of Boston, Massachusetts where 200 years earlier the world was ravaged by nuclear war over resources. It’s the same setup as Fallout 3 which took place in Washington except this time you get to see what life was like before the bombs went off. Players step into the role of a time-displaced survivor of those events, emerging from one of the franchise’s iconic vaults built to withstand nuclear fallout.
By using the Skyrim engine this time around, Fallout 4 has a far more comprehensive character creator that can be adjusted later during the game. There are even unlockable tattoos hidden in the world. Players can choose to be male or female and both options bring with them a fully voiced character who joins in on the cinematic conversations with NPCs throughout the game.
The vault itself, how players fall into it and enter the new world, is all handled very well from a story standpoint. Bethesda improves upon the overly long intro of Fallout 3 and wastes no time in getting players out into the world and into the action, and better yet, providing a strong motivator for the main quest line. Of course, players don’t have to go down that path right away… or at all. Fallout 4 successfully continues Bethesda’s track record of delivering game experiences where players can get lost for hours and hours just exploring and picking up side-quests along the way, even finding valuable rare treasures, or unique and interesting characters.
Walking the wastelands (dubbed the Commonwealth) feels appropriately ominous and punishing when unprepared, but you’re not alone this time. Fallout 4 gives players a companion in a loyal pet who can take orders, open doors and help carry items when the player character is maxed out on inventory weight. The friendly German Shepard however, can be swapped for other companions introduced throughout the game, each offering different bits of dialogue depending on location and events, and each having a unique flair for the things they like in you, based on how players handle situations and conversations with other characters.
The companion system makes combat a little easier, since companions helps distract enemy characters and monsters, and it’s just one of the new features the game employs. Also new to Fallout 4 is base building. Players can establish settlements across the Commonwealth and craft everything from defensive emplacements and water pumps to furnishings and trading posts. Many of these can be built around the world by gaining allegiances with other friendly outposts, eventually leading to the building of communities that can generate income. This system lets players interact with the environments (within certain boundaries) by breaking down rusted vehicles, fallen trees and random debris into usable components for crafting. This system extends to customizing and modifying weapons and armor and for the first time in the series, everything has value. Alarm clocks found in a garbage can now have a reason to be picked up for the valuable little parts they contain. The same goes for gathering plants and meats for food to cook and meds to craft. In Fallout 4, everything has a purpose.
Other improvements include a friendlier fast-travel and waypoint system and the removal of the ever-annoying weapon/armor degradation system. Combined with slightly improved weapon mechanics, and a sweet system for the infamous Power Armor, and Fallout 4 is the most polished open-world game from Bethesda yet. But it’s a trade-off for lack of innovation and some half-baked features.
Next Page: The Problems of Fallout 4
The Problems of Fallout 4
Fallout 4 offers endless hours of locations to explore and tasks to accomplish, but it’s also burdened with dated mechanics and a lot boring fetch quests. Given the open-ended design of the game, so much is optional in Fallout 4, but so much of it is just plain filler in between the exciting and meaningful missions to pad out the already large game, and that means lots of one-dimensional characters serving only to point players to different areas on the map, and lots of repetitive hacking of terminals and lockpicking.
The biggest issue is in the core shooter and movement gameplay. Despite Bethesda enlisting the help of id Software (Doom, Rage) and looking towards Bungie’s work on Destiny for inspiration, Fallout 4 falls short compared to modern FPS games in the fundamentals. The inability to use ladders, leap over cover or obstacles, or even go through a large open window dampens any sense of immersion in a game that’s about looting and surviving. When you look down, you don’t even have feet in this game.
When it comes to gunplay, Fallout 4 is an improvement over Fallout 3 and offers in incredible amount of adjustable weaponry, but without the slow-motion V.A.T.S. (Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting) system, overpowered weapons or buffs, larger combat scenarios can be clunky. It can be tactical in how players can set traps and use different gear and meds depending on the situation, but a smooth shooter Fallout 4 is not. The AI of enemies is problematic at times and players can easily find themselves in a panic when getting blocked by or stuck on environmental geometry.
The in-game Pip-Boy (your handheld mobile computer) menus and weapon swapping system, which requires frequent sorting and navigation of lists are also clunky. On PC, this is especially problematic, since like Skyrim, Fallout 4‘s functionality in this regard is hampered by the focus on serving console controllers. Thankfully, controller support is built-in for the PC version but not even the most powerful of gaming rigs can help speed up some of the lengthy load times when moving from interiors to exteriors.
When it comes to progressing in Fallout 4, Bethesda removed the level cap so players can unlock everything if they put enough time into it, and keeping playing once the main story is over, but the redesigned Perk system is sometimes counter-intuitive. Players are able to assign one point to a perk or one of their base attributes every time they level up but dedicating to specific weapon types or the ability to access higher-level mods for instance, is usually rendered obsolete simply by finding better gear during regular play. This problem also downplays the usefulness of spending time unlocking settlement building options.
Fallout 4 has its fair share of glitches too, but far less than its predecessors and minor in comparison given the size of its world. It runs clean and we’ve come across nothing game-breaking. Bethesda expands and refines the Fallout formula and feature-set in some smart ways and while some of it is lacking, the old Elder Scrolls game engine powering Fallout 4 had just enough fuel to get by on the current-gen consoles. Examined on their own, then individual elements of Fallout 4 might be unimpressive, but the sum of their parts equates to something fun, engaging, and massive. There’s more to do in Fallout 4 than most single-player games so get ready to crack open a Nuka Cola.
Fallout 4 is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.