Five years after New Vegas, Fallout 4 is finally here, and it brings the biggest world of the series. It isn't without flaws, but it certainly gives a better exploration experience than any of its predecessors.
The BasicsFallout 4 opens a bit differently than the previous entries of the Fallout series - the protagonist and his or her spouse prepare for an evening at a veteran's hall before the nuclear war that gives the franchise its name. Shortly after settling on your character's appearance, their small family (infant included) are ushered to nearby Vault 111 just before the bombs hit.
|Plus you get to see the bombs hit. It sets a somber tone in a way that no other Fallout game has.|
Of course, that doesn't happen as intended. Instead, your character is abruptly awoken long enough for their spouse to be murdered and son to be kidnapped. You unfreeze permanently some time later (roughly 200 years after the nuclear war), with only one obvious objective: find your son.
The core of what follows is very similar to the previous 3D Fallout games - lots of characters to meet and locations to discover, with first-person shooter combat supplemented by the statistics-driven VATS system, which allows you to pause the action and target specific enemies and body parts for a more strategic experience.
If you've played either Fallout 3 or New Vegas, you know how the basic mechanics feel.
The GoodThe absolute best feature of Fallout 4 is that the world is huge. There are well over 250 distinct locations to discover. While some of these locations are just major landmarks without much to explore or discover, it's still a whole lot to see and do. To give some perspective, I had logged 70 hours on one character by the time I finished the story, and there were still a handful of side quests and unexplored areas I hadn't visited.
Even better: this post-apocalyptic wasteland is surprisingly gorgeous. Yeah, the dilapidated buildings and urban debris are aesthetically very repetitive, but the world outside is just stunning. I think a lot of it comes down to diversity - instead of being a bunch of washed out browns and grays, there's quite a bit of color scattered around. The weather is also fairly dynamic, with fog and rain occasionally breaking the monotony, and the sky makes the game feel impressively open.
|Seriously, look at that!|
In terms of mechanics, not a lot has changed from previous titles in the franchise, though that's not a bad thing. VATS still lets you play the game essentially as a turn-based RPG if you wish, or you can run and gun like a first-person shooter, and both options are reasonably well done. Nothing groundbreaking on the combat front, but it's good enough to keep things interesting.
There are, however, a couple noticeable mechanical changes, and I think they're both for the better.
First, the perk/leveling system is a bit more streamlined. In previous games, you would begin the game by assigning your starting attribute points, choosing primary skills from among a dozen or so options, and then obtaining special perks every couple of level ups. It's a good system to be sure, as it allows a lot of customization and nuance. At the same time, though, this system puts a lot of emphasis on knowing the game - some skills are just less useful than others due to what's actually in the game, and choosing perks could be tricky for similar reasons.
Fallout 4 removes those skills entirely, integrating their functionality into the perk system instead. This time around, you get a new perk each and every level, and perks do everything from increasing your damage with certain types of weapons to unlocking new crafting options. Yes, you lose some of the game's complexity, which will be a disappointing change for some, but I think the gain in more accessibility (and fewer feel bads if you invest skill points into something borderline worthless) is worth it.
|Plus perks are now in a handy dandy table, making it easy to see your options.|
The biggest benefit of these expanded crafting options is that all the random crap you find is actually useful. Every "junk" item in the game can be scrapped for raw materials, so you might actually find yourself scrounging for hot plates and oil cans as you clear buildings and bunkers.
There are, of course, other good features of the game as well (like the fact that you can loot containers without having to "open" them), but that covers the biggest ones. As much as I want to continue singing the game's praises (I am a big Fallout fan after all), there are a number of disappointing features as well.
The BadThe biggest problem is one that seems to plague a lot of games these days: loading screens are atrocious. Each individual load screen may take 10-20 seconds. That's not oppressive in the abstract, but when you're trying to quickly travel from, say, one town to another, there could be three or four of these loading screens in your way. The fast travel system doesn't feel so fast when it takes a minute of waiting or more to reach your destination.
Loading screens aren't much of an issue when you're in full exploration mode, but it can get awfully frustrating when you're trying to buy ammo or turn in a quest or something of the sort.
The other big disappointment is embedded in the main storyline missions. As is typical of a Fallout game, there are several factions with a vested interest in the game's major events. Unsurprisingly, these factions are at odds with one another, all fighting over the same resources to push their own agendas. Even better, there's no obvious "good guy" in this particular conflict; each organization brings their unique biases and whatnot. That moral ambiguity is great!
Unfortunately, as far as I could tell, there's really only one way to progress through the story - with brute force. There's no sneaking around and sabotaging, there's no convincing a faction to lay down their arms. You can't talk faction leaders out of using violence as an answer to their problems, so the only way to influence the story is in the faction you choose to join.
And that is really disappointing and frustrating. A pure intelligence/persuasion build is impossible to pull off, as you are forced to deal with big firefights throughout the game.
For a lesser complaint, given the sheer size of the game, it's a little disappointing that there aren't many new species to discover (and brutally murder). It's basically the same menagerie as before - humans, supermutants, ghouls, mirelurks, and bugs. There are a few new strains of mirelurks, but that's it for new and unusual fauna. A missed opportunity in my mind.
|Including the intimidating Mirelurk Queen.|
Ambient music, on the other hand, is actually pretty good, so I guess it's not all bad.
One more complaint: the town-building aspects of the game, while cool, have some problems. The first is just that moving and placing items can be a huge pain given the perspective of the game and the lack of a strict grid (or something similar) for guiding placement. That process can get quite awkward and frustrating.
The second is a bit more significant. There are mechanics for measuring the happiness of people in each of your allied settlements. Unfortunately, those mechanics are either glitched or unintelligible, as it seems impossible to make people happy for an extended period of time. I'm not sure if their dissatisfaction affects anything else in the game, but it's annoying nonetheless.
(Full disclosure: the base-building in the game isn't really my thing, so I spent an hour or two on it and moved on. Despite those flaws, there's a fairly impressive system in place, so you may find it to be a ton of fun, if you're into that sort of thing.)
The SummaryIf you're a fan of the lore and atmosphere of the Fallout franchise, Fallout 4 is amazing because it gives you a huge world to explore. The game does a decent job of letting you develop a character and use him or her to dominate your enemies, if you're into that sort of thing instead. But if you loved the open-endedness of the interactions in previous Fallout games, you'll probably be disappointed by this one.
Still, it's definitely worth playing if you're RPG fan.
My Rating: 8/10 - great.