REVIEW / Fallout 4 (PC)

 

I’ve opened reviews before by saying that I don’t know where to start, and that’s never been more true than it is for Fallout 4. It’s probably the most highly anticipated game of the year, and it has some seriously big shoes to fill. Fallout: New Vegas is one of my top 3 games of all time, and Fallout 3 is pretty close. So as you can imagine, I came into this with very high hopes. The Fallout series for me represents immersion, insane combat, and catchy retro music. Fallout 3, like Oblivion, showed us just how real a game world could be. But I have to admit, I was somewhat nervous going into this sequel. Would it be too different? Or for that matter, too similar? I wasn’t alone; we’ve been burned by heavily hyped games before. When the dust settled, though, most Fallout fans agreed that what we got is an excellent Fallout game, even if it isn’t the best the series has to offer.

 

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With Fallout 4, more so than most games, we have to start with the setting and plot. The game takes place in Boston, 200 years after nuclear war devastated the world in 2077. New civilizations have formed in the ruins of the 50s-inspired retro-futurist society, and you’re tasked with searching this new Commonwealth for your son. The world has changed a lot since the bombs fell, and it’s this world that makes Fallout 4 what it is.

This is a game about exploration; the Commonwealth is filled with strange, exciting, and dangerous sights to see. Everything is very well fleshed out, from the history of the game’s various factions to the details hidden in each of the game’s computers. I’m going to come back to this, because it’s even more important than previous games in the series would make you think.

 

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The core gameplay hasn’t really changed. If you’ve played a previous Bethesda game from Morrowind on, you know what you’re getting into. Most of the combat plays like a shooter, but the returning VATS system allows you to slow down time (not stop it like in previous installments) and pinpoint which part of which enemy you want to hit. On the non-combat side of things, the RPG elements of the game have been streamlined. You still have your seven core attributes with the returning SPECIAL nomenclature, but skills are gone. When you level up, you gain some HP and get to either choose a Perk or increase one of your SPECIAL attributes. You can still improve what would have been skills in previous games, like lockpicking and different types of weaponry, but there’s no numeric value to increase.

There have been a lot of complaints about this, but honestly, you get used to it pretty quickly. I don’t think the lack of skills has diminished my enjoyment of the game in the slightest. There are a few other RPG elements that have been removed, like the morality system, and while I do miss these, they’re ultimately not that important. To be sure, Fallout 4 is still more of an RPG than a shooter; it’s just not as deep an RPG as its predecessors.

 

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There is one streamlined RPG aspect that does bother me though: the dialog. While previous games let you choose from a number of complete phrases to have your character say, Fallout 4 uses a BioWare-style dialog system. That means you’re selecting between things like “Helpful,” “Dismissive,” and “Sarcastic.”

Even if you replace these with the actual lines your character will say (there is a mod for that), there’s ultimately not a lot of variety in the dialog. Being a charismatic character no longer allows you to significantly affect the conversation, and it often seems like the outcome will be the same no matter what you say. Again, this doesn’t ruin the game, and there are still decisions to make, but it takes some of the fun out of it.

 

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Of course, Fallout 4 doesn’t just remove things from previous games; there are new features added as well. The biggest addition is the crafting system, which is basically split into two categories: equipment modification and settlement building. Using materials from the various random items you find across the Commonwealth, and a few relevant perks, you can customize just about all of the weapons and other equipment in the game. You can add a sniper scope to a gun, wrap barbed wire around a baseball bat, or add extra padding to an outfit. You can also customize your power armor this way, though it counts as its own separate entity in Fallout 4 rather than just another type of armor.

Settlement building works similarly; using that same junk for materials, you can build up settlements from a few people on a farm to something bigger than the biggest major city in the game. You have a lot of options with this, as you can build things up wall by wall, or just plop down some pre-made shacks and fill them with furniture. It’s worth noting that neither type of crafting is necessary, which is a good thing; I find the building of settlements to be quite dull, but I know some players put a lot of time into it. The bad news is that some may find modifying equipment to be pointless, as you can find powerful customized armor and weapons on enemies throughout the game. As a fan of personalization, I still like to make my own equipment, but this does diminish the effect a bit.

 

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Like with any RPG, though, the nitty gritty mechanics aren’t as important as the story the game tells. I see two different stories in Fallout 4, one of which is just so-so, and the other of which is excellent. The so-so plot is the actual main plot of the game. It’s better than Fallout 3, because at least you have significant choices to make, but I never really got drawn in by any of the factions, or even character’s overarching goal of finding his son. One thing that I personally miss is having a faction like Caesar’s Legion in Fallout: New Vegas, for a truly sadistic character to join. Regardless, the plot is good enough to be worth playing, and there are definitely some interesting story missions, but really the best thing the main plot does is open up the other story.

This story, the excellent one, is your story. From the moment you exit the vault, the entire Commonwealth is open to you. What will you do? You’re doing yourself and the game a great disservice if you just make a beeline for the main quests. There are entertaining side missions, mysterious locations to explore, and events both scripted and unscripted to experience. More than in any previous Bethesda game, Fallout 4’s Commonwealth feels like a real, living world. And there are a lot of stories you can tell in this world.

 

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Perhaps you’ll be walking through an abandoned town when you hear a Brotherhood of Steel aircraft coming.  Suddenly, the onboard minigun fires, and you realize that the skyscraper in front of you is full of super mutants. Will you help the Brotherhood take out the mutants? Will you shoot down the aircraft? Will you avoid this battle at all costs, because you just finished investigating a museum that had become home to a Deathclaw and you ran out of stimpacks? Will you be dressed like a superhero during all of this? It’s the world that makes Fallout 4 such an excellent game, just as the setting has always been key to the franchise’s popularity.

There might be some changes you don’t like, and the plot isn’t as good as that of Fallout: New Vegas, but make no mistake: if you enjoyed the previous Bethesda-developed Fallout games, you will enjoy Fallout 4. Despite some streamlined mechanics, it is very similar to its predecessors. At first, it seemed like it was too similar; I wondered why they didn’t mix things up more. But frankly, as long as they made an excellent game from it, I don’t care that Fallout 4 uses the same engine as its predecessors. It’s more of the same, but it’s the same as something very good.

 

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If you missed the last two games in the series, Fallout 4 makes an excellent starting point too. It doesn’t introduce the setting at large quite as well as Fallout 3 did, but it won’t take you long to get settled in. And once you do, you won’t have to stop any time soon. Fallout 4 is a huge game, and every square foot of the setting has something to see. If you’re like me, you won’t even be able to complete any significant quest lines for a while, because you’ll keep getting distracted by what the Commonwealth throws at you. I reached 48 hours of play time without even coming close to finishing the main plot, and that’s after I started focusing on it for a few days. If nothing else, you can be sure that you’ll never be bored when playing this game.

In short, I recommend Fallout 4 to anyone looking for an immersive experience in a creative world. Of course, the combat is fun too, and fighting off enemies with some of the most inventive weapons I’ve ever seen in a game is very entertaining. The new crafting system is a nice addition as well, if you’re interested in that sort of thing. Even the main plot, though not all that original, is at least somewhat compelling. But what ties all of these elements together and makes them excellent is the game’s setting. The Commonwealth is waiting for you, and there’s no shortage of excitement to be found.

 

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