Published on November 9th, 2015 | by AjayLikesGaming
Fallout 4 – Review
A press copy of the PC version was provided by Bethesda. The following review is based on ~25 hours of playtime. The main quest was completed.
Before you’ve taken your first steps into Fallout 4’s expansive wasteland, before you’ve wandered through a radiated Boston Common; following the Freedom Trail to each of the city’s now-desolate landmarks – before you’ve taken even one look at the game’s hugely detailed character creation, you’re met with sombre music, as a grainy black and white cinematic walks you through the events that led to the downfall of the world.
A solemn voice narrates these depictions of war, turmoil, and panic; describing the misuse of technology and lust for resources that eventually led to the nuclear holocaust. Yet this familiar recollection of events is much more personal than anything found in the previous games. Often cutting to images of family and photos of loved ones, it serves as a thematically-sound recollection, filled with deep regret.
As the narration goes on to explain that peace is now a distant memory, we hear the familiar words that have become synonymous with this magnificent series:
War… War never changes…
Fallout 4 is one of the most anticipated games on the year, but with so much hype behind it, just how well will it live up to its almost unreachable expectations?
Uncharacteristically, this sombre opening doesn’t lead to your beginnings in a vault, or even in the downtrodden office of a wasteland doctor. Instead, you wipe away the mist from a mirror and find your beautiful wife stood next to you in in a pristine retro-futuristic home. In one room is your baby boy being tended to by a Jeeves-like robot servant, and out of the windows you can see a stunning suburban street, while the sun glistens off of the neighbour’s rooftops. It’s a gorgeous sight, but everything about it feels uneasy. It’s October 23rd 2077: the day the bombs dropped.
Fallout 4’s opening is perhaps one of the most powerful in recent memory. The depiction of the pre-nuke world is idyllic, and the relationship between your character and their family is remarkably strong, considering how little time you ultimately spend with them. After a series of events leads to you waking up 200 years later, alone, desperate, and in search of answers, the opening’s themes of family and regret begin to resonate strongly.
As you venture forth into the world, themes of humanity, synthetic and human relationships, and acceptance of minorities, all rear their head to form a powerful and engaging narrative. At times, the game reaches levels of poignancy seldom found in the previous Fallout games. It’s the most personal tale of all of the titles, and is all the better for it.
This very personal theme is likely the reason behind Bethesda’s decision to give the player a voice. While the ability to hear your character emote does make conversations feel more engrossing – especially with the improved cinematic camerawork – the removal of the series’ hugely popular dialogue system negates any steps forward made by the inclusion of voice acting.
Where previous entries had numerous options of detailed dialogue for you to choose from, Fallout 4 offers only four vague responses – often consisting of basic positive, negative, aggressive, or sarcastic options. With speech tied into your charisma level, rather than separated as in the previous games, your success and failure for certain options is determined entirely by luck. While this worked similarly in the first three Fallout games, New Vegas alleviated the issue by ensuring it was tied to your character’s specifications. This odd reversion leads to many frustrating conversations. Even with your charisma level incredibly high, you will often find yourself failing a choice, but knowing that reloading a save would almost certainly produce a different result.
While the options are vague, the voiced dialogue is as lengthy as it always was. This leads to the question as to why exactly Fallout 4 couldn’t have used a spoken version of the old system. The current implementation is far from terrible – Mass Effect and The Witcher series are certainly no better – but Fallout has always been praised for its vast dialogue options, so to see it take such a huge step back for only a little gain, is deeply saddening.
Thankfully, dialogue is one of the few changes that makes for a worse experience. Fallout is truly is the king of rewarding exploration, and this has only improved in Fallout 4. The Commonwealth is vast, and hugely varied. It’s easy to lose hours upon hours simply walking around and taking in the sights.
There are settlements scattered throughout, and each has its own tale to tell. One may be home to outcast synths longing for acceptance, while another may feature a tranquil little slice of land housing a dark secret. Interiors have a seen an impressive improvement, too. In particular, many of the larger buildings within the towns feature enormous facilities that can extend to multiple stories high, and many layers deep. Whatever you may stumble upon, rest assured that it feels alive. The sheer number of details to be found in each area is staggering, and at times, pleasantly overwhelming.
Perhaps the most immersive detail that Bethesda have included, is the way in which some side quests are naturally delivered. A guard may whisper details to you while you’re on another quest, or you may simply find yourself walking through a town and overhearing talk about an event in an area. Whatever the case by may be, a quest is added to your log for you to tackle at your own leisure. This wonderful addition encourages exploration, alongside adding an extra layer of believability to the world.
It appears a streamlined experience is precisely what Bethesda were prioritising with Fallout 4. In previous entries, the main quest often felt unfulfilling and detached from many of the events in the wasteland. Side quests involving complex politics between factions often held the most rewarding narrative, but their relevance to your character’s goal was little to none, leaving some players feeling disconnected. Thankfully, Fallout 4 has vastly improved in this regard, taking the past criticisms on board, and doing a wonderful job of weaving together your character’s main aim with many of the side quests on offer.
The entwining of features doesn’t end there. Your faithful canine companion was hugely advertised during the lead-up to release, but Dogmeat’s features largely pale in comparison to the other companions on offer. Vocal companions play a huge part in Fallout 4, and their presence during many quests leads to unique dialogue – either from themselves reacting to a situation, or from the inhabitants of areas reacting to them. No longer are companions simple pack mules and side arms; their presence is essential and may even shape how you talk to people in their presence.
Factions are especially relevant, too. Some players wish to take advantage of the revamped power armour and join the Brotherhood of Steel. Others may want to feel more grounded and build up an army with the Robin Hood-esque Minutemen. There are a huge number of groups on offer, and with the karma system of old gone, it’s easy to experiment with the different factions before pursuing one entirely. Rest assured, though, whoever you ultimately team up with will have quests that tie heavily into the main story.
The improvements made to the quest design cannot be overstated. Fallout 4’s iterations in this regard push it up very close to the masterful design found in CD Projekt RED’s The Witcher 3. The rather dated structure of the previous games is seldom found; this is a hugely successful attempt at modernising the series.
It’s a shame, then, that Fallout 4’s visuals are not quite as successful at bringing the series into 2015 as its quests are. While they are certainly a huge step above New Vegas, there is little to the game that is visually more impressive than 2011’s Skyrim. In a year where the Fox Engine and REDengine 3 are truly showing gamers what “next-gen” really means, it’s a crying shame to see Fallout 4 looking so dated.
Textures are remarkably low across the board, and combined with the lack of object ambient occlusion, the world is left looking very waxy and flat. Though the character models are a vast improvement over the nightmare-inducing models from the previous games, the animation – in particular, the mouth movements – leave a lot to be desired, and often pull you out of the experience.
Visuals certainly don’t make or break a game, but their importance is undeniable in a RPG so heavily focused on immersing the player. Combined with a plethora of bugs and poor AI pathing, the lack of technical polish across the board dampens the experience by a good margin. It’s hard to remain focused when met by low resolution textures, and AI companions who run in circles before eventually working out where they want to go.
Thankfully, PC gamers have the luxury of community driven mods, but the vanilla game should always stand alone as a polished product. Though the art design is pristine, Bethesda’s reputation for a lack of visual wow-factor and buggy launches is still firmly in place.
It’s likely many players will find the visuals easy to overlook, given the sheer amount of customisation available. Where the immersion factor is lacking visually, the freedom to make Fallout 4’s world your own, is certainly something that may lessen the impact for some.
The Commonwealth is a tough place to live in. Ghouls now work in packs and are faster than ever, Deathclaws are even more terrifying, and the new synthetic enemies send shivers down the spine. To help you in your troubles, guns and armour are now customisable, and have a huge number of options available. Perhaps you enjoy plasma rifles, but prefer to take long range fights? It’s as easy as adding a sniper scope, and changing out the barrel to accommodate the distance – given you have the required materials, of course. Scavenging is hugely important, and this crafting implementation finally means the bits and bobs once considered “junk” are immensely useful.
The most anticipated addition is, of course, the ability to build your own settlements. Creating your own personal base is as simple as finding the right materials for the job. But there’s more to it than simply placing premade blocks in the world. Power is incredibly important to maintaining your base; lighting, turrets, and all manner of household items require adequate current to run. Connecting up a complex grid is no easy feat – especially when you begin to play around with switches, pressure plates, and triggers.
The sheer depth to the base building is staggering; it is a role-player’s dream come to life. Though some missions do require you to dabble a little in fortifying areas, the bulk of the feature is entirely optional. It is a wonderful source for emergent gameplay, and will almost certainly serve to prolong the game’s lifespan.
Fallout 4 may not be the best game of the year – The Witcher 3 still firmly holds that spot for this reviewer – but it is yet another landmark in the open-world RPG genre. There are few games out there that build worlds as convincing as the ones found in Fallout. Every area feels unique, and the various factions and their moral alignments are just as interesting as they were in previous outings. With such a budding mod community behind the series, PC gamers are likely to find themselves absolved of the issues that prevent this game from being truly perfect. Fallout 4 may be familiar territory, but years of refinement help it stand high above its predecessors.
Update (13/11/2015): While this article accurately reflects the experience this reviewer had while playing the game, it should be noted that a number of issues pertaining to the PC port have come to light following its public release. This, combined with reports of a plethora of experiencing-ruining bugs, leaves us with no other choice but to ask our readers to proceed with caution before purchasing the game. Steam refunds exist for this reason, so please exercise your rights should the need arise.
Summary: Though not a vastly different experience to the previous games, Fallout 4 iterates on familiar material to produce a wholly satisfying experience.