My relationship with Bethesda games is an abusive relationship to say the least. My initial forays of passionate gaming began with Oblivion, an experience like that of eating tub after tub of supermarket brand ice-cream. Ignoring the horrible, icy bits and gorging through the whole lot. This was a trend continued in both Fallout 3 and New Vegas, where the vast amount of content, loot and lore overwhelmed the player, ignoring most of the games crippling bugs. Skyrim being the most recent release from Bethesda before Fallout 4 was in many ways the most refined and streamlined experience they had produced. Bugs still existed in practically everything you did in the game, but hard crashes, and gigantic save files can be forgiven if dragons fly backwards and giants can knock you for six in the intergalactic cricket tourney. Right?
Fallout 4 is the latest instalment of the Fallout series. The series itself is set in the aftermath of a great war in 2077, in an alternate world that diverges from that of our own shortly after the Second World War. Where technology advanced greatly in the field of nuclear energy but never invented the microchip, resulting in ticker-tape computers still being the norm, alongside laser rifles and fusion reactors. When tensions between the USA and the Chinese led Communist Bloc lead to total war, nuclear detonations across the globe destroy the vast majority of the population and mutating much of what remained. Hundreds of years has passed since the war, and your character is one of few vault dwellers, surviving underground in one of the many vaults designed to withstand an atomic blast. After finding their way out of the vault, they begin their quest across the wasteland.
The new setting for Fallout 4 is the state of Massachusetts, known as the ‘Commonwealth’ in the game world. It features a desolated, grim landscape; though as previously mentioned it is far more colourful than then the mud and the sand of the previous two instalments. ‘Red Rocket’ coolant stations, colonial era buildings mixed in with exceptionalist American architecture certainly breaks up the great stretches of barren land. The increase in variety is quite staggering and it breathes a new sense of life into the game, a life that frankly lacked in many ways from previous releases.
The greatest triumph of Bethesda is its ability to maintain a massive level of support for it’s games, regardless of it’s track record in releasing products with a multitude of game wrecking bugs. It is that support that made me fear that Fallout 4 would be much the same, and to my utter disappointment it is just as buggy as previous titles. To name a few of the bugs that I experienced: My gun disappearing from the HUD when I went into the inventory on multiple occasions, getting ‘zero chance to hit’ on enemies at point blank range, large drops in frame rate when in built up areas of the game, poor lip syncing and large amounts of texture pop-in. Most of these bugs have existed in previous titles and many were addressed in updates and ‘unofficial’ patches, but regardless of this being the case Bethesda can not be excused any more for sloppy testing and a sheer lack of bug-fixing. This is especially the case as Bethesda has once again stuck to using the Gamebyro engine to make Fallout 4, an engine that has existed in one form or another since 1997.
As previously mentioned, it is to Bethesda’s credit that they have managed to maintain their customer’s faith, and in addition been able to build up the level of hype for Fallout 4 that they have. This is in large part with the iconic lore and feel of the Fallout franchise; no game series quite captures the sense of destruction and despair of total nuclear devastation like it does, whilst still maintaining a refreshing level of whimsy and charm. Fallout 4 is just as charming as it’s two first person predecessors, and thankfully has a wider colour palette than the greys and browns of it’s ancestors.
Graphically the game is an upgrade from previous titles, but not so much of one to rank at the same level as Witcher III for example. Certain things look much improved, such as weapon models and certain textures, but facial animations and environmental textures are still lagging behind other major releases. Moving around in the game for the most part feels smoother and the controls feel more like that of your standard FPS shooter than ever before. What results from this is a more satisfying shooting experience, where using iron-sights and shooting from the hip both feel weighty and detailed.
The V.A.T.S. system makes a return in Fallout 4, allowing players to slow the game down to a crawl and highlight certain critical areas to shoot the enemy, each with a percentage of accuracy in relation to the target’s distance as well as your skill with the weapon used. The V.A.T.S. system has many bugs though, something that has been common with all recent Fallout releases. Shots may miss regardless of how close they are to you, and sometimes the character can get interrupted mid-shot and not fire at all, leaving you unable to react to enemy attacks briefly. Primarily using V.A.T.S. is still the fun, satisfying shooting system it was before, but with the improvements to the standard free shooting I found myself using it a lot less.
Fallout 4 is the first in the series to feature a voiced protagonist, and my reaction to it is quite mixed. On the one hand you can really feel the weight of certain dialogue options, not so much in their impact on the story, but more so in their context. Describing the feelings of losing a friend, or the reaction to the wasteland’s horrors is personified in a much more direct sense. The problems with the voiced protagonist are pretty much everything that’s left. The list of options of what to say, and how to react have been transformed into a dialogue wheel similar to that of Mass Effect but with even less option to shape your character to be either good or evil through certain dialogue choices. In addition to this, in a similar vein again to Mass Effect, what your character will actually say is often different to the actual option you picked. Choosing to say “Yes, I will help you” might inadvertently determine your character as benevolent, when you may well of been planning a back-stab, or just looking for some caps.
This leads into the game’s seeming lack of a morality system. Gone is the karma system of previous titles, and even more strangely, it is not replaced by anything of note. Stealing is no longer a problem, just so long that you are not spotted of course, wherein a town you might well of just saved from raider attack mere seconds ago will turn on you instantly for taking the wrong empty milk bottle. Likewise, murdering random civilians on the trail will warrant no reaction from security forces, or faction standing. Most jarring of all, the simple option to be a bad person is not existent in the game; if you find a hostage tied up in a prison, begging for your help, you can either let them free to complete the quest, or abandon the quest. What this results in is the choice of being either a willing or unwilling hero, but a hero all the same. The only real ‘shittiness’ that you’re allowed to get away with is basically demanding a higher cut of the profits, which basically becomes the ‘get more money’ option if your character’s charisma stat is high enough.
The character feels less of your own creation, which funnily is coupled with the fact that this game has a much improved character creation mechanic. Facial features can be altered by simply moving the mouse, or by picking through a wide number of pre-set faces. There is only one male and one female voice which is a little disappointing, but forgiveable for the most part. Returning to the games role-playing element, the inclusion of a voiced protagonist has effectively trimmed it down to a set story, with multiple endings rather than a sprawl of little choices that might link together or perhaps stand separate ultimately building up to the player character being defined by those actions. Gone are the possibilities of blowing up Megaton with a ‘holy’ nuke, or poisoning a villages water supply on the whim of a neighbouring faction. What replaces it is nickel and diming any quest giver for some more caps, for no moral repercussions.
What is left is a series of factions that you can decide to join up with or not. The Brotherhood of Steel makes a return from previous games as a faction, the Institute is a new faction in the wasteland, being made up of successors to scientists and academics from C.I.T. (Fallout’s version of M.I.T.) and have been experimenting with A.I. synthetic life. Deciding to side with one or another of the game’s many factions is what mainly impacts the final ending of the main quest much like in New Vegas, but the game allows the player to continue playing after the final mission much like in Fallout 3’s DLC: Broken Steel.
The levelling system is much simplified from that of Fallout 3, this time having one skill tree to progress down for each of the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats. Each time your character levels up, you gain a point to add to any of the skills that your stats allow for. At first I had my doubts about the system, as it seemed to be much reduced from previous games, but it actually makes the process of levelling up a lot simpler and in many ways more forgiving for those who wish to experiment with different play styles.
Another addition to Fallout 4 is the new settlement mechanic. Players are now able to manage multiple settlements across the wasteland at various pre-set locations. You are able to build houses, grow crops, set up traders and also make defensive turrets and towers. Settlements also serve as places to store loot and make various upgrades to your equipment which is certainly a handy way to control your inventory. It for the most part serves as a fun distraction from the main quest and can be quite enjoyable to see settlements grow and prosper. I found myself at many times refraining from quests just to maintain my various homesteads. One of the effects that the new settlement system has had is giving use to the various junk loot items throughout the game world. Beforehand such items only served the purpose of clogging up inventory space, or to used as ammo for the ‘Rock-It Launcher’ if very lucky, but now can be used to gather materials for building up settlements or upgrading. The building mechanic can be a bit off at times, with objects not always staying put, or some being hard to place, but for the most part it is intuitive and allows for a great deal of creativity.
In previous games, power armour suits have been a staple of the franchise, and they make their return in Fallout 4 but with a marked difference. This time they are actual physical things in the game world that your character climbs into, and requiring a fusion core to power. It is much improved from Fallout 3 where power armour was no different from any other armour you could equip, in Fallout 4 they are lumbering pieces of metal, that stomp the ground with every step. It is much more satisfying to do battle in the walking tanks that power armour have now become, bullets ineffectually ping off the metal plates and strength is greatly increased allowing for devastating melee attacks. As an added feature, power armour suits can be upgraded to remove radiation from food, reflect damage from energy weapons and even to add a jetpack for brief flight. There are of course problems, one of which is that power armour is given to players far too early into the game, so that it’s impact isn’t so much of a game changer. Added, I would often leave my suit behind due to the fact that you cannot hack terminals or use workbenches whilst wearing it, requiring you to get in and out of the suit in order to do most things.
The biggest part of Fallout 3, New Vegas and for that matter most of Bethesda’s more recent releases are the various side quests and locations to discover and this is in full force in Fallout 4. Strange encounters with settlements populated entirely by robots, discovering vaults and the fate they suffered after the bombs fell and devastated towns and villages is the real meat of the game, more so than the main quest. The fun of the game is the random encounters, the crazy battles with enemies using outrageous weaponry like the ‘Fat Man’ nuclear rocket launcher. The sheer amount of content that exists in the game is staggering, allowing for hours upon hours of game time simply exploring the wasteland’s many different areas, and encountering it’s wide variety of wildlife. This experience is still solid as it has been before and so I feel that many gamers will get their money’s worth from simply that alone.
Fallout 4 is a great experience and one that has been refined since the previous Fallout games in many ways. However, it’s multitude of bugs that are still present from previous games, in addition with it’s lacking character development and conversation options ultimately serve to make it a much more homogenised experience. The lack of a morality system is incredibly limiting, changing a core element of what Fallout has always been. It’s shooting mechanics are much improved as is the overall movement around the game world, which will make it more appealing to shooter fans for sure. The lack of options in character creation though mean that fans of old school RPG games may find Fallout 4 lacking, as I have done.
In short, Fallout 4 is a game for fans of shooting and adventure, as it has them both in large amounts, but sacrifices a lot of what made Fallout what it is in the process. It is enjoyable and very addictive, I see myself playing it for months to come, but I will also feel as if the game could of been so much more than it currently is. In those months to come perhaps the modding community will solve many of the problems that currently exist, and I will certainly be waiting with anticipation.