A Tale of Retribution
Fallout 4 is here, bringing with it a post apocalyptic wasteland playground of 1950’s Boston, the likes of which have never been seen before. Throughout your journey in the Commonwealth you’ll encounter a wealth of engaging stories, plenty of enemies to fight and a whole host of fascinating characters to interact with with – this is the nuclear fallout at its best, the Skyrim to New Vegas’ Oblivion.
Over the course of your journey you’ll grow from a thawed out citizen to a master of the wasteland. The story starts off on the fateful day the bombs were dropped, where a peaceful morning quickly turns disastrous as you’re rushed into Vault 111, one of the Vault-Tec shelters from the nuclear fallout. It’s here that you’ll find yourself frozen for two hundred years, and where your family is torn apart before your eyes.
Re-emerging from Vault 111 early on sets the tone from the game. It’s both hopeful and terrifying – a world of danger and challenge but also one of opportunity that lays before you. This is where Fallout 4 truly shines. Your central goal, to find your son, serves as the entry point to the people and places of the Commonwealth, but soon you become a central player in the outcome of a world and the people who call it home.
The game opens up once you complete an introductory section in a nearby town, taking you through the basics of gunplay and power armour, introducing you to the first faction attempting to regain control in the wasteland, the Minutemen. The wasteland is filled with factions you can ally with in your journey through the world, each possessing differing motivations. Be it the Brotherhood of Steel or the Railroad, it seems the factions all share one enemy – the shadowy Institute – often called the “bogeyman” of the wasteland.
Blamed for many of the disasters, kidnappings and problems facing a post-fallout world, the Institute is responsible for the production of Synths. These androids range from skeletal robotic mannequins to life like infiltration units and drive the central question in Fallout 4; What does it mean to be human in a world ravaged by radiation, bioengineering and synthetic life?
The tension created as you move further through the story makes for some real tough decisions. Exploring further and meeting more people, your choices begin to carry more weight with the potential to damage groups who call the Commonwealth home. What started as a quest to find your kidnapped son quickly becomes infinitely more complex, and the narrative is vastly more engaging as a result.
The voice acting and Mass Effect style dialogue is one of the main reasons Fallout 4 really gelled with me as a player. With no karma system like in previous Fallouts, you’re left to simply navigate conversations as you feel you, or your character, would. It created a nice sense of personality in the narrative – you’re no longer a voiceless wanderer, instead you’re a person with a developed personality shaped by your experiences in the game.
“you’re no longer a voiceless wanderer, instead you’re a person with a developed personality shaped by your experiences in the game.”
The main way you’ll interact with the world if you’re not talking to people, is shooting them. Conflict and gunplay are at the heart of Fallout 4 – you’ll constantly have to defend yourself against the raiders and monsters of the wasteland, or be ready with weapons and armour to clear out tunnels and ruins to complete your objectives. These monsters vary greatly throughout the game, including some truly huge, terrifying and difficult creatures to mix up the fights. Sure, you’ll come across radroaches and super mutants a lot, but there’s plenty of different types of foes to keep you on your toes.
The basic gunplay in Fallout 4 is certainly passable, a step up from some of the issues that faced players in Fallout 3 and New Vegas. The new cover system works well to give you extra options in combat, but overall shooting just doesn’t feel as good or smooth as in dedicated first person shooters. The saving grace here however is the RPG style V.A.T.S. – a returning feature that now slows time in order for you to place shots on foes with information like damage and hit probability at your fingertips. It’s a welcome addition to make the shooting a lot more tactical and cinematic, creating some truly stunning kill animations with camera angles and slowed time you’d never see in a conventional shooter.
The melee combat in game is where both the V.A.T.S. system and basic gameplay falter a little – it’s obviously not designed for use with machetes and swords, removing the limb selection options and simply hitting the target. While these weapons can be fun to mess around with against weaker foes, melee really isn’t a great way to go for majority of the game, aside from a character with maxed out strength points and perks.
Leveling in Fallout 4 has been completely revamped, with you able to put your points into seven main attributes – Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, and Luck. These pillars influence the way you interact with the world, giving you access to a series of perks under each attribute that benefit you in different ways. From lockpicking, extra health, radiation resistance and smooth talking, you can combine these to create your character in quite a diverse way, but it can be a little confusing at first.
Fallout 4 really doesn’t hold your hand and choosing the wrong perks early on can make the game harder, or even cause some players to get stuck entirely. Unlike previous Fallouts where you’re first given points to pour into core attributes and then more for perks, in Fallout 4 you’re given one point at each level to place wherever you desire which can halt player progress drastically – you can go several levels without your character getting any more powerful, an issue that can plague players early on. This can be easily combatted by thoughtful point allocation, but the lack of explanation early on can create a real issue, especially for newer players.
Guns, gear and supplies are an integral part of surviving in the Commonwealth, with nearly everything you find in Fallout 4 being useful in one way or another. The step up from junk items being worthless to them now being incredibly important in crafting and upgrading your gear makes the game feel like a much more survivalist experience. Everything you collect from guns and armour to glass bottles and teddy bears can be used to make sure your weapons, armour and bases all are in the best shape they can be.
The crafting system is a huge part of Fallout 4, allowing you to continue to make your gear relevant as you level up. Selecting the right perks allows you access to higher and more effective mods, creating a huge amount of custom options to shape your gear to the way you play. You can even drastically change the legendary gear you loot from tough legendary enemies to make it worthwhile, an aspect of the game I really enjoyed. Being able to take a laser rifle I liked and add a focusing mod, burn damage and a great sight turned a general piece of loot into a prized piece in my collection, making for a much more personal experience of scavenging and building during my time in the wasteland.
The wasteland and it’s inhabitants are the real stars of Fallout 4, more so than any gun or armour piece. The companions and characters you meet are diverse and quirky, such as a noir detective Synth and a Shakespeare quoting super mutant – they all have a lot of personality and by the end of your journey can mean a lot to you.
Aside from the characters, it’s the attention to detail in so much of the ruined world that makes Fallout 4 special, with little stories both told and shown wherever you go. While the map isn’t as huge as previous titles, it’s much more dense in a near perfect way – there’s always something new to explore, loot or learn about around the corner. You won’t stumble across the same hut with the same stock interior over and over, instead you’ll find homes that feel lived in and diverse, as well as skeletons caught in their hilarious and sadden final moments when the bombs dropped.
For all this beauty and possibility, there are a few issues that plague Fallout 4 in the form of crashes and glitches. While a lot of these are fun and remind me a lot of the early days of Skyrim, I did encounter a few issues that were fairly game breaking. On Playstation 4 I encountered several crashes and jittery frame rate moments, as well as a side mission or two not triggering. Quicksave became a regular habit of mine to ensure that I wouldn’t lose my progress should I encounter further issue, but overall these major bugs were fairly far apart. Fortunately, they didn’t ruin my experience overall, and the triumphs of the game more than out shadow issues like these which will inevitably be patched out in the near future.
Fallout 4 is an incredible example of open world exploration done very right. With an engaging and difficult storyline and a stunning, dense world, there’s always something new and interesting to do. Fallout is really about the little moments, the decisions you made, both scripted and out in the world, and how you choose to exist in the Commonwealth. It’s an experience Bethesda has more than delivered on, and even a few crashes and bugs can’t eclipse the fantastic times to be had in the wasteland.
Platforms: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One and PC