Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Format: PC, PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One
Released: November 10, 2015
Rooted deeply within its own goals, Fallout 4 is the epitome of a game created in a vacuum. It’s scope, motives, and structure feel like a formula we’ve seen plenty of times before, and it’s not packing any one trait that rivals it’s competition. But there’s much more than meets the eye. Fallout 4 is an extremely engrossing game, comprehensive with a seamlessly endless stream of things to explore, tinker with, and complete. It’s kicked off with a narrative coated in mystery and a foreshadowing of what lies ahead. The rich wasteland is a captivating, yet terrifying place to journey through, one which prides itself in illustrating a vivid sense of place and discovery. Maintaining a constant tone of unpredictability, Fallout 4 presents you with a vast and consuming post-nuclear depiction of Boston to lose yourself in. Each piece, no mater how big or small, is immensely deep and rewarding, all playing their own unique part in coming together to form one of the most incredible role-playing games of recent memory. Fallout 4 is undoubtedly one of the most hyped games of this generation, and despite being under the pressure to deliver an experience among insurmountable expectations, Fallout 4 prevails.What begins as a simple story of searching for your lost family, gradually morphs into a sprawling narrative, held up by minuscule intricacies and morally nuanced conundrums laced with repercussions. Fallout 4’s story is all about compromises, some of which had me reeling hours after their resolve. There’s a tangible sense of hope and desperation that subtly clash throughout the dilapidated streets and valleys of Boston, both stirred by characters, as well as the world itself. The past looms greatly over The Commonwealth and their pain, along with their will to survive, can be felt throughout all of Fallout 4. There’s a weight that comes with exploring the wasteland that causes for surges of sympathy when dealing with more tedious matters. It’s abundantly clear humanity as a whole is suffering, some are just more tortured than others. Taking into consideration the tribulations survivors of the wasteland have gone through when holding another wanderer at gunpoint adds a completely new and sophisticated dynamic to gameplay. Whereas in other games, those armed and in the way would be dead without question, yet Fallout 4 presents such background for its occupants that I questioned each decision I made, consciously understanding who it would affect. As the game progresses, choices cary increasingly important weight, affecting your relationship with individual characters as well as entire factions. Meaningful bonds formed, strained, and broke over the course of my time with the game, all of which manifested into memories that stuck with me long after moving onto the next endeavor.
This is somewhat unexpected considering the drab character models and lip-syncing that make up the visual representation of The Commonwealth’s residents. Superb writing and convincing voice acting successfully subvert some of the negative attention from the underwhelming visual detail found throughout the wasteland. However, this puts an exceedingly heavy pressure on the writing and other crucial supporting aspects, yet Fallout 4 handles it all with confidence. Bethesda knows their engine isn’t going to impress anyone in today’s day and age, so they compensate by doubling down on the intricacies of what make Fallout different and superior in it’s own ways. Exploration plays a vital part in making the package work, as discovering what lies tucked away deep within the ruins of The Commonwealth is a rewarding and engaging experience that always had me motivated to push forward. Every corner I rounded, Fallout 4’s attention to detail was felt, spanning from the lifeless forests to the derelict buildings that tower over the city. The Capitol Wasteland was a joy to explore back in Fallout 3, though the more inviting color-saturated nature of The Commonwealth make venturing as a whole, slightly less depressing. Moments of unintentional beauty struck me while scavenging, such as the way a warm streak of light pierced through a shattered window or the disarray of a home transcended a palpable sentiment of history. Detail is what largely drives Fallout 4, allowing for it to overcome some of its signs of age in terms of looks and technical fidelity. Change is apparent throughout Fallout 4’s systems and mechanics, but perhaps the most notable are the refinements made to the gunplay. More than ever, Fallout succeeds in feeling like a solid first-person shooter, patching an issue that rendered a huge frustration in previous entries. With real-time shooting finally feeling solid enough to depend upon in battle, Fallout 4 opens up all kinds of enthralling possibilities to experiment with. Switching back-and-forth between real-time shooting during firefights and a combat command system known as V.A.T.S., make for a spectacular balance that constantly keeps encounters fresh and exciting. V.A.T.S is all about precision and technical forethought, for in this mode you pick specific body parts of your opponent you’d like to target, and as time slows, the chances of hitting the intended body part and how much damage you’ll cause if you hit your mark, is revealed. It’s a somewhat straightforward system to wrap your head around and the benefits of knowing the ins and outs of it are worth their weight in gold. Considering the scarcity of ammunition, conservation plays a big part in planning your attack and V.A.T.S provides a reliable way to ensure you make the most of your shots. Watching your enemies obliterate with cinematic flair never gets old, and the more effective you are with the system, the more satisfying combat becomes. These various tweaks and modifications, alongside a wealth of other refinements, make Fallout 4 the most accessible entry in the series from a gameplay perspective.
Streamlining doesn’t end with gunplay either, as Fallout 4’s skill points and traits system have been condensed to fit within one elaborate perks tree. Character progression is a balancing act, as a single stat point carries immense impact, forcing you to get your priorities straight before upgrading. Delightful, little animations of Vault Boy acting out various charades, detail what each perk entails, all of which are laid out in an extensive chart. Whether you choose to invest a stat point in the Charisma or Strength attribute tree, each upgrade effectively changes an aspect of the gameplay, some of which are carried out in extremely interesting and engaging ways. Each attribute tree is deep and enticing, usually enhancing the viability of a certain approach, be it as a negotiator or a warrior. What makes Fallout 4’s progression so satisfying is that you’re never locked down into a specific method of play, leaving room for valuable experimentation. Another form of mainstreaming at play within Fallout 4 is the revamped dialogue system. A series’ first sees a fully voiced protagonist leading the charge, adding a layered dynamic to the game the series had yet to adopt. It’s not necessarily a game-changer, but it’s presence lends a strong sense of relatability and heart to your character, one that was nonexistent in past Fallout entries. The only issue with the new system is that sometimes the options on screen were subpar in reflecting exactly what your character was going to say. This led to awkward exchanges that stemmed from a basic lack of communication on the game’s part. It’s not a deal-breaker, but the unclear presentation did end up detracting some emotional flair from interactions throughout my time in The Commonwealth.Perhaps Fallout 4’s most undersold feature is that of its base building. Ranging from run-down shacks, to full-on gardens, Fallout 4 gives you all the tools necessary to create a fully operational settlement, complete with water and electricity in a wasteland short on hope. The downside is the entire process of operation isn’t adequately explained, but getting over the initial hump of confusion and frustration opens up other avenues to interact with Fallout 4’s world. My settlements felt like they actually made a contribution to The Commonwealth, as people migrated from afar in search of a better life. The best part is it’s in no way essential to the main game, leaving it solely up to the player to decide if it’s something they’d like to tinker with or not. More important is the customization that directly affects your weapons and armor, in turn enhancing the effectiveness of your actual character. For the first time in a Bethesda title, all the miscellaneous objects and trash littered throughout the world have value, incentivizing you to scavenge the wasteland for parts crucial to a certain upgrade or modification. This elevates both customization as well as exploration itself, for scavenging feels like a worthwhile time investment. Knowing what modifications would become available if I found more screws and duct tape, kept me constantly engaged and motivated to explore. The upgrades themselves are hugely varied and fantastic, giving longevity to almost everything usable within your inventory, whether it’s weapons or armor.
Fallout’s heart has always come from its characters, story and signature personality, all of which are at their peak with Fallout 4’s companions. The first of the 13 optional companions you’ll likely run across is a spry German Shepherd, named Dogmeat. If you allow him to accompany you on your journey, he proves to be quite the helpful furry friend, aiding you in battle, as well as simply keeping you company. It’s an endearing foreshadowing to the potential that lies ahead for forming relationships in the post-apocalyptic ruins of The Commonwealth. The rest of the companions–both human and other–bring a level of humanity and genuine understanding to Fallout 4 that hangs in the air, seeping into its underlying narrative. If there’s a catch, it’s that issuing commands can quickly go downhill, resulting in a stressful, cumbersome series of prompts which almost never hit their mark. Worse yet, the problematic nature of the friendly AI is really only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Fallout 4’s technical shortcomings. The frame rate is certainly the biggest issue–namely on consoles–as stuttering typically crops up when the action gets hectic. On top of that, Fallout 4 struggles with basic animations and a commonness of glitches, ranging in severity. I experienced my fair share of bugs throughout my journey in The Commonwealth, and while some were worse than others, such as being forced to revert saves, I still walked away loving almost every second of my time with the game. It’s a testament to the infectious style of storytelling and subtle character development, that these problems can be overlooked in the interest of admiring the excellence around them.Conclusion: As I near almost 100 hours within The Commonwealth, Fallout 4 still has it’s grip on me. It’s certainly not without flaws, but pound for pound, Bethesda has crafted an excellent RPG, rich with an astonishing attention to detail. Exploring the decrepit environment of Boston is an invigorating experience, especially when matched with the powerful style of storytelling and freedom of gameplay. Themes of loss, forgiveness, and friendships manifest into interactions that stick with you long after putting the controller down. I lost count of the hours I spent reminiscing, both in game and not, about decisions made that saved and destroyed peoples lives. Guilt and triumph constantly washed over me as I made a life in the wasteland, and like the best characters, mine had been through the wringer by the time the credits rolled. Above all else, Fallout 4 is a phenomenal persuasive piece that argues substance over style is still a viable approach in crafting an open world RPG, and it succeeds with flying colors.
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