Traversing the wastes I came across a radar installation taken over by super mutants. As I scouted the area I heard the familiar sounds of a radiation storm moving in as the skies got green. Vicious lightning struck all around me as I peered down the scope with Valentine telling me to get a move on. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted the whirring rotors of a Brotherhood Vertibird on the horizon. I watched as it got closer, the super mutants began to panic. As the Vertibird’s minigun and rockets fired off their pilot took evasive action to dodge incoming fire. And just as I thought the super mutants were surely going to be slaughtered, a well-placed round hit the bird, and it tumbled out of the sky. This is a tale of the battlefield the wasteland has become. This is just one of the many moments Fallout 4 brings to the table that truly attain the feel of larger conflict, and a living yet dead wasteland.
Do not adjust your TV set…This is not a drill
From the very outset of launching the game you’re put in front of the iconic “Please Stand By” and transported into the familiar. The in-engine title screen goes a long way to feel like home, with a lone set of power armor standing, suspended in a Red Rocket garage, awaiting your TLC. Starting a new game launches the player into a live action and rendered mix of summary of the events leading to the true meat of Fallout 4. The opening serves as a great catch-up for the seasoned veteran, as well as the wasteland greenhorn.
This time around we’re treated to a reversal of events from the typical Bethesda open world role playing game. Instead of exiting the vault and being blinded as our first real exposure to our setting, we find ourselves in a quick prologue of sorts. We find our protagonist and their significant other enjoying a calm day in the Boston suburb of Sanctuary with their small child, Shaun. Through the events of the prologue players are granted their choice of protagonist, male or female, as well as full customization as has been the standard for Bethesda games in the past. The Creation Engine, which powers Fallout 4 has clearly gotten a huge push forward, with the game coming into the new generation fully rendering hair in a mostly realistic way, instead of a painted hair-helmet type texture. Faces are more detailed, and immediately noticed is the ability of the mouth to match dialogue, instantly furthering immersion and storytelling by syncing the two.
“Where becoming the Dragonborn was great and all, the tale we’re told in this particular post-apocalypse is interesting, seeming as though it’s a straight shot for “Cliché City” and ends up taking a few turns that were completely unexpected, all the while seeming like a long episode of The Twilight Zone.”
After players create their hero, the brown stuff truly starts to hit the fan, and luckily we’re covered by our friends at Vault-Tec. After reported blasts we rush our young family out of the house and to Vault 111 in order to protect ourselves and ensure a future. As is the case with vaults across the Fallout series, each is their own unique experiment, with 111 serving as a cryogenic chamber. Unfortunately, someone wants our son, and breaks in and takes our child, while muttering something fairly prophetic upon exiting. From here, we awake from slumber and get the true Fallout experience. Exiting the vault is beautiful, exciting, and more anxiety inducing than ever before, as the visual upgrades truly showcase the vision of the future Bethesda has for the Fallout universe.
The story contained in Fallout 4 is one of the best and most unique I’ve seen, especially in a Bethesda game. Where becoming the Dragonborn was great and all, the tale we’re told in this particular post-apocalypse is interesting, seeming as though it’s a straight shot for “Cliché City” and ends up taking a few turns that were completely unexpected, all the while seeming like a long episode of The Twilight Zone. After a while I found myself letting dialogue I could easily skip through play out, wanting to see how the actors and voices said the lines. I looked less at the subtitles and more at the mouths, faces, and expressions that were conveyed on the screen. Much as in The Witcher earlier this year, I could get through the story quicker, sure, but I didn’t want to. The talent and care put into everything even outside the main character voice and script is astounding, and continued to hold attention hours in. I actually found myself thinking of what my second, third, and maybe fourth characters will be like, and how they’ll respond in the future to the situations put forth through the main story, and side quests.
“The list of changes and additions in Fallout 4 is simply too long to put into a review, but each of them is most certainly for the better.”
Characters are much more interesting than any previous Bethesda game. This is due in large part to better voice acting, and likely just better scripting and writing. Characters like Valentine, a synth gumshoe with a penchant for acting like he’s in a Noir flick at all times, breathe life into the wasteland. He does a great job breaking up some of the longer stretches by quipping about hoarding items and junk, saying things like “whatt’re you startin a collection?” These little instances of humanity (from a synth no less) lend themselves to caring about these characters, and while the dog for instance cannot die, you don’t want to see him hurt at all. When a raider tries to take a shot at Dogmeat, you’re sure as hell going to shoot first and finish the job. Treating companions well and making decisions they appreciate is crucial to furthering the relationship with them, which in turn can earn great perks that are only unlocked at high relationship levels. With this bit of Telltale-esque “they will remember that” response to choices, you might second guess a decision you’re about to make just based on knowing Valentine will frown upon it.
“Far more complicated than you could have imagined”
Change and implementation have hit the Fallout series like a vault door slamming shut, with huge expansions in nearly every respect from not only Fallout past, but even furthering systems found in the fantasy RPG Skyrim. In addition to basic loot collecting and scavenging every little container to find the valuables, Bethesda has implemented systems to drive the loot cycle even further. Now players can not only find a ton of junk, but put it to great use in the shape of weapon and armor crafting, as well as settlement building. When first released it might’ve seemed like half mind-grenade, half “can they pull it off”, and the verdict is that they certainly can, and have.
Weapon and armor customization function in similar fashions; approach the station and see what armor you’ve got, what upgrades can be applied, and if you’ve got the appropriate perks to get everything done. An intelligent feature of the system is the ability to take all the junk found throughout the world and have it make sense when broken down. Duct tape is reduced to adhesive, as is superglue and other things that make sense. Fans are broken into copper, wire, and steel. All of this is done for the player in some of the best design choices with keeping the player entertainment in mind; all you have to do is find it. Thankfully even that is aided by a tagging system, where players can choose an upgrade to shoot for, and have a magnifying glass show up by items that contain the needed ingredient while in the world and looting. These systems keep the search for valuables at a fever pitch, and make inventory management even more important at all times.
I’m happy to report there were minimal glitches or weird instances in any moments of playthrough.
Settlement building is introduced almost immediately, as our protagonist can build wood structures from templates, or use the basic wall, stairs, floor idea to craft their own insane creations. Furthermore when a settlement is created it’s vital to ensure safety, resource growth, and power for the important structures like water, food, and of course turrets. Never to fancy myself a Minecraft junkie, I always understood the draw and creativity of a “digital Lego” style game, unfortunately for me and my free time, Bethesda has turned settlement building into the ultimate side quest. Distracting in the most entertaining way possible, you’ll find yourself wanting to build more and more, and find every upgrade possible, bring in better vendors, and ultimately do something that hasn’t been done.
The list of changes and additions in Fallout 4 is simply too long to put into a review, but each of them is most certainly for the better. The new dialog system takes a page from Mass Effect, displaying four choices, each with varying effects and results. Pre-release the fans voiced concern about the ability to not see the results, as in Mass Effect as well as games like LA Noire the lead could go a bit off the handle if the choice wasn’t clear or the wording wasn’t all there, accusing someone when in fact the player wanted to just casually converse. Luckily Bethesda makes yet another intelligent choice time and time again with dialog. Not once did I press a button, and get a result I didn’t expect. Quite simply each face button has a general demeanor to it – A is pleasant and positive, Y is inquisitive, X sarcastic, and B is almost always aggressive. Choices do show up as color-coded options if there’s a chance to persuade and your charisma is in the right place, but again, nothing ever seemed as a curveball and always felt fluid, as well as matched the character I was trying to play.
While it’s always fun to wander the wastes, early wanderers can easily stumble into some hairy situations. On fantastic reward for doing so and coming out victorious are the new legendary enemies. Denoted by a star by their name, defeating them will typically yield a great weapon or piece of apparel with some great bonuses. While sure, you might get a knife on your long range character, it’s still a nice trophy and a great little addition that gives that slight feeling of Destiny or Diablo risk and reward.
Bethesda these days has a somewhat bulletproof image, with players gushing about their love for Fallout, Skyrim, and near anything else they’ll announce almost sight unseen. Easy to forget are the launch woes of the past Fallout games with spinning heads and backward flying dragons. I’m happy to report there were minimal glitches or weird instances in any moments of playthrough. Once in a great while the ragdoll physics were hilarious, or a dialogue scene would sit staring at my character for what seemed like a not-quite-right amount of time, but nothing ever game breaking nor jarring enough to make me think twice.
It is worth noting that some textures on the Xbox One do look a bit muddy when really scrutinized and inspected, and while the clear choice for the best visuals will be the PC version, the console version reviewed played great and very rarely dropped under 30 frames per second save for a few very “fire-heavy” interactions with too many raiders at once.
Also of note is that companion AI, while great at conversing, isn’t always the best at pathfinding or simply staying out of the way. A few times Valentine would bump my character while sniping, throwing off aim for that split second. That alone never caused any catastrophe, but it surely could’ve and made me picture the character lowering the sight and staring at Valentine with a “really?” look. The wastes are a cruel place.
“The world was always a dangerous place, it’s just a bit more honest about it now”
Other new changes are small things like tweaks to how bobble heads and magazines work; picking them up now grants permanent bonuses to certain skills or perks to a skill. Case-in-point being that if you pick up “Locks and Tumblers” you’ll get a bump to the “sweet spot” when lock picking.
I personally missed the memo about dynamic weather in Fallout 4, and actually am a bit thankful, as the first radiation storm that overtook my location was terrifying. Green clouds crept in and lightning gave me radiation poisoning. As I panicked about my state I stumbled into a campground and a stunted Yao Gai (think giant radioactive bear) heard my clumsy steps. After creeping away from the campground my next destination was Boston, and as the green clouds gave way to thick white fog, I walked through the forests of the Northeast, absolutely engrossed by the environment. Although the textures when put under a microscope might be muddy as mentioned earlier, the overall beauty attained by the landscape of the area, the care and recreation done within the environment, and the simple “whoa” moments of just looking around are a testament to the amount of work and thorough attention paid throughout the game.
+ Best Story from Bethesda yet
+ Hundreds of hours of discovery
+ Armor, Weapon, and Settlement building are fun, not overwhelming
+ All changes and tweaks seem to be for the best, and affect the game positively
– AI will sometimes get in the way
– Close up inspection of textures on console can be a bit muddy if you start picking it apart
The Bottom Line
Fallout 4 is what we all thought it could be, and so much more. While it might have easily fallen in multiple areas, and the scrutinizing eye will find a blurry texture here and there, the game delivers so thoroughly in so many other areas that will keep players busy for so very long, it truly outshines the rest of the pack. Between the main quest, side quests, settlements, weapons, armor, and just pure exploration the game will remain fresh for years to come, and the end product of four years of work shines as a glowing example of what the team at Bethesda is truly capable of. Fallout 4 less throws its hat in the ring for game of the year, and stomps its powersuit boot down demanding serious deliberation.
Examiner was provided a copy of Fallout 4 for Xbox One for review purposes.