Review: Fallout 4, prepare for a whole lot of wandering

It must be pretty good if I'm choosing to occupy an apocalyptic wasteland more than the real world

Having played Fallout for over 60 hours, I now feel ready to comment on the game but I also feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of its world and I know I have another happy 60 hours ahead of me discovering a bunch of delightful little features I’ve missed. Where do you even begin when talking about something this big?

As always happens in Bethesda’s open world games, you can often start out on the main quest with the best intentions of getting to the end of it before you start exploring everything else. But in a game world as wide and interesting as the Commonwealth and with a player with such a short attention span as I, that was never going to happen. It’s never happened in the past either. There’s something really freeing about being able to abandon the main quest and find things to do on the side that are just as, if not often more, interesting and rewarding. How was I going to walk past that abandoned comic book store without going in? What sane person would walk past that factory or that drive in cinema without stopping to check for good loot? That’s the way of these games, you stop for ‘just a minute’ to have a look and all of a sudden you’re all the way across the map four hours later with no memory of what you were doing in the first place.

The Commonwealth is a bit more diverse than the landscape on offer in Fallout 3. There are urban wastelands, but there’s also forests, bogs, an area that can only be described as radiated hell, and many more besides. The enemies you encounter have changed a little too; radscorpians are much more of a nightmare than they were before, blood bugs make me scream in fright and frustration, and Deathclaws continue to be the thing I hate most in this world. Something that was really fun was encountering Legendary enemies on whose bodies you could find incredible loot, which sometimes took the form of weapons you absolutely want in your holster. I’d actually say it’s worth turning up the difficulty level of your game just to encounter more of these legendary enemies. It makes it harder, sure, but the payoff is glorious.

One of my favourite things about Fallout is the little stories that are told through little things like having two skeletons wrapped around each other, bodies carrying touching notes, tattered posters on walls. The attention to detail is just fantastic and it really gives depth to Fallout’s world. Often I’ll feel more for a stranger whose past I discover through the various revealing items found around them than I did at the dramatic scenes that start the game, which left me feeling a little ‘meh.’ Perhaps I wasn’t given enough time to connect, or perhaps I have the heart of a Synth. Perhaps both.

When it comes down to the details of basic performance, Fallout 4 sometimes trips over its own power armour. There are occasional framerate drops which are especially problematic in combat but I was willing to look past these as I didn’t encounter them especially often. I’ve experienced a few bugs sometimes which at worst led to my death and had me cursing every man woman and child that populate this godforsaken earth with me and at best they were just mildly irritating enough to make me clutch the controller with white knuckles.

There are instances where you’ll find your companion stuck inside a wall, or you won’t be able to start or finish a quest because an NPC appears to have been stuck in conversation mode. The best way around this really is to frequently manually save and not rely on autosave which will sometimes trap you in situations that you’ll have to sacrifice hours of gameplay to undo. Thankfully these bugs and glitches haven’t popped up often enough for me to completely lose it but they’re there enough that I can’t skim over them. For someone less inclined to be able to look past these things they absolutely should be noted.

Another thing that annoyed me was the character creation section; it’s just a bit…glaringly heteronormative? Fallout is supposed to be a role playing game, so it seemed surprising to me that a heterosexual relationship would be kind of forced on the player at the beginning. You can choose your own sex, it just seems like it might have been a nice addition to allow you to choose the sex of your spouse.

The good thing is that after this beginning you can essentially do what you want with your character in terms of relationship choices and self-identification, but that just makes me wonder why the same thought wasn’t extended to the very beginning of the game where you’re supposed to forge the emotional connections that make the game’s main storyline significant.

I’ve seen the argument that you can’t really have any other kind of relationship at the beginning because a lot of the main plot revolves around your biological child and that having any other relationship wouldn’t be accurate to 1950s America. To this I can only say, really? Fallout isn’t real life and it’s definitely not concerned with historical accuracy. It’s actually just so far from it. Fallout 4 is a video game set in a fictional apocalypse with a 1950s American aesthetic. It’s not the actual 1950s. They have robot servants, rocket cars and incredible nuclear shelters, yet you can’t stretch your imagination to them having a nonbinary or trans person who has a child with their partner? Or a cis gay couple that has used science to create a biological child? You’re just choosing where your suspension of disbelief must end to suit yourself; if anything you’re more in the 1950s than this game is. By no means does this criticism mean Fallout is a bad game, it just left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth before starting one of the best adventures gaming has to offer today.

Past these problems, the crafting system of Fallout 4 has an enjoyable amount of depth and if you have a compulsive need to pick up everything you see in these games, it’s only going to make it worse. Desk fans are like the component holy grail, and as someone who rarely focuses much on strength, trying to carry all of these things proved incredibly difficult. Limited inventory is your greatest enemy in Fallout 4. There are small piles of junk across littered across the Commonwealth where I just had to let stuff go. If you do manage to hold on to enough materials, you can stop at a crafting bench to apply some great upgrades to your weapons, increasing a gun’s damage, range, or accuracy with just tweak to its barrel or grip. These upgrades are just another great example of the game’s attention to detail, as almost every change you make ends up being visible on your weapon which is much more satisfying that just seeing a numerical change in stats.

Putting together armour has also changed slightly; you can take separate pieces of armour like shin and arm guards and put them on over your clothes, achieving that scavenged armour look that suits a post-apocalyptic survivor. You can also upgrade your armour just like your weapons. The visuals changes aren’t quite as stark as with weaponry but it’s still excellent to have this degree of customisability.

Then you can put your crafted items into action in a combat system that has definitely improved in terms of shooting. Fallout 4 is rarely one where you’ll stick with melee. Partly because it’s really quite as dull and basic as it has been in the past, and partly because there are so many interesting and fun weapons to get your hands on and shooting has much improved since Fallout 3.

It’s also worth your time perfecting your aiming skills, which is much easier in this instalment. I advise this because you don’t really want to develop an over reliance on VATs. The VATs aiming system is excellent, slowing down time now rather than freezing it to help you line up a few critical shots. But it can get repetitive and your limited action points mean that really you’ll want to save it for when you need it most, rather than use it as a crutch.

As someone who sometimes gets a little nervous exploring abandoned areas alone, I always welcome having a companion.I am so far from a lone wolf. The companions Fallout 4 has to offer are more than welcome to join me on my adventures. They each have their likes and dislikes when it comes to their behaviour, and they also have abilities that they can offer you to make your journey a little easier, so it really is best to pick a companion that suits your style of play. I found myself sticking with the noir delight that is Nick Valentine, but there are so many more you can choose from.

An interesting new feature is Settlements, where you can build ramshackle town on various predetermined sites across the Commonwealth. As a new feature it’s hardly going to be perfect and the sometimes irritating first-person placement system proves this, but they could have really provided more clear instructions on what to do. After some time I finally managed to build a structue of little architectural merit with some beds inside. My settlements don’t have much in the way of home comforts. Fallout 4 certainly doesn’t force the settlement building element of gameplay on you, in fact it’s actually really easy to forget it’s in the game at all. But it’s a feature I’m definitely enjoying exploring when I want some downtime, even if everything I build looks horrendous and I feel sorry for anyone that lives there.

In Fallout 4 it also feels like the writing has improved from previous games. The various factions and settlements have more complex relationships than ever before, companions feel like deeper characters, and your dialogue choices and actions feel like they have more weight than before; it’s much harder in this game to know what the right action to take is, or really whether there is a right action at all.

As with any Bethesda open world game, Fallout 4 is massive and detailed and I know that I have many many more hours to spend exploring. I’ve barely scratched the surface. Even after playing for 60 hours I can put this game on and know that I have an endless amount of things to occupy myself with. Don’t want to explore? I can improve my settlement. Sick of one storyline? Well, there are plenty more that I can throw myself into. It’s just. so. big. Fallout 4 is certainly an improvement on previous games of the series, and although its bugs and glitches can be incredibly irritating, I’m willing to frequently manually save, look past them, and enjoy the incredible freedom that can only come from living in a post-apocalyptic world.

This review was done using a Playstation 4 version of Fallout 4 provided by Bethesda. Fallout 4 is available now for Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

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