After Washington D.C. received the Fallout treatment in 2008’s Fallout 3, gamers were now on the receiving end of a one-two combo from the Elder Scrolls developers at Bethesda who showed not only that their style of open ended first person perspective roleplaying games translated well into sci-fi but that they were also able to revitalize a franchise kept long dormant by previous publisher Interplay.
For me, I did not think any game on the Xbox 360 would consume my time in the same way that The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion did in the early years of the console. When other titles came and gone I could always find more to do in the hills around Cyrodiil. But I later found that the setting of Fallout 3 (I was new to the franchise) with it’s unique style and sci-fi trappings had a much greater appeal to me than I ever thought. So the prospect of returning to that world again on Xbox One was too good to pass up.
Fallout 4 introduces the world to you via a pre-apocalypse prologue that lets you design your character, including gender, through a sequence akin to married partners fighting over the bathroom mirror in the morning. It’s an effective way of allowing players to do their customizations without taking you too far out of the game you’ve just started. Once you’ve settled on your character you meet your in game child who is an amalgam of the you and your partner’s characteristics and also to your “home of the future”, complete with a new robot butler.
Soon after settling in the real meat of the story begins as you are whisked away to a vault (the vast underground protective bunkers of the series) to avoid an incoming nuclear attack. Once there you join your family in being frozen to be later revived in the future. When you finally wake and escape the vault, you find your home is devastated; Boston is now part of a region known as the Commonwealth and it’s become a nasty and dangerous place… even without lawyers and IT consultants. How the story fully plays out during this period helps to give you some early guidance and incentive to go out and explore.
As you take your first steps into this broken world and even visit the remains of your old home you’ll soon find the game directs you to the first of many useful resources you’ll need while playing. Companions make a return quickly and before you know it you’ll have a substantial number of characters to back you up in your travels. Early on it is almost a necessity to have this help because those first hours in the game can be punishing while your character builds up their loot and skills enough to defend themselves adequately. They also come in handy when dealing with the bountiful loot and resources you’ll be carrying around as they can be used as pack mules while travelling with you.
The most significant new feature to the game is the ability to build and manage settlements within the world. As you help the settlers of the wasteland some will be willing to join your cause and allow you to build out their homes and attract additional people. The tools provided are pretty flexible and give you plenty of objects that you can place in the world and let you create some fairly complicated arrangements with shelters, furniture and resources. With enough tender loving care, these places can be become self sufficient and valuable assets as you get further through the game.
It must be noted though that the appeal of managing settlements will vary with players as it is a substantial departure from the game’s core mechanics. It’s like a post apocalyptic Sims. You don’t necessarily need to do it as you will need to focus on accruing the right skills to make the most of it, but if the prospect of building up safe houses around the world is appealing then it is at least worth spending a little time looking into it and setting up a couple of places around the world map.
A positive from this addition is that it makes all that debris you find in the world actually useful – previously it was confined to building oddball weapons or decorative junk but now it becomes a valuable resource to help build up your settlements. And if there are specific items could need (for example, copper or circuits), you can tag those so it is easier to choose which resources to keep and ignore in your inventory.
In my case I found it a way to manage my collection of Power Armours as they require a station for both repairs and upgrades. There are some already dotted around locations but having them at your own defended settlements is much safer and if they’re sitting with other crafting workbenches you’ll soon be keeping yourself fully armed, protected and stocked up.
Yes, I’m using Power Armours in the plural now. The Brotherhood of Steel from Fallout 3 may be many, many miles away but it hasn’t seemed to reduce the amount of hardware you’ll find available here. In fact you’ll find yourself very quickly in possession of the iconic armour and be able to modify it as you accrue skills and resources throughout the game. To restrict you from abusing it initially, the armours do run off a limited time fusion core (ie. battery) but as you progress you will find enough of them to let you run for extended periods.
They’re worth using though as you’ll notice a quite a discernible difference when using Power Armour and plenty of neat touches to make it feel different to being without one. When inside, your Pip-Boy (the series take on a retro styled smartphone) management screens are replaced with a heads up display; during gameplay the same display tracks hit points, radiation levels and your power levels through dials. During dialogue your voice is modulated as if coming from the suit’s speaker. And it’s safe to say punching out enemies takes on a whole new meaning when you have a giant mechanical suit to back your shots.
Though the story comes out strong with great character set up and motivation, it unfortunately drops away through much of your travels with dialogue often ignoring that aspect of your character. Though it is understandable that with the game’s open nature you can’t expect dialogue to always reflect your character’s current situation, it lessens the impact of that opening and can lead you to quickly forget the reason you’re traveling the wasteland in the first place.
Visually, the game is not too bad but I will admit I am looking at it through some Fallout tinted glasses… would that be dirty water brown or monitor green? Compared to its predecessor, it is a vast improvement in fidelity with some great looking vistas and much better texture detail. When you get a chance to site back and admire the view there’s some amazing and unique ones to check out.
Unfortunately, what breaks the illusion are how the human characters appear in game. Some lighting conditions can make them appear more like mannequins which can make the game look worse than it really is. Games like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt have definitely got it covered here in terms of character detail and it’s a shame Bethesda weren’t able to make a bigger leap here.
Though humans might look a little off, the creatures of the wasteland however are a massive improvement and in some cases even awesome. A good example are the Deathclaws; in the previous game they were terrifying more for the difficulty in beating them but this time around the moment you get smashed by one (literally) it’ll make a hell of an impression and you’ll be thinking twice about trying to take one on again ill prepared.
Audio continues to set a high standard; character voices abound not only through conversations but audio logs you can find in your travels meaning you are never short of something different to listen to. The radio stations of the previous games return as well as a means for background music during your travels and also quest opportunities.
It’s one area that I think Fallout has the edge over its Elder Scrolls siblings; though the theme may place some restrictions on musical variety, having the ability to use music much like the Grand Theft Auto series does with its own radio stations really goes far in creating a unique atmosphere for immersing the player.
I’ve also become a fan of the soundtrack. Inon Zur’s main theme for the game sets the tone perfectly and with the game’s attract mode (of a scene familiar to those who saw early screenshots), I’ve been happy to sit at the Fallout 4 main menu for a few minutes and enjoy it all the way through.
Gameplay continues to be where Fallout 4 succeeds ahead of many other modern RPGS – there is just so much to do in the world that you are rarely short of things to do. The initial difficulty can be intimidating at first; combat is key to the game so when you die to Radroaches (radioactive cockroaches) in your first hour or two it can be frustrating. As mentioned earlier, having a companion to back you up can really help you here. But soon you acquire enough decent gear to defend yourself and get into the meat of the game with less concern for your character’s survival. So far I’ve spent more than thirty hours playing now and because of the many diversions I’ve encountered in my time there is still much to do before I even get through the game’s central story.
Even when chatting to others it becomes clear that much like other Bethesda games, once players begin to stray from that story path the game very much becomes their own with events happening in their own particular order. And with many more hours of adventuring to do the stories told will become more varied. Grocs and I were only discussing the game last night and where I’ve been marvelling at my ever increasing armour collection, he’s been developing a trade network amongst his settlements and really building them out. One option is admittedly a little less selfish but there’s not much stopping you with your choices.
With such an abundance of other stories in the world, any issues you might have with the central one tend to fall away as you get caught up with side missions and tasks for Preston Garvey (Fallout 4‘s own “arrow to the knee” meme generator). Even with the quest distractions and settlement building I think the game could have still done with an early area like Megaton in Fallout 3 just to ensure that players have a good grasp of the game’s mechanics in a self contained slice of the wasteland. It also had your first moment of real consequence that made it clear to players that their actions can have serious ramifications to the game world.
It’s been years in the making and Fallout 4 delivers to gamers a bigger slice of the wasteland than ever before. At times it can feel too much like the previous game but with a graphical bump and it can be hard to argue with that. As you dive further in though you can begin to appreciate the depth and scope of the world created. Very few developers seem to make open worlds as successfully as Bethesda and until the arrival of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, I didn’t think anyone could match their storytelling talents either. Now that there is strong competition out there, we can see that there’s still room for improvement with these games and hopefully the next one will take the games and their technology further forward.
Nevertheless, I’ve been playing the game for hours already and I expect to still be playing for many hours more. And with a huge pile of DLC on its way over the course of the year I’ll still be around for months too. All that experience building settlements might come in handy if I get into trouble with my wife for playing this too much…
Fallout 4 is out now for PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4. The first of the Season Pass DLC titled Automatron comes out soon on the 22nd of March.