Fallout 4 Review!

by on November 16, 2015

                Ah,
Fallout 4.. Bethesda’s new game has been one of the most hyped titles of 2015
and has given birth to huge controversies at its launch. One only needs to take
a look at the discrepancy between its very favorable reception from the
mainstream gaming press and what players actually think about it on Steam or
Metacritic to see that something feels very odd. It is even stranger since this
is the first time this has happened with one of Bethesda’s titles, as the other
ones received fairly good receptions on both ends of the spectrum. Naturally, I
felt compelled to investigate the causes of this radical division and spent 30
hours with Fallout 4. With that being said, I am now ready to share my opinions
and verdict on the game.
A new journey.
The Fallout series has been in the
hands of three developers: Interplay, Bethesda and Obsidian. I am one of those
weird people who much prefer the way Interplay handled things in the first two
Fallout games and after playing them, I was terribly disappointed with how
Bethesda continued the series with Fallout 3. The lack of an engaging story,
shallow and one-dimensional characters, too few choices and consequences..
there were so many things that turned the game into a bad experience. Despite
that, Obsidian managed to make a new game in the universe and New Vegas is one
of my favorite RPGs out there, featuring a great story, multiple fully fleshed
out factions and characters, choices that actually matter and the absence of
black and white morality. Coming into Fallout 4, I hoped that Bethesda took
notes from what things Obsidian did right and integrated them into their game.
I also took two decisions regarding the game and this review. The first one was
that I would start from a blank state, ignoring my experience with Fallout 3
and giving Fallout 4 a chance and an objective approach. The second one was
that the review will not contain any comparisons between the old Fallout games
(1 and 2) and this one, since they are way too different and are aimed at
different audiences. Thus, any comparisons I will make will be restricted to
Fallout 3, NV and 4.
                Let’s
kick off with the review. The events of Fallout 4 take place in Boston – now
known as the Commonwealth – in 2287, a decade after Fallout 3 and six years
after New Vegas. You play as the Sole Survivor of Vault 111, who emerges 210
years after the day when the nuclear attack took place and the world was
changed forever. The game’s intro sequence happens exactly on that day: you are
given a peek at the pre-War life before you and your spouse and son take
shelter in Vault 111 as the bombs fall. Frozen in the Vault cryopods for
somewhere between 100 and 200 years, you wake up when a mysterious group enters
the Vault, kills your spouse and takes off with your child. It is now up to you
to escape the Vault, explore the Commonwealth and find those who have wronged
you.
Leaving “home”.
Out in the world.
Despite the fact that I knew that
the narrative had never been strong in any recent Bethesda games I was still disappointed
with Fallout 4’s story. I also felt annoyed at the laziness of the developers:
once again, you are forced to look for a family member, just like in the
previous game. The introductory sequence did not succeed to make me care about
the husband – I played as a female – or the child, since it is very short and
they almost get no screen time, or anything that may make you be interested in
them besides the fact that they’re family. Fallout 4 lacks the things that The
Witcher 3 got right: you’re also looking for your daughter in that game and it
could be just as banal as here, but there are plenty of sequences which build
her into a character you easily care about and want to find.
                Fortunately,
in order to find your son you have to ally yourself with one of the four
factions in the game, which prove to be more interesting than looking for him.
We have the Brotherhood of Steel, who want to protect the Commonwealth (kind of
strange, since they don’t usually get involved with people and only seek the preservation
of technology) and destroy the Institute. The Institute is formed by scientists
who possess the knowledge and technology required to create synthetics that are
identical to humans, and are considered to be a major threat to humankind by
the Brotherhood. The matter of these synths and whether they should be allowed
to exist in this world eventually becomes a main part of the story. There’s
also the Railway, a group that seeks to liberate the synths from the control of
the Institute. The last faction is not a faction per se, as it is represented
only by Preston Garvey, the last Minuteman. However, you can join him and fight
to rebuild the Minutemen and liberate the Commonwealth from all that threaten
the lives of its citizens, be it mutants, raiders or synths.
War.
                I chose
to join the Brotherhood of Steel, mainly since it has been the thing that I do
in almost all the Fallout games and also because the other factions did not
appeal to me that much. Their quests are hit and miss: one has you attack an
objective with a vertibird and feels pretty epic, whereas other just ask you
for materials to build.. something, which isn’t that interesting. There’s also
a quest about one of your companions which was among the best in the game,
countered by the penultimate mission which is almost entirely copied from
Fallout 3. Unfortunately, three of the groups have almost the same questline
and endings, and even though the faction system is a step up from Fallout 3, I
still feel like there’s not too much replayability here. You can also do quests
for all groups up to a certain point where you have to choose one and stick
with it.
                There
are thirteen companions to help you on your adventures, from your own dog to
several robots and a few members of the factions. This is where I think the
game is clearly superior to Fallout 3: I’ve only used two of those companions (Nick
Valentine and Paladin Damse) during my travels, but I liked them both, which is
much more than what can be said about the insipid characters from the previous
game (who could’ve have been dead inside for all I knew). The new companions
each have their own personal quest, rarely intervene during conversations, like
or dislike your actions and approach you in order to talk when they like you
enough. They also talk to you about your decisions after you finish the main
story, which is something I liked. You can give them orders like follow, stay,
attack a target or move somewhere (I didn’t feel the need to use these
commands), and they cannot die, which is.. convenient for the player, but
breaks immersion. You can’t kill them either, since they’re considered to be
“essential” characters.
Your immortal best buddy.
One of the few interesting characters.
And another one.
                Unsurprisingly,
the writing is mediocre overall. If you expect something at the level of New
Vegas, you will be disappointed. Besides the two companions that I’ve
mentioned, I haven’t come across any other really interesting characters, as
most of them lack depth and are one-dimensional. Note: I am mostly referring
here to the characters found during the main and side quests, since I can’t
comment on the quality of the few other companions whom I didn’t take with me
on my travels. Consequently, I didn’t feel too interested in finding the son or
taking sides in the conflict regarding the synths. The writing simply falls
flat and provides little emotional investment from the player.
Not a great tale, though.
                In
terms of actual roleplaying (since we have an RPG here, right..?), things aren’t
that great. To start off, you can’t even create your own backstory or play a
blank state character like in the TES games, since you must be the concerned
parent and ex-soldier (male) or ex-lawyer (female) who will do everything to
find his/her child. I also couldn’t empathize with my character, who woke up
after 200 years and never seemed to care or comment on anything new he found in
the post-apocalyptic world. There are only a few people (two or three) to whom
you can mention that you’re 200+ years old, but the game doesn’t take advantage
of it and barely scrapes the surface of what could have been done with the
unique condition of your character. To make matters worse, the brand new
dialogue system is one of the worst I’ve ever seen. The system uses a dialogue
wheel and will only allow you four types of responses at any time: affirmation,
negation, question and sarcasm. Moreover, the few words that describe your
responses sometimes don’t even match what you actually say or the options all
point towards the same type of response – you sometimes can’t even refuse
quests -. Sure, your character is now fully voice acted and that is supposed to
help immerse you, but I found that being unable to say what I think and being
restricted to those four options stopped me from actually roleplaying. Even
Fallout 3 had a much better dialogue system, not to mention New Vegas.
Affirmation, negation, sarcasm and question.
Since we’re talking about
roleplaying, let’s take a look at the quests in the game and how you can affect
their outcome. We have the main story quests, side quests and Radiant AI
quests. I felt that way too many quests involved forced combat and going
through multiple levels of enemies until you reach the end, although most of
the side quests offer you a choice that decides the outcome and this almost
always depends on your Charisma stat. No other SPECIAL stats are checked during
conversations. Oh, I also found that the way Charisma works in this game is
fairly absurd: each dialogue check for it has a difficulty (yellow, orange and
red) and there is a roll involved that decides whether you pass or fail it.
This means that you can repeatedly reload a save until you pass the check. I’ve
even read about people who failed romances with their companions even though
their Charisma was maxed out, which is ridiculous. Anyway, the original Fallout
design stated that there should always be at least four ways of solving a
quest: through combat, speech, skills or stealth. From my experience with this
game, only combat and speech work, and speech not even all the time. I haven’t
used stealth too much, but there are plenty of quests which explicitly require
you to kill enemies and the two skills in the game – lock picking and hacking –
can’t be used to complete quests in a different way, such as bypassing groups
of enemies. Nevertheless, there are a few decisions to be made, especially
during one or two of the main quests, most of the side quests and with regards
to your companions. It doesn’t come close to what New Vegas had to offer, but
is on par with Fallout 3.
                Concerning
character creation and progression, we still have the SPECIAL stats and perks,
but the skills have been integrated in the perks and no longer exist on their
own. I personally enjoyed having both skills and perks in the previous games
since they were a way of showing you how proficient you were with anything.
Each SPECIAL stat now functions as a threshold for the 10 perks associated with
it, which can be unlocked when you level up and have multiple ranks. You can
also invest points directly into the SPECIAL stats as you level up, which is a
questionable design decision since you can even max them all. Despite the fact
that apparently your character is now somewhat of a master of all types of weapons
– when you’re not using VATS you shoot perfectly and only Perception affects
accuracy in VATS -, there are perks which allow you to heal more, be better at
lock picking or hacking, run longer, be more stealthier or deal more damage,
improve your companions’ performance with your charisma or improve your
crafting abilities. Besides that, they don’t really make much sense: there’s as
a perception perk that increases the damage of rifles, multiple charisma perks
that affect your combat capabilities and many others. The new perk system
allows the creation of a few different play styles, as there are so many perks
and ranks that you can’t unlock them all on the same character, unless you
invest hundreds of hours into it. I personally went for a charismatic and intelligent
gun master, since I finished the game at level 35 and managed to invest in
plenty of perks and stats. All in all, the new system didn’t impress me in any
way: I felt it was average and would have preferred the old one, as it made way
more sense and allowed for deeper character customization.
The new perk system.
                One of
the game’s main problems is that the feeling of character progression is
destroyed in the first two hours of the game when you find a suit of Power
Armor and you gun down a Deathclaw. I know that Bethesda is a fan of the “let’s
empower the player and make him feel awesome” type of game design, but even so
I don’t see how giving the player the most powerful and iconic armor in the
universe and making him kill the ultimate post-apocalyptic predator in the
beginning of the game is a good design choice. Do I also have to mention that
my female character was a lawyer before the War and had no experience with
weapons, yet she destroyed that Deathclaw with no problems whatsoever? Nothing
made sense about this. The game throws awesome stuff (gear, enemies) at you in
the beginning and this didn’t encourage me to continue, as later on I felt like
my character already faced the worst and wasn’t visibly progressing anymore.
You also advance through the ranks of each faction in a rhythm that is way too
fast to feel rewarding or realistic, just as you could become the leader of all
guilds in Skyrim. Oh well.
Become awesome!
                Since
the story and roleplaying aspects of the game aren’t that strong, let’s move on
to the exploration of the open world, as this is the main attraction of all
Bethesda games. This is one of the elements where Fallout 4 is pretty
successful. The Commonwealth is a smaller game world but is denser and I felt
compelled to explore it due to a few reasons. Its locations are somewhat
varied, from the more peaceful north side of the map to the semi-destroyed
towns and cities patrolled by raiders and mutants and to the Glowing Sea, a
zone in the south which is completely irradiated and inhabited by deathclaws.
The world atmosphere is most of the time decent: I’m not really a fan of how
non-post-apocalyptic and calm the world looks from a weather point of view, but
when the electrical storms kick in, it’s extremely immersive. There are also
plenty of collectibles to be found under the form of bobbleheads that improve
your stats and give you special traits, games for your Pip-Boy and all sorts of
comic books that improve your abilities. One of my main gripes with Fallout 3,
the absence of farms and places that could sustain life, has been fixed now and
the world feels more coherent and believable. The people in the Commonwealth
also react better to you, commenting on your choice of armor (especially Power
Armor) and acknowledging some of your deeds in the quests you’ve completed.
Sure, there are some exceptions to this as well, such as some quest givers that
tell you to scram after you’ve done quests for them, but the world is generally
improved when compared to the one from Fallout 3.
The Commonwealth can be a very atmospheric place at times.
Collectibles #1
Collectibles #2
                Moreover,
I played on Hard and the game was pretty challenging as I made my way down
south (you start in the north-west corner). The Commonwealth is inhabited by
all the traditional enemies you could expect from a Fallout game: raiders,
super mutants, ghouls, Deathclaws, radscorpions, mirelurks, etc. Their AI is
pretty good this time around and they require different strategies. Ghouls are
incredibly fast and are best countered with shotguns or VATS. Raiders and super
mutants make good use of cover, sometimes flank you and are crazy good at
throwing molotovs or grenades. Depending on the difficulty you play on, there
is a varying chance that legendary enemies will spawn. This feels like such a
MMO mechanic: their behavior is identical to that of the normal mobs, but they
have a huge HP pool and defeating them rewards you with better items. Even so,
they’re a pain in the ass to kill and made me want to lower the difficulty.
Scary..
                In
terms of combat mechanics, the game plays exactly the same as Fallout 3 and New
Vegas. VATS is still around and now it only slows down time instead of
completely stopping it. The real time shooting and all the guns feel much more
natural. Speaking of guns and implicitly ammo, I found that a big part of what
was challenging about the game was the fact that I always had to be careful
with how much ammo I consumed. I would spend almost all of my caps on ammo for
different guns and stimpacks to keep me running, and it was something that I
actually liked since it made me feel like I was fighting to survive in the
post-apocalyptic world. So in order to have an easier time, it is probably
recommended to use VATS whenever possible to conserve ammo. I honestly thought
that the game felt more like a FPS than a RPG so I didn’t follow my own advice
and went all guns blazing.
Mayhem!
                I
mentioned that legendary enemies drop a few of the better items in the game,
but that is not the only way to get your hands on better loot. Weapons can now
be fully customized with different mods, such as sights, barrels, muzzles,
stocks and many others. The same goes for armors, since they are now split in
different categories based on body parts: helmet, torso, arms and feet. There
is a pretty great deal of customization available for Power Armors, from colors
to neat upgrades such as jet packs (this one is awesome), extra shields, auto
stimpacks or the ability to see enemies in red. All in all, I consider the
addition of customization for your gear to be a great one.
Weapon customization.
Armor customization.
                Speaking
of Power Armors (PAs), the way they work has been changed completely. All the
suits that you find require Fusion Cores to function. Depending on whether you
walk or sprint around in your PA, the Core will drain slower or faster. These
Cores can be found all over the Commonwealth (especially in generators), although
they are somewhat rare and expensive to buy from merchants. I was very annoyed
with this change for several reasons. First, you will most likely exit your PA
in a random place on the map (which will be marked on your Pip-Boy map), so
when you want to use it again in a different place, you have to fast travel
close to where you left it (loading screen), then fast travel close to where
you want to use it (another loading screen), and then most likely leave it
there when you’re done or take it to a power armor station (another loading
screen). The entire process is time consuming and I found myself not wanting to
use a PA at all, even though they’re probably the coolest thing about the
Fallout universe. Second, it doesn’t make sense and feels like such a gamey
mechanic: your companions who wear PAs or the members of the Brotherhood don’t
even have to bother about depleting Cores, and the generators where you find
them have been running over the past 200 years, but your Core only lasts for
one hour at best. Perhaps it’s my fault for expecting some coherence in this
new design, yet I also don’t get why this change was necessary since it felt so
much more rewarding to find your PA later on in the other Fallout games.
Despite all that, the actual PA gameplay is realized very well, in the sense
that it feels great to walk and shoot while you’re in them: I liked the special
HUD (especially the way water drops fall on your visor when it’s raining) and
they feel extremely heavy, bulky and impressive. Thankfully, there’s already a
mod out there that eliminates the draining of the Fusion Cores, so if the stats
for the PA would be nerfed as well, all would be back to normal.
Power Armors are the best!
Hate them.
                Besides
the new way in which PAs work, there’s also a new addition: settlements
building. Using materials scavenged from the Wasteland you can now build your
own settlements, giving them sustainability through generators and farms and
reinforcing them with defensive structures. NPCs will also flock to your newly
constructed areas and establish communities. Bethesda once stated that you can
invest up to 400 hours in Fallout 4, and I guess that this is what they were
mostly referring to. I personally did not bother too much with this feature:
after building my first settlement (which was actually only a house with a farm
surrounded by barricades and guarded by turrets), I gave up because I didn’t
see how it is related to the game or what the point of it all was. Apparently
you can build multiple settlements and tie them together to bring in more
revenue, but I always had just enough caps to keep on going. The places you
build are also supposed to come under attack from raiders or mutants and you’ll
have to defend them, yet that never happened to me. If I have to compare it
with other games I can say I had a much better experience with base building in
ARK: Survival Evolved, since over there things actually made sense and you had
to defend against other players. In Fallout 4, it just feels like.. Sims?
Nonetheless, despite the fact that I’ve found it all pointless, I’m sure many
players will have fun with building their own places in the Commonwealth, as
there were so many similar mods in the previous games and now this has become
an actual feature.
Build it up.. or not.
                Onto
the way the game looks and performs. The Commonwealth is a much more colorful
and lively place to look at than the Capital Wasteland, which can be both a
good and a bad thing: it is a welcome change if you were tired of the dark
palette of colors from the previous games, but also feels less post-apocalyptic
(with some exceptions: electrical storms and the Glowing Sea). On a closer
inspection though, things get worse: most of the textures are low resolution
and ugly to look at and the animations are still off-putting, robbing
characters of any notion of liveliness. The view distance isn’t great either,
with the same type of artificial fog present in The Witcher 3 being used to
reduce the amount of details in the distance. The particle effects are also
lacking, from fog and dust to fire and explosions, which slightly affects
immersion due to the first person perspective of the game. All of this isn’t
really surprising, as the game runs on a modified version of the Creation
Engine, first used in Skyrim. I played the game on a system with a 4690k, 970
(neither were overclocked) and 8GBs of RAM and the performance was very
disappointing. The system was capable of holding up 60 fps in the northern
areas of the map, but once I got to the first towns and cities, the frames
dropped drastically down to even 20 fps, which was almost unplayable for me.
This is apparently caused by some issues with the shadow distance, although
I’ve noticed no improvement while playing around with its quality. There’s also
the matter of god rays from NVIDIA, where there is absolutely no difference
between the low and ultra presets, despite affecting performance pretty hard.
All in all, Fallout 4 doesn’t really look like a game worthy of 2015 – but hey,
mods will fix it, right?! -. Compared to The Witcher 3, which is one of the
best looking open world games of the year, it looks and performs worse, which
is something to wonder at since Bethesda most likely had a way bigger development
budget than CDPR.
This is disturbingly ugly.
2015 textures.
                With
graphics and performance out of the way, let’s take a look at how the game
sounds. The soundtrack is another of the game’s stronger aspects. There were a
few songs that stuck with me and overall it is pretty good, although not very
memorable or capable of making the audience shiver. Weirdly enough, it has a
Scottish vibe (bagpipes?) which sounded nice but felt out of place. I also
thought that the voice acting was pretty hit and miss: it’s really good for
some characters (Kellogg and Nick Valentine), decent for the player (both male
and female) and sometimes cringe worthy (Piper and some general from the
Minutemen). The good thing is that I didn’t notice too many cases in which the voice
acting is the same for different characters, which is surprising for a Bethesda
game. Besides soundtrack and voice acting, everything else is good: gun sounds,
explosions, the ambience of the environments in the Commonwealth, etc. So
Fallout 4 fares well in the audio department.
Beware!
                Now, it
wouldn’t be a Bethesda game without a terrible release, and Fallout 4 makes no
exception to the rule. Besides the poor performance that I’ve already
mentioned, there are plenty of bugs that I’ve come across. For example, it was
generally more surprising to notice when my companion was next to me than when
I would find out that he got lost somewhere on the way. Companions usually get
stuck in different places and somehow teleport next to you after a while. Your
weapons automatically reload when you switch between them (casual feature
confirmed or bug?). Sometimes my framerate would drop to half of its initial
value when I would zoom in with a weapon. The subtitles from a dialogue sometimes lag
behind what is actually being said at that moment and you can even be kicked
out of a dialogue by random NPCs that are walking and pushing you away from the
NPC you were speaking to. The game also crashed at least 10 times during the 30
hours I spent with it and there are so many loading screens that I lost my
interest to explore buildings, knowing that I would spend at least one minute
getting in and out. To make matters worse, the game’s interface is very clunky
and hard to work with. You still have to browse through an alphabetically
sorted list in your inventory to get to the item you’re looking for and moving
through the Pip-Boy menus is a pain. The same goes for the settlement building
interface, for which I didn’t even know that I had to press E to browse the
submenus because it wasn’t indicated anywhere! Finally, the game is somewhat of
a mess from all these points of view and I don’t know if even Bethesda (who
have got a pass for all their previous titles) can get away with such a
release.
How is this even possible?
We can’t both fit in this elevator..
                With
all of this being said, it’s time for my verdict on Fallout 4. I remember how
when I was younger, my parents would keep going on about how games aren’t a
productive way to spend time on, and I would say that some games can be art and
you can actually learn something from them – I’m looking at you, old school
CRPGs -, just like you can from books. Well, Fallout 4 isn’t one of those
games. I had some fun with it, but that’s about it. There’s just not enough
depth involved in its story and roleplaying aspects to make it a compelling
RPG. At its best, you can forcefully create your own story and character in
your mind and just explore the Commonwealth, maybe building settlements and
constructing some sort of empire. I started playing with the hope that Bethesda
learned some things from Obsidian’s successes with New Vegas, but quickly found
out that was not the case. From the middle of the game onwards I decided to
play it more as a FPS than a RPG and I had more fun that way. So if you’re
expecting a strong RPG from Fallout 4, I think you’ll be disappointed. But if
you’re just looking for some pretty mindless fun shooting things up and
exploring an interesting world, then this is just the game for you.
It’s fun if you make everything explode!
Pros:
+ The open world is interesting to explore and atmospheric
at times, feels a bit more reactive to you
+ Shooting mechanics have been improved
+ The companions are much better than the ones from Fallout 3
+ There are multiple factions to join
+ The enemy AI is pretty good
+ Weapon and armor customization
+ Power Armor gameplay is great
+ Building settlements (for some..)
+ Good soundtrack, generally ok voice acting
Cons:
– The story isn’t too interesting and parts of it feel
recycled from Fallout 3
– Abysmal new dialogue system
– Not much roleplaying going on
– Some faction questlines are way too similar
– Bethesda’s design school of making everything awesome
ruins the character progression
– Legendary enemies
– The change to how Power Armor works
– Building settlements feels disconnected from the rest of
the game
– Graphics aren’t on par with 2015 standards and the
performance is terrible
– Character animations are still very poor
– Very unstable and buggy release
– Hard to navigate through the clunky interface
– Loading screens are too many and take too long
Wolfe

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