A Fallout newcomer's take on the most recent addition.
The hype cycle of Fallout 4 has been one of the most unique in recent memory. In a landscape where games will be announced and then appear at E3 for 3 years straight, Fallout was announced a month before E3 and then released a mere five months later to the excitement of seemingly everyone. Everyone except me. My history with Bethesda games is as follows; Dishonored, which they only published, and about 25 minutes of Fallout 3. Other than that, I had no experience with the series, so I came to this game from a different angle. Here is an outsider’s perspective on the newest entry into one of the most beloved franchises in all of gaming.
It’s hard to say that my first true foray into the Fallout series wasn’t enjoyable. In fact I enjoyed it quite a bit, but all of that enjoyment was hampered by the many issues this particular game has. Beyond the glaring technical problems, which Bethesda’s games are notorious for to the point where I was well aware of them despite my shallow history with their titles, there are many issues in basic places that take so much away from what should have been one of the better games of the year. For starters the game beats you over the head with one of its major themes, War never changes, by verbally stating it THREE times in the introduction and then giving an achievement with the title. This is similar to the other major themes running through this game as it brings those up at least once in every single conversation that I can recall. On top of this, the themes the game tackles aren’t all that original and have also been done far better elsewhere. When you throw the insane levels of heavy handedness on top of an okay at best narrative, this whole portion of the game leaves much to be desired. The game opens up in a retro-futuristic version of Boston and its surrounding areas, called “The Commonwealth”. After a short establishment sequence, the residents of the once peaceful neighborhood, along with a customizable male, a customizable female, and their son Shaun (whose appearance is determined by how the parents look. do with that what you will), are all evacuated to a local vault. After narrowly escaping the blast of nuclear bombs, the whole family is put into cryogenic stasis. After around 200 years, both are unfrozen and their son is kidnapped. Playing as either the male (voiced by Brian T. Delaney) or the female (voiced by Courtenay Taylor), the story takes the player throughout a landscape scarred by nuclear war in an attempt find Shaun. Over the course of the main story 4 factions, each with their own ideology toward synthetics, come into play and it is up to you to choose which group to support. The interplay between the factions can lead to some of the game's more dynamic moments as you can completely ignore any of the groups, straight up murder all of the leaders at any time or, better yet, there are some situations that allow you to give all of the groups advanced warning leading to a scenario where there is a massive 4-way shootout that you can waltz right through if they are on good terms with all groups. While these moments aren't as free form as they may appear at first, they still lead to some of the better moments in the game. Depending on which faction you backed the most, there are four endings, however 3 of them are pretty much the same with variations on the "reward". The fourth ending is disappointing because the game completely fails to realize any of the potential ramifications presented by siding with that group. No matter which ending occurs, the player is dumped back into the wasteland to continue exploring to their heart's content while listening to the fantastic soundtrack. This exploration is where the game excels above many other open world games.
As with my brief experience in Fallout 3, after exiting the vault the game allows the player to fully explore the world to its fullest before ever progressing to a narrative beat. In this open world are massive amounts of minuscule details that breathe a small semblance of life into the otherwise lifeless post-apocalyptic wasteland. There is so much to be discovered in this world, from well known landmarks that have been retrofitted into the last refuge of a society trying to repent for the sins of the pre-nuclear war world to many hidden away items that can give massive advantages to the game’s combat. While exploring the open world, there will be many emergent instances where you will be fighting either mutants or raiders or, in a lot of cases, both. The game can be either a first person shooter or a third person shooter and can change at the press of a button (or the PS4’s cumbersome touchpad) and the shooting feels good for a game where most of the weapons are thrown together with whatever materials are left in the world. I’ve heard many people (specifically Brad) say that Fallout 3 was almost unplayable without the V.A.T.S mechanic, which here slows time and allows you to pinpoint a specific body part to aim at, but Fallout 4 is entirely playable without it. However the V.A.T.S is always a fantastic option especially with the sweet cinematic camera that kicks in when using the system. During my adventures in the Commonwealth, I also stumbled into a variety of companion characters that can help on most of the missions in the game. Ranging from a dog, to a hard nosed reporter, all the way to a synthetic noir detective with a voice reminiscent of legendary announcer Vin Scully, most of these characters help propel the plot along or just help take out some of the wasteland’s more aggressive creatures. These characters not only provide help by shooting enemies, but they can also lighten the player character’s load and add a ton of personality to the moments of exploration. During all of these exploratory elements, there are many objects that are left scattered around the wasteland that may seem like useless junk but every object you find can be broken down into raw materials that can be used to upgrade weapons, armor, and for the game’s most entertaining yet pointless feature, settlement building.
After completing one of the first missions, the player gains access to the settlement of Sanctuary which was the main character's home before the bombs fell. The game then allows the player to place a variety of objects such as walls, floors, and furniture in order to make their own settlement rivaling the “best” The Commonwealth has to offer. This system even allows for things like generators to be built in order to create defensive turrets, working jukeboxes, and lighting fixtures that can be placed to make some truly silly creations. The settlement building is one of the deepest mechanics in the entire game because there is a distinct back and forth to it that the main game doesn’t have. The bigger and more advanced your settlement grows, the more it needs to be defended. The more you build the more materials you need to take in order to continue the expansion of the settlement. It truly feels like a game unto its own. The biggest downside to it is that it is entirely inconsequential. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever to delve into one of the more incredible aspects of this game. It plays a small role in the narrative. It plays no major role in the overall gameplay. It is entirely superfluous. Sure there are some benefits to it, but those benefits are meaningless in the grand scheme of things. It is concerning that the best elements of a game are completely irrelevant to most of the experience. Especially when considering how many resources those elements use that could have been put toward fixing one of the game’s biggest problems.
On console, this game runs like hot street trash. In a year when Metal Gear Solid V looks fantastic, is fully open world, has so many advanced systems, yet still hits 60 frames per second, games like this and The Witcher 3, barely hit 30. In fact I had MANY instances in this game where the framerate dropped well below 10fps, turning the game into an unplayable slideshow (As demonstrated in this video that I recorded late in the story. Possible spoilers). On top of that, I had multiple hard crashes that would have cost me hours of gameplay had I not been spamming quicksaves every couple of minutes. Instead of putting so many resources into gameplay systems that have no bearing on the overall game at all, they could have put those resources into making their game actually run. I have zero problem with games that run at 30fps but anything with drops this severe is unacceptable. This is also not a “platform wars” issue. Sure PC’s may be more powerful, but that hardly helped with Batman Arkham Knight. With that game, blame was pointed in the right direction. The developers and publishers. With any game that runs poorly on console, blame should also be pointed in that direction and simply put, Bethesda failed with the console version of this game. There is no excuse for games running poorly on any platform and the gaming community needs to hold developers and publishers responsible for any games that do.
Despite the technical problems, I enjoyed my 30+ hours with Fallout 4. There is a ton of great little things this game does and roaming around while listening to the fantastic soundtrack is a great experience. All of the small side stories make a world on the brink of extinction feel just as alive as some non-post apocalyptic gaming worlds. There are so many fantastic little things that they almost overshadow the major elements of the game. Almost. The story isn’t all that special, the combat is perfectly fine but also nothing special, there really isn’t a whole lot that is truly special about this game. Even though I don’t feel the pull that many feel with this series, I am certainly interested in where Fallout goes from here. Fallout 4 is a good, but far from great, game that will certainly keep many held over for a while. Just not me. Thanks for reading
Likes: Fantastic soundtrack, Open world is rather fun to explore, building settlements is an enjoyable time sink,
Dislikes: Narrative is rather bland, most of the best features are entirely inconsequential, Game is a technical mess
If you enjoyed my take on Fallout 4, or if you thought it was a terrible mess, feel free to leave some constructive feedback. Thank you!