No universe has me more fascinated than the post-apocalyptic world of Fallout. Humanity surviving in a more primitive state, salvaging the relics of the past and discovering the horrendous conspiracies of Vault-Tech’s vaults are a startling reminder of the lengths humanity can go to out of sheer desperation. With over 30 hours of time in the world of Fallout 4, and having completed the main story, I still feel I’ve barely scratched the surface. Yet I’ve found much of what I was hoping to find, with fantastic gameplay ideas and phenomenal world building.
Rather than stepping into the jumpsuit of a distant descendant, your protagonist is actually from before the bombs fell, running for your life as the sirens ring out. Yet the world that you return to is hundreds of years into the future, and you do so as the sole survivor of Vault 111, trying to survive in the Commonwealth and what we might better know as Boston. To give any details of the plot would spoil a lot of what makes Fallout 4 so special, but it is well told, well-paced, and above all else gives your character a sense of purpose.
What makes your journey in the Commonwealth so rewarding is that no matter how big or small a side quest is, there’s a self-contained narrative within that’s just as detailed as those of the main plot. This has always been one of Bethesda’s strengths in its RPGs, but the world building in Fallout 4 is even better. Characters aren’t usually cast as simply being “good” or “evil”, meaning your decisions are more important than ever. As such, it’s a compelling drive to explore more of the world.
Typically, voice acting in Bethesda games feels like they’re retreading old ground, but the performances here make such occurrences rare. For one thing, your character is now fully voiced, but there are also smaller touches, such as other characters using your name in spoken dialogue, which really add to the experience. This will only work with at least moderately common names though, as my pale redhead called Roisin (pronounced Ro-Sheen) was never called by her name in dialogue. For example, Codsworth – the robot butler first seen in the E3 game reveal – will simply revert to calling you “Sir” or “Ma’am” if your chosen name is too out of the ordinary.
Just like in previous instalments of the series, you build your character’s appearance – this time using a robust character creation tool that can actually make appealing looking characters – Fallout 4 might not blow you away with a gloriously stunning graphical presentation, but for an open world game, what Bethesda have done is still rather impressive and it certainly has its moments. Areas are diverse and can be more detailed, vibrant and colourful than before, with the game running at a mostly consistent frame rate which only really dips below 30FPS when things get frantic.
NPCs look like they’ve been carefully crafted using the character creation tool, while monsters are more lifelike than ever before. Familiar foes make an appearance for you to do battle with, but there are also new enemies seamlessly integrate themselves into the rogue’s gallery. That said, there are blemishes, usually surrounding a companion confusing the camera during spoken dialogue.
Though bugs are much less prevalent than in previous games, Fallout 4’s biggest problems still stem from the occasional bugs woven within. Sometimes dialogue won’t initiate unless you pause/un-pause the game, at other times a companion might interrupt a conversation to ask you something, meaning you can’t choose an option and are left standing in an awkward silence. Thankfully the game keeps an archive of auto-saves, but it’s annoying when your progress is halted by weird glitches.
With no level cap, your possibilities for character growth are extensive, and you can potentially increase your stats to the maximum ranks across the board. Perks can also bought in any order, depending on what rank each of the tried and tested S.P.E.C.I.A.L. character stats. You have a great deal of freedom this time around in how you build your character, making your playthroughs different each time should you opt for different styles of play.
Perks can also have multiple ranks which can alter some basic functionality, like hacking terminals of higher difficulty per rank purchased. Others add further enhancements not seen in the original perk purchase, so Party Boy makes you immune to the addictive qualities of alcohol at rank 1, but doubles the effect of drinking the stuff at rank 2, while rank 3 increases your luck while under the influence. It’s an extension to the system that makes perks more meaningful than ever before.
Things work a little differently in the Commonwealth compared to the Capital Wasteland and Mojave Wasteland found in both Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas. For one, gone is the Karma system that governed the populace’s opinions of you, replaced by a greater emphasis on your dialogue choices. NPCs can and will clam up if you choose the wrong option, sometimes requiring a charisma test to bluff your way through the Commonwealth.
Your companions also respond to certain actions and dialogue choices, in a way that’s unique to their persona. One character might like it whenever you pick locks, but hate it when you cosy up to the wrong faction. You only need to be earshot of that companion for your relationship to strengthen or deteriorate, so you have to be careful who is nearby. It’s a system that’s simpler to understand and manipulate to your every whim.
Radiation has been simplified somewhat, taking a leaf from the iOS/Android game Fallout Shelter in that radiation reduces your maximum HP. It feels rather needless to have made this change though, as previous Fallout games would start to decrease your stats as various radiation thresholds were met. As such, the penalties for taking a dip in a radiated lake feel nowhere near as severe as before.
Similarly, the Vault Auto-Targeting System (VATS) works slightly differently compared to previous games. Instead of pausing the action whilst you choose which body part to maim, VATS in Fallout 4 only slows down time to a crawl meaning that battles are more involved. You can also build up a critical hit meter that, when full, can be used to inflict massive damage on a foe, though this choice is up to you.
Fallout 4 also borrows a little from the Obsidian developed Fallout: New Vegas with weapon customisations – degradation excluded – but expands on it with more complex options. Each bit of scrap you find throughout the Commonwealth can be used to augment weapons, enhance your Power Armour, or even erect new buildings and defences in the various settlements.
Taking a leaf out of a lot of MMORPGs, you can also discover enemies that are deemed “Legendary”. They may seem like tougher variants at first, but can quickly mutate into more dangerous foes capable of annihilating you in seconds if you’re not careful. These foes drop legendary loot, which can include guns that inflict poison damage or armour that grants additional bonuses. They can be augmented further still, meaning that you can always improve upon your arsenal.
One of the big things hyped up in the months leading to release was the notion that you can build settlements. By gathering scrap, you can make anything from defensive turrets, farms to gain crops, and even buildings and subsequent furnishings. It’s a little difficult to grasp at first, particularly with how power works, but once you do you’ll have the basics down you can create thriving communities. You will be needed on occasion to defend these settlements from bandits and you can lose them entirely, so it’s worth checking back on them from time to time.
Fallout 4 is hugely ambitious and without a doubt one of the best games this year. It’s not without its flaws, but very few games made me care more about what I was picking up, how to use it, what choices I made, and even the communities I’d founded. By streamlining some mechanics, Bethesda has made room for other more complex ideas. If you can forgive a few technical imperfections, of which there aren’t as many as prior instalments, Fallout 4 exceeds all expectations.
Version Tested: Xbox One