It’s good to be back.
I remember the first time I ever played Fallout 3. I didn’t know what to do or where to go. “Huh, that’s weird. I’ve never played a shooter where you couldn’t aim down the sights.” “Fat Man? What does this d- Oh my god, it shoots nukes!” “Why am I walking so slowly, what does being ‘over-encumbered’ mean?”
I was a pretty naive and, let’s face it, stupid 14-year-old when I first stepped into the world of Fallout. However, seven years later, I have no regrets to picking up Fallout 3 at my Blockbuster (yeah, that long ago). It opened my eyes to what freedom could feel like in an open-world game. It’s that mystifying feeling of being thrown into a world with the bare essentials and being told to “figure it out as you go along” that I found so intriguing to me.
Imagine my confusion when I felt less free in Skyrim, or Fallout: New Vegas for that matter. Sure, it was open world, but I didn’t feel like exploring the world was a part of the overall approach. Yes, you can explore it to your heart’s content, but there was no reward to it all, since it usually wasn’t discovered during your travels to the next main scenario quest. I just didn’t get that same feeling as I did with Fallout 3.
Everyone’s been waiting almost seven years for Fallout 4. So when it was finally announced to be released just a few months ago, we were ecstatic to explore the world. A new life, with all sorts of new things to do and people to meet, places to see. Did it hold up to that hype?
Fallout 4 is an open-world action RPG that uses the same engine as titles before it. So if you’re familiar with the gameplay of Skyrim or Fallout 3 and New Vegas, you will feel right at home. I say that, but I’m going to be brutally honest here: Fallout 4 is literally Skyrim with guns, and in the best way possible. Movement and melee combat are comfortably similar, and Fallout 4 opts to include various systems and mechanics from Skyrim into the core gameplay.
The gunplay is smooth and responsive, with a full adoption of modern shooter mechanics, like aiming down sights and having grenades be a side-equip instead of a full equip. Fallout 3 veterans will take very little time getting used to the new gun mechanics, though it is noting that it will take time for anyone to get used to the inclusion of a melee for firearms. As for grenades, you strangely enough hold down the melee button until you hear a click, then you can release to throw.
Grenades apply to any throwables; so essentially grenades and mines, since there are no out-of-place things (like javelins). However, they really only apply as suppression weaponry for when you have a choke-hold on a doorway, or just need to use a safer form of explosives. As they should be, too, since your equipped weapon will always be your go-to.
In the world of Fallout, there are many enemies you’ll face. You’ll usually start with mutated creatures like Radroaches and Mole Rats, and eventually move on to Raiders and robots. For these moments, combat is the only way to survive. Thankfully, you have AP and the staple VATS mode. VATS allows you to significantly slow down time and target specific body parts on an enemy. For instance, if you target a Raider’s arms and cripple them, then their aim will drastically worsen, or if you target their legs, then their movement speed will decrease significantly. VATS uses AP (Action Points), which again, adopts something from Skyrim: Sprinting. You can finally sprint in Fallout, but it uses AP, along with holding your breath while looking through a scope. As you hit enough enemies through VATS, you’ll increase your Critical meter; fill this up, and when you use it, you’ll have a guaranteed critical hit when using VATS.
VATS is exceptionally important for staying alive, but not as important as your own abilities. Being able to instinctively attack the greater dangers is how you’re going to survive this time, since enemy AI is much better than previous iterations. I can’t say that the AI is amazing, though. It’s right up there with Skyrim; logical but usually stupid, except those with bows and magic. Except in this instance, it’s miniguns and molotov cocktails.
Thankfully, if things get tough, you can always change the difficulty to whatever you want. You have five difficulties, varying from Very Easy to Very Hard. The driving point of difficulties is that it affects the rate of which an enemy can be ranked as Legendary, more on that later. But it also affects damage dealt and given, the scaling of enemy “levels” based on your level, and the general level of that location if you haven’t cleared it yet. I, for instance, played on Hard, which made mostly anything human-like (can’t rule out the Feral Ghouls here) a challenge. This also affects experience yield; killing enemies on a lower difficulty will grant less XP than a higher difficulty.
After gaining enough experience, you can level up, and every level up comes with a Perk Point. Which finally brings us to the meat and bones of Fallout 4. There is no level cap, and there is no hard ending; you can play forever. When you initially start the game, and you’ve built your character, you will be able to set twenty-one points into your SPECIAL stats. Without going much into what each of those letters means, this is essentially your starting build. When you level up, you get a point which you can put into any of the perks associated with a SPECIAL stat: Strength, for instance, has perks that can increase your carrying weight or melee damage, and Intelligence can let you hack more difficult terminals. This point can also go into adding another point to any SPECIAL stat, making it possible to have a “Perfect” character. Each perk has a use, depending on your playstyle. If you prefer to venture alone without a companion, you can increase your carry weight and damage with the Lone Wanderer perk. If you want to customize every aspect of your weapons and armor, you’ll find a use in the Blacksmith, Armorer, Gun Nut, and Science perks.
These also go into different stations in the game, like cooking stations or chemistry stations (mostly chemistry, since there is a Chemist perk), where you can cook food or combine materials to make helpful items that can give you a slight edge in combat. This means that various drugs are different than before. For instance, Jet now slows down time instead of giving you an AP boost. You can even combine drugs together to give you combined and boosted benefits like Bufftats. Again, these are adopted from Skyrim.
Another adopted dynamic from Skyrim is the ability to customize your gear at a workbench. Want to make your 10mm Pistol automatic? Go to a weapons workbench and add it in; strap on a reflex sight while you’re at it, and also add a larger magazine to it. The customization of weaponry is insane, allowing you to create the perfect weapon for your playstyle, and you can also customize your armor and Power Armor at separate stations. Increase your carrying weight by adding pockets to that leather armor you picked up, and give your Power Armor a jet pack. Sky’s the limit, people. Do whatever the hell you want with them.
Power Armor, for the record, is now an entirely separate set of armor. You enter it like a vehicle, and it gives you much better armor, but at the cost of Fusion Cores, which are often found by defeating robots. You can return this armor to a Power Armor station and repair it, or add modifications to it. You can even color it pink if you can find the magazine for it.
Armor is also layered now, so you can wear some clothing under other pieces of armor, leaving you a wide array of customization for your character’s looks, for the most part. Not all clothing can be worn under armor, though. I’ve noticed that anything with the word “outfit” in it is usually going to take up your arm, leg, and chest slots, leaving a little to be desired. I’d like to wear a snazzy two-piece suit under ragged leather armor pieces, but alas, it can’t happen in the vanilla game.
Along with customizable weapons and armor, you will occasionally encounter Legendary enemies which are tougher than usual. When brought down to 50%, they will “mutate” and become slightly more resilient and powerful. Upon killing them, you can obtain a rare piece of armor or weaponry with a special perk to it. So for instance, I found a hunting rifle with this little perk on it that increased its base damage and limb damage by 25%. So my obsolete little hunting rifle I was building up got dismantled of all its mods, and all those mods got slapped onto this new, shiny gun and I thus called it the “Soul Tearer.” Because it’ll rip through every part of you, including your soul. It became a fun toy once I modded it to use .50 ammo and gave it a larger magazine. Now I don’t need to reload until after I’ve assuredly sent the entire Raider camp to hell.
Isn’t she beautiful?
Along with customizing weapons and armor, let’s talk about Settlements now. Settlements are brand new to Fallout 4, and aim to make Skyrim’s Hearthfire DLC look like a Barbie Playhouse in comparison to LEGOland. After clearing out a location with a Workshop and activating it, you can start building a small town for willing survivors to maintain. Of course, you’ll need to set down various things like food and water sources, plop down a few beds for them to sleep in, and set up defenses against potential Raider attacks. This is your homestead, after all, which means you must defend it. Throughout your journeys, you’ll occasionally be told a settlement is under attack. Defending it keeps your population happy, but failing to defend them is costly, usually in having to rebuild resources and sometimes the occasional dead person. I find this part particularly fun, since after building a settlement into something feels rewarding. Especially once it becomes profitable with in-town markets. However, the building system is a little jagged. Yes, as Howard did say, it works, but there are some things that are a bit iffy. It took me several hours to finally figure out a lot of systems (especially Supply Lines; everyone needs to know how those work in order to avoid a lot of arbitrary searching), and it’s going to take anyone a very long time to get every settlement to 100% happiness, based on the insane requirements I’ve seen. You can of course, do settlement management as an optional thing, and focus on exploring the world.
In the world, you’ll find random items, and every item has a use, which you can use for modding at a workbench, crafting, or building for your settlement. You can also stumble upon Bobbleheads and magazines, which give you a permanent buff, or in some instances, new haircuts and paint jobs, or face tattoos. Some even give you holotapes so you can play silly “totally not real” games like Pipfall and Atomic Command. Of course, everything you do now is because of what happened before the bombs dropped, so let’s get onto why you’re exploring a wasteland in the first place.
You start off in the year 2077, with reports of explosions in neighboring states, you run to Vault 111 to escape the blast. Just barely, you make it with husband/wife and child in tow and enter the Vault. Inside, you put on your jumpsuit and are put into a cryostasis chamber. You escape 200 years after the bombs dropped, and find your hometown in a complete mess. To avoid spoilers from here on out, I’m just going to say that the game did marvelously at making me feel good and bad for making specific decisions; decisions that I would feel indifferently about in other titles. I felt good with helping someone resolve their problems, but bad when I only seemed to make matters worse. I was in a constant state of wondering what will happen next; something I haven’t felt even in Fallout 3, and that’s something incredible to me. Of course, this meant that I went on absolute media blackout in order to avoid spoilers, and thank the heavens that I did. This has to be something you experience on your own, and with little help from guides and friends, because it’ll make the whole thing all that much better.
It is worth noting that the main character does have a voice, and dialogue options are usually not well-explained, but each of the four directions means the same approach. Left is neutral, up is usually informational, right is negative or goodbye (bad), and down is positive(good). To some players, this may be an issue, especially those who like to role-play as their character, but I’ll tell you right now that I felt just as immersed during my playthrough as I did with preceding titles. Also, I’m sure a mod will be out sometime that removes the protagonist’s dialogue and replaces the dialogue set with the traditional Fallout 3 dialogue window; give it time.
Damnit, Mama Murphy! I told you, no Skyrim references in my wasteland!
As you progress through the main story, you’ll find various companions to join you along in your journey. Most people will be satiated with the dog, but I found a particular enjoyment in various characters, plus it’s worth noting that when you max out the relationship of most characters, you’ll get a special bonus perk, which means that you’ll probably want to be buds with a few of your colleagues before you’re entirely done with your adventure.
During your adventure, you’ll also come across some rather questionable quirks, which I can only categorize as “Bethesda game glitches.” Physics errors, ragdolls going through the floor, spontaneously appearing/disappearing models, and occasional (by occasional, I mean positional) framerate issues. Sometimes the FPS dip isn’t so bad, maybe 45FPS at the very least, but on one occasion I’ve had the game drop down to 2FPS. On a rare occasion, I have noticed some strange texture pop-in, and questionable lighting, but this is usually after fast-traveling. As for those other issues, they aren’t entirely awful, game-breaking glitches, they’re just “Bethesda game” glitches. Silly, sometimes inconvenient, and usually funny.
Although what is a major inconvenience are the abysmal loading times. As I noted in my Bloodborne review, loading times are usually not a nuisance if they’re only seen once in a while, but in games where death is frequent, loading times shouldn’t be 30 seconds long. In Fallout 4, I’ve experienced loading screens of upwards of one minute, and that was because I fast traveled. Again, this can be fixed in a future update through optimization and various other means, but as it stands right now, I don’t want to spend a minute fast traveling, dying, spending another minute loading back to before I fast traveled, then spending another minute fast traveling back to where I want to go. That’s ridiculous. (Apparently this is an issue in the PC version as well, so this isn’t console-specific.)
The overall aesthetic of Fallout 4 is about as good as I expected. The game looks amazing, and thankfully it didn’t need mods for that. It overall looks better than other iterations, and benefits greatly from its hardware. Dynamic lighting and vastly improved anti-aliasing give the game a really natural look, and the environment looks incredible. Coming from Fallout 3 to this makes me rather glad they didn’t go with that “rocky pile” look this time, because this looks hospitable, at least. Caves are small and claustrophobic, instead of being large ruin, they instead are small tunnels with a little to find. Long roads are full of dead-looking grasses, which have some somber lushness to them. Traveling down the beach, you’ll find wrecked ships on the coastline, guarded closely by Mirelurks.
Enemy models look great, as well, again benefiting from Fallout 4’s layered armor system, giving a little variety to how enemies look during combat. There are even more variants to traditional enemies now, as well; sometimes you’ll experience a creature that is glowing from extreme radiation exposure, or how about much larger Radroach? How about a much larger, glowing Radroach? It makes encounters all that more interesting, since Raiders also have sub-clans now, like the Gunners, that also have varying looks that differentiate them.
You can fully customize your Pip-Boy and HUD color separately using RGB sliders, and this color not only affects the HUD and Pip-Boy, but also your flashlight color when you aren’t in Power Armor. Pretty neat.
The overall sound quality is familiar, yet improved, as well. Fallout fans will be familiar with the usual sounds, like getting XP or entering VATS, but now enemies will start calling out to each other differing tactics, like “this guy must be using a Stealth Boy” or “my arm’s broken!” With the inclusion of a voice actor for the protagonist, it also means that the voice acting has improved a little. Not much to notice, but it does flow about as well as if you were to speak out the lines yourself, which is pretty important. I do love when the voice actor is clearly just having fun with the idea, though, like with the Silver Shroud quest. It’s the little things that make a voiced protagonist important, and the actor made sure that they had fun.
The music takes a sorrowful backseat to everything else, sadly, as a lot of the songs I’ve heard were brought back from Fallout 3, and a few new tracks were mixed in. Not enough to give the entire thing a fresh feeling; it just feels like I’m listening to someone’s 1950’s playlist where 80% of the tracks were from the Billboard Top 20. Great songs, but I’ve heard them before, is what I’m getting at.
Regardless, the overall presentation of Fallout 4 has just been wonderful, and I’d be lying if I said this game didn’t meet my expectations and blew them out of the water. Not only is the world chock full of interesting places and people, but the Settlement system and weapon/armor crafting will keep me coming back for more. The story will take you on a roller-coaster of craziness, but you’ll be glad you took the ride in the end, and the world is picture-worthy, with tons of varying places like swamps and even a little island to check out. I bought this game twice because of an Amazon shipping error, and I don’t regret a single bit of that decision. Now, back to very stupidly playing this game with the Pip-Boy app. (Why does it work so well?)