Release Date: November 10, 2015Platform: XBO (reviewed), PS4, PCDeveloper: Bethesda Game StudiosPublisher: Bethesda SoftworksGenre: RPG
When Fallout 4 was revealed at this year’s E3, expectations were understandably high. The follow-up to one of the greatest RPGs ever made had a lot to live up to. How would the series adapt to a new generation of gaming, one where shooting and storytelling mechanics have become more sophisticated (or more streamlined, in many cases)? Would this sequel implement as many changes to gameplay as Fallout 3? After spending many hours in the Boston wastelands, I can confidently say that you won’t be disappointed with what you find in this latest adventure.
In fact, Fallout 4 is exactly as good as you’d expect, because it’s not too far off from its older sibling. Fallout 4 feels like a homecoming for a game you know all too well, taking much of what you loved from its aging predecessor and smoothing out the wrinkles. No, there isn’t as much of a jump in innovation, it’s less surprising, than when Fallout 3 debuted. But that’s okay, because there wasn’t a lot that needed fixing in the first place. Yet, the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” methodology does hurt the game at points, especially in the shooting department, which still doesn’t compare to some of the modern shooters.
When it comes to storytelling, though, Fallout 4 is second to none. What starts off as an interesting inverse to Fallout 3‘s story — the focus is still on family — turns into a high-concept postapocalyptic sci-fi adventure with a lot of moral gray areas. And you play god in this story, so to speak. In no other RPG have my decisions mattered more, so much so that I spent hours thereafter obsessing over my choices and their infinite possibilities. Because the storytelling is dynamic and complex, especially when it comes to dialogue, which sometimes might seem menial at first, but almost always affects the outcome of something else.
World-building is better than ever, both in terms of setting and the characters that populate this new wasteland. Garbage, wreckage, and ruins have never looked so good, especially when complemented by the Boston skyscrapers that make up the city’s skyline (which you can also explore). The characters and situations you meet are almost always fleshed out, and I enjoyed running into different interactions that seemed to appear naturally instead of prompted by some sort of system. Sometimes I’d run into a battle between raiders and mutants, and I’d have to decide how to approach, whether that meant sneaking past them, finding an alternate (and longer) route, or blasting my way through the combat zones. There’s the constant sense in this game that you’re adapting to the world around you, and that the world is constantly changing. You’ll definitely find that the game will force you to change your play styles from time to time in order to traverse the entirety of the enourmous map at your disposal.
Fallout 4 doesn’t disappoint when it comes to colorful characters with snappy dialogue. Bethesda has always excelled at this, and it’s never been more evident than in their latest, which boasts some of the best cast of characters ever introduced in an RPG. Even when taking side quests, imagining yourself in these standalone stories — like monster-of-the-week episodes (the monsters are everywhere) — the characters you meet on the periphery of the main adventure are almost always memorable, from a dutiful and hulking member of the Brotherhood of Steel to a courageous news reporter with a thirst for big scoops and adventure. And many of these characters can even become companions in the game, your trusty followers that will help you out of rough spots. But I personally always found Dogmeat, my reliable hound, to always be the most meaningful relationship in the game.
Speaking of side quests, there is so much to do in Fallout 4, whether it’s battling opposing factions, completing more intimate side quests, clearing buildings of enemies, searching for rare loot, or building and crafting things. The crafting system is a spectacular addition to this game, which allows you to keep your most beloved weapons and tools, no matter how old they are. Things don’t deteriorate over time like in Fallout 3, and you can constantly upgrade your weapons and gear with scrap you find in the wasteland. While some might be disappointed by the lack of stakes afforded by the deterioration system, I’d say this game has an even bigger focus on items than its predecessors. Instead of just keeping your stuff from completely falling apart, you’re actually trying to build it up, make it better. In this way, the gear you choose to upgrade becomes personal to you.
On the other hand, I didn’t find the building portion of the game to be very interesting. Yes, building settlements is intuitive, while not overly simplistic, and there’s a lot of potential for the more artistically-inclined to build some amazing stuff in the wasteland, but you won’t have to dive into this very often, and these sections can usually be ignored altogether. Still, fans of building and crafting things in a huge sandbox will be delighted with these additions.
The game looks beautiful, a major step up from the fastly aging graphics of past installments. The monstrous enemies look better than ever before and the amount of detail put into this world will constantly surprise you. I did encounter a couple of instances of framerate drop on my Xbox One, though, but it’s nothing game-breaking and won’t hurt immersion at all. With a game this massive, you’re bound to encounter one or two graphical kinks.
I think the game most suffers in its combat. While keeping things as familiar as possible has helped Fallout 4 in most aspects, I do wish they’d done more to update shooting and melee mechanics. Fallout‘s style of first-person and third-person shooting is just outdated at this point. No where in sight is the smooth gunplay of games like Destiny and Call of Duty. Handling and aiming your weapon still isn’t as effective as it should, and I found myself often opting for the melee option instead. And even that is still incredibly simplistic.
The V.A.T.S. system makes its return, as well, but with a twist: time doesn’t stop when you activate the mode, and instead, time just slows down, which means you’re still vulnerable to attack. It lends the combat a sense of urgency where you were once allowed a breather mid-battle. And that meaty headshot is still satisfying as hell, and certainly worth the time it takes to aim at specific body parts.
Familiarity only hurts Fallout 4 in certain ways, but it is largely a strength. Still, I can see how the most nitpicky fans might say the game feels a bit too safe, a bit too recycled. There is something to be said for the lack of innovation in this installment when compared to Fallout 3. This is a game that will certainly surprise you in its storytelling and setting, but won’t when it comes to its gameplay. But don’t me wrong, Fallout 4 is definitely worth the time you spend exploring it and the years you spent waiting for it.