Fallout 4 Review: An Apocalyptic Playground

Fallout 4 is a game we’ve been waiting on for a few years now, and Bethesda did a fantastic job keeping the project under wraps. Revealing the game earlier this year, and then releasing it within a few months was the smartest thing they could have done, because the moment you hit the loading screen you’re filled with a pleasantly warm feeling inside.

As you enter the pre-war world and share a mirror with your wife, and you hear that new voice represent you, you’ll feel nothing but joy about finally being a part of this experience. You may then feel a little indecisive as you ponder whether to play as a male or female. You’ll then go on to be impressed as your robot servant, Codsworth, calls you by the name you type in when creating your character. An hour later, as the post-war world consumes you, your whole existence will turn dark and bitter as you discover what post-apocalyptic Boston has in store for you. Things are about to get grim…

I’ve always thought of Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas as just RPGs. They certainly had elements of horror, survival and strategy, but to me they were predominately Bethesda made RPG experiences in the same vein as The Elder Scrolls. After spending 18 hours with Fallout 4 however, the first word that comes to mind when describing it is survival and I often forget about the role-playing elements.

When developing Fallout 4 I believe the team may have been slightly influenced by some of the popular survival games out there (Day Z and Miscreated for example), because they did a superb job making you feel the lack of supplies and resources. The crafting system in Fallout 4 is such a pivotal part of the game that it will greatly affect how you play.

Fallout 4 review with Codsworth
You’re not even safe from the weather in Fallout 4, as radioactive storms appear at random.

In the previous games there was no real focus besides completing all the quests, but now you feel like you have to go out and scour every inch of the wasteland to find those important supplies that you’ll need to keep yourself and your people safe.

In Fallout 4 you’ll join a group of do-gooders known as the Minutemen, who view themselves as a private army which aims to protect people in the Commonwealth and rid the area of a group of terrorizers known as Raiders. Upon joining them you’ll need to secure an area and build beds, defenses, food crops and water pumps. To do this you’ll need to make sure you have the right components, which can be collected, or harvested from the wasteland. You can even dismantle appliances, furniture and structures all around you to extract materials from them; and then re-purpose them into something else. Furthermore, you can enhance your own weapons and armor to give you further advantages in the wasteland. Good luck finding the parts and schematics early on, unless you specifically design your character to be good at that.

Crafting is a system that gives all the random objects you come across in the game more meaning, but it also makes the scarcity of resources more apparent than ever before in a Fallout game. The scarcity of these items makes Fallout 4 brutalizing experience in your first 10 hours with the game. You’ll feel like the world is against you, and you can literally feel death coming around every corner. There will be moments where you’re dead set on completing one quest, but it’s just impossible due to lack of ammo and first aid, so you’ll have no choice but to retreat and come back later. In those early hours, you’ll never have enough supplies, and not preparing ahead of time is plain suicide.

Fallout 4 crafting turrets
It is vital to set up defenses when establishing new bases as they can be attacked.

The fact that Fallout 4 is so brutal in its early hours isn’t at all a bad thing. The game captures the threat of the world perfectly, and this is indeed what a Fallout game is supposed to feel like. What does make it problematic however is the supreme lack of tutorial. Fair enough, I don’t want hand holding in a game like this, but when you’re introducing completely new mechanics like base building, that have never been seen before in a Fallout game, I feel like there needs to be a little more description of how it works than just a small pop-up box with vague instructions.

There was a moment early in the game where one of the minutemen asked me to make some beds for the settlement, but I was confused because the marker pointed me towards the workbench. I assumed that once I had all the materials I would need to go to the workbench and craft the item before placing it where I want. The marker threw me off for a good ten minutes, before I discovered I could simply spawn the beds from the crafting menu as long as I had all the materials I needed. Little things like this could be explained clearer to avoid confusion. But the good thing is that once you understand how things work, it becomes second nature.

Back to the brutality, there are so many mutated threats in post-apocalyptic Boston that you’ll sometimes be scared to keep moving forward. Bethesda has put a lot of work into creating different creatures, from Super-Mutants, to giant poisonous mosquitoes, ghoul zombies, to punching mud crabs. It gets to the point where you’ll feel like the raiders are the least of your worries. In fact, I actually feel happy inside when I discover that it’s just raiders occupying an area (Sidenote: This game convinced me that Bethesda would make an awesome Walking Dead game). I can’t ever remember a game that has made me feel so legitimately happy at discovering other humans (even hostile ones), and this alone is a testament to how well Bethesda has captured the element of an uncanny post-apocalyptic world.

Threats come in all shapes and sizes in Fallout 4
Threats come in all shapes and sizes in Fallout 4

The heart of Fallout 4, and the system that turns things around in your favor little by little, is the perk chart. Shortly after you create your character at the start of the game, you’ll be able to spend a limited amount of points across seven different skills: Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, and Luck.

These seven skills will govern the dozens of perks that will be available to you later when you level up. Every time you level up in the game you can select a different perk, but many of them are either restricted by level or by how much you’ve leveled up the governing skill.

For example, there may be a perk that will allow you to find more ammo when looting, but you’ll only have access to unlocking this perk if your Luck level is high enough. The perk chart is your biggest advantage in Fallout 4, but because there are so many different perks to choose from, strategic planning and thinking is necessary to get the most out of it.

Fallout 4 perks
Perks are what help you level the playing field in Fallout 4

Another advantage you’ll have is your companions. As you play through the game you’ll meet a number of different characters who will align themselves with you. You’ll start off with your dog, Dogmeat and your robot servant, Codsworth. Then after beating a few quests even more companions will open up to you.

The companion system in Bethesda games has been pretty hit or miss in terms of effectiveness. Bethesda games are notorious for A.I glitches, and it’s still somewhat an issue in Fallout 4 as companions get stuck behind objects and obstruct your path. However, I do feel as though they give you an advantage in combat, as sometimes they will distract enemies and allow you to pick them off with V.A.T.S. You may still prefer to travel alone sometimes though, because if you’re the type of player who likes to go in stealthy then companions will be a conflict, as they’re about as stealthy as an irradiated elephant.

Companions also come with feelings, and as you play through the game with them they will like or dislike you based on your actions. They’ll even flirt and develop feelings for you if you spend enough time with them.

Fallout 4 Piper
Companions develop a likeness for you as you spend more time with them

The combat in Fallout 4 hasn’t evolved much from previous games, so veteran players will feel at home. You can hotkey around twelve weapons and switch between them on the fly using the d-pad, without having to go into your pip-boy.

Previously V.A.T.S played an integral part in getting critical hits, but if you don’t favor the V.A.T.S system then aiming and shooting manually feels as smooth as playing any other shooter, though I would suggest shooting in first-person perspective as opposed to the optional third-person viewpoint.

There are perks and weapon mods you can craft to improve handling of your weapons, and these mods also improve the effectiveness of the V.A.T.S system. For those unfamiliar with the Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System (V.A.T.S), it’s a system that allows you to queue up your attacks, selecting multiple enemies and different parts of their bodies. The amount of attacks you can queue is dependent on your level of action points. The V.A.T.S will show you a percentage of how likely you are to hit the target, and it also displays the health of an enemy.

Fallout 4 weapon modding
Weapon modding is both useful and fun in Fallout 4

Engaging in combat can be extremely frustrating in the early hours of the game when you’re underpowered. But sticking with it and learning all the little tweaks that tip things in your favor will pay off big time later on. You’ll be able to pinpoint the exact moment when you start leaving bodies in your path, and the feeling will be satisfying.

Speaking of satisfying, you get a nice gift early on in the game, in the form of power armor. The power armor works a lot differently this time around as it’s not something you equip in the traditional sense. Previously, equipping the power armor was the same process as standard armor in the game (going into your pop-boy and selecting them). This time however, your power armor opens up and admits you in a way that would make Tony Stark jealous.

It’s easy to feel invisible once you step inside the suit, as bullets and melee attacks bounce off you. However, you’re running on a time limit, because the power armor uses fusion cores to function, and just like everything else in the commonwealth, they are scarce until you figure out where to look. On the plus side, you can create mods to enhance your power armor and make it even more effective.

Fallout 4 Power Armor
Power armor isn’t just something you equip in your Pip-boy, once you step into this thing it’s a whole new ball game.

Remember when everyone questioned the graphical quality of Fallout 4? Well those criticisms were completely unwarranted. While it may not be the best looking game out there, the visuals do their job at capturing a Boston ripped apart by atomic war. I was playing on PC and the environment looks absolutely stunning. Character models may look a little rough around the ears when you get close up to them, but it’s nothing off-putting. Fallout isn’t a game that needs super realistic graphic properties to accomplish what Bethesda is going for. The graphics are more than satisfactory.

Fallout 4 automatically detected my system hardware and placed the graphic settings at high, and I’ve never felt the need to change it. The game performs nicely without any hiccups. When there are a squad of enemies on screen in the wasteland there may be frame-rate drops depending on your hardware, but I didn’t come across any that significantly impacted gameplay. On a GTX770 I was able to maintain 50-60fps consistently on high settings. We also received console versions of the game and we’ve yet to come across any major performance issues on PS4 and Xbox One besides the minor frame-rate dips as described.

I left the story until last, because although it’s interesting, it might be what matters the least in a game so ambitious. To explain the premise would be spoiling some of the emotional attachment that’s provided, so I’ll tread carefully and simply ensure you that Fallout 4 presents a personal story that is molded around you. It presents an ongoing investigation that latches onto your curiosity and pushes out twists and turns from every angle. The best part is that if you’re ever fatigued by the events of the story, there are plenty of other things in Boston to get involved in.

Many Fallout traditionalists were concerned about whether the main character being voiced would take away from the personification of the game, and I was one of those people. In actuality, you’ll get over it as soon as the game kicks off. It becomes no different than playing Bioware’s Mass Effect, in which the fully voiced Shepard still feels very personal to the player.

Fallout 4 review - diamond city
Fallout 4 provides a captivating post-apocalyptic playground

Fallout 4 is a tough game to summarize, as there are so many mechanics at play here. There will be things you may despise about the game, but then there will also be a dozen things you’ll absolutely adore. I imagine that players new to the Fallout experience may struggle with the game’s brutal difficulty early on, along with the lack of tutorial. But as games like Dark Souls and Bloodborne set the demand for tortuous experiences, I feel like the difficulty spike in the Fallout series is more than acceptable. There’s also a difficulty setting if things get too tough, but I opted not to touch it as it affects the rarity of the loot you find.

It’s tough to imagine a Fallout veteran being unhappy with Fallout 4 as it successfully provides the struggles of survival, in a way that makes the previous games (excluding the originals) feel minute. One thing that always drove me crazy with the previous games was that there were so many useless items. Sure, Fallout 3 and New Vegas had their own crafting systems in place but they were pretty obsolete compared to the system in Fallout 4. In this game, everything has purpose, and this makes the balancing of inventory even more real than before. What do you get rid of? What do you keep so that you can build something later? The importance of decision making in this game is insane.

Whether a new player or returning, Fallout 4 is a game that will require your undivided attention. Critical thinking, planning, and strategy are a must; and this makes it slightly inaccessible to casual gamers. Fallout 4 is one for the hardcore gamer, and it’s a game that may end up intimidating those who purchase it out of curiosity. However, Fallout 4 is a remarkable achievement in gaming, regardless of its complexity.

This review is based on a review copy of Fallout 4 for the PC sent by Bethesda.

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