Playtime: 40 Hours
Achievement Progress: 14/50 (28%)
Platform: PC, Unmodded
Rig: Windows 8.1 64-bit, Intel Core i5-2500K CPU @ 3.30GHz, 8192mb RAM, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 570
Character: Male, “Isaiah”
Rough-Build: Melee/sneak with a silver tongue
“Smell that? That’s freedom,” I heard a resident of Goodneighbor say, lurched over a shoddy looking table of chems and medical supplies. Of all the dialogue in the game, the set-pieces, the hilarious and intense experiences, I felt I couldn’t let that one go. A passing remark, but one that’s sort of come to define how I think of Fallout 4 thus far. The game allows for you to do a great deal, and a lot of it is most assuredly addicting. It’s only in hindsight, between sessions, or just when you’ve taken a break that you get that odd, hollow feeling that means the Buffout’s wearing off or the Psycho’s out of your bloodstream.
In Fallout 4, you play as either a male or a female in a ruined, post-nuclear slice of Massachusetts, called The Commonwealth. The game mixes gunplay and melee combat with free-roaming, allowing you to choose between first and third person play as you explore ruined Boston and the surrounding country. You can expect to scavenge for supplies, ammunition, and sometimes purpose at the fringe of a ruined building or scoping out a water plant brimming with Super Mutant occupants. Players will meet friendly individuals like Preston Garvey of the Minutemen or outright hostile desperados like Bosco the raider. Both your skill with weapons and your smooth tongue might get you out of trouble, but there’s absolutely no lack of it in The Commonwealth. If I were writing a press release to try to sell somebody on the game, it’s likely I’d continue on this train of thought. However, I think things can get a lot more critical than that. Spoilers of some minor kinds are to follow, so read at your own risk.
Just starting Fallout 4, you’re treated to a well polished cinematic that explains, in short, the history of the setting and the legacy Bethesda’s trying to evolve. It works its way into an experience seldom before played out in the Fallout series (with the closest thing being a simulation in Fallout 3): a slice of life before the nukes fell. The colors are vibrant, your character’s home is immaculate, and you get to hear your protagonist’s voice as he interacts with objects and characters in each room. Before you’re allowed to digest the quaintness of this niche for long, your character’s stripped of home and family by the inevitable fall of nuclear bombs. “War never changes” and neither did Bethesda’s narrative thrust of you looking for a family member (in this case, your son as opposed to your father). It’s just about here, right near the very start of the game, that I began to see the cracks.
It’s obvious Fallout 4 is trying to breathe new life into the series. A voiced protagonist, the pre-war start, and then the ability to build/improve settlements after you rescue the Minutemen are all new to Fallout and, in some ways, any of Bethesda’s RPGs. Why, then, did they need to rely so heavily on their usual trope of making your character the center of attention with an urgent mission? You’re out for blood for the murder of your wife or husband, on a peripheral and sometimes pressing search for your son – do you really have time to help re-build an entire faction of do-gooders in a harsh wasteland, after only having emerged from the vault just hours ago? Do you really think it’s feasible for the protagonist to stand there and spend time, energy, and caps on developing the infrastructure of Sanctuary, only a stone’s throw away from where he/she begins their journey? You may as well make me Archmage of Skyrim’s Mage Guild after having just performed a basic fireball spell. Oh, wait.
To Bethesda’s credit, they don’t force you to follow the disjointed path their narrative could’ve taken. You can ignore the Minutemen, you can ignore developing Sanctuary or other settlements, and you can press onto Diamond City. The journey to Diamond City, in typical Bethesda fashion, is ripe with memories to be made. Most of the “dungeons” I’ve come across in play have had a very fulfilling sense of verticality (with a shout-out to Lexington and Corvega Powerplant) . A far cry from previous Bethesda titles, you’re able to scale numerous floors of different buildings, enter at various positions, and approach each place with a different gameplan. I hardly ever felt that one place was copy-pasted onto the next, though after so many hours, you will start to notice trends in the locales you visit. Still, the variety in interiors, be they big or small, helps to mitigate the problem Oblivion had with dungeoneering (seen one? Seem ‘em all!).
In the fourth episode of our Next Lvl Podcast, I share a harrowing tale of my time with the ghouls of Forest Grove Marsh, but it’s the little things that really help affect the player and make them want more. Trudging around the post-nuclear Commonwealth in a heavy power suit, holding a machete and wearing a chef’s hat, you’re lulled to comfort by the soothing sound of Billie Holiday’s “Easy Living”. Out of healing or food, finding a box of Dandy Boy Apples in a sewer cellar after having faced down a family of mole rats is like a small blessing. These very minute moments where the game comes together to give you a sliver of satisfaction is precisely where Fallout 4 excels.
That isn’t to say that the game’s nuances are without fault. From the very beginning, the character lip syncing (for both protagonist and NPCs) appears just laughable; animations appear to be tugged off of a drunk puppeteer’s strings. Your son is a static object, which is odd considering the narrative prompts you to comfort him as he cries before getting put in the cryo-tube with your spouse. You would think Bethesda would have spent a little more time animating the baby or making the mirror you create your character in front of reflective, even if you don’t interact with them much after-the-fact. Why have Codsworth speak over 2000 names you can have for your character if having him along as a companion is optional? There’s an inconsistency in the logic behind these little things, but it’s made up for in other areas. You’ll generally find a med-kit where you expect to if you’re on the lookout, most turrets or securitrons have corresponding terminals for you to de-activate or use them as you explore, and it’s always a treat to open a safe with the right passcode to a computer as opposed to lockpicking it.
Wrestling with controls can get obnoxious, though. Having different keys do different things in a barter than they do in other situations has wasted some of my time. The unclear way you’re meant to mold your character’s face upon creation also took some getting used to. While I haven’t really cared to develop land or re-build Sanctuary, it would have been helpful to have a tutorial that led you through the features. I’ve heard some decent horror stories from those that wished to try it out, only to get frustrated and leave it alone (which isn’t to say some amazing stuff can’t be made. Only that it requires more time investment than it has to).
Aesthetically, this game’s an absolute treat. they did away with the drab yellow and brown from previous titles – working in more color, vibrancy, a sharpness to textures, details, and anything else you expect of the modern gen. Of course, that’s coupled with a dated-seeming engine and the unfortunate effect that the wasteland all seems to blur into one. I much preferred exploring Boston, simply because everything in it felt more distinct and easily manageable for my eyes. I haven’t hit some of the reputedly more interesting areas like the Glowing Sea just yet.
The audio in Fallout 4 is on point. Adding a classical station was nothing short of a great decision, leading to some very fitting moments (like trying to survive an invasion of Super Mutants in the Commonwealth Public Library to Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries”). I really wish that Diamond City Radio had more songs from New Vegas if they were going to recycle tunes from Fallout 3 anyway, or I would have appreciated more new songs altogether. The songs they did add are absolutely fantastic and fun to listen to, though. All that said, the original music in Fallout 4 – that is, when you’ve got the radio off – is mindbogglingly good. It sets up an atmosphere and immersion that trumps even Skyrim’s orchestral tracks, and I find myself keeping the radio off more often than on for the first time in playing any of the recent Fallout titles. I suggest anyone that hasn’t listened to it to do the same.
The game-play itself is what I expect from a Fallout game. The gun play is much improved since the last game but… roughly the same. Going melee is rather difficult and, in my experience, almost always requires VATS for more expansive or drawn out encounters. The VATS system itself hasn’t changed overtly since Fallout 3 or New Vegas, yet it’s the game sometimes has trouble recognizing whether or not you’re cycling between parts of an enemy’s body or between the enemies enemies. Because the VATS slows down time instead of outright stopping it, I’ve found myself forced to make quick decisions in the midst of battle that I appreciate. The only tactical decisions you’ll ever need to make are how many action points you invest onto each enemy in an encounter, and how you choose to enter the situation altogether. Otherwise, there isn’t much you need your brain for. It becomes rather easy to load up on stimpaks and other supplies throughout the game, though the beginning is understandably unforgiving in that regard.
Fallout 4 has an entire cast of companions for you to bring along on your journey, with their own set of game-play quirks. From the loyal Dogmeat to Super Mutant admirer of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, to the Irish pit-fighting junkie, everyone seems to have some place at your side if you’ll let them. They offer a great deal of breadth and dialogue content, both when addressing the protagonist and to other NPCs. There just seems to be too many of them. Thus far, I’ve encountered Dogmeat, Codsworth, Nick Valentine (my personal favorite), Strong, Cait, and Hancock in that order. They’ll offer commentary depending on where you are, interject in your conversations with other people, or have conversations of their own with the residents of the Commonwealth. Their AI is pathetic, at times. They’ll sometimes be leagues away from you, and other times they’ll be right at your back. If you’re sneaking, they’ll sometimes trigger enemy alert, and other times the enemy won’t even mind them. It’s a sort of crapshoot with the companions. I think I would have liked a smaller host of them, with tighter ways to control/command and grander integration with the narratives throughout the game. I don’t know if there’s anything at the caliber of Boone’s vendetta against the Legion from New Vegas present in Fallout 4.
Speaking of, Fallout 4 compromises the moral system from Fallout 3 and New Vegas to meet somewhere in between. While 3 had a karma system which was, even at the time, rather archaic, New Vegas scrapped that with a reputation system for factions and individual settlements. Fallout 4 sort of keeps tabs on your character’s ethical outlook by the choice of which companion they’ve brought along. Stealing or pushing up the reward for a quest in front of Nick Valentine is sure to earn a bit of his ire, but in front of Cait? You’ll be closer and closer to her affection. It’s an interesting system that I hope Bethesda integrates into future releases for their games and continues to improve on.
In the end, I want to say that after forty hours of Fallout 4, I enjoy it. In comparing it to other Bethesda titles, in comparing it to the other games released in 2015 from similar genres or styles, and in comparing it to its franchise predecessors, it sometimes falls short. Fallout 4 is the kind of game you have to open yourself up to and accept it for what it gives. Hoping for anything beyond its offering will simply make you unhappy with what you’re playing, and looking too deeply into its systems will yield cracks and inconsistencies. That said, no other single-player game offers you the “high” that Fallout 4 does – not now, anyway. It’s freedom at the edge of a chem needle, a good feeling that’s prone to fade but much enjoyed while it lasts. I’ll be getting back to the Commonwealth – not because the game grips me but because there’s nothing else quite like it. Whether listening to Magnolia’s sad songs in Goodneighbor’s Third Rail or meeting a very deadly predator in the Museum of Witchcraft while Cait is practically begging to leave, I’d say I’m in the Fallout 4’s decent hands.
Stay tuned for the completion of this review in the future and of course more content here at http://www.thenextlvl.com.