Few games have the ardent following and massive unit sales as Bethesda’s Fallout games do. The recently released Fallout 4 raked in $750 million dollars’ worth of revenue, and sold twelve million copies on day one. It’s impossible not to take note of such a popular franchise. The last entry in the series: Fallout: New Vegas (by Obsidian) was released over five years ago and Bethesda’s Fallout 3 over seven years. The timing is right for yet another game.
The Fallout universe is post, post-apocalyptic set long after nuclear war destroyed the world. Fallout 4 is set some 210 years after the catastrophe, where civilisation is still trying to rebuild amidst the frequent attacks of freakish beasts, cartoonish super mutants, raiders and now cyborgs. Despite hundreds of years passing since the bombs fell the world is still devoid of cohesive governance, people live in tin shacks and radiation permeates the food and water. If this scenario seems unbelievable and someone pulpy, you’d be correct. Unfortunately Fallout 4 regularly wants you to take it seriously, which can sometimes be hard with the poorly executed world.
The story takes the trite route, with you searching for a cherished family member. The biggest intrigue here is the introduction of the villainous ‘Institute’, who for a good portion of the game you never interact with directly. The mysteriousness surrounding the Institute and their motivations make for an interesting hook, as you wonder what their overarching goals are. Unfortunately actually meeting them and discovering the evil plan didn’t live up to the expectations that had built up in my mind. Side quests, often the better part of Bethesda games are plagued, partially due to the awful dialogue system (which I’ll get to later). While there are some interesting characters and motivations, the majority of quests boil down to: “Go to these ruins and kill this person/grab this important item and bring it back to me!”. It’s rare for a quest to involve say actual detective work, investigation, mediation or any of the other wonderful varieties a game could throw at you to solve a quest. Instead Fallout 4 is mostly reduced to killing.
Speaking of killing, the combat is much improved and more enjoyable as a result. Weapons have appropriate recoil, enemies are varied and their movement and spawning is unpredictable. The first time I encountered ghouls, Fallout's version of zombies, I was terrified when they literally crawled through windows to surround me! Humanoid enemies will lob grenades forcing you to move from cover and are better at trying to flank you. The experience is dynamic, sometimes dizzying and very satisfying when you survive a battle. The weapon choice is also rather top notch, from guns built with wooden planks to futuristic plasma rifles. Further gameplay enchantments including weapon and armour modification give you compelling reason to scavenge the wasteland for material. Attaching a scope to your pistol, a silencer to your rifle and an electrifying element to your sword are all possible.
Fallout 4 also features settlement building. Every fancied building your own Fallout town? Now you can! The appeal of this was lost on me though, as anything you build looks like it’s been aged for decades or designed by a feral child. Freshly made carpets have holes in them, fences are wonky, beds are mostly brown. There isn’t much incentive to build either, aside from paltry sums of experience. If I could actually take pride in building my dream town, with fresh buildings and a better UI I could get invested in this building sim. As it stands I’m not.
Now for the worst parts of the game: the RPG elements, dialogue and resulting character/world building. With the introduction of a voiced protagonist, comes the inevitable simplification of the dialogue system. Dialogue is reduced to a Mass Effect style; four choices at any one point. Most conversations in the game last less than three interactions. So for instance a quest character may give you a brief outline of the quest, you ask them for more information, they tell you, you accept the quest. End conversation. Remember in previous Fallouts where characters could have half a dozen or more conversation points?
If Fallout 4 if you want to further explore character motivations or back story then too bad, you’re locked into those four choices. The end result is NPCs reduced to mere quest givers as opposed to full-fledged characters. And as a result of the non existent characters; towns and locations feel more like film sets that actual lived in spaces.
The new and ‘improved’ skill system also makes it easier to be a jack of all trades, with less ability to specialise. 25 hours into my game I’m a smooth talking, bad ass, gun toting, handyman, nerd. If that reads like power fantasy, that’s because it is! Gone are the opportunity for rewarding specific character building choices, instead you’re simply good at everything.
The game is visually mediocre, especially compared to other big name open world games like GTA V and The Witcher 3. Textures are often horribly blurry, animations are stiff and lip synching is occasionally terrifying in its rigidity: characters speak like puppets. Still the lightning can be striking and the more colourful wasteland ads a little more vibrancy. Performance for me has been fine, though others have experienced terrible slow down, bugs and crashes across PC, Xbox One and PS4. I count myself lucky that I’ve experienced a smooth ride.