There’s no more anticipated game this holiday season than Fallout 4. Not by me, personally, but look at the hype. A live-action TV ad that’s turning heads. Conversation pieces that aren’t just for hardcore gamers, but general ones that can’t wait to explore the post-apocalyptic Boston landscape. Discussions at GameStop and Best Buy about how it’s a better pre-order item than Rise of the Tomb Raider. (Yeah, for PS4 owners, maybe.) It’s just non-stop push towards the holiday season, with many predicting that it’ll even out-sell juggernauts like Call of Duty and Halo just for the sake of being that damn good.
But is it? Me, personally, I never got into Fallout 3 as much as I should have because of the way it was structured. That’s not to say it wasn’t a fantastic game – in hindsight, it was – but it seems to be a game where people get out of it what they put into it. Fallout 4 is in the same boat, but I’m happy to report that this sequel hooked me a bit more this time around, mainly due to the vast open-world environment you could explore, the many situations and people you could run into, and, most importantly, who you shape up to be in the process. Want to be a dick, doing absolutely everything just to regain some sense of peace? Or do you actually want to help and risk being torn apart by someone’s dire decisions? The choice is yours.
The game follows your character, either male or female, as they’re transported from an alternate 1950’s-style dimension into the rotting corpse of 2277, after a nuclear devastation leaves the world cold and twisted. Groups are fighting one another for control; mutated animals are everywhere; and you harrowingly watch the death of one of your loved ones as your baby is taken away from you. Itching with vengeance, you scramble across the landscape, doing whatever it takes to survive.
It’s a harrowing set-up, but that’s post-nuclear war for you – and it certainly doesn’t get any easier. But Fallout 4 does set up a compelling factor or two along the way, enabling lots of options in the process. The first comes with Dogmeat, your faithful mutt that sticks by your side when you come across it. How you treat it will begin to shape your persona, whether you want to take the time to do tricks with it or command it to simply follow you and attack mutants without hesitation. Again, it’s all about what kind of experience you want from it.
That’s merely the beginning of decision making, as you’ll have a number of conversations and make choices that shape your character. There is no exact route to revenge here, as the game is stacked with side missions galore, with people that apparently don’t know how to do things themselves. No matter – have power suit, will travel.
Along with emotional choices, the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. attributes enable you to level up with points as you earn them in the heat of battle, ranging from overall strength to the sheer luck of surviving a battle. The more you level this up, the more you eventually grow as the soldier you want to be. It’s not an overly complicated system, but rather one where you see how your choices affect you. And that’s the best kind of system to have.
I wish I could say the same for the other menu systems though. The map and other options feel a bit too cluttered for their own good, making something as simple as choosing a fast travel location or destination on your map a heavily complicated process. Had the team at Bethesda streamlined this a little more – the “keep it simple, stupid” process applies – it would’ve gone down a bit easier.
That said, getting around the world does have its rewards. There are some combat scenarios you’ll want to enter, just for the sake of popping a bandit in the head or bringing down a two-headed deer to add to your hunting accolades, but most of the time exploring pays off in itself, as you’ll loot like crazy and pick up a few new allies – and enemies – along the way. It’s a vast, deep world, and while it’s not always perfect, it continues to draw interest over the course of your adventure.
There’s another deep component in the building aspect of Fallout 4 as well. You’ll be able to craft new items as you proceed, such as healing items, no modifications for weapons and more. In fact, the weapon modification system is glorious, as you can improve them however you please and really make some bad-ass guns for your trouble – stuff you’ll need for dealing with some of the game’s bigger mutants. The same goes for your Power Armor as well, though the hunt for Fusion Cores can be a bit tedious when you need them the most.
The only downside with the building system is how unconvinced I felt playing the “create your own village” scenario. It’s a neat system for those that want to build their own post-apocalyptic utopia, but the thing is that it lacks that feeling of being rewarding. There are a few people that you can help out, but you never get enough resources to take advantage of. As a result, it just feels like a side exercise instead of a key part of the game. That’s not a bad thing, but more could’ve been done with it.
Fallout 4 does have a solid balance between exploration and combat, but you obviously get more out of it depending what you put into it. For instance, building better weapons has a greater effect when you’re mowing down baddies, and some of the creative items can go a long way in helping turn the tide of battle. The V.A.T.S. system also returns, but with some slight modifications, as it’s based more around slow-down effects this time around. That’s not a bad thing, though, as you can happily rip apart enemies just as effectively as you could back in Fallout 3. Just be prepared to roll with the changes.
Overall, the combat system does have a lot to offer, just like crafting, but you’d best be prepared for minor setbacks, like the fact it can take a while to get between scenarios, and some of them can still be quite overwhelming, forcing you to make a run for it on minimal health. For that matter, your melee lunge is nothing to write home about, save if you’re in some Power Armor and nail a thug right on the noggin.
One more thing – if you’re new to the world of Fallout and 4 is your introductory piece, your best bet is to take it slow. There’s a lot to see and do here, and very little to guide you outside of little markers on your HUD. Even then, you’re likely to die often and restart at a previous checkpoint miles back, unless you’re smart enough to save often – WHICH YOU SHOULD. There are mild frustrations from this, but the more you stick with it, the more seasoned you become.
Now, let’s talk about the presentation. Fallout 4 is wonderful in some parts, yes, but it’s also flawed. Glitches popped up on more than one occasion during our play sessions, particularly when it came to speaking with a few weird-looking folks. Other than that, Bethesda has put together a rich world filled with dank environments and vast scope, something you’ll be scavenging for hours at a time. It’s hardly a perfect world, but maybe that’s the point the developer was going for.
Audio is great too, with small musical cues to remind you of the world as it once was (and eventually is) and strong voicework that really makes you feel for different characters – even though some, like a psychic lady, sound like real nutjobs. Your character, male and female alike, has a distinct way of interacting based on your choices, and Bethesda nailed this down just about right. There are times dialogue can get cut off, though, so maybe turn on your subtitles to play it on the safe side.
There are performance issues that come into question, and certain parts of the game that will no doubt be hazardous, especially when it comes to newbies. But Fallout 4 is still a game that shouldn’t be ignored, just because it’s so damn big and explorable. With its unique combat system, its innovative building techniques (to some extent) and its hours upon hours of gameplay (I’m still not finished yet!), it’s really got the stuff to live up to the hype. But better than Halo 5 and Rise of the Tomb Raider? Ehhh, it all depends on perspective.
Me? I’m just gonna say I’m happy prowling the wastelands, and that’s more than I could say about Fallout 3. Just call me the Wanderer.