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Review: Fallout 4

Updated: Mar 2, 2019

I'm a self-confessed Fallout fanboy. In fact I'm the worst kind of fanboy - one of those bandwagon types who hasn't played the originals, but was well and truly suckered in by Fallout 3 and New Vegas. Before you all decide you hate me, the originals are currently sitting in my Steam library and I sure do plan to play them at some point. I think what appeals to me about the games most is the setting, coupled with the whole open-world nature of the thing. I'm a big fan of anything apocalypse-related, from The Walking Dead to Cormac McCarthy's The Road. I even like shite movies like Deep Impact largely because of the whole apocalypse thing. The open-world exploration is awesome too - the freedom to do anything, everything or nothing. I love it. I've always wished the storylines carried bit more weight - I never finished the story missions in New Vegas because I hit the level cap partway through one of the expansion packs and kind of lost interest. I wasn't invested. But the open world wandering was always loads of fun. I think that's why I have mixed feelings about Fallout 4 - I guess I was expecting Bethesda to up their game in terms of storytelling and actually have me invested in some of the characters and maybe even the narrative. Unfortunately it kind of left me feeling empty. But we'll get to that. I liked a lot about the game, so maybe let's start there.

As I said, the open-world wandering is still super strong, as anyone who's ever played a Bethesda game would have come to expect from their big franchises. I lost hours of my life just exploring the Commonwealth, finding new settlements and generally pissing about killing things. If I'd ever spent any time in New England I think the setting would have made this even more appealing. All the old favorite enemies make a return, including raiders, supermutants, deathclaws and the odd Yao Guai. And the ghouls. So many freaking ghouls. I also love how the open nature of the game allows for the most random set of encounters, with no two games playing out the same. I found a bunch of examples of this delightful randomness during my wandering:

  • Relatively early in the game, coming across a supermutant encampment in the throes of attack by a single Deathclaw. I let nature take its course, watching as the Deathclaw massacred a dozen supermutants, then finished it off with a shotgun blast to the belly.

  • A squad of Brotherhood soldiers battling a camp of super mutants, with the Brotherhood guys copping a serious whupping. Again, a well-timed shotgun blast to Paladin Fuckface's cerebral cortex finished him off and netted me a BOS T-60b Power Armor set. Gold.

  • A single entrenched super mutant skirmisher taking down two BOS vertibirds, complete with Brotherhood initiates raining from the sky.

  • On a side quest, after negotiating with a god-bothering kidnapper and his buddies, I convinced him to let his captive go. While I was in the back of their camp, sharing with her the good news, I heard gunfire and a large explosion. Racing around the front of the building I'm confronted with the flaming wreckage of a vertibird and a bunch of corpses. Apparently these yahoos had taken it upon themselves to attack a Brotherhood patrol and it had ended badly for everyone.

Unfortunately, as is now taken for granted with Bethesda games, this randomness produces some, shall we say, unintended consequences. These range from minor and hilarious, to game-breaking and rage-inducing. On the lighter side:

  • Being forced to defend my Sanctuary Hills settlement against a single Brahmin, carrying a bunch of Institute gear. Maybe it was a Synth?

  • A gorilla appearing in one of the end-game battles and proceeding to King Kong the shit out of everyone

  • A fully laden pack Brahmin repeatedly getting stuck in my very small bedroom in Sanctuary Hills

  • Plenty of gravity-defying antics

  • My (then only) power armor suit going walkabout during a settlement attack and not reappearing until weeks later. Seriously, I still have no idea what happened with this one. I assume a settler jumped in to defend the settlement, then maybe went back to their supply line? Eventually they got tired of it? Fucked if I know.

I chuckled at all of the above. Not so chuckle-worthy were:

  • Being locked out of a bunch of end-game decisions seemingly because early on I concluded that the Brotherhood were evil and needed to die. Admittedly when I killed everyone aboard the Prydwen I figured there would be consequences, but I didn't think it would force me to side with a certain faction later on, betraying everything my character held dear.

  • Various crashes, bugs, glitches and other weirdness. My Xbox One copy must have frozen me out a dozen or so times, forcing a restart. I got the invisible weapon one a few times too.

Glitches aside, I liked the new settlement system, and could see me spending ridiculous amounts of time building out some sweet pads. It also made all the random shit you find out in the world useful for the first time, which kind of heightened the feeling of scavenging to survive. Plus it's funny going out on a mission telling yourself to keep an eye out for duct tape and aluminium cans. I tried to kit out all my settlers with decent armor and gear as well, but I would have liked it if there were more battles waged than the simple skirmishes with mutants, ghouls, raiders and BOS soldiers that occasionally popped up. Would have made my efforts to have a badass crew of settlers seem more worthwhile. So I think there could have been more done with it - it seemed undercooked to me. And the interface... My god, the interface. This great article (with which I wholeheartedly agree) talks at length about the awfulness of the UX in general, but it goes doubly for the settlement interface. The B button does like, seven different things depending on where you're standing, what you have selected, what level of the build hierarchy you're at and whether your character is wearing pants. It's retarded. Bethesda, hire some UX people already. The whole thing is a garbage fire and needs a reboot.

Speaking of garbage, the combat actually isn't this time around. I've always played these games as a generally well-intentioned sneaky assassin type. I didn't deviate too much from this formula for Fallout 4. I've always used VATS a lot in the past, largely because the gunplay was loose and unreliable at best, and a complete crap-shoot at worst. The only way to guarantee a shot would actually find its target was to go full-VATS on it. It felt like the gun combat was tightened up significantly this time around, and I found myself manually sneak-sniping enemies from a distance rather than relying on VATS for the stealth takedown. This is good, as you'll spend an inordinate amount of time in the Commonwealth doing murder. This outing is very combat-focused, especially in the side missions. They generally are fairly formulaic "go there, shoot this" type missions, which should get boring very quickly. For some reason though, I just kept going back for more, like some twisted, murderous Oliver Twist. There's something satisfying about popping raiders heads and sneakily dispatching ghouls that never seems to get old. It should, but it doesn't. The crafting options for weapons and armor are fairly deep too, so I spent a lot of time building out some sweet implements of death. I'm especially fond of Rick's Cannon, named for everybody's favorite zombie popping sheriff.

I also fully tricked out Righteous Authority, a gift from Paladin Danse.

Unfortunately Danse was Brotherhood scum, so shortly after taking his gift, I took his life, with this.

And finally, this Gauss Rifle was almost game-breaking once I got my mitts on one: 328 DMG, plus 3.5x stealth multiplier, plus 20% for Night Person perk. Goodnight.

Maybe I was happy wandering about repeatedly taking lives because the storyline and contextual dialog options that were pretty well done in previous games are largely absent here. The story starts promisingly enough, a murder mystery involving my family, with a reasonable sense of urgency attached to it. I got distracted early on and just meandered through it. But I never got emotionally invested in any of what it threw at me. Even the inevitable mid-season-finale type twist resolution wasn't that surprising to me. It's no Mass Effect that's for sure (although the overwhelming awfulness of Mass Effect 3's ending is a rant for another time). Maybe I'm jaded with this shit, I don't know. I'm just disappointed because it started off with so much potential and then just really fell flat for me.

The side missions felt undercooked for me as well. For example, the Valentine detective agency stuff, some of the strongest content in my opinion, only has a couple of cases that you can take on and help with? While I understand that it takes time and creative energy to put this stuff together, especially if it's going to be engaging, seriously? Only two cases? It was such a welcome change from Preston Fucking Garvey's insistence that I go and murder more things in the name of the Minutemen and I wanted it to last longer.

I also hated that the finale basically devolved into shooting everything in sight. There may be other options that I missed, especially given that, as noted above, I massacred the Brotherhood early on (couldn't deal with Elder Maxson and his faux-righteous, hipster-looking, tech-hoarding bullshit). Still. I liked that in Fallout 3 you had end-game options, including non-violent resolutions, assuming you built your character appropriately. With a Charisma of 8 or 9 by the time I reached the end-game, I was expecting to do some speech-checking and persuasion. But nothing. Oh and about the dialog options? They suck terribly now. Four one word options for each dialog choice, none of which are guaranteed to be in any way related to what your character actually says? On the PC at least somebody has already patched it up, but on consoles we're stuck with this garbage. Who was responsible for overhauling that mostly-functional system?! I hope you're fired. It's the worst.

I invested more than 100 hours of my life into Fallout 4. That may be largely because of my current employment status (I'm not), but whatever. It was fun and I regret nothing. If you enjoyed the previous outings it's largely more of the same, with more of a focus on combat, which has been tightened up noticeably. Settlement building can be fun and frustrating in equal measures. The story doesn't engage and the end-game is too simplistic, but there's still a lot of fun to be had in the wasteland, largely found by murdering large swathes of its inhabitants.

TL;DR: Story is flat and doesn't engage, combat's better and there's more of it, crafting is solid, new dialog system is broken, UI is a garbage fire, setting and exploration is awesome as usual, settlement building is a welcome distraction, lots of hilarious jank, some significant bugs.

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