A truly SPECIAL adventure
For nine days I’ve adventured the atomic wasteland known as the Commonwealth. I felt loss. I overcame impossible odds. I became the Sole Survivor. My tale will not be yours, so I won’t go into that in this review. I will have seen things you may never see and you’ll likely experience things that I never will. Your nose may never be shattered by a Super Mutant, and you may never find swarf collecting around your boots as you tool a weapon to perfection. But our journeys both start in front of the same mirror, at the same time, in the same world. And what a world it is.
Bethesda has excelled once again in creating a breathtakingly gorgeous, immersive universe for the player to explore. The Commonwealth is carpeted with death, yet it feels massive and alive. Irradiated beasts creep from the husks of buildings and through the tooth-picked barrens. Survivors make their way across the wasteland, and factions can be seen carrying out their dogmas whether you choose to pick a side or not. When you play Fallout 4, you’re living in its world—if you want to be a person of note, you’ll have to fight for it.
Fans of the series will be excited to see changes to the game’s combat system. V.A.T.S. and basic gunplay have both been improved drastically. Fallout 4 has taken inspiration from shooter veterans id Software and Bungie to create an experience that makes fighting enjoyable again. A mix of weapon stats make each gun unique, with dials including Fire Rate, Range, Accuracy, Weight, and Damage. No matter the playstyle, there is a gun for it. If there’s not, you can craft one (more on that later). FPS enthusiasts can pick off enemies purely relying on twitch skill; gamers who prefer the stat-based strategy of earlier Fallout games can still enjoy utilizing V.A.T.S.
In previous iterations of Fallout, V.A.T.S.—the Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System—allowed players to pause time and strategically take down their opponents. However, this had the unfortunate side-effect of watering down fights—stakes were lower with time stopped. Fallout 4, though, has found the perfect balance for V.A.T.S. by implementing a quasi bullet-time mechanic that keeps players engrossed in the combat while rewarding strategic choices they may make. From the V.A.T.S. interface, players can now also cue their critical hits, allowing them to choose when they want to dish out their most devastating damage.
Should your journey make you tire of the smell of discharged fusion cells, Bethesda has included a new feature in Fallout 4 that may just be your cup of Nuka-Cola. By accessing the Workshops in settlements you’ve allied with, the Vault Dweller now can play city planner. From within the Workshop menu, you can build structures, plant crops, and set up defenses for the varying locations in the Commonwealth. Those with high enough Charisma (and the perk points to spare) can set up trade routes between settlements.
The goal of the Workshop feature is to balance the needs of the settlers with the constructs they desire. Do they have enough food, water, and shelter? Are there enough defenses set up to protect them? Overall, it’s a very fun balancing act, yet a few glaring issues keep it from reaching its full potential. Walls, fences, and other objects that should be able to fit together to form larger structures, do, but at the cost of collision. Objects prioritize snapping, and my Sanctuary is riddled with both floating and buried walls.
The lack of ability to really optimize your workforce also brings down Workshop. Allies aren’t displayed on radar (or on the map), so unless you plant a dinner bell in the middle of your settlement, you could be playing hide and seek for a lot longer than you’d like trying to find settlers or a specific companion. Figuring out what tasks are assigned to each settler can also be a bit of a chore, and a mouse-over note would go a long way towards making this feature much more accessible.
Despite its faults, I frequently found myself building and tweaking the settlements between quests. Workshop mode has an addictive quality that escalates what the mobile game Fallout Shelter started. A numerical value displays the happiness of settlers, and I was unable to resist the siren song of attempting to get 100 percents across the board. Soon every settlement was packed with turrets, generators, crafting stations, and sweet, sweet power armors.
Post-apocalypse creativity has hit new levels in the game. Using scavenged items, you can craft any weapon, armor, or power armor to be exactly what you want. Let’s start with a basic .38 Pipe Pistol for example. Perhaps you find yourself getting into more fights at range, so you add on a Long Barrel. This suits your style so you go even further, doubling down with a shock-mounted Recoil Compensating Stock, a .45 Receiver, and a Long Recon Scope. Now the piece of Raider trash you picked up is a fully functioning sniper rifle that can track its targets, dealing exceptional damage. Fallout 4 has finally made a game that gives you weapons that can level up with you. But be ready to spend plenty of perks if you want to be the MacGyver of the Commonwealth. You’ll need ranks in Blacksmithing, Armorer, Science, and Gun Nut to access all of the options.
As mentioned earlier, your journey will be different than mine. This won’t only be in locations explored, or number of bobbleheads found (I’m currently at five), but also in which stats and Perks you choose. Will you be the minigun-wielding loner, or will you be a slick and charismatic leader with a deadly companion? That’s up for you to decide. Bethesda has done a great job of making each perk worth the time you spent earning the experience to purchase it.
Leveling is XP based—as it was in Fallout 3—and with each level your character gains, you get one point to put towards your perk chart. The chart starts with the Fallout-familiar base stats dubbed SPECIAL (Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intellect, Agility, and Luck). Each stat has 10 ranks beneath it that are unlocked as the base stat is increased. While prerequisites for further tiers in each perk may have level restrictions, each feels justified to maintain balance. There’s no level cap, so those with lots of hours to spare can explore many options.
A staple in Bethesda games, companions are back, and are sworn to carry your burdens. According to director Todd Howard, nearly a dozen companions are scattered throughout the Commonwealth including Dog Meat and Mr. Handy, the hilariously helpful butler-bot. You can issue commands to your companion, having them fetch you items or investigate areas while you’re otherwise occupied. Additionally, you are able to pursue any humanoid companion as a romantic partner, no matter their gender.
Sadly, outside of their role as a mobile inventory, companions are often frustrating and unwelcome. In small areas they block your path, they meander into enemies’ line of sight while you’re sneaking, and if you’re unfortunate enough to have accidentally given one a mini-nuke while trying to un-encumber your character, they’ll occasionally mushroom cloud your character when you go in for a melee attack. Luckily, the Lone Wanderer perk benefits solo explorers, increasing your carry weight and granting damage resistance and bonus damage done.
Outside of companions and Workshop mode, only a few other aspects kept Fallout 4 from perfection, including Bethesda’s seeming curse—fatal crashes that keep you from progressing through the game. On my second playthrough, the game crashed at the same point of the narrative multiple times, even when loading from different saves, and after restarting the console. Eventually (and randomly) I was able to continue progress, but flashes of the nefarious Skyrim stairs were left in my head.
During my hours in the game, the Commonwealth was also home to two corrupted save files, a Raider Commander that slowly sank through the floor of a building, a rusted car chassis that began to float into the air, a character popping in and out of existence during dialogue options, and in one instance gray squares of varying shades floating where smoke had not been rendered. While perfection can’t be expected in a game of this size, these were all things I spotted in my first week of playing. I can only imagine how many I will have seen as I come closer to the 100-hour mark.
My adventure in Fallout 4 will be different than yours, so I will tell you that I enjoyed the experience—the journey was well worth my time. Bethesda created a universe for you to enjoy and explore, whether you mainline the primary storyline or live indefinitely in sidequests. For my first character, there was a full arc of growth. They took ownership of the world in which they resided, and were recognized by the weight of their word and the sound of their submachine gun. I can’t wait to live it anew in another wanderer’s shoes.
|Developer: Bethesda Game Studios • Publisher: Bethesda Softworks • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 11.10.15|
A (mega)ton of adventure awaits those who have the hours to fully experience Fallout 4’s beautifully devastated wasteland. Best of all, players will be able to experience it however they wish thanks to near infinite gameplay options.
|The Good||The new combat is spot on. Fallout’s world is immersive and complete from tone to tommy gun.|
|The Bad||Occasional glitches and freezes that sometimes crash you to the home screen.|
|The Ugly||The state of my marriage after playing over 50 hours last week.|
|Fallout 4 is available on Xbox One, PS4, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Bethesda for the benefit of this review.|