November 15, 2015

Fallout 4 Review

After years of hushed secrets, frauds, and leaks, the genuine article has finally arrived on our doorsteps. It's almost hard for me to comprehend how fast it's shown up and dropped in. We went from knowing virtually NOTHING about the next Fallout game to "oh yeah, Fallout 4 is coming out in 3 months." Not that I'm complaining, mind you. But the golden question remains: Is Fallout 4 a good game?

The short answer is YES. Fallout 4 is a good game -- but, is it perfect?!

Fallout 4 is set in The Commonwealth, the remains of the greater Boston area, and it is definitely worthy of the adjective "greater". I devoted 13 hours of the launch day solely to play as much of the game as I could, and though I have found a whole lot of quests, characters, locations, and weapons, I have barely even ventured out of the world's upper left corner! They were not exaggerating when they proclaimed it would be twice the size of Skyrim, that's for sure. You'll also be happy to know that the trailers and gameplay footage we were shown to hype up the game are actually 100 percent all in the game! It's very refreshing to see a triple A game not sold to us on complete lies, as well as one that lives up to its hype.

"The plot is almost entirely optional and takes a back seat to what is easily the most expansive and truly open Fallout game yet."

The plot follows The Sole Survivor, who on the eve of the war got a spot in Vault 111 along with their spouse and baby boy. The character customization is easily Bethesda's best to date, replacing the tedious and somewhat imprecise slider system with a sort of mold by region system, in which you can pick out a part of your character's face, and move it around however you like. You'll also be able to design the look of your spouse, and that in turn determines the look of your baby, Shaun (You cannot adjust Shaun's gender, sadly). To sum it up, you all make it to Vault 111, where the Vault's experiment (Which I'm sure you already figured out if you wondered how someone could not age for 200 years in a sci-fi setting) leads to the untimely demise of your spouse and kidnapping of your baby. In a sense, the plot is a retread of Fallout 3's plot, but in reverse, and significantly fewer plot holes to boot!

But, as you might expect, the plot is almost entirely optional and takes a back seat to what is easily the most expansive and truly open Fallout game yet. Upon exiting the Vault, you are cleared to do pretty much anything you please, just striking out into a random direction and seeing what you come across. And unlike Skyrim or Fallout 3, there is ALOT to come across, and a ton of variety in what you come across as well. Fallout 3 played around with the idea of finding quests through radio signals; Excluding the DLC, you could find 2 quests that involved following a radio signal. But in Fallout 4, it seems nearly everyone in post-apocalypse has figured out how to use a radio, as in my short time of play, I've already come across 4 distress signals, all leading to dramatically different and engrossing side quests, that even lead to more quests.

So far, the characters I've encountered (While mostly lacking a Bostonian inflection in their voices) have been very well voiced and diverse in terms of appearance and personality. It's also refreshing to see such solid animation in the bodies of the various friends and enemies of the wasteland (facial animation, not so much.). NPCs actually move about and commit daily activities in a non-robotic manner, and enemies react to your murdering of them in new and refreshing ways!

"What perks you may choose revolves entirely around your S.P.E.C.I.A.L., which has been reworked to be your everything."

Speaking of murder, Fallout 4's combat is once again, the series's finest to date. Gunplay is super smooth, and you are no longer limited by your choice of skills to what weapons you can properly wield. More on that later, but the sheer variety of the weapons you'll find combined with the insanely useful additions of grenades bound to a separate key and the ability to sprint, melee with any weapon, peaking around corners, and being able to rapidly search a body or container without pausing the game makes a combat; not such a huge damn chore as it was in previous titles. Combat is also much more difficult; In previous outings, all you really had to do was VATS your way through all the fights. While VATS is still incredibly useful, VATS can now screw up shots it would normally hit for sure, and critical hits must be earned through consistently landing shots on enemies in VATS.

The system no longer stops time, merely slowing it down, and the damage reduction you get while using it has been significantly lessened. Power Armor now functions more as a temporary powerup than end game armor, forcing you to scrounge for fuel and commit constant repairs as it's the only thing in the game that now has a degrading condition. This is compounded by enemy encounters generally having much larger numbers, as well as applying new tactics. Ghouls, in particular, are much more deadly, capable of launching themselves at you at high speeds to immediately close the distance, or Raiders now coming equipped with Power Armor and actually solid weapons! In addition, several enemies have special melee attacks that they can lock you into that will do extra damage, even crippling you. This all comes together to make a very solid and enjoyable shooting experience, and I've barely scratched the surface.

The new leveling system is less about arbitrary numbers; Success in combat now depends much more on your actual skill as opposed to a spreadsheet. Every time you level you choose a perk. What perks you may choose revolves entirely around your S.P.E.C.I.A.L., which has been reworked to be your everything. I was afraid this system would make character design overly simplistic, but it's actually quite complex. Your SPECIAL determines what rank of perks you can choose from, and a single perk can be leveled multiple times for more and more effects. Skill books, bobbleheads, and perk magazines all make their return, giving you additional SPECIAL points or perks that level every time you get a new copy of that book.

"It pays to carry a large variety of weapons, and you have a real incentive to search every nook and cranny for more."

Companions in 4 have taken a page from New Vegas in that each one has a complex personality and backstory that you learn more about by developing your relationship with them in a varied number of ways. For example, one companion may like it if you try to pass Speech checks, even if you fail, or one companion may like it if you blatantly steal or pick locks. And by fully advancing your relationship with your companions, you gain yet another useful perk. Leveling moves much faster than previous installments, and you'll be filled with a burst of excitement every time you open up that chart to pick something new.

I was bummed to see there's no Hardcore mode, but that's okay because the new Radiation system, as well as scarcity of ammo and supplies, keeps the Wasteland a difficult place to live in. RadAway, in particular, is in much shorter supply, while Radiation now consumes your max health instead of your Stats. This means food and water has a painful give-and-take of healing you on the spot but also taking some of your overall health away, making some combat situations a nightmare if your Rads get too high. Dynamic weather effects have made their appearance, with radiation storms or heavy mists making navigation a hazard in their own ways.

Ammunition it seems is in much shorter quantities, as I found myself running out of ammo a lot more than I did in previous Fallout titles. It pays to carry a large variety of weapons, and you have a real incentive to search every nook and cranny for more.The world itself is gorgeous, still selling us that ruined and worn futuristic 1950's look Fallout is known for while putting much more color into the game that just makes it come to life. Saturation of colors on given areas, and regions that are distinctly colored makes the exploration, even more engrossing, since the things you find actually look unique and striking, even from a distance.

"I am decently disappointed that reputation is gone when it would have been pretty much all the game needed to really put it over the top for me."

And of course, one has to mention the new Settlement mechanic, which is, just as was promised, entirely optional. It's immediately familiar to the Android/iPhone Fallout Shelter, in that you must manage your settlement's food, water, and electricity while also building it up and keeping it safe from hostiles. So far, I have encountered 4 different places where one can settle and form their own homestead/town, and while I am a bit bummed that it might force me to pick up perks I otherwise wouldn't get, the crafting of a whole town to my heart's content is something I can really look forward to if the exploration ever starts to wear on me. AND SPEAKING OF CRAFTING.

My goodness, is the crafting extensive. Effectively everything has been rendered useful, save a few burned things here and there. Nearly every single conceivable item in the game yields valuable crafting ingredients, with the only downside being you'll often reach over encumbrance with all the useful junk you're carrying around each time you set out on the wastes. It's fortunately not a huge deal, as it's not terribly difficult to just sell all the extra weapons you find and buy great weapons wholesale, but it's very clearly a big emphasis this time around. As you'd expect, you'll hit some snags in the technical department. My game has been relatively stable, with only 3-4 crashes, some floating brahmin, and the occasional framerate plummets over the course of some 30 hours of playtime.

So, the question remains. Is Fallout 4 the best Fallout game? In the respects of combat, exploration, interesting characters, and setting, I would say it most certainly is. But I would say that it does fall flat in the areas of true roleplaying. While you can invent whatever sort of personality for your character you so choose, it fails to distract me from the fact that the backstory and impetus of my character are constantly hanging over me. Once again, Bethesda has dispensed with the Factions and Reputation, and even now Karma has been pushed out the door. While I'm not terribly sad for Karma's loss, I am decently disappointed that reputation is gone, when it would have been pretty much all the game needed to really put it over the top for me.

Fallout 4 is a vast improvement over Fallout 3, for sure, but it still lacks in some of the same areas. Allow me to illustrate with this list, in order from best to worst Fallout games:
  1. Fallout: New Vegas
  2. Fallout 2
  3. Fallout 4
  4. Fallout
  5. Fallout 3
  6. Fallout Shelter
  7. Fallout Tactics
  8. Fallout: Brotherhood of (Shit) Steel
So that's Fallout 4. What did you think? Did you find it to be the best? Or, did you find it even more disappointing than me?

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Fallout 1, 2 Tactics, Fallout 3, Fallout: New Vegas, Fallout 4