Bethesda has set out to make what is arguably the best game of 2015 in Fallout 4. Almost a decade of anticipation precedes this game, and one of the biggest questions I’ve gotten so far is “was the wait worth it?”
I’d like to start off by saying it outright. Yes, Fallout 4 delivers spectacularly in nearly all aspects it provides the player, though it is not without it’s flaws. The game opens up in a setting yet unexplored in past Fallout games: Pre-War America. While your time here is short lived, and honestly a relatively unutilised setting, it is amazing to see what the year 2077 would look like if we all got stuck in 1956. Once word of atomic bombs gets to you and your family (as either the husband, an army vet, or the wife, a lawyer) your mission is to get to the local Vault, an underground fallout shelter designed by Vault-Tec. Some amazing and far from the series regular visuals guide you and your family through your neighborhood and up the path to the conveniently located Vault only a football field’s length away. Now, I won’t share what happens down there, but know that by the time you make it out, you’re on a mission to find your son. This is where the game opens up into the Fallout we’ve all come to know and love since the release of Fallout 3 in 2008. Massive open world RPG with new and improved FPS mechanics, which is one of my favorite aspects of the game. Fallout 3 and New Vegas were both plagued by the existence of VATS, or the Vault-Tec-Assisted-Targeting-System. Not that VATS isn’t amazingly fun to use, it’s just that when you pick up a shooter, you expect it to play like one. Fallout 4 has this in spades, introducing a new control scheme with shooter fans in mind. Now, the moment to moment gunplay is the best it’s ever been in a Fallout game, and just as unforgiving as any RPG where your stats matter. This coupled with the tried and true mechanics of a Fallout game makes for fantastic gameplay.
What Fallout 4 does well in gameplay and gunplay, it doesn’t do so well in its settlement aspects, nor in explaining any of the game mechanics. VATS does not get the introduction it did in Fallout 3 AND New Vegas, assuming that the player has already poured themselves into the previous entries. The Settlements are a fun, Minecraft-like distraction from the rest of the world, though again, it isn’t explained well enough for any casual gamer to want to spend much time tinkering with. In fact, very later in the game, the player is required to construct something using the settlement feature, and since I hadn’t touched it since maybe hour 2 of the game, by the time I was 50 hours in I’d forgotten how to do much of the crafting as a whole. Not to mention, the crafting UI and experience as a whole leave a lot to be desired. It’s something I really hope to see Bethesda improve on for the next entry and even use it in a future Elder Scrolls title, so long as they get it in a usable state.
Of course, the settlements are coupled with Fallout’s new crafting system, something that was clunky and hastily thrown together in Fallout New Vegas makes a triumphant comeback in Fallout 4. Building weapons is so fun and engaging that I don’t have a single weapon in my inventory that I haven’t improved the grip for or renamed. The Armor modifications are a blast to use as well. One of the first things I did by mistake was paint my power armor helmet blue which if I coat all of the armor in, gives me a 10% charisma boost. The smaller side of the crafting system is fun to use, but does get a bit cluttered when thrown into building settlements.
Just like every Fallout game there’s ever been, you can have yourself a companion, and there are plenty you can choose from. Be it Dogmeat or Codsworth, Preston Garvey or Nick Valentine, they all have something great to offer either in their ability or fun side quests they offer you to help erase their past. The companion feature was one I didn’t think could be improved upon, but as always Bethesda blew my expectations out of the water. I’ve made it a mission of mine to reach maximum affinity with every companion in the game, including ones that other companions don’t get along with, and it’s that aspect that I love. When switching off followers, they two will have a small conversation about you, and depending on who they are, they will either be friendly, or a bit more malicious, making it fun to run around and collect each of them.
Fallout 4 retires some of the classic mechanics like attributes and brings in a simplified perk system, where each of the SPECIAL characteristics have their own perk trees, similar to that of 2011’s Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. While the old system was one I prefered, I find enjoyment in using the new system to it’s fullest potential with my 10 charisma and 10 intelligence character. This lends itself to the more than fun character system, which includes the new dialogue system.
The new dialogue system is something every Fallout fan was hesitant about, why give our character a voice? Wasn’t the whole point of the game to put yourself in their shoes? While I was cautious about it, I fell in love with it quickly, only slightly missing the past speech and charisma checks that offered variety to the game. Though these are still present but in a different way in Fallout 4, it’s not the same, and that’s not a bad thing.
Unfortunately, it does have it’s downfalls, and one of the most frustrating things about the game is not the lack of instruction or frustrating settlement system. It’s the performance issues. I remember being mildly upset when finding out the console version of the game would only be running at 30fps, where PC would be 60fps. I soon got over the news when realizing it would mean the game would run smoothly on console instead of having the issues that come with a large game like this. Unfortunately that was not the case. For the purpose of this review, I played on Xbox One, and it was littered with frame-rate issues in the more condensed areas of Boston, not to mention, it takes 3 to 5 minutes from start up to gameplay on my console of choice. This is not acceptable, and seriously hurt my feeling of immersion and overall experience. Fallout 4 was in development for nearly 8 years. Of course it wasn’t a full development with Bethesda working on Skyrim which released in 2011, but an 8 year development cycle with these results is disappointing.
But, Fallout 4 isn’t without its victories of course! The game has some of my favorite level design this year. Each and every encounter and trap feel like they have weight to them, and aren’t simple run back and forth retrieval quests which can sometimes hinder games of this genre. Not to spoil anything, but my favorite mission is one where you hunt for a man named Kellogg. Like I said, I won’t go into specifics, but it’s so well designed that it rivals that of any FPS game, and deserves to be called a quest, rather than a mission. With fun and involved puzzles like finding the Railroad, or straight forward run and gun, clearing out a building sets, this game really does offer it all in the best way possible.
The Commonwealth is by and large, the best location we’ve ever explored in a Fallout game, and while it’s not the biggest in terms of square mileage, it’s definitely the most dense and interesting one I’ve ever seen. Whether you’re rescuing a kid stuck in a fridge for 200 years, or enjoying the blue skies above the destroyed downtown Boston, the game has atmosphere to spare, which is why I’d like to reiterate on why the Pre-War is such a waste. Seeing the world that once was was truly something to behold in a Fallout game, and going into the release, I’d anticipated flashbacks, thinking that there was no way Bethesda would create all of those assets only to have it last for the amount of time it takes to create your character, but I was wrong. It was only used to give you a false sense of hope that makes this game amazing. Maybe they did it on purpose to give you the same hope your character is supposed to feel for the better and brighter tomorrow. Maybe they did it to give us the feeling of helplessness, to put our feet into this world, grounded as can be, to try and remind us that it’s all over. To remind us that war, war never changes.
Fallout 4 deserves every single piece of praise it gets, but it also deserves the backlash that fans like myself have given it. I truly think that, because of the scale of the game, and all it has to offer, the good outweighs it enough to make Fallout 4 my Game of the Year for 2015.