Months after its release I am finally in a comfortable position to share my views on Fallout 4. This will be a review, first and foremost, so I am attempting to cast aside any personal bias I may have toward the Fallout franchise and Bethesda as a studio I have held adoration for, for most of my gaming life. The game tries to leap forward in the genre of open world action adventure. Please note my hesitation to call it an RPG.
The most vital point of any open world action game, for me, is the environment in which Bethesda have managed to craft one of the best worlds they have created to date. It is interesting, exciting, different, and very engaging. Morrowind was very alien, Oblivion held an aura of generic fantasy but was still fascinating to explore, from Anvil to Cheydinhal. Skyrim was breath-taking and captivating, harsh and wondrous. Fallout 3 was destructively unique. The feeling of wondering and exploring was captured in these worlds as both immersive and captivating. Fallout 4 takes this concept and almost perfects it, combining all of their previous projects into a world that you can lose yourself in for, literally, days.
The rolling hills of the landscape is a wonderful change from New Vegas, the winding broken roads help the world feel much more organic rather than a world crafted by people in a studio. The world of Boston boasts fantastic house designs and the villages are unique and varied, Lexington felt like a sprawling village and downtown Boston actually felt like it may have well been a bustling city, before the Great War. The world has good pacing of locations, you’re not bombarded with locations but it’s also not too far to walk into you encounter the next thing to explore. To elaborate, the world is so fun to explore, that whilst on an important quest you can spot something in a distance and explore this area first. I didn’t need to save Oberland Station from Super Mutants anyway. You want to go inside every building, every hospital, and every factory, just to see what mysteries are held inside. My only reservations about the world are the Anti-Aliasing options which are quite weak and blur textures when you move, which can sometime spoil the environment. Things like wires and tree branches shimmer and it just doesn’t look good. So there are a few things to be improved, but the graphics of the world are solid, they are by no means the best, but they beat out the earlier games, which to be honest, is expected. However, with the lighting and the graphics combined the world is one of the most beautiful created by Bethesda, if by any developer team.
Approaching this game with the knowledge of a voice protagonist bothered me. A Bethesda game was usually centred on you sculpting a character, making them your own and experiencing the story as this character. The voices protagonist takes this essence of Bethesda games away. Instead of being able to completely imagine a character, you are given a voice which is not yours. However, this is a personal issue. As far as the implementation and delivery of the voices protagonist goes, it is excellent. The dialogue options can be a little vague but the responses are always fuelled with story-driven elements and can often be quite intimidating or scary. If one takes Fallout 4 as its own game, the implementation of the voiced system is excellent. It rivals games such as Mass Effect and The Witcher 3. Despite this, it is a feature I would gladly remove from the game with mods, and hope to see an abolition of this feature in the next Elder Scrolls game.
To discuss more features generally, the shooting mechanics of this FPS have been greatly improved. The animations are enriched and there is definitely a feeling of weight and “oomph” behind each shot. The pistols feel like pistols and the missile launcher feels like you did actually just blast 5 kilograms of explosive destruction into that horde of ambushing ghouls. The weapon customization could use a better user interface, it isn’t very intuitive at first but once you get the hang of it, the process becomes really fun. Turning a useless pipe rifle into a 50. Calibre sniper rifle to blast off the heads of your enemies has never been more pleasing, especially with the gratification that comes with, “damn, that was my weapon that did that”. The armour customization is much simpler, but also offers some cool features which improve upon Skyrim’s very simple armour upgrade system.
Moving onto the general interface of the game, it could be a lot better. The UI was clearly built specifically for consoles and controllers, with little consideration for how a PC user with a mouse and keyboard might have navigate. Sure, it is acceptable and doesn’t cause any problems, but the pipboy hides certain menu’s unless you click to the end with your mouse or move it along with arrow keys, a tiresome task when all it should take is a seamless click, but this isn’t a problem for console users who can simply lightly press their analogue sticks. Apart from that, it was nice to see familiar features return like the ability to collect and play holotapes as well as picking up notes and letters from around the wastes. These were implemented in what I thought was a very tasteful fashion.
This next area kind of links in with the user interface, but is a double edged sword. That is the settlement building system. I both love it and hate it. I love it when things go according to my creative plans, but that seldom happens and instead I spend an hour trying to create something which should be incredibly simple and intuitive, but instead I am blocked by the game for seemingly no apparent reason. The main problem is Bethesda’s need for clipping. Why can I not simply clip these two walls slightly together to create my bass? Why must I be greeted with an obnoxious red block which tells me, “no, you cannot do that”, even though there are no technological restrictions given that mods, without the G.E.C.K can easily fix this issue. The builder is very restricted and boring without mods after a couple of hours, and yet again Bethesda have allowed the modding community to finish their game for them.
The AI sees a dramatic improvement for other games. The animations and diversity of the NPC characters makes the game feel more alive than any Bethesda game previously. The cities/settlements/villages tend to boast more interesting characters which always have something interesting or witty to say, albeit some of the dynamic randomly generated quests are quite generic and repetitive, but on your first play through you would surely get great fun out of them. The voice acting is a mixed bag, some great voices, some familiar voices in the guise of Wes Johnson, and some new voices, and some voices which didn’t quite keep in terms of quality, some felt like they were just voice actors, which breaks immersion. However, Bethesda have done a good job as always with the NPC’s of their games.
The story of the game is arching and complicated, it allows you to take a very direct path, however there are multiple ways to go down this path. Well, actually, two ways. As a nice, loving father or as an angry, bitter father looking for his son. To withhold spoilers, there is a big choice at the end of the game, but this is similar to FO3 where the only real choice which mattered occurred right at the end. This lacks the depth and replay value of the main story, something which New Vegas seemingly mastered, however, for a single story, the writing and production is Bethesda’s best yet. Side quests and secondary faction quests are some of the most fun I have had in a game in years. There are completely unique story lines which have never been explored and go much further than go to point a, then b, then grab XY, and bring to me at z, and this makes the game more replay-able, with multiple outcomes to most side quests, adding to the unique feel of the game. Overall, the questing of the game is fantastic.
Fallout 4 has achieved so much, and improved on even more than that. However, there are improvements left to be desired. The game is not perfect, and I am afraid to say it is not my favourite Bethesda game because I feel the Fallout Franchise slowly creeping away from what I originally loved about Bethesda as a studio, but the game itself, on its own standards is truly amazing. It is one of the best games I have played in recent years and I am sure I will pump hundreds of hours into it over the coming years.
If I had to rate Fallout 4, I would give it a 8.5/10; in its current, vanilla state.