War never changes. With all the hype that Bethesda piled on (with no small amount of help thanks to the media as well), expectations were sky high for this returning smash hit series. Set in a retro-futuristic apocolyptia that takes place in an alternate timeline branched off from WW II, Fallout 4 continues the series this time in the ruins of Boston. Does it live up to the hype?
This is another game that I got ahold of after the series’ third iteration. (See Morrowind: http://bandofothersgaming.com/pc-gaming/tes-morrowind-review/2015/12 ) The past two were a classic isometric RPG from Black Isle Studios, gaining a true cult following with its rich, unique game world. FO3, and later New Vegas (Obsidian Entertainment, not Bethesda) were a vast departure, taking the game into a beautiful 3D action RPG with a large open world. As I write this review, I will try to keep the spoilers to the minimum. That said, most of what I say can be gathered within the first few hours of gameplay and anything that I mention that happens later, I talk about extremely vaguely, so it should be spoiler safe.
Fallout 4 seeks to stick to the incredibly deep and interesting backstory; one I find absolutely awesome. The alternate timeline in which Fallout takes place involves the U.S. and China in a Cold War after World War II, where the development of technology is different. Instead of the miniaturization of electronics and the microchip transistor, their world developed nuclear technology much further and faster, eventually harnessing fusion power. However, the neverending Cold War culminates in a nuclear holocaust as the world is consumed in fire. This destroyed retro 50’s style futuristic world is the world you emerge to, when you step from your Vault, which kept you safe underground.
A true signature of the series, and one of my favorite features is the true open-endedness that the game takes on. Different factions to side with create different quests that ultimately lead you to a unique ending. You really end up feeling like you shaped the world, rather than played out a predetermined story. Both FO3 and FO New Vegas had many cool endings culminating with distinct videos that go with what you’ve accomplished and how you chose to make your mark on the wasteland. Some clips would show how you saved someone, referencing a quest you might’ve accomplished, others maybe not.
Gameplay – 12/20
There’s several huge steps forward here for the Fallout Series but also quite a few steps back for RPG games in general. Most obvious is the vast improvements to the FPS elements. It feels a lot more like a shooter, which was missing in 3 and NV. Better weapon feel, aiming and gun mechanics all contribute to this. Customization is no small thing either, with weapon customization offering loads of options, provided you spend your perks properly. I’d probably have liked to see really rare loot also contribute to this as well. For example, some extremely rare loot (only maybe 3 available in the wasteland) is needed to craft specialized parts for higher damage or better ROF instead of skills.
On the customization subject, the settlements feature is really cool but I almost consider it a bit basic and look forward to it’s growth in mods soon. Despite this, it offers great options and some fun things to do when not roaming the wasteland. The management though is a bit weary and gets downright annoying as you have to almost babysit settlements endlessly for the Minutemen.
A major downside to this game was the omitting of proper RPG-like factions and how the player is within them. Almost ALL (if not all) Bethesda RPGs, past Fallout games were no exception, allowed you to join factions at your own will, where you’d obviously start at the bottom of the totem pole, and do quests to rank up, usually until you got to the top as a guild master (or what have you). This game is a vast departure from this tried and true aspect, sadly. Not only are faction standings basically non-existent, but the player starts out as the general of the minutemen, you already have power armor, and with the completion of a quest early on, you can easily become a knight in the brotherhood, which is no minor rank. Not to mention there are many less factions
than compared to previous Fallout games. I’d have loved to see other factions joinable, especially to see your standings plummet with others. Being able to join the Gunners and take assassination quests, or perhaps take the FEV and join the various warbands of super mutants.
I’ll also mention that there is no real Karma type-system either. Behind the scenes there’s something going on that will determine how much your companions like or dislike you and your actions but it did not seem to affect my gameplay in the slightest. I liked in Fallout 3 that NPCs viewed me and talked to me based on my standing.
The dialog can go either way, some aren’t a fan of the simplified responses and would rather see the entire response. It doesn’t bother me too much, but I will say that it was nice to see charisma get more use, as it was a very minor, specialized skill in previous games. Though I miss having the specialized dialog options, for example, if my Intelligence was extremely high, I might have an option to fix something I otherwise couldn’t have. This is still present in FO4 but it is very minor now. The simplification of skills and specializations is ever-present here, sadly.
One great thing they did right is how the Power Armor functions. Some might complain about it no longer functioning just like armor, but in the lore, it was always seen as a replacement for tanks, and it does not disappoint. It should feel like something you need to use only in the most extreme cases, never something you wander around with throughout the entirety of the game.
The overall storyline is good, so that’s all I’ll say about that. Nothing to complain about, but nothing extremely great, either.
Graphics & Sound – 17/20
A great deal of noise was made about the quality of the graphics and Fallout’s unremarkable engine. I’ve always been along the school of thought that without great gameplay, shiny graphics and effects are worthless. Still it isn’t anything that pushes the boundaries here, and sometimes it is disappointing. Overall though I was happy with the visual experience, it was engaging and fun, a lot more colorful and a lot less dreary than Fallout 3’s famous atmosphere. Take that for what you will.
On the audio side, the soundtrack is great in typical Fallout fashion. I detract a bit because there’s a fair amount shared between FO4 and FO3, but there are new classics that go with FO4 that set the atmosphere perfectly. Would like to see even more, as the radio gets pretty trite, and it could be me but seems a lot more repetitive than Galaxy News Radio from FO3. You just gotta miss Three Dog but there’s FO4 smartly created it’s own personal touch.
Ambient noise leaves something to be desired. Despite the gameworld now featuring birds and other “friendlier” animals, there’s almost no living feeling. Settlement ambient noise is sadly lost almost entirely, especially in what are supposed to be larger hubs like Diamond City. It just doesn’t sound and feel like the biggest colony in the Commonwealth.
Controls & UI – 15/15
No complaints at all here. There is a bit of awkward feeling with some of the FPS-type elements, for example, grenade throwing is primitive and a bit sloppy, but the control scheme is flawless, works very well and the UI is marvelous. I’m a stickler for UI’s and the layout, design and overlook is not just useful but extremely iconic and great looking. I even have my phone looking like a pip-boy.
Replayability – 11/15
Unfortunately this score takes a bit of a hit, which is a departure from previous Fallout games. I mentioned why a bit earlier, especially pertaining to the videos and differing endings. This severely affects it, but still it will leave you wanting to go through at least one or two more times to see how things play out. Could use plenty of improvement here, though.
Can’t stress how incredibly rich the world is, from the opening credits onward. The Fallout Series in general lends itself to a great backstory full of interesting tidbits and awesome lore. It’s not absolutely ridiculous to think that this alternate history was very possible. Despite being an apocalyptic mess of a world, it is one that is extremely appealing to live in (as appealing as it can be) with it’s 50’s retro future style and mentality. The sort of innocent curiosity that inhabited the US when the dangers of nuclear fallout was unknown and disregarded. The story to Vault-Tec is a bit less believable but still incredibly intriguing and gets you thinking.
Challenge Level – 5/10
Huge letdown here but I can’t say I didn’t expect it. Somewhat. Sure there’s a difficulty slider, with a few different settings to choose from to suit your fancy. That’s about it. I didn’t find the game challenging, and despite bumping the difficulty up two to three times during my first playthrough, I still didn’t feel like I was under duress very much. To reference my Morrowind post again, I attribute this low score to the dumbing down of modern RPGs and games in general. Every positive point in my Morrowind review applies here inversely. The major issue here is enemy and item leveling. I also absolutely hate the built-in mechanic where somehow the further you travel south from Vault 111, the more difficult and dangerous it is.
There’s also New Vegas’ cool hardcore mode that was implemented thanks to a highly successful FO3 mod. The mode featured stimpaks and radaways that heal over time, and introduced basic needs, the need to drink, eat and sleep. I can’t say I’m not sad something of the sort didn’t make it into FO4, though some things like hunger and such would be difficult to reproduce in this newest iteration of the series, as it introduced many new things like growable food and such.
I love the balance of the perk system, it works pretty well, with a few holes. Again I also enjoyed the interesting balance power armor has brought. Also love that the level cap was removed, allowing you to play to your heart’s content and be rewarded for it. Because isn’t that what every player wants? Character building is great, as always, albeit a bit over-simplified.
Mods & Modability – 9/10
This section is a bit premature but there’s still a fair amount of mods to judge this on already. Without the GECK kit (Bethesda’s modding software) there’s still a lot to be hopeful for. The GECK is slated to release early 2016 and many modders are waiting, drooling for a chance to play with it, but many more have just went ahead and created plenty of good content already. Some of it limited in scope but I have no doubt when the GECK hits, we’ll see some great overhauls, graphics enhancements and more. I honestly can’t wait.
OVERALL SCORE – 79
I’ve looked forward to this game for years; after I finished Fallout 3 and especially when rumors began to spread about Bethesda poking around locations in Boston, possibly making the setting for Fallout 4. It’s hard not to expect the best game of the year, especially with the hype that Bethesda built up at E3 2015 and the months that followed, leading up to the release. But it’s hard not to see the shortcomings either. This is a game that I do not regret buying; it’s great and I really recommend it. Despite my complaints about this and that there’s no doubt that I’ll pick it up and play it again in the coming months as well. My score of 79 suits the game real well great but not an all time-great and personally I’m holding out for mods to really address some of the misses.
So what’s your experience with FO4? Please no spoilers! Discuss in this thread here: http://bandofothersgaming.com/forum/showthread.php/2702-Fallout-4-Review?p=27572#post27572