Since Fallout 4 is one of the biggest game releases of the year, let’s just get the big three questions out of the way.
1. Is Fallout 4 a good game? Yes.
2. Should you play it? Yes.
3. Is it better than Fallout 3? No.
Good? Okay. Let’s get to quantifying those opinions.
Fallout 4 is the latest installment in the Fallout series of post-apocalyptic action-RPGs by Bethesda. The series is set in an alternate timeline where, after the events of World War II, the world went kind of overboard with nuclear power, leading to all kinds of crazy new advancements, including helper robots, atomic cars, and portable PCs. Unfortunately, all of that development cleaned out the world’s resources, resulting in a gigantic world war that ended with devastation on all sides with the deployment of nuclear weapons. In a rare spin for Fallout stories, your protagonist, named and customized by you, is a retired soldier living a good life right before the new war starts. You and your family are invited into Vault 111 just as the bombs start falling, one of Vault-Tec’s society preservation fallout shelters, inside which they are cryogenically frozen. You’re temporarily taken out of the freeze to see your spouse removed from their pod, shot, and your infant son stolen from their arms. Once the pod finally opens for you, you leave the Vault, and find that many years have passed, and the country has been reduced to an irradiated wasteland. Armed with naught but a pistol and your Vault suit, you set off into the wasteland to track down your son and avenge your spouse, getting tangled up in the local politics of Massachusetts and Boston, now collectively known as The Commonwealth.
Fallout is a hybrid RPG/FPS. Normal combat flows about the same as any other FPS game, but at any time you can pause the action and bring up your Pip-Boy, a personal terminal device, and swap out weapons or eat food and chems to heal and buff yourself. The Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System (or VATS) also makes a return, allowing you to slow down time and target an enemy’s body parts individually in order to cripple them. You gain experience with every action you take, like killing an enemy, picking a lock, or convincing someone with a speech check, and when you have enough experience, you’ll level up, and you can choose a perk to improve and alter your character. Some perks provide bonuses in combat, others allow you to craft newer and better upgrades for your weapons and armor.
Crafting was a feature in the previous Fallout games, but a minor one at best. In Fallout 4, crafting has been completely overhauled, allowing you to tune and upgrade your weapons and armor to your liking, provided you have the necessary materials. Remember all that miscellaneous junk all over the place in the previous games? Now they actually serve a purpose. Every piece of junk you pick up can be converted into materials for upgrades, as well as construction for settlements, which I’ll get into later. Most materials for normal weapons aren’t that hard to find, with the exception of adhesive, which is both required for every weapon upgrade, and one of the rarer materials in the game. While adhesive is easier to come by as you progress and explore, it’s extremely scarce at the start, which effectively locks down the upgrading system until later on, an aspect which irritated me somewhat. Still, the sheer variety of weapon upgrades provides plenty of fun experimentation opportunities, especially with the bigger, crazier guns. Armor can be upgraded as well, though there’s no cosmetic effects, which kind of stinks.
Speaking of armor, Fallout’s signature power armor has received an overhaul as well. Instead of just being another article of clothing, power armor is now a separate element. Power armor can be donned whenever you like, and it provides bonuses like increased carry weight and no falling damage. Power armor parts can also be customized with upgrades and add-ons that add various bonuses to each suit of armor, and you can mix and match parts to your liking. The only downside of power armor is that they need fusion cores to run. Fusion cores can be found in the field, or purchased in small quantities from shops, but wearing power armor will continuously drain fusion cores, and if you run out, the armor effectively becomes dead weight, and you’ll have to abandon it. While I can’t say this happened to me during my plays of the game, the idea of souping up armor only to have to abandon it somewhere made me hesitant to use it until later in the game.
The conversation system, one of my favorite parts of a Fallout game, has been simplified. Instead of full read outs of your possible responses, there are only four responses to each prompt, each one only showing the general idea of what your character is going to say. While streamlined, it makes conversation a bit difficult to grasp, since you never know what your character is actually going to say until they say it, which can result in saying something you wished you hadn’t. You can quicksave in conversation to retry if you like, but it would’ve been preferable to just have the whole sentence on screen to begin with. On the bright side, your character’s dialogue is now fully voiced, which leads to some pretty amusing reads when the angry or sarcastic options are chosen.
The last major new feature is settlement building. Early in the game, you’ll gain the ability to create a settlement full of, well, settlers, and customize it to keep them happy and healthy. Materials for upgrading are also used here to build objects like furniture, defense turrets, water purifiers, and electrical generators. You can also set up stores for settlers to work at, start crops for harvesting food, and even set up trade routes between settlements to get a flow of money and materials going. However, while building settlements is a fun little distraction, keeping your settlers happy doesn’t really amount to much. As far as I could tell, having a successful settlement doesn’t earn you any kind of benefits for regular gameplay, aside from maybe upgrading your settlement’s stores to carry better supplies, and as such, is a bit of a superfluous feature.
This is where Fallout 4’s main problems lie, and why, despite being genuinely fun most of the time, it falls short of its predecessors. It seems like a lot of what made the previous Fallout games great, such as the sheer size of the map, good story writing, and variety of quests, has been cut down in favor of features no one asked for, like settlement building (which I feel like was only added to get on the Minecraft bandwagon). The Commonwealth is rather small compared to the Capital Wasteland or the Mojave Wasteland, the story is somewhat lazy, with the relationships between the major factions handled rather poorly, and while there are still plenty of interesting quests with equally interesting rewards, it feels like the number of basic “go-here-kill-this-get-this” quests has increased, a lot of which don’t even have good justification for doing them.
The spirit of Fallout is still here; it’s still lots of fun to explore, grow, and shoot stuff, and I do wholeheartedly recommend playing Fallout 4 if you can get it for the right price, but it’s nowhere near the level of fun and depth we had in Fallout 3 or Fallout New Vegas. There is DLC packs coming down the line, which is promising considering the quality of the DLC in previous games. I just hope that Bethesda remembers what made Fallout a winning formula and tries to stick a bit closer to that in the future.