By Daniel Lein
I have been desperately waiting for this current console generation to kick off. To finally be given a game that meets all of those exciting criteria that both Sony and Microsoft promised us, and when Bethesda got up on stage last E3, I was hopeful. Why shouldn’t it be Bethesda, a skilled and beloved developer, who ushers us into this new age of gaming? And why shouldn’t Fallout, a storied and praised franchise, be the series to do it?
Let’s start answering those questions by first addressing the narrative and storytelling of Fallout 4. It all starts before the nuclear apocalypse as you, your spouse, and son are ushered into Vault 111 and cryogenically frozen. During this stasis your spouse is murdered and your son kidnapped. Shortly after, you escape from Vault 111 and are let loose onto the war ravaged world of the Commonwealth. The story of Fallout’s main quest is fairly well devised as it offers plenty of engaging characters, clever plot twists, and exciting moments. However, much like all of Bethesda’s open world adventure games, there is nothing forcing you to engage in the main quest. In previous Bethesda titles, such as Fallout 3, Oblivion, and Skyrim; I felt no desire to pursue the “main story” of the game. Whether or not the plots of those games were engaging mattered significantly less than the ways in which those plots were presented. I was simply never compelled in the past. That being said, Fallout 4 managed to get me genuinely excited to play through that main campaign, and it’s all thanks to Troy Baker’s main character performance. Having the highly skilled voice actor deliver your dialogue choices with emotion and conviction gave an added layer of connection to that main character’s desire to rescue his son and avenge his wife. Beyond that, the main story rewards the players involvement by giving some of the most exciting combat situations as well as some truly interesting characters and plot twists. The dialogue is also well written and well delivered by most characters. Though not everyone’s delivery is a home run, a large majority of main characters, such as Father, Kellogg, and your companions, have unique voices. In addition, the dialogue can go from being laugh out loud funny to tear jerkingly serious, giving the game a much needed range for all the various scenarios presented throughout. The focus and care Bethesda clearly put into the telling of the main story and the main story itself were a welcome change. Lastly, the world is a powerful component to the mood and delivery of the story. The Commonwealth is littered with small visual storytelling details that give a sense that the world has truly been lived in and has met tragedy. You can walk into any destroyed building and see evidence of the past left to rust. Cleverly placed items can also suggest small stories, and though these may never be fleshed out, they nonetheless give a sense of reality to the world of Fallout.
Fallout 4’s gameplay is also revamped in comparison to its predecessors. The game retains the first person shooting mechanics from previous Fallout games but removes the variable of accuracy which was previously prevalent. In Fallout 4, your aim is entirely based on your own ability, rather than being altered by some hidden statistic. This allows for a more action orientated combat system driven by quick and tangible gun play. Another big focus of Fallout 4’s gameplay is the perk tree, which acts more like columns than anything else. Whatever you want to call them, the perks are abilities or stat boosts that are purchased with ability points, which are acquired upon leveling up. The nature of the columns means that you have to be proficient in one of the main S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats (Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, Luck) to acquire the more specific abilities of handgun proficiency, computer hacking, and radiation resistance. What I really appreciated about this system was that there weren’t that many ability points to go around, forcing me to commit to a play style, rather than be an ineffective jack-of-all-trades. Though this may seem constricting, it actually leads to more varied playthroughs, as each run is allowed to be distinguished by the play style. The opposite of this was one of my problems with Skyrim. Regardless of your “playstyle” you were leveling up so much and trying out so many different skills that you ended up being good at everything, making subsequent playthroughs feel less interesting. There are also a myriad of weapons and abilities that help you shape whatever play style you end up choosing, making each feel viable and fun.
One of the less impressive parts of Fallout 4 is the crafting system. Throughout the game you will literally collect junk; junk that can be used for everything from building materials to weapon modifications. The concept of actually using all the previously useless crap you pick up in these open world adventure games is a brilliant idea that turned me into a hoarder in no time. Even when I didn’t have any building plans in mind, I could sell the junk to make a quick buck. The junk mechanic, if you can even call it that, isn’t the problem with Fallout’s crafting. The problem is the actually building itself. Throughout the game you will be asked to set up a base or help build a settlement, and in these sections you utilize all the scrap you’ve collected by selecting an object from a menu that you have the ingredients for. Objects include, but are not limited to: houses, generators, water pumps, turrets, and general stores. Though the proposition of making your own town seems promising on the surface, the interface for selecting the objects and the act of placing them in the desired area is cumbersome and annoying, or at least it is on consoles. I could never get the buildings to face the right way, or be organized properly. This made for some painfully long stretches of gameplay where all I did was twist and turn a massive building, that didn’t fit in my screen mind you, to try and make it look like it fit into the rest of the town that I had spent too long organizing. The act of town constructing simply isn’t enjoyable or rewarding. What is both enjoyable and rewarding, however, is weapon modding. At most towns and settlements you can find a weapons bench where you can use junk to trick out your favorite weapons with special scopes, improved grips, and even bayonets. Some mods change the fire rate or damage, while others increase the clip capacity or range. In addition to the changes the mods have on gameplay, they also help connect the weapon to the player since you were the one who built it to perfection.
Last but not least is the presentation of Fallout 4. Visually, Fallout isn’t anything special. The colors are drab and the graphics aren’t particularly impressive. I often found myself feeling like I was back in the Xbox 360/PS3 era. That being said, the game occasionally delivers moments of visual beauty, such as a rainy night in the neon lit Diamond City, or the foggy corridors of a long forsaken factory. What really shines for the visuals is the design. Much of the Commonwealth feels home made with nails sticking out of blocks of wood and window panes that aren’t fitted quite right. This adds to that post apocalyptic feeling that is so palpable in Fallout. Even the weapons and armor creatively carry this idea of imperfection and resourcefulness. The best part of Fallout 4’s presentation, however, is the audio design. On a sound effects level, Fallout immerses the player with every footstep and rain drop. Bullets ricochet off metal cars, bricks of abandoned buildings can be heard tumbling into piles. Time and time again Fallout reminds you that you are in a living and breathing world that is constantly creaking like an old house. After just a few minutes of playing, the brilliantly crafted sound effects will draw you in and never let go. With that said, the music is somehow even better. As a matter of fact it is so engaging and layered with subtext that I would much rather explain the music separately. For now, I will say that the player has the choice to listen to the radio stations of the Commonwealth. Some of them offer peppy 50s styled rock tunes, while others offer a simple classical music. The player can also choose to forgo the radio route, and opt for the music presented by the game itself. This brand of music blends smooth orchestra with melancholy techno into somber and ambient tunes. Whatever your choice, you can be assured that it will be both enjoyable and impressive.
Fallout 4 is not without its problems. I was stopped several times and forced to reload a previous save due to game breaking bugs and glitches. There were other times where dramatic sequences were made all but silly when an npc got stuck in a wall. For example, in one part of the game a deathclaw was roaming the bottom floor of a building. As part of the quest I fell into that bottom floor. I found that by the design I was meant to solve a simple puzzle and escape the room with the deathclaw as added tension. Though it all seemed like a fun section on paper, the deathclaw got stock in a wall and I simply shot it to death. Fallout 4 is an amazing game with a well told and interesting story, some enjoyable and varied game mechanics, and some of the most brilliant audio design and music in a game; but it is also the buggiest thing I have ever played. If you can push your way through Fallout 4’s seemingly endless technical difficulties, then you might just find an amazing “next gen” game that delivers on nearly every level.
Fallout 4 earns a 7.8/10