‘Fallout 4’ Review

Platforms PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

Developer Bethesda Game Studios   Publisher Bethesda Softworks

Genre Action RPG   Platform Played Xbox One

Not many games out there offer the player a wide array of choices. Sure, linear games such as Super Mario Bros.Halo and Uncharted are amazing franchises, and even offer optional, fun collectibles along the way in their stories, but sometimes the player is limited to what they can do. For example, how many times did you want to wring Navi’s neck from Ocarina of Time?

It’s certainly far from a bad thing, but many games do not present these kinds of choices. Player choice is an area developer Bethesda excels at, and this staple is continued in their latest game: Fallout 4 – a title you might have heard of before.

For the first time in franchise history, the journey begins in Boston, Mass. – the Commonwealth as it’s known in Fallout – on the day the world nuked itself on Oct. 23, 2077. After hearing reports of bombs dropping around the world, the player flees to Vault 111, one of many underground facilities built to protect people from atomic bombs. Instead of waiting around for news of the aftermath, the inhabitants of Vault 111 are almost immediately put to sleep via freezing tubes. The player awakens more than 200 years later to embark on a mission to find their infant son, who is kidnapped by a group with highly advanced technology known as the Institute, a mysterious organization that also creates robotic humans known as Synths.

From the get go, players are immediately able to make their character appear anyway they want. Want to make Breaking Bad’s Walter White? What about Taylor Swift? Perhaps the stuff of people’s nightmares? The options are there with the highly customizable face sculpting system, which is allegedly the same system Bethesda uses to make characters. I admittedly spent about an hour in an attempt to mirror my appearance. As one who has always been an observer and not an artist, it did not go well, but I was still amazed with its potential and seeing what others have done with it.

The options hardly end there, however. The decisions players can make after they emerge from Vault 111 are truly their own. “Should I continue the search for my son, check out this witch museum I heard about or join the Minutemen (a faction that serves and protects the Commonwealth)?” As awful as it sounds to abandon the quest to search for a kidnapped child, these were the questions I often asked myself, and you will find it nearly impossible to not ponder as well with the wealth of quests, interesting characters and peculiar locales in Fallout 4. Hotspots include real historical sites such as the Bunker Hill Monument, the Old North Church and Fenway Park, which acts as a secured settlement called Diamond City.

No matter where the player goes or what they do, dangers lurk around every corner. Enemies, from Raiders to the terrifying and monstrous Deathclaws and zombie-like Ghouls, are riddled almost everywhere. There wasn’t a single location I discovered that didn’t prompt me to crouch in stealth out of fear for my life, but the risks and discoveries constantly make the trek across the Wasteland exciting and rewarding, even after more than 25 hours of play and counting.

Fallout 4 has come a long way from Fallout 3’s dated shooting mechanics. Fallout 3 borderline required players to use V.A.T.S., a targeting system that stopped time and allowed players to target body parts with a certain percent chance of landing a blow, because of the stiff shooting. V.A.T.S. returns to Fallout 4, but anyone can go through their entire adventure without using it since the game plays comparably to any tight, well-controlled shooter. On the other hand, it’s still vilely entertaining to watch someone’s head get blown off in slow motion while using V.A.T.S.

Bethesda decided to veer from Fallout’s traditional point skill system and focus all attention on perks. Instead of distributing points to skills and picking a perk with each level like in Fallout 3, players now simply select one perk at a time out of the 70 available using S.P.E.C.I.A.L., an acronym that divides abilities and enhancements into seven categories: strength, perception, endurance, charisma, intelligence, agility and luck. Each S.P.E.C.I.A.L. category must be leveled up to access more perks. Most perks also have upgrades, which bump the number of total perks above 270. I can’t recount how many tough decisions I made when picking perks because of how many suited the way I wanted to play, and anyone playing Fallout 4 will certainly have the same experience.

I was iffy about the point system’s absence, but the simpler overhaul makes for a more intuitive system. I always thought it was silly to distribute my points to things like lockpicking or science in previous games only to come up a point or two short of cracking something more advance.

Perhaps the biggest and most noteworthy feature in Fallout 4 is the crafting system in general. Players are no longer limited to weapons with preselected attributes or apparel. Arms such as an automatic silenced pistol, shotguns with long range or laser rifles with scattered shots are all possible. There are easily hundreds, if not thousands of combinations to appeal to anyone’s play style.

If customizing isn’t your thing, weapons and armor with random features can still be picked up from fallen foes, giving the Fallout 4 a Borderlands-esque randomness to its weapon and armor pickups. Legendary enemies, tougher opponents who can mutate to become stronger, also carry loot with permanent unique features.

To create the gun or armor of your dreams, players must gather various “junk” throughout the Wasteland. Bethesda has always had miscellaneous items in their games with little to no purpose, but things that were once minuscule and meaningless such as a lamp or duct tape are now valuable resources to crafting.

Players who love simulators akin to games like Sims City, or even Farmville, will also love building settlements. A small, once dilapidated area can be rebuilt into a town brimming with farms, traders and folks simply looking for a place to live. You’ll have to manage resources and inevitably prepare for attacks by Raiders, but Fallout 4 never forces you to babysit a settlement. For those who wish to simply roam the Wasteland instead, running a settlement is completely optional, which I appreciate since I’ve never been into life simulators.

With so much player freedom, one of Fallout’s ironic weak points is giving the player’s character a voice, a first in any Bethesda game. There’s nothing wrong with the voice actors or making the character vocal, but it limits the player in a few of ways when compared to previous games.

For starters, dialogue options aren’t fleshed out sometimes. Instead of giving a small summary of what the character would say similarly to Mass Effect, the syntax is often vague. One example is the sarcastic option, which appears frequently. It wouldn’t be a problem if my character didn’t say something I had no intentions of projecting. And with only four choices of dialogue at a time, Fallout 4 ultimately cripples itself when compared to previous iterations, which often had several options, ones sometimes based on certain skills.

The lack of a karma system also takes away from the experience. Karma was literally a game changer in how players approached different obstacles in Fallout (Megaton anyone?). As a result, moral choices do not have nearly as much of an impact.

In a manner of speaking, karma is replaced by choosing to join forces with one of four factions, each with their own story to follow. Bethesda does a great job of painting a gray area within each tale. They all have goals and good intentions you will feel sympathetic toward while objecting to others. However, no matter which side you pick, all but one of their pretensions are fully explained, especially when it comes to the Institute’s story and the motivations behind their actions. It’s difficult to talk about without spoiling the plot, but their end game and actions are poorly elaborated on, sometimes not at all.

Visually speaking, Fallout 4 isn’t pretty in some areas. Characters still move a little robotically – and not because they’re Synths – and textures up close sometimes appear muddy. However, when the signature size of Bethesda’s titles and how this is their first crack at a game on current gen is factored in, the visuals in general and everything Fallout 4 accomplishes is astounding, especially at a “small” 30 GB file size. Sure, it’s impossible to avoid Bethesda glitches (I had a dead Wasteland creature hilariously twerking at one point), and the frame rate drops during few occasions, but the content presented to the players is a worthwhile exchange.

One problem I’ve always had in Bethesda’s games has finally been addressed here: voice actor variety. Skyrim immediately comes to mind when I think of how often I heard the exact same voices from dozens of characters, but I can’t recall a single time where I recognized the same voice in Fallout 4.

Whether you’re inept or adept to the series, anyone with a pulse and the necessary hardware owes it to themselves to play Fallout 4. The main story and its branching factions may not be fleshed out well, but the countless quests and ways Bethesda allows the player to shape their experience more than makes up for the negatives. Dozens, if not hundreds of hours can be spent lost in the cryptic depths of the Commonwealth crafting, exploring, discovering and shooting your way through perilous sequences because war, war never changes.

The Good

  • Myriad of options for the player
  • Hours upon hours of content
  • Voice actor variety (finally)
  • Improved shooting mechanics
  • Crafting weapons and armor

The Bad

  • Poorly explained main stories
  • Limiting dialogue options and absent karma system

The Score: 9.2