New crafting and base building mechanics and a densely packed wasteland, Fallout 4 is the best game in the series
Available formats: PC, Xbox One, PS4
This was always going to be a tough review to write. Even with a week before the developer’s embargo lifted to play it, Fallout 4 is a massive game that simply can’t be seen in its entirety in such a short space of time. So far I’ve put in around 80 hours, and don’t feel I’ve seen half of what there is on offer.
In that time, however, it’s clear that this is the best 3D Fallout game yet.
After Bethesda’s E3 reveal, it’s an open secret that the game opens before the bombs have dropped and the world ‘ends’. You’ll experience the 1950’s-inspired world first hand, before making your way to the iconic Vault and riding out the apocalypse.
While avoiding spoilers as much as possible, when you eventually emerge, Bethesda has done a brilliant job in giving players a reason for exploring every inch of the wasteland. The story is packed with emotional punch, some unique and generally interesting characters, and surprising set pieces that feel different from any other Fallout game.
Whereas the Vault Dweller’s interactions with NPCs were limited to written text in previous games, here Bethesda has recorded every single line of dialogue – a reported 13,000 lines each for the male and female voice actors. Conversation options have been reduced as a result, with only four dialogue choices per topic assigned to each of the face buttons. Speech checks vary from bright yellow to deep red, indicating your chance to succeed based on your charisma and relevant perks, but your other S.P.E.C.I.A.L. attributes don’t seem to unlock extra options any more. Giving the Vault Dweller a voice makes you feel like you’re actually a part of the world, even if you lack the unmistakeable Boston accent uttered by many of the game’s NPCs.
Moving the action to Boston provides a greater insight into Fallout’s many factions. The Brotherhood of Steel have a much smaller presence here, but you finally get to learn more about the mysterious Institute, a faction that was only hinted at in previous Fallout games.
It’s also opened up a whole raft of revolutionary themes, from the Minutemen soldiers looking to defend their homeland from raider attacks, to the underground railroad trying to protect a certain faction that’s the scapegoat for a lot of the Commonwealth wasteland. Well known locations from American history are also given a post apocalyptic makeover, including turning Fenway Park baseball stadium into Diamond City, one of the biggest settlements in the wasteland. There are a few nods to factions and characters from previous titles that will please fans, too.
There’s been much debate online as to whether Fallout 4 has the graphics befitting of a next-generation title, based on early leaked gameplay footage, but I can put your mind at rest; Fallout 4 is gorgeous, albeit not breathtaking, with a unique art style the focuses on crafting a believable world.
There’s no question Bethesda has nailed the post apocalyptic look. Combining the pre-war style with blown out buildings, scavenged parts and a 1950’s vision of sci-fi, every location oozes atmosphere and is jammed full with incidental detail. Character animations are much improved and faces look far more natural, too.
The world map isn’t the biggest Bethesda has ever made in terms of size, but it’s probably the most densely packed; you only have to walk a minute in any direction and you’ll encounter a new location to explore. Boston weather is notoriously changeable, and it’s no different in 2277, with rain storms rolling in and giving areas a very different feel. There are even radiation storms that force you to find shelter, with lightning illuminating your surroundings and yellow radiation clouds giving everything an alarming glow. Many locations are tied to missions, and based on my playtime there are plenty of impressive set-pieces that give the more important ones real gravitas.
Beyond looks, Bethesda has somehow managed to tweak the traditional Fallout formula in virtually every way, so what was once familiar now feels brand new again.
The familiar Vault Boy mascot used to pop up from time to time in previous Fallout titles, but here he’s everywhere. From the perk tree to each new mission or side quest, short animated Pip Boy vignettes give the menus some much needed character. Even the initial loading screen plays a set of 1950’s-inspired “What makes you S.P.E.C.I.A.L.” animated shorts featuring Vault Boy, explaining each of the seven stat attributes that you pick when creating your character.
Other changes are more wide reaching. The series’ iconic Power Armour used to be a mid-game reward that had to be earned, typically by pledging allegiance to the Brotherhood of Steel or the Enclave forces. There are no such requirements here; instead, one of your first story missions outside of vault III puts you inside the suit, defending a group of stranded settlers from a raider attack. Once the mission is over, you’re free to use Power Armour for the rest of the game.
This is certain to shock long-standing Fallout fans, but don’t panic. Without a fusion core to power your suit, you can barely move in it. Fusion cores are rare, and are quickly depleted, so relying on power armour too much at the start of the adventure will leave you stranded in the wasteland when you eventually run out of power. Instead, fusion cores are best saved for emergencies, so you have a fallback for fighting super mutant behemoths or Deathclaws. Seeing yourself climb inside the suit is immensely satisfying, as is the onscreen display that replaces the standard HUD and pip-boy menu screen.
Real-time combat feels much more visceral and responsive than it did in either Fallout 3 or New Vegas, and it helps that there’s a huge selection of weapons to choose from. Scavenged pipe rifles, made with wooden blocks, duct tape and tin cans, fit the post-apocalyptic world perfectly, but they don’t exactly pack a punch – you’ll want to migrate to laser pistols, military combat shotguns and Fat Man mini-nuke launchers if you want to stand a chance in the wasteland. Because your weapons no longer degrade, either through general use or while in V.A.T.S., you don’t need to hoard similar guns in order to keep your favourite in top condition.
Instead, you can focus on finding the weapon that suits your play style best, then modifying it at a work bench with accessories and upgrades. You can loot unique guns and armour from Legendary enemies, who are much tougher than their standard counterparts, then use parts found in the wasteland to improve them further. This means ripping optics from microscopes, gears from clocks and circuitry from broken Protectron robots to built each new upgrade. Almost every weapon and armour modification needs adhesive, too, which makes the humble roll of duct tape one of the most valuable items in the Commonwealth.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to scavenging. Bethesda has taken inspiration from MineCraft, of all things, giving players a fully featured base building system that encourages you to collect everything. Nothing is truly junk any more, as you can break it down into component pieces and use them to build items and structures for NPCs to inhabit. There are many settlements strewn across the wasteland for you to liberate and rebuild, and with each one you increase your standing with the Minutemen faction. Get enough rep and you can unlock artillery emplacements, which can be used to shell any location within range with devastating firepower.
It can be tricky to get items in the exact place you want them in first person view, and it’s a little scary just how many raw materials are needed to keep each settlement stocked with food, water, beds, electricity and defences to protect against raider or super mutant attacks, but this at least ensures you’re always on the lookout for new locations to loot.
Once you have enough settlers in a settlement, you can set up supply routes to other camps in order to share resources, rather than carry around building supplies yourself. You can send companions to different settlements too, but there’s no way to tell who you’ve sent where; I spend 15 minutes fast-travelling to every one of my settlements because I’d accidentally sent familiar canine friend Dogmeat to one and couldn’t remember which it was.
War might never change, but Fallout 4 represents a shift for the series. There’s a much larger focus on the player’s part in the world, as well as their personal reasons for exploring it. A few mechanics from the previous titles might have been abandoned, but they arguably help streamline gameplay. Post-apocalyptic Boston is filled with enough locations, items and NPCs to keep you exploring for well over 100 hours, and with no level cap, a base-building mechanic that encourages exploration and an enormous collection of side missions, there’s an insane amount of content here. Fans of the series will love finding their feet in a new location, while newcomers don’t need to have wandered the Capitol wasteland or the New California Republic to understand the plot.
There are a few glitches and slowdowns that hopefully Bethesda will be able to iron out with a post-launch patch, at least on the Xbox One version I played, but it’s not nearly enough to lower my opinion of it. It’s undoubtedly a Best Buy, and a real contender for game of the year too.
|PC, Xbox One, PS4
|Windows 7, Windows 8.1, Windows 10 64-bit
|2.8GHz quad-core Intel, 3GHz quad-core AMD
|AMD Radeon HD 7870, Nvidia GeForce GTX 550 ti
|Hard disk space