Fallout 4 is a game that needs no introduction, but being the most recent instalment in a franchise very close to my heart, it’s going to get one anyway… Developed by none other than Besthesda Softworks, known most prominently for the Elder Scrolls series, it has taken seven years of development to make their ‘most ambitious [Fallout] game yet’, in the words of creative director Todd Howard, and it really shows. Featuring an overhauled graphics engine, totally retooled combat and fully voiced dialogue, Fallout 4 is out to contend in the triple A big leagues, and has gone off with the full force of a nuclear warhead in virtually all media. So strap on your Pip-boy, and stock up on Stimpacks and Rad-away for our tour through the wasteland.
As with all of the other entries in the series, both developed by Bethesda and Black Isle Studios before it, Fallout 4 is set in a retro-futuristic alternative future in which the microchip was never invented, and scientific discoveries instead leant towards utilising nuclear power. In this world, the timeline splits after the second world war, sometime between the 1
940’s and 1960’s, in a world where the laws of physics and science as we understand it work very differently. By the year 2077, nuclear power is a part of everyday life, used in commercially available robotics, and mobile power supplies and even vehicles. The threat of total atomic annihilation is also very real, with large scale wars fighting over the remains of the planets natural resources. This threat is made real on October 23rd 2077, when massive nuclear strikes worldwide bring about a nuclear apocalypse. It is on this day that the plot of Fallout 4 begins.
This story rundown contains only spoilers found within the pre-release trailers, but for those of you wanting to start in the game not knowing a thing (proper roleplaying!) then skip ahead to the gameplay segment, you have been warned!
It is on the morning of October 23rd 2077 that we meet our main cast, the Player Character (PC), their spouse, their son Shaun and their robotic housekeeper Codsworth. You are given the chance to create your character, male or female, framed as the married couple getting ready in the morning for an ex-military social event. From the outset we are introduced to the frankly amazing voice over work from the two main VO leads, Brian T. Delaney and Courtenay Taylor as they have some great back and forth over their physical features. For the first time in a Fallout game, we get a good look at what pre-apocalypse life was like, and it is gloriously chrome plated in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. After a brief introduction to the main cast, and the obligatory S.P.E.C.I.A.L stat selection system, you receive warning of an impending nuclear strike. A frenzied dash to the nearby Vault 111 entrance gives you a look at the surrounding area before escaping into the vault with a select few neighbours right before the first bombs hit. I’m not going to talk about what transpires in the vault, much like in the first E3 presentation way back in June, but you emerge over 200 years later.
The Commonwealth, as it is now known, is home to many threats, old and new, the stand out new faction being ‘The Institute’. Old hands of Fallout 3 may remember hearing references to this shadowy group in the quest The Replicated Man and how they are supposedly able to create realistic human replica synthetic life forms, or Synths for short. Your reasons for seeking out this faction, and whom you side with in your quests are entirely up to you, but you won’t want for things to do. Unfortunately, whist you are given a mind boggling amount of choice for what quests to undertake, at times the narrative can feel a little thin in places, and the dialogue can occasionally suffer from a lack of clarity in the available choices. This can result in some humorous, but mostly frustrating terminations to dialogue, sometimes prompting reloading an earlier save. All in all though, the driving narrative for not only the main story missions, but also the numerous side quests is engaging and entertaining, you won’t run out of things to do!
As mentioned earlier, the combat system has been completely ripped out, and replaced with a much more involving set of mechanics lifted from another of Bethesda’s instant classics, Wolfenstein: The New Order. Gunplay feels slick and responsive. Gone are the invisible number generators that figure out whether you’ve hit or not based on your skills (more on that later), instead every weapon feels distinct and enemies behave in a much more immersive manner. Raiders with submachine guns and shotguns will rush and flank you, whilst those with rifles and heavier ordnance will bombard you from behind cover at a distance.
All of the wasteland denizens behave distinctly, and you’ll likely be surprised by the new moves even older enemies such as deathclaws now possess. The removal of the repair system brought in in Fallout 3 and the introduction of a layered armour system and in depth modding & crafting system means you can easily mould your equipment to suit your playstyle. If you don’t like to fight the all new settlement system allows for the development of certain areas into self-sufficient safe zones for recruitable NPC’s to live, and is a surprisingly in depth endeavour, though I can’t wait until more building options are available, whether through official patches and DLC, or the awaited mod support (even on consoles, thanks Mr. Howard!). There are also many, many more situations in which you’re more peace loving characters, and sneaky types, can resolve situations, with a great emphasis on role-playing. There are even a wealth of fully fledged, fully voiced NPC companions to keep you company out in the Commonwealth, and even after over fifty hours of gameplay, I haven’t found them all!
On another note however, there are times where NPC and companion behaviour can leave you frustrated, standing in doorways, or complaining there aren’t enough empty beds when standing in a room full of them in your carefully constructed settlement. I even had set up a market square in one of my towns, where during the day the settlers I had assigned to be traders would be totally absent, but at night my entire complement of settlers and companions would stand in a line, completely silent, right through to daylight. As with every one of Bethesda’s open worlds, they will inevitably fix everything, but as yet the bugs are present, so save often!
Fallout 4 is a gorgeous game, with an immediately recognisable style that will keep me immersed in the Commonwealth for some time to come.
In terms of character development, gone is the skills system of the past, replaced by a revamped perk system. You now receive a perk every single time you level up, and can select perks from a wide array, ranging from increased damage from specific weapon types, increasing your S.P.E.C.I.A.L stats and even more exotic effects. The new system actually allows for a much wider range of character builds, and combined with the lack of a level cap, means you’ll be able to make the Fallout character you’ve always dreamed of, and certainly be getting a lot of replayability out of it.
Something immediately obvious from the outset is one thing, Colour. The colour palette in Fallout 4 is as vast as the game world itself, and is used to differentiate game areas. Combined with the modified Creation engine from Skyrim, coupled withsome hefty boosts to the animation and lighting quality, it all adds up to a very pretty game. The engine and use of colour perfectly suit the Fallout universe, and avoids the totally grey and green drab of Fallout 3 and the brown expanse of New Vegas.
The UI is presented through your wrist mounted Pip-boy (Extra immersion from wearing my Pip-boy collectors item fills me with childlike glee) has been given the same visual overhaul as everything else, with great 3D models of your inventory items and 2D animated graphics for your perks and stats adding that Fallout charm even when browsing your gear. The UI could do with some tweaks, as it feels a little off on both controller, mouse and keyboard, and there isn’t enough space for the text on several items, an unfortunate side effect of a game developed for both platforms, though modding will likely allow for fixes to any niggling problems with the system.
As said before, the animation quality has taken a huge leap, and special mention has to be made for both the power armour suits, which really make you feel like a super human, and the necessary dog companion. The dog used for the motion capture, a beautiful German shepherd called River, is captured almost flawlessly, excluding a few doorway blocking moments! The expected visual glitches are present, with foliage and furniture clipping through the geometry in places, and occasional hilarious physics errors throwing objects and corpses around. It would seem these are inevitable for games of this size, and whilst it would be nice for them to be ironed out, I would almost miss their charm.
Fallout 4 is a masterpiece in how it has innovated on the mechanics that make it unique, and improved in almost every way over its predecessors. For every moment the narrative can feel a little stretched, or a dialogue choice can make you wonder which programmer was replaced with a synth with a strange concept of paraphrasing, you’ll uncover five, fifteen or fifty moments that will stick with you, and give you plenty to talk about with your friends. In spite of its flaws, a truly wonderful game to play, and I can’t wait for the modding community to get their teeth into it. All in all, Fallout 4 is a gorgeous game, with an immediately recognisable style that will keep me immersed in the Commonwealth for some time to come.