Something the Fallout series does better than any other is awesome juxtaposition. There’s no other series where I can whistle along to ‘50s and ‘60s music while traversing a nuclear hellscape, shooting mutated bears in the face, and encountering whacky, zany characters ranging from zombiesque ghouls in pin striped suits, to escorting beer brewing robots through a horde of angry green mutants.
And Fallout 4 has that in spades.
The plot itself is actually quite interesting, with a large number of interesting set pieces and side quests that branch off of the main questline, interspersed wish some wacky off beat humor that plays well off the post-apocalyptic setting. Its biggest problem, as is the case in most open world games of this size, is pacing.
It actually starts before the bombs dropped, creating the nuclear wasteland of freaks we all know and love. And though the story doesn’t delve into the implications of that as much as I’d have liked (I for one would be freaking out a lot more than my character did if I went into a bomb shelter and suddenly woke up two centuries after the end of civilization), it does a good job as an entry point for series newcomers, introducing them to the most retro of apocalypses.
The first few main quests pull the player through quite a compelling mystery, but once the world really starts opening up, pretty much all of the urgency and plot momentum is lost.
Thankfully, most of the side quests, particularly the ones tied to the regions’ major factions, are linked in to the main quest line, and do a great job of fleshing out the world and giving detail to an otherwise arch conflict. There’s some great moral nuance here, with well-written characters who fit perfectly with their setting.
Something I noticed while wandering the wasteland was the sheer amount of overhaul that’s gone into everything. The shooting mechanics, which were one of the weaker aspects of previous games, have been cleaned up considerably. It’s still not nearly as tight or precise as the likes of Destiny or Halo, but it’s much improved over the floaty nonsense of Fallout 3.
Character models have a much greater variety than in any previous Bethesda effort, with far more lifelike animations to go along with them. In previous games, you could practically see the puppet strings moving the limbs. Here, it’s far more seamless.
Power armor, which in previous games was basically just really heavy-duty armor, now serves a far more lore accurate function, in that it’s basically wearable tank.
Stepping into a suit of power armor exponentially increases your durability, which is a good thing, because combat can be outright punishing at times.
The jump to next gen consoles has allowed for far more enemies to in play at once, creating some really harrowing encounters.
There’s no experience quite like battling against a horde of two dozen raiders, using up all your ammo in the process, only for three Deathclaws to come tearing down the street.
Most notably, I encountered amazingly few bugs or glitches throughout, which is honestly the first time I can ever say that for a Bethesda title. It’s clear that a lot of time went into debugging, and the effort really paid off. This is easily the most polished at launch game Bethesda has ever put out.
The biggest new feature, and what will no doubt me the most talked about, is the settlement building mechanic. Early on in the story the player is introduced to a small town that they are tasked with customizing and fortifying in case of attack.
You plants crops, provide beds and housing, and set up a barricade of gun turrets and landmines to keep the town safe from any would be invaders. As you progress, more and more settlements are put under your control.
The system behind this mechanic is actually rather complex, involving juggling dozens of different crafting materials and resources that fund your various building projects.
However, the interface is more than a little clunky at times, especially when grafted to a console-based first-person perspective. Many missions involving settlements require building something, but the only signpost given to this objectives is a little goal marker above the workshop table, with no indication as to where in the labyrinthine menu system you’ll find the correct object you need.
Still, once you’ve figured out how the system works, it’s well worth investing time in, especially for players who enjoy a huge amount of customization.
What really makes the game for me is the little details, like the fact that when using your Pipboy, the menu interface on your avatars risk, there’s actually an animation of their fingers rotating the dials or inserting a cassette tape into the slot.
Some of the most rewarding bits of story were found in the notes and tapes left behind by denizens of the wasteland or the world long since dead. The geography of the Commonwealth helps build a very clear sense of place. Fallout has always been a series more about it’s setting than any one character, and Boston after the end of the world is a hell of a place to get lost in.
Does it live up to the hype? I’m not sure, but it’s a damn good adventure, well worth stocking up on rations and venturing into the radiation for.