Fallout 4 Review
It's been about five years since we have explored a post nuclear wasteland from Bethesda and I am happy to say the wait is finally over. The nonlinear open world survival formula has worked wonderfully across two series for several years now and Bethesda doesn't seem to be looking back. When you have a solid base to work with the only options are to start toying with existing elements and applying new ones that are hopefully cohesive. My focus for Fallout 4 was never going to be about the story or combat system since those are usually solid, but mainly centering on those new elements and their impact on our newest wasteland experience.
For the first time in the Fallout series we begin our adventure in the year 2077 - pre-nuclear war, but only for a moment. After hearing reports of nukes being dropped, the locals are asked to seek shelter and report to the nearest vault. You and your wife (or husband if playing as a female character), along with infant son Shaun in hand, are ushered to the platform leading down to the vault when you see a nuke has just been dropped nearby. After barely missing the nuclear aftershock you are welcomed to Vault 111 and quickly decontaminated and placed in cryogenic sleep. After some 200 years your cryogenic sleep is briefly interrupted to witness your son taken by a group of men who murder your wife in the process. After completely coming out of your deep sleep you begin the attempt to piece together what has happened not only with the murder of your wife and kidnapping of your son, but also why the vault looks to have been abandoned for centuries.
I consider the start of this game one of the best in the series. Seeing the world before and after nuclear apocalypse brings the level of understanding and hardship to a higher level than previous games just starting in a vault. Add the fact that it has been over 200 years since the nuke being dropped means that most survivors that you meet are in disbelief that you knew life before the war. My only gripe is that the main plot focus of your son being kidnapped isn't the greatest. The plot does act as your primary topic of communication and trust among the survivors, and each interaction is basically another breadcrumb or clue to where your son might be. The majority of the time, though, such information comes at a cost and you must help the survivors with their own issues. As with every Fallout game this is where the bulk of the enjoyment really comes from, side quests. The biggest thing to remember is to just go with it and enjoy where the quests take you. If you end up running into a difficult area like I did don't get frustrated and give, just move on to another questline. You can always come back later.
One thing for certain is the Boston inspired environment called the Commonwealth is huge and you can easily get sidetracked by the various sites. Luckily there is a great balance between freely exploring and also knocking out quests along the way. The downside for me is a lot of those side missions lead to establishing settlements. Remember that mobile Fallout Shelter game? Yup! It has been incorporated into Fallout 4. Once trust has been achieved amongst some of the people in the Commonwealth they immediately put their entire lives in your hands and require you to basically baby them from here on out. Hey Commonwealth, you survived this far you don't need my help! Each establishment has an element of crafting. You will be providing food, water, shelter, and defenses for each settlement and maintaining their happiness. In order to do that you must collect resources and use those resources to build items for the settlers use. Anything from a lamp, water pump, chair, power generators, to complete buildings can be made with resources found in the environment. How do you get those resources you ask well gone are the days of ignoring all the junk in the world. Literally everything in the environment that can be looted can also be scrapped for resources. Each item requires a certain amount of those resources and some are rarer than others. After going through the initial settlement tutorial I have never really gone back or built up my community except to dump my junk. It seemed no matter how much attention I gave to each settlement I didn't see any direct positive result for my character. The concept is completely lost to me and just seems like a time sink for little benefit. Now watch, shortly after this review gets posted someone will discover an awesome weapon, armor set, or quest chain that resolves around settlement building and I will be severely behind the curve. Even so, I really don't think anything will be good enough for me to focus fire on such a boring task.
Going on with the theme of disappointment for me is the crafting. Sure it has been somewhat of a component in previous games, but this time around it seems like Bethesda wanted it to be the primary focus for almost every component. Armor, weapons, and food can all be modified through crafting, again bringing focus to the fact that every lootable item in the world has a purpose. In the previous games even without looting all the junk I had issues with maxing out my inventory. Now that everything is potentially important my OCD kicks in and I must pick everything up and am forced to constantly weigh my options or leave things behind. Even after filling my pockets, scrapping all the junk the provided modifications for my guns and armor aren't even worth it. Just about every modification increases the weight and not my primary focus of needing more damage. The same can be said about the armor, the value of adding damage resistance is quickly outweighed by the hit in increased weight, limiting what I can pick up and carry. What a dilemma to experience, I don't want to have to worry about what I can and can't make or bring with me. Similar to the settlements I almost immediately abandoned crafting and felt there was no need since most of the items discovered on the way have been better than what I had before and already modified. The only crafting perk I have used to me benefit is the cooking. Instead of eating things in their raw form now you can mix items and cook them to give more positive effects such as more health rather than eating the raw form and getting radiation poisoning. Watch out, though, because this is also where you can get yourself into another inventory weight problem by hoarding all that good food you have cooked. I am so wasteful and feel terrible by leaving great items behind, but that is the cost of good survival!
One of tricks up Bethesda's sleeve that I hate and want to love more is the Power Armor. Introduced really early on in the game, the armor made me feel like I was invincible. The problem is it was very short-lived. The power armor is the Commonwealth's version of Iron Man. While being in a giant near indestructible suit wielding a huge mini gun is a lot of fun, it comes at a cost. The armor is powered by fusion which depletes over time the more it is used. Once depleted the armor is brought to a slow crawl and is unusable, and in most cases must be abandoned on the spot. The problem is the energy needed to power the armor is hard to come by and in limited supply. So I will continue to play my broken record and ask, "What is the point?" Why go to all the trouble to power a lackluster set of armor when my weapon arsenal is good enough? Yeah, there are perks to collect to extend the energy duration,n but still not long enough for me to enjoy the experience. Maybe I haven't reached a point where it is completely necessary so until then I will tuck that energy away for that one potential emergency situation.
Not everything new was a disappointment to me. We already know that we would be introduced to the dog companion. What we didn't completely understand was his utilization and also the fact that the dog isn't the only companion we can come across. Sometimes a companion will just offer their assistance, but others will have to be discovered or freed before they will tag along. Each companion has their own abilities but all of them will spot enemies before you even see them, attack enemies in the heat of battle, track items down for you, hack terminals, even act as a secondary inventory system, which is a lifesaver for the hoarder that this game brings out in all of us. I personally haven't used a companion other than the dog since he just brings a certain comfort to the survival experience in what can be such a dark lonely world. The biggest problem with essentially unlocking the other companions is losing track of where they are. Some can be found at settlements, but others tend to travel around and are much harder to find. It would be nice if there was some sort of map indicator or filter that will show the location of all the companions unlocked.
The other aspect I have really enjoyed this time around is the perk system. In previous Fallouts I had the tendency to think I was ruining my character by putting points into a stat that seemed to have no direct impact to my success. Now the perk system is fully revealed in an animated tiered chart system. You still have your primary stats but also a variety of other perks readily accessible at an early stage. Some perks are multileveled which do require either more of a primary stat or a combination of primary stat and base level. I found the most useful perks didn't require a high primary stat so don't feel like you have to max one of them out. Allowing a huge number of perks to be available at such an early stage allows the player to peer into the endgame and steer their character development to their play style.
At its core, Fallout 4 is exactly what fans should expect, great storytelling, presentation, and character development with a side of disappointment. The new features just don't seem as polished as they should be, but thankfully don't take away from the overall experience. However, there are the occasional bugs that can creep up and instantly hinder your progress and can cause massive frustration, especially if you had not saved recently. Is it too much to ask to be able to play a game more than ten minutes without having to constantly think about saving my game? No matter, lessons are learned and just like in any Fallout game you adapt and overcome. In the end I always find myself coming back. Each experience and enemy encounter is different. Each situation can be defused in multiple ways. The story that is unique to each scenario but eloquently tied together makes Fallout 4 another memorable and successful game.
Final Rating: 82% - It's as if Fallout 3, New Vegas, and Shelter had a baby.