The Wasteland is a massive, forbidding place- filled with pockets of radiation and horribly mutated beasts, all of which want to kill you. Survival by any means is what drives you, forcing you sometimes to make unsavory choices. And yet there is hope to be found among bands of survivors, people who are trying to rebuild some semblance of civilized life years after an atomic war ravaged the globe in 2077. Factions arise from the ashes and chaos, all who have their own notion as to how the world should be rebuilt. You were one of the lucky ones who made it into a Vault as the bombs began to fall. You wake up 200 years later, only to witness something precious being taken from you. You now have a driving goal: get back what is yours, at all costs. You leave Vault 111 and are greeted with the sight of a ravaged world filled with danger.
It is 2277. Welcome to the Commonwealth, the area that used to be called Boston, Massachusetts, also known as the Wasteland. Now, you must make your own way. And survive.
Such is the set up of Bethesda’s new massive open world RPG, Fallout 4. Fallout 4 builds on its predecessors Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, expanding on both the visual palette of those games as well as the gameplay. Because it takes place in an all new setting, with an all new story, it’s accessible to newcomers, though there are plenty of things veterans of the series will be familiar with. Factions like the Brotherhood of Steel makes its return, joined by new factions the Minutemen, the Institute, and the Railroad. The ability to switch from first person to third person is still in place, and the VATS targeting system works the same, enabling you to target specific parts of an enemy’s body. The S.P.E.C.I.A.L system is tweaked a bit with an expanded and streamlined Perks Tree, allowing you plenty of freedom in how you build your character. A robust character creator let’s you mold your male or female character into whoever you want, and some have gotten pretty close approximations of celebrities to place into the game. The only real limits are your own artistic ability, and how much time you’re willing to spend tweaking your character.
Graphically the game looks very good, with plenty of nice details in the environments and a richer color palette than its predecessors. Some brighter colors have been mixed into the browns, greys, and greens, and Fallout 4 adds New Vegas’s blue sky during daylight hours, except when it turns green due to a radiation storm (best to take cover from those if not equipped with a good hazmat suit or power armor to protect you, or if you don’t have any Rad X). There’s a nice variety to the types of structures you’ll encounter in your travels, ranging from shattered homes to factories to military bases and even some historical monuments. There is some pop in noticeable, especially with items in the distance, and I did encounter clipping issues with characters merging with both the environment and other characters. It’s nothing too distractive and can often provide some amusement, like one time when I shot a feral ghoul and its one leg got stuck in the floor, causing the corpse to spin around like a top. The frame rate stayed pretty steady for me on the Xbox One, with only a couple of instances of slowdown later in the game. I experienced no game crashes, though others have reported them across all three platforms (PC, PS4, Xbox One) that the game is available for.
The main story once again centers around family, and for those just concentrating on that alone expect to put in between 30-40 hours to complete it. The end of the story brings a black and white cut scene but no credits roll, leaving you free to continue to take on other missions, explore, and raise your level and add perks based on your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. abilities. The different perks really give you the freedom to mold your character to suit your individual play style. Want a character to be able to carry plenty of items? Then you’ll want to increase your Strength ability. High Charisma opens up new dialogue options and helps in persuading other characters you’ll run into across the Commonwealth. Endurance raises your health and ability to withstand damage, and Agility can help you be stealthier. There are plenty of Perks to choose from, so you can individualize your character to compliment how you wish to play. The game does offer plenty for you to do, with multiple side quests and quests specific to the four factions. As in previous games, siding with one faction can close off missions for another, and once you decide on a course of action later in the game you will be locked in, and whatever faction you’re with towards the end of the main story will determine the ending you get. My ending was somewhat satisfactory, but one issue I had with the main story is that it lacked a sufficient emotional punch. While not badly done, the main story isn’t anything we haven’t seen before, and some side missions are a bit more interesting. And yet, even with the amount of side quests to do, nothing ever wowed me. Don’t get me wrong, all were enjoyable to play. But in the long run I’m not sure how memorable Fallout 4’s story will be.
Fortunately, the gameplay makes up for a lot of that, with easy to use controls and plenty to see and do. The crafting system is very deep, allowing you to add on to weapons, modify armor, or even build settlements. Some will only touch this system so far as they need to to advance the story line, while others may spend time rebuilding civilization, remaking houses, building stores, and providing power supplies and crops to care for settlers. The map is large, and the ability to fast travel to places you’ve already discovered is a help. Be forewarned that fast travel isn’t available from just anywhere or if the game sense enemies are nearby (so no easy getaways). Speaking of enemies, you’ll encounter plenty. Raiders, feral ghouls, and super mutants provide challenges as you explore new areas in towns and cities, while the wilderness is full of its own dangers like mutant hounds, radscorpions, mirelurks, bloatflies, stingwings, yao guai (mutant bears), and the formidable deathclaws. The game gives you plenty of weapons to deal with threats, ranging from melee weapons like tire irons and machetes to firearms like machine guns, laser pistols, and missile launchers. How you dress will also determine your ease of surviving, and here again the game provides many options, with various suits, pieces of armor that cover your arms, legs, and chest, and full on power armor suits, which give you a nice little Iron Man like cut scene as you enter and leave them. Reading the stats on your Pip Boy for each article of clothing is helpful and often advisable, as different outfits will be necessary for different areas of the map. For dealing with larger enemies a power armor suit can serve you well, while a hazmat suit can make traversing the Glowing Sea (a highly radioactive area) a bit easier.Food and medicine also play an important role. Rad X is your friend, as is Radaway, so you don’t build up lethal radiation levels, designated by a red bar on your health bar. Stimpaks provide your basic health support. Food items gathered in the wild and found in buildings can be purified at cooking stations, allowing you to eat and drink without increasing your radiation levels. Again the Pip Boy provides valuable information, letting you know the health benefits along with the amount of radiation for each morsel you find, be it gum drops or yao guai meat. Other medications like Jet and Mentats give you enhanced perks temporarily, which can be helpful in certain situations. These items can enhance your abilities, like strength and intelligence, for a short amount of time. All items, along with various types of grenades, can be made at chemistry crafting stations. The various crafting stations can be available in your own settlement or in those of your allies. And you will need allies to survive the Wasteland.
To that end, the companions have been tweaked for Fallout 4. No more worrying about keeping them alive, as your companions, even your dog, a German shepherd named Dogmeat, will not die in combat. They can , however, be incapacitated for a short amount of time if they take enough damage. You can revive them immediately with a stimpak, but you may wish to not waste them as your companions will eventually heal themselves. Fallout 4 does give you a nice roster of companions to choose from, and romancing them, should you wish, is possible. Aside from your canine friend Dogmeat there’s the robot Codsworth (who can say up to 1000 different names, allowing him to address you personally provided what you name your character is on his list), Preston Garvey, a Minuteman, Nick Valentine, a synth private detective, and Piper, a newspaper reporter from Diamond City, along with a couple of others. The backstories for some of the companions are quite interesting, and gaining their loyalty can prove useful, as the more they like you the better they will help you on your travels. The AI is fairly good for the companions, though they do have a penchant for getting you in trouble. I had Dogmeat go off around a house in one area in search of an enemy, only to find said enemy was a pair of radscorpions. Needless to say, I met with a quick death, as this was earlier on in the game. fortunately, there is a fantastic save system in place that not only autosaves where you go in and out of buildings but also allows you to manually save anywhere on the map, even in the midst of combat. With Bethesda games noted for their glitchiness it’s a good idea to save often so you don’t lose large chunks of progress, especially when traveling across the map to a destination.
Your companions are all well voiced, and for the first time the player character is fully voiced, with you getting cut scenes for conversation choices. The choices for those conversation wheels increase with your Charisma stat, giving you more options to respond to the game’s characters. Generally your choices work well, though occasionally it may take you two or three times to get across something that would have been easier to get across in one. You also don’t get any options to speak to enemies, as once you’re designated a foe they will only try to kill you. It limits you slightly, as it would have been nice for me to warn another faction that was being attacked by one I was part of, but the game doesn’t give you that option. Th shooting works well, however, for when talking fails. I rarely used the VATS system, but it can make easy work of some tougher and faster moving enemies. Keep in mind the VATS merely slows time, not stops it, so you can still be struck by a bullet should you take too long to take action. Some may find that VATS makes combat over easy, but it’s up to you to use it or not, and it’s a nice option to have.
In all, Fallout 4 is another great outing for Bethesda, giving you a world that’s large enough and interesting enough to get lost in. The tweaked gameplay and leveling works to its benefit, and a great voice cast and terrific musical score just enhance your experience. For all the freedom you get with the gameplay, perks, and crafting abilities, Fallout 4 is not perfect. Technical issues which have plagued the Bethesda open world titles still abound, for some more often than not. I was pretty lucky with my copy for the Xbox One in that I only experienced minor issues and rare instances of frame rate slow down, but others have reported buggier messes, rendering the game near unplayable for a few people. Most have not reported any game ending glitches, though some issues on PC have arisen for those using console commands. In addition to the technical issues, the main story, while decently told, isn’t that outstanding or original, and lacks the emotional punch it needed to lift this title up to masterpiece level. As it is, the gameplay does help offset that, and you certainly get more than enough bang for your buck by purchasing this, as the main story can take 30-40 hours to complete and has multiple endings, and it’s conceivable you could spend 100+ hours doing other side missions and exploring every inch of the massive map. In that Fallout 4 succeeds, allowing you to wander the Wasteland in your own way. And that’s always a good thing to have your own personal post apocalyptic experience.
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