Ah Fallout my old friend. It’s been far too long!
Fallout and I go way, way back. The original Interplay title in the series was one of my formative gaming experience, when I used to have a go in the world when my dad wasn’t on it. In many ways, Fallout and its successor, Fallout 2, are a large part of the reason I’m here typing this at the moment.
I’ve followed the series since day one, even giving the, shall we say, ‘questionable’ Tactics a good go and was genuinely surprised and delighted when the modern iteration of the series retained its inherent character and personality through its move to the first-person perspective.
So all in all, I feel pretty well-placed to take a look at the 6th main Fallout title, curiously dubbed Fallout 4… (We’ll ignore the decidedly black-sheep console-only Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel from 2004 for this…)
Now, as you can imagine, Fallout 4 is quite a tricky thing for me to objectively review. I’ve got hundreds of hours invested in the game and, as such, I come into this with quite the pile of baggage. While I will do my best to be rounded and to make what is to follow relevant to those new(ish) to the series, full disclaimer as follows: This review is definitely going to be from the perspective of a Fallout purist, so that being said, lets crack on…
Early on Fallout 4 struggled to pull me in. I found it really difficult to engage fully with that game and I found the reason why hard to put my finger on. Due to other commitments I was unable to dedicate a huge amount of time in one block to the game at first, which may well have contributed to this. I’m sure spending half an hour to an hour at a time on a game for the first four or five sessions is hardly the best way to become immersed in its experience, so that’s definitely on me. Add to this the fact that it had been over a year since I played any of the previous modern version of the game, meaning it took a while for me to settle back into the control setup and you’re going to get a period of adjustment. However, on reflection I think the biggest barrier to me getting initially engaged with the game was that it’s not that great at telling you what the hell to do… For the first few hours I really struggled to engage with the narrative and the general process of doing things. Yes you follow your quest marker, but events felt a bit disjointed and discordant. I honestly had little appreciation of what was happening and what I was supposed to be doing. Again, probably not helped by my stop-start gaming schedule, but this continued for some time after this point, with quests seeming to be a bit scatter-gun for a while, quest threads, where there were any, ending abruptly, leaving me with little idea what to do next. Admittedly, this might be a cunning and deliberate move to try and replicate the feeling of culture shock your character must be feeling at the start of the game, but I doubt it.
However, once I started scrabbling down the main plot thread things settled down into a much more intuitive rhythm and the initial confusion was replaced with a plethora of adventuring options so, a slightly stuttering start can be forgiven.
The big question for me, and I suspect other Fallout veterans, is around how well the game replicates the Fallout feel: that intangible personality and set of quirks that give a Fallout game its uniqueness. The answer there is massively well. Fallout 4 is a Fallout game in every way possible in this sense. The wasteland is immediately identifiable as from the Fallout universe. While it’s a new region, it’s still the familiar feeling. Welcome to the new wasteland, same as the old wasteland. In a good way. Slipping into the world that Bethesda has presented is like slipping into a comfy jumper. A dusty, ruined jumper infested with irradiated monsters and raiders, admittedly, but a familiar jumper all the same.
Mechanics are largely as you would remember from previous modern-era iterations of the series, with key-mappings remaining consistent. This makes it fairly easy to fall back into your routines and you’re back at it intuitively soon enough. The quick-access favourite function is now slightly improved, allowing you to set up to 4 favourites for each direction on the d-pad, which is a nice tweak.
The V.A.T.S system has been amended to slow time rather than stop time entirely, which is a departure from the previous games. The system was one of my favourite aspects of the latter-era titles, as it was a cleverly-adapted aspect of the original turn-based versions. Moving it from stopping time to slowing it takes it one more step away from the series’ roots, but in all honesty, it doesn’t really feel much different. I can see why it was done, with it feeling slightly more realistic and helping to lessen exploitation opportunities in game, while also increasing the urgency of the combat. In principle I should probably object to it, but as I said, it makes little practical difference to the experience and I can see why it was done.
As you may guess from the title of the review, there are a few more areas in which Bethesda have tinkered with the Fallout formula on show in Fallout 4. The one that’s getting big coverage right now is the base-building aspect of the game, where you adopt settlements and can manually build them up, creating buildings, defences, electricity setups and then decorate them. This is an aspect that I’m less excited about than most. This aspect of the game is very much one that feels a symptom of the current trends in the industry, with some minecraft-esque systems being melded with base-defence systems. The features are entirely new to Fallout and, while I can see where they fit into the post-apocalyptic rebuilding theme, they too much like a way of marketing to modern gaming tastes than a genuine attempt to shift the paradigm of the series, to be honest. I may be being unfair to the developers here, but the whole base-building mechanic feels a bit out of place. Fortunately its largely optional, so doesn’t really affect the experience unless you want it to. A large number of people love it, so fair enough, it enhances their experience while not being forced upon mine. I applaud Bethesda’s expert implementation at least.
On the other hand, crafting-wise, the weapon-modification is an excellent addition to the series. You gather lots of previously useless junk to then disassemble and use to create new modifications to your existing weapons. While feeling slightly limited in scope (each weapon only has a few pre-determined slots to fill) it feels very Fallout and to my mind fits right into the ethos of the series. Perhaps I’m being inconsistent when compared to my views on the settlement building, but improving your weapons has been in Fallout, to some extent since the first game, so I’m going to go with that.
New to the game is the enhanced companion system. You can command your companion directly, which is nice, but the main change is to the approval/disapproval system. Familiar to fans of the Dragon Age games, the system tracks your actions while with a companion and compares them to their likes/dislikes. Do things they like and they will like you more and vice versa. Make a companion like you enough and you may be able to romance them. That’s right, romance… in a Fallout game. No doubt taking feedback from New Vegas, Bethesda have massively improved the interactions in the game, not just with your companions but overall and it really makes this one of the most immersive Fallout experiences, certainly the most of the modern-era games. I love it and it’s a welcome addition. On that note, it’s worth noting that character models and animations have taken a huge step up from previous games and the Fallout Stare of NPCs in conversation is a thing of the past. Hell, characters even start commenting at you if you delay your response in conversation, with one NPC in particular getting very upset with my character’s silent treatment.
One thing I have to mention when discussion about the companions is that they are ALWAYS IN THE WAY…. always…. which is unfortunate in a game largely spent exploring nooks, crannies and corridors… It really makes that lone wanderer perk look tempting…
Gameplay changes come largely in the change of focus on power armour. Rather than a standard armour you wear constantly, your power armour is not effectively a mech-suit you get in and out over and have limited use of, rationed by the use of fusion cores, of which you have limited supplies. The suit is very, very powerful, but the limitation of available power for it renders it effectively a power-up that you deploy for particularly difficult situations. This, again, is a departure from the original canon, but it makes sense, more or less, so I’ll give it a pass. I find myself largely forgetting it’s there, which is a shame, but again, that may be more a critique of me than the game design.
Oh, and gameplay-wise, Fallout 4 is much, much harder than previous games. I regularly found myself being jumped by raiders and dying in a rain of Molotov cocktails from a flyover or being nuked by a damn super mutant suicide attack. Seriously, it happened all the damn time. No more striding the wastes as the unopposed lord of all, at least for most of the game. You’re just a small speck in the game world and a perilously squishy one at that, which each and every enemy is eager to reinforce at every opportunity. It really makes the game world very oppressive and adds a superb edge to proceedings. The scarcity of available ammo also helps (if by help I mean ‘makes much harder’).
So yes, Fallout has changed quite a bit mechanically, but overall Fallout is still Fallout as we know and love. The more I play the game, the more I slip back into my love of the franchise and it’s rapidly drawing me into its glowing embrace. As a new player, the new features will not feel out of place and it’s a game unlike pretty much anything else out there and as a returning player it offers more of the familiar quality with enough that’s new to keep things interesting and engaging.
So as I said, Fallout… Fallout never changes… or at least, it does, but it still feels the same as it ever did…
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Paul Izod is a lifelong gamer. Since he was old enough to tap at his Dad's PC's keyboard he's been a gamer. Dedicated and often opinionated, you can be sure he'll always have something interesting to say about the subject at hand. Find him on Twitter at @PaulIzod or @FaultyPixelUK or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org