This review is dedicated to the memory of Naren Hooson
Where to begin? It’s a great question for this review, but it’s also a question you’ll be asking yourself once you emerge from Vault 111. Typically, and much like Fallout 3, Bethesda Game Studios’ latest open-world opus is an immediately intimidating affair, with an irradiated horizon that stretches as far as the Vault-protected eyes can see. And, unlike the more bottlenecked level design of New Vegas, Bethesda Game Studios has ensured you’re free to wander the Commonwealth in any direction you see fit right from the outset. Your only barrier is your inexperience in this new and terrifying world.
Kicking off with what’s new might be the best place to start though, and fittingly the game offers you this differentiator very early after you leave the Vault where you’ll find yourself walking through the decaying ruins of the suburban stretch you used to call home with your wife and infant son, Shaun.
Despite the place needing a cleaning service, you can turn it into a bastion of trade and happiness the Commonwealth can be proud of. It’s a different kind of intimidating too, because you can build so much. Oh so much. It’s also not initially clear how you do this. And you don’t want to waste resources, but a quick flick through the game’s Help tab soon gave me the chops to build a house, add beds, lights, a TV, storage and even a veranda view replete with comfy chairs. I hooked up some electricity and boom, happiness grew in my little town of Sanctuary (nice touch, Bethesda) and I was stoked upon returning from a jaunt out in the wasteland to find new residents living it up in my luxurious digs. It’s a component of the game you can very easily lose yourself in, and I can’t wait to see what the community at large does with such a powerful tool.
Settlement-building is an important part of the game, should you choose to play it that way, but at its core, Fallout 4 is very much what we’ve come to expect from one of the best open-world and player-dynamic studios in the biz. It’s not nearly as pretty or technically impressive as The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, and its story isn’t even in the same league, but that’s because in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, it’s Geralt’s story, in Fallout 4 it’s entirely yours. There’s very little beyond “RPG” and “open-world” that actually links these two games, and what makes Fallout 4 elevate over its technical and visual shortcomings is its value in player-agency and emergent gameplay.
The latter point there is a hallmark of Bethesda’s design, so it was seen as a bit odd that the player-character would be fully voiced in this game, but it actually works. You still have plenty of dialogue and personality options, and if I could offer any advice out of the box, it would be to look at bolstering your Charisma early on. Both leads do a great job, and the voice-acting overall is probably the best the series has seen. It’s a bit kookier this time around, and you can see the writing team had a lot of fun with the game-world characters and the myriad side-quests and main quests on offer.
In times past, loot collection wound up being an overbearing job of syphoning through broken clipboards, coffee mugs, wrenches, scalpals and more to get to the good and useful stuff, but the new crafting system and materials collection side of that really makes all the wasteland junk you find valuable in some way. You can even tag certain items in recipes so they show up as wanted while you’re rummaging through rusted mailboxes, skips and filing cabinets. Essentially you use these common items to scrap and earn materials, which then go towards weapon and armour modifications, or for building content in your communities. That’s plural, for those not paying attention, as good deeds among various settlements will not only allow you to use their work benches and build trade communities, but to also help them build defenses and more. Honestly, the town construction side of the game could be an entire game on its own.
The game-world also has new inhabitants alongside familiar rotting faces and creepy crawlies. Radstags are two-headed deer, while bloatflies are now joined by giant mosquitoes called bloodbugs. Yao guais return, along with brahmin and molerats, only in Fallout 4 molerats and rad scorpions can now burrow while you’re facing them and then emerge somewhere else and surprise attack you. On one occasion I was facing two rad scorpions and decided to go old-school by climbing a large rock they could never have scaled back in either Fallout 3 or New Vegas, but in Fallout 4, those fuckers can climb.
Synths and various new factions also make the game feel fresh. Rightly, Bethesda has maintained the same presentation to keep the aesthetic and look and feel of the series intact, but the different location has allowed for them to explore new ideas and new societal pockets. Synths are particularly scary as they’re androids who come in a number of different types, but one is allegedly as close to human as you can get (no spoilers here). If Bethesda had managed to wrangle Arnie for a bit of guest voice-acting, I’d be inclined to send them a case of Quantum Nuka Cola.
On top of all the new enemy and friendly types throughout the game, Vault-Tec emerges as a much more sinister company this time around. There’s a huge backlog of lore to dig through on miscellaneous missions, side-quests and even in the main campaign. It perfectly offsets the quirky nature of a post-apocalyptic Boston, which still worships baseball (although their idea of what baseball was
is hilarious) and carries with it that awesome accent (pak the caa at haaved yaad). Everyone has a bit of a chip on their shoulder and they’re tied so deeply to the land that you can see why Bethesda chose the location as the game’s stomping ground.
Geometry-wise, the game-world isn’t nearly as big as Skyrim, but like Fallout 3 it has far more interiors and ‘dungeons’. You can spend months wading through downtown and its myriad sewers, stations and buildings, or just walk across the vast wastes looking for points of interest not tied to any activity you’re currently engaged in. Mental hospitals, downed planes, sink holes, quarries, military shipments, capsized boats and so much more await you in the Commonwealth along with Deathclaws who -- correct me if I’m wrong -- are unbelievably more dangerous this time around; faster, more agile and tenacious up the wazoo. Finding a locked up one in a church was an experience I won’t soon forget.
The Pip-Boy smartphone app is also a pretty sweet inclusion, and does serve a purpose. I won’t hide the fact that for 10-minutes once the app was made available I actually inserted my phone into my Pip-Boy I got with the CE and used it that way (it was cumbersome in real-time, to say the least), but as a quick access second-screen to you while you play, it’s pretty neat. There are also a number of different difficulty modes, but playing on the hardest -- Survivalist, I found the challenge to be very solid and rewarding as a Fallout veteran. Your chances of coming across Legendary critters out in the wild are increased and it’s not so embarrassing to be owned so completely by a Legendary Black Bloatfly -- that’s half the fun isn’t it?
I always love reviewing these games because it’s spoiler-free territory because the game-world is what you make of it. The coming days, weeks and months will be filled with conversations between family, friends and strangers on just how they tackled a particular mission, or simply how they’ve shaped their version of Sanctuary over how you did it. Fallout 4 is a game that will spark conversation and a huge amount of love, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t follow in the footsteps of Skyrim as something of a cultural phenomenon. The game’s only real issue is in the dated visuals, but the engine serves a purpose beyond eye-candy, and hey, we’re mostly walking through irradiated trash anyway, right.
Fallout 4 is impossible not to recommend.