November 22, 2015

Fallout 4 - Review

Bethesda Game Studios is a team known for crafting worlds that provide dozens of hours of exploration, countless insights into the worlds lore and letting players play how they want, but can they capture that magic again after Fallout 3?

Right off the bat, or Swatters as they are come to be known, the game gives you the impression of life before the bombs, picturesque houses with white picket fences and green lawns. It is here you create your avatar, with perhaps the most interesting character development system around, then after that, events move rather quickly, a brief interaction with your son and a chat with the salesman and then you make the mad dash for the shelter. Events inside the shelter move even faster and by the time you emerge all of 10 minutes will have passed since you confirmed your character, the game does a decent job of explaining some elements as they happen, but for anyone new to the world of Fallout or the Bethesda Fallout series, there is just too much happening to fast. In the previous game, you had ample time to learn the mechanics of the game, interact with a wealth of people before you even had to step foot from the vault and while I can understand a desire to help get the player out the door, so to speak, a few extra minutes to explain things or explore the world before the vault might have been nice.

Once you’re out of the vault the world is your oyster, as long as you don’t mind exceptional moments of death, the wasteland of Fallout 4, referred to as the Commonwealth, is a much more varied land than that of the Capital Wasteland from Fallout 3. From the area around the vault, exploring without any proper gear can result in you discovering Radscorpians, which will likely lead to your death. If you follow the first few quests, you can gain access to your own power armour and mini gun, a settlement to build and some others to help out. The way that these quests are presented is specifically tied to giving you a chance to learn all the sub-systems that the game has to play around with. Depending on your playstyle you may only touch upon these occasionally, but for me, I found myself using them all the time and they do add a lot of variety to the game. The biggest addition in my eyes was the ability to build your own houses and city.

Doing this takes the game into a mini Sims game, where you can place objects and buildings as you see fit, within the area defined by the game of course. You can’t build everywhere, there are defined boundaries of where you can build and then within that space, the ground needs to be level and you need to ensure you have the space, which means clearing some junk away, which leads to the scrap system. You won’t be able to scrap everything in a location though, somethings are just going to stay there, like shrubs and grass, but the most annoying problem is that some items just won’t snap to where you want. Housing elements are generally ok, but fences and such can become problematic, especially when you combine it with uneven ground, or things you can move. As long as you go into this part of the game with an open mind about how it works, you should be ok though, it is still fun to build things though.

In order to say build a small wooden house for yourself, you will need wood, you can get this by purchasing some, if you have the caps, or scraping items made from wood. Trees, old beds, old furniture, some toys, each of these elements will net you some wood and while it is possible to score enough from the starting area, you will need to source more in the future and to do that, again you can buy or you can loot places. Going through a raider base when it has been cleared of threats and taking everything not nailed down was a practice that people learnt to avoid in Fallout 3, as you really had no need for most of the items, here now, every item in the game has a component value, which means if you want to build you need to collect.

Of course, this system is also applied to the weapons as well, so if you want to change up your weapon of choice, you will need parts. The drawback to this is that some parts are much harder to come by than others and while it can be seen as a challenge to collect all that you need, being a single screw short of that weapon upgrade or build decision can be frustrating. But for all that, you can actually just go and blow off steam by tackling many quests around the place, or even just wandering around and seeing what comes from it. The world is a lot more filled in than Fallout 3, with Boston being a hub of buildings and locations to explore, but for all these locations there are many groups of people, monsters and creatures that will mean to do you harm.

Super Mutants, Feral Ghouls, Raiders, Gunners, The Institute, Yao Guai, Deathclaws and more will all do the best they can to take you down, but almost from the get go, you won’t be alone. At any time, you can recruit a range of companions to accompany you around the world, Dogmeat is the first you will encounter and is great at locating things and as you progress in the story you will find more to help you out. Depending on your gender, you can even romance some of the companions, but in order to do that, you will need to build a relationship with them, so the more you use and help your companions the better they will like you. On the flip side though, for every action you do that gets them to like you more, there are actions you can take that will cause them to like you less and if it drops to low, they won’t help you out anymore. The companions’ system is very much front and centre and it works well, there are times when they will just run out into open combat or disappear from near you only to appear somewhere else a while later, but exploring the world with a companion is worth doing.

Exploring the world is all well and good, but in order to do that properly you need to be ready and packing an awesome gun is not enough, you need the right armour on. In games past, you would collect a piece of armour and it would do all your body, here though things are different as you can choose where to place lots of armour. There are suits you can get where you will equip one item and get all over protection, but if you want to, you can elect to micromanage it, chest pieces, arms, shoulders, legs and head, each option is there for you to explore. Equipping a full set of one type will usually result in a bonus of some kind, but that can be anything from increase to damage resistance or improved charm skills and while you don’t need to match a complete set, it can be a fun little challenge to set yourself. Power Armour is also something you can mess around with, you can upgrade each piece to give it more power or protection and you can even pain the pieces to give you distinctive looks and again if you have a matching set there are perks associated with it, which can help you when you are out and about.

I have mentioned the world quite a lot and for good reason, the Commonwealth is a much more interesting place than the Capital Wasteland, it has a much broader range of colours for one, with reds and blues around the place, but it also just feels more like its source city. With a Bostonite able to tell me about locations on the world map I had yet to discover, it just feels better overall. Of course, while there are more colours being used, there are times when the colours shift from a lot to just one, green and when it does you are in for some bad times. Dynamic weather is an occurrence throughout the game, but the radiation storms are perhaps the biggest threat, that you can do almost nothing about. When you see the storm clouds rolling in, bright flashes of green lightning will illuminate the sky, giving you some warning as to the approaching threat. When you are outdoors, you will start to take radiation damage and the closer you are to the storm, the stronger it will be, popping into a building or sleeping will by pass it, but even when you are alone the game will still provide a threat.

Of course, no threat is bigger than the Deathclaw, I mean it is the name, your first meeting will be just after you get your first Power Armour and even then it will still take you a while to beat, finding these things in the wild is not a common experience, but when you do, running is going to be your best bet. While they are not to common up north, as you travel further south, you will start to see them and when I came across a glowing Deathclaw, I knew I was in trouble, so I just ran as fast as I could in the opposite direction, but there is even a more frightening time to meet them and that is when you are in the Glowing Sea. This is a place where there is nothing around, except giant pools of radioactive waste, Deathclaws, Radscorpians and the source of the Radiation Storms, entering here will requiring some serious planning, but while it is very deadly for the unprepared it is also a place that is pretty amazing to look at. The barren landscape, as well as the storms give it this other worldly feel that is pretty special and also unique as no other part of the world looks like it does.

The look of Fallout 4 is one of immense detail, but the characters within the world look like creepy marionettes and seeing the two against each other can be quite a sight. As you explore you will find rusted out cars, broken buildings and even downed airplanes, all these things are really well designed and you can see details on them the more you look at them. The characters of the world are not as lucky, there are some characters that have received far more attention than others and they are usually tied to the main quest line, but the other characters, the random people that live in Diamond City or on a farm somewhere are a lot simpler in their look and actions. Super Mutants are some of the most detailed of the enemy, but even then their looks are repeated quite a lot, you will find their differences come from what they wear more than anything else.

Seeing the same base design for the raiders is as common as having Dogmeat stopping in a doorway, but with the variety of armour on display, they all provide a different level of challenge. Perhaps the strangest letdown this time around, visually, are the Vaults themselves, with Vault 111 being the smallest I can ever recall seeing. Almost all the vaults have the same basic layout, but even then they are also decayed in the same way, the vaults of games past seemed to have more to vary them from each other. There are a lot more interior spaces this time around as well, which gives you more chance to find cool gear, but they usually result in either being home to raiders or ghouls, though still being able to explore shops of various types is fun. What is not fun is the clipping of a great range of things, wearing larger hats results in this odd look when you get into your Power Armour, I have seen ghouls run through walls and even seen sections of ground disappear when you look at them from a certain angle. The game does a solid job of presenting a world that feels lived in, but the moments when things don’t work, hurt it quite a lot.

Perhaps the biggest change to the game and those of the team behind it, is that now your player character is fully voiced, rather than selecting from a series of text based answers, you can choose one of four options and the character will say something based on that. The series takes a page from the Mass Effect book, where it tries to convey a tone with the words on the screen, but it does not always deliver with the execution of the system, sometimes you will select the Sarcasm option, but the answer will be flirty, or you might elect to be a jerk but the answer is more normal than desired. The system does work, it just does not come across as fully fleshed out as it should have been, not knowing exactly what the character will say is not the issue, it’s the disconnect between the tone implied via text and the spoken words that break it. The denizens of the world that you will interact with are also more fleshed out now than in games past, there is a lot more variety of actors behind the speech as well as in the lines they say. The standout there has to be the raiders and other bad guys, who will have conversations between themselves if you are sneaking around and they can be quite funny. The flip side is that there are so many times you can hear them and other enemies proclaim they are going to kill you, or you better have good loot and such.

The game also features a host of radio stations, where you can turn on and hear songs from before the war, straight away the biggest downside is that some of the music is repeated from Fallout 3 and while for me I did not mind, as I enjoyed the music, it would have been nice to get new music. The score that plays out when you are in battle, or exploring something unknown is nice and fits the games mood well, but it can repeat quite often. Perhaps from an audial point of view, the most frustrating part is the DJ of Diamond City radio, to begin with he is not really selling his skills but after you help him out he becomes more assertive and sounds better, the problem though is he repeats things so often and out of sequence they become a joke. Hearing him explain how the Vault Dweller, i.e. You, helped him out is nice, but then after a song hearing him state that a vault opened so people beware of the person that emerged, again You, is just weird.

Fallout 4 is a game of staggering depth, there are countless ways for you to spend your time in the Commonwealth and each of them is rewarding in their own way. The base gameplay is more refined that in past games, but with the odd clipping issue, it gets broken easily and the audio is on point from a speech point of view, but misses a few steps with the music. If you are looking for a reason to venture into this wasteland, you won’t be disappointed, but be sure to give it some slack when it buckles under its own weight. 

Thanks to Bethesda for supplying the game for review

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