Easily one of the most anticipated games in recent memory, Fallout 4 arrived last week and ate up so much time, it actually dinged the porn industry. And there’s a reason; it’s a blast to play, delivering on the promise of an open world you just have to explore, even if it, uh, really doesn’t want to let you actually do that.
Fallout 4 (PC, PS4, XBox One)
By now, you’ve probably heard the wailing that this game isn’t pretty enough. While the extreme reaction mostly illustrates how entitled gamers are, it is fair to say that Fallout 4 isn’t exactly a graphical showcase. The models are a little weird, the texture is a little rough… if it really matters to you, it might bug you.
The sound design, though, is top-notch. You’ll probably need to go into the menu and do a little mixing, but the game sounds good, has excellent music, and most of the voice acting is decent.
You walk around, you shoot things, you use VATS… Bethesda isn’t pushing the envelope here. There are a few nice improvements, like being able to track landmarks you haven’t visited on your compass, but overall, this will be a familiar experience. The main improvement is in crafting, which is a huge focus in the game. All the useless crap you pick up is now useful crap you can turn into weapons, armor, or houses for your dog. Seriously, build Dogmeat a house. He’s a good dog.
There’s a lot right with this game and a lot wrong. So, let’s start with the good.
What really matters is how fun this game is to play. And man, is it ever fun to play. Bethesda has packed it with buildings to explore and a free-form style that lets you poke around freely as you see fit. You can just as easily stumble over a major quest while looking around for landmarks as you can have it assigned to you.
The writing is also quite strong this go-round, although the dialogue is a bit flat and thin. Part of the fun is finding all these little stories hidden throughout the Commonwealth, ranging from uncovering ridiculous civic boondoggles to hunting down serial killers to ending a centuries-long gangster drama. The game is full of nice little nods to Boston’s pop culture past, from sitcoms to horror novels. It even manages to deal with a few serious issues; synthetic humans play a major role in this game, and you might struggle a bit with the central question the game poses of how we define “human.”
Leveling up is also a blast. Bethesda’s reworking of the perks and SPECIAL system is great because it forces you to consider what attributes you want while simultaneously making it pretty easy to build up your character and change course if you want to. You level up quickly in this game, there’s no level cap, and stat-boosting comic books and bobbleheads are everywhere. While some of the perks are… less than useful, most of them add to the game, letting you shift strategies and techniques. The game constantly feels fresh, giving you new guns, new skills, and new places and ways to use both. Hell, if you feel like just building up settlements and turning the Commonwealth into a better place to live, you can do that.
As for the bad, Bethesda’s institutional refusal to accept they’re not just animating pen-and-paper games means the quest system in this game is more or less a complete disaster. For example, say you want to go to the main deck of the Prydwen, the airship the Brotherhood of Steel sends in, to deliver a few MacGuffins you’ve been asked to dig out. You have to fast travel to the flight deck, enter the lower decks, and then go into the main deck, all of which have loading screens. What, nobody in the Commonwealth has a CB radio?
Even more irritating, there’s no quest priority system or way to figure out which quest does what. If you finish some quests, others may not be possible to complete, or you may have to wait for the game to realize that oh right, you’ve finished this quest. The only way you’ll even know which quests are main quests are by checking the trophies. Not helping matters are the quests that have no end, but just cycle through, which is a bit cheap, and a Miscellaneous heading that the game, for no reason, tucks some quests under.
Similarly, the companion AI is annoyingly prone to rushing in while you’re lining up a shot or trying to sneak past a dangerous enemy. Companions are useless, bar a couple of optional puzzles you might want to solve, although thankfully easy to ditch.
Finally, the single most obnoxious RPG trope, the limit to the weight you can carry, rears its ugly head. It’s especially useless here because, again, the game wants you to pick up every Nuka-Cola bottle and desk fan you find. The idea that it adds to “realism” is laughable in a game set where the ’50s never ended and you run around shooting supermutants and faux zombies with your robot detective sidekick.
There’s so much to do in this game, you can be lost in it for months. Many people intend to do just that.
There’s DLC coming, but no microtransactions or other garbage. And the DLC will likely be fairly meaty, no less.
Fallout 4 is simply ridiculously fun to play, which is ultimately all that matters. That said, Bethesda really needs to start questioning some of its pen-and-paper assertions; Fallout 4 should be a great game because of itself, not in spite of itself.