Fallout 4 Review

By Brandon Fusco,
When Bethesda finally brought the Fallout franchise back in 2008, it was a vastly different game than its predecessors. Replacing the 2.5D isometric perspective and strategy-based gameplay mechanics was a full 3D world with real time action gameplay. While certain elements such as the gunplay weren't on par with modern games, Bethesda managed to hold on to the quirky attitude and harsh world that made Fallout unique. It's been five years since the last entry in the series and the Post-War dystopia finally returns with Fallout 4 and its decrepit Bostonian landscape.

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Fallout 3 was a beautiful game in its own way, but the torn Capital Wasteland was a depressing place to be in for any length of time. By contrast, the Commonwealth is a bright place abounding in life and technology. Fallout 4 is the most vibrantly colorful world that Todd Howard's team has created, making use of a full palette to show off a world balanced delicately between death and rebirth. Exploring and finding new places is thrilling beyond the excitement of discovery. Unlike the areas surrounding D.C., every destination on the horizon is a chance to meet new allies and companions just as much as it is a potential danger riddled with terrible creatures or raiders. With that quality also comes quantity. The Commonwealth is a dense area packed to the brim with historical landmarks altered by war, filled with knowledge and impressively recognizable for those familiar with Boston's sights.

The efforts put into improving the story are appreciated, but they have backfired after a fashion because they highlight other shortcomings. Story has never been a huge priority for the studio, but it seems like an earnest effort was made to improve the quality of the story telling. The search for the protagonist's family that pushes the main story forward is one of the stronger catalysts that they've produced, but that isn't saying much. While the motivation is certainly more powerful, it's undermined by the open nature of the game. It's hard not to roll your eyes when the protagonist is expressing sadness and concern over the uncertain fate of their family after spending several days of game time building a treehouse at one of your settlements.

This could have been a dramatic scene if that corn stalk wasn't in the way.This could have been a dramatic scene if that corn stalk wasn't in the way.

Other improvements were made but with equal effect. Players are given four options whenever their character talks, which are almost always positive response, negative response, sarcastic response, or a query for more information. The main characters are voiced fairly well, but the way that these clips are put together is frequently erratic. Even when consistently opting for a positive response, the character would fluctuate between calm responses and breathy sobs with every other choice. In other instances, character dialog will come together in dreadful ways that see the characters essentially repeating each other several times.

There is now a greater variety of voice actors so you're not constantly hearing the same voices, and animations have been markedly improved. While the characters sound distinct, they have a tendency to be archetypal or downright flat. The camera moves around more during cutscenes to allow room for more animation and better framing, but the cinematic experience is broken by choppy transitions between animations or characters who gesture with enthusiasm while staying firmly rooted to the ground, blocking other pedestrians from getting by.

Control everything right down to the darkness of your freckles.Control everything right down to the darkness of your freckles.

These problems are annoyances, but they are minor compared to how well Fallout 4 succeeds at letting you do whatever you want. The aforementioned dialog choices are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the freedom that players have. As soon as the game starts up, players are free to customize almost every aspect of the protagonist and their spouse, except that they are married to a member of the opposite sex and have a child together. Even the game's difficulty is wide open, offering rewards for playing on more difficult settings but refusing to punish the player for playing on easy.

Stats, skills, and perks have been condensed into a single odd system. Once the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats have been picked at the beginning of the game, they get rolled into the perk chart and everything is handled from there. The skills system has been removed and its elements have been inserted into the perk tree as well, creating one massive system with over 270 options. Each column of the chart represents one piece of the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system and the perks within require some combination of stat value and player character level to purchase.

There's seven more rows below that.There's seven more rows below that.

Provided you have reached the correct player level and stat value, you can unlock perks in whatever order you'd like. When you level up, a point is received that can be placed anywhere on the perk chart. At the top of each column is a section that allows a point to be spent to increase that column's associated S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stat, allowing access to perks further down the tree. Out of the 70 base perks, all but two of them have multiple levels, allowing for an astonishing level of specialization.

With 70 base perks and 270 levels altogether, it can be a little difficult to find what you're looking for. Informed decision making can be tough due to the sheer vastness of choices. While it's all laid out in plain sight, players who are particular about their character builds may find themselves agonizing over each choice as they try to consider the possibilities. With that in mind, having that much freedom over the character build is refreshing and, since there isn't a hard level cap, there's a level of forgiveness if you don't make the optimal choice when leveling up. This is one of only two instances where the level of choice is, literally, staggering.

It's not flashy, but it's home, and I built it.It's not flashy, but it's home, and I built it.

There's a similar feeling with the new settlement building system. The choices available for building, for the most part, are pretty clear and the supplies that you need to create things are on display. Getting the most out of building and crafting can be occasionally tedious and the finer points of the system can be obscure. For instance, while it's clear that adhesive will be needed for a particular upgrade, it's not overly clear from where you get adhesive, nor that you will need it in abundance since most weapon and armor modifications require it. Assigning people in your settlement to certain tasks, such as food collecting, is also painfully unclear. At no point does the game clarify that each person can only tend six plants, and there's no UI system to let you know at a glance which of your settlers are tasking and which are free to be tasked.

Once players get the hang of the system, there's an astounding amount of freedom. It's hard not to fall into an addictive pattern with your construction. Perhaps you only need a few more pieces of wood to finish off your masterfully built defense tower and there's a pile of trees in the corner of the settlement that you can break down. After that's complete, it's time to prep for the next adventure by improving armor and weapons at the nearby work benches. Before you know it, you're scavenging through the abandoned houses up the street looking for that one hot plate that can be boiled down for the desperately needed circuitry for some power armor modifications.

It's hard to believe, but it really works!It's hard to believe, but it really works!

Freedom in combat is also much improved compared to earlier entries in the series. Outside of VATS in Fallout 3 combat was absurdly difficult. Melee weapons weren't particularly viable for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was their generally poor damage output, and the gunplay was a floaty mess. New Vegas improved the melee combat somewhat, but the shooting mechanics were still imprecise. Fallout 4 does much better with both of these things, opening up more combat choices. While the system still doesn't convey the effects of recoil very well, weapons are generally precise and impactful, connecting the player to the combat more effectively than before. Where VATS was once the only realistic choice during combat, foregoing it is not only an option but also frequently beneficial.

Flexibility like this bleeds into the trophy list as well. Despite having several difficulty options, there are no difficulty restrictions to the trophies. Nearly half of the list is dedicated to completing various quests or joining different factions throughout the Commonwealth. The rest of the list is quite varied, with trophies for performing certain tasks so many times, finding collectibles, leveling up, or performing certain feats in combat. Almost all of these appear to be quite attainable, although the breadth of the trophies will require a non-trivial time sink. Most of them don't seem to be difficult, especially when they can be done on easy mode, but a particular trophy requiring players to reach maximum happiness in a large settlement could be frustrating because of the amount of effort it would require, the amount of micromanaging present, and the lack of direct feedback when managing your settlement. The trophies are well scattered, providing extra incentive to explore every nook and cranny while enhancing the overall experience of the game.

Summary

Choice is the crux of what makes Fallout 4 an exceptional game. It excels at many things, and while it doesn't master any of them, this excellence allows for players to choose what the game is for them. The only true let down is in the story presentation where developer Bethesda Game Studios clearly put in a lot of effort to improve the quality but ended up only highlighting the shortcomings of their engine, writing, and voice acting. Although it isn't always clear as to how game systems function, the breadth of these systems makes the learning process enjoyable and rewarding. Don't expect to lose yourself in an emotionally charged plot, but do expect to gleefully lose countless hours of your life to vaporizing raiders and building your dream post-apocalyptic fantasy.
4.5 / 5
Fallout 4
Positives
  • Wicked good setting
  • Freedom everywhere
  • Deep customization options
  • Addictive construction systems
Negatives
  • Occasionally painful dialog
  • Confusing settlement management
Ethics
The reviewer purchased the Playstation 4 review copy himself. He played the game for over 45 hours, earning 12 of 51 trophies. In full disclosure, Brandon would like to make clear that he was born and raised in Boston. Also, he experienced almost no glitches of any kind and none were anywhere close to game breaking. He's generally not that lucky.
Brandon Fusco
Written by Brandon Fusco
Brandon is an Editor and TGN's Host with the Most. The most what? The most opinions, the most understanding wife, and the most *funny cat videos. Previously Host of the Trophy Talk Podcast. (*Not Verified)