War…war never changes. While players are accustomed to this famous tagline from the Fallout franchise, there are lots of new and exciting things implemented in the latest entry for the Fallout franchise from Bethesda. Fallout 4 has a perfect mix of old and familiar with fresh and impressive to give fans of the series the sequel they’ve been craving for years. It borrows both elements of mainstream appeal found in Fallout 3, as well as the weird and fascinating aspects players were fond of in Fallout New Vegas.
Going into Fallout 4, I was expecting a great experience, one that would be much more in tune as a true sequel. While Fallout New Vegas did come out after Fallout 3, it simply felt like too much of the same, but with more of that classic “weird” Fallout stuff fans of the series loved. While many of us did enjoy New Vegas, we all knew the true sequel was coming down the road, and five years later…the wait is over.
Having put in far too many hours than I would care to admit into the previous Fallout games, I considered myself a pretty seasoned Vault-Dweller, and that Fallout 4 would prove to be an easy and familiar trip through the Wasteland. That couldn’t have been farther from the truth. I was greeted with a Fallout that wasn’t afraid to kick my butt on normal difficulty, a Fallout that presented me with environments and characters so unique I found myself just taking moments to capture it all, a Fallout that added so many new things and tweaked so much of the old that it made me feel like I was exploring the wasteland for the first time again. In the famous words of Foreigner, Fallout 4 “feels like the first time”.
The gaming community was greeted by a very different Fallout story when the game was first shown off at E3 this year. There’s a much more personal approach this time around, as players can create a male or female character with a family of their own to care for, but they live in a world on the brink of war. For the first time, players of the Fallout franchise get to experience life before the war, before the world turns into a wasteland, and this experience is a truly unique one. Soon after entering into this game, war breaks out; your local suburbia breaks out into panic as everyone tries to run to the nearest Vault. Being a military veteran, you and your family gain access to the Vault with no problem, but only just before a bomb erupts right in your home town. The story takes time to weigh in on these important moments, and you’ll hear commentary from other NPC characters about various occurrences or world altering moments in Fallout 4.
Upon leaving the Vault, you’re greeted with a view I could only describe as a beautiful disaster.
Once in Vault 111, you and your family are cryogenically frozen, in an attempt to preserve humanity to a time when it’s safe to explore the outside world once again. Following the heart-wrenching opening to this story, and once your character has stepped out from the vault, you’re encouraged to gather supplies before setting out on a quest to find peace in this crazy world. Upon leaving the Vault, you’re greeted with a view I could only describe as a beautiful disaster. It reminded me in some ways of seeing Rapture in Bioshock for the first time. You see a once successful and thriving world, now torn down to ruins. While I don’t want to spoil much else for the story here in this review, it does get very exciting down the road, and provides a fantastic political undertone to the world at hand.
Some people accept the different creatures of this world, such as super mutants and ghouls, while others would rather see them all dead and consider them abominations of science. This is one of Fallout 4’s best features, its gray areas. Not everything is white and black in Fallout, there’s no clear “good guy” to align with., you have to make choice and sacrifices down the road, but they will all be solely based on how you view the world and who you think should be deemed with as “human”. I often found myself disagreeing with how many people viewed ghouls or synthetic robots (a new breed of robot that is made to look human) simply because I believed that they still held a soul, even if some viewed them simply as monsters. This choice is yours to make player, and you’ll see and hear many things that will sway your views, and that’s what helps make this story so satisfying. Many side missions within the game contain their own self contained stories, not all of them do this, but many do. Some stories are simplistic, but others feature ventures to fascinating places, from which you’ll discover an interesting back-story of a character, or perhaps learn some secrets from the pre-war world. These side quests may not be as strong as Witcher 3’s, but they provide their own satisfaction all their own.
I looked back at screenshots of Fallout 3 and New Vegas and found it funny how gray and dreary they both seemed. Fallout 3 seemed to have a general overtone of greenish-gray, while Fallout New Vegas looked to just have a smear of brown everywhere (which is funny…since both of these color schemes matches their box art as well). I was a tad worried the Fallout 4 might follow this pattern of providing a post apocalyptic color palette, in which everything is gray and dull. Fallout 4 takes a much different approach to its visuals this time around, and uses a very varied color palette as well. Instead of going for a full on realistic approach, Fallout 4 goes for its own stylized visual appeal. It’s an almost exaggerated look, very much based on the exaggerated style of the 1950’s from which Fallout is based.
The relics from the old world, and even items from the new world maintain these looks throughout. Some styles will change from area to area, for example, downtown Boston will feature many historic buildings based on those in the real Boston. However, mixed into these classic buildings are ones from Fallout’s world, such as Vault-Tec’s HQ and a Hubris Comics store. While the map is not incredibly massive, it is sufficient in size and packs a huge variety of places to explore. From the “Glowing Sea” (a big desert area filled with vast amounts of radiation), to the wreckage of various ships in the harbor, every player is sure to find a spot on the map that will make them wow. Thanks to Fallout’s dedication to its stylized look, the overall graphics look very clean. They’re not nearly as polished as one would hope from a next gen system, but since the world is so large that may have something to do with it. The visual really took a dive when it came to draw distances on console. I was up in a skyscraper, looking down on downtown Boston, and merely saw a bunch of mildly textured blocks. Unfortunately, this isn’t the only place the game chugs. When a lot of enemies are in combat, and explosions are happening, players will notice very significant drop in frame rate. While this doesn’t detract from combat, it’s just frustrating to have happen on a purely next-gen game. Although there are some graphical and performance setbacks, players are sure to still greatly enjoy exploring this stylized wasteland to the great 50’s tunes provided by your local wasteland radio stations.
When I was exploring the wasteland for the first few hours, I slowly realized that this wasn’t quite the same Fallout I’ve played in the past. No longer is the map specifically tailored to be filled with beginner areas within the starting maps few areas, if you explore I guarantee you’re going to find enemies that will completely annihilate you. This honestly feels good from a Fallout game, even on normal difficulty (Although having to deal with a raider camp that had their own power armor and a fat man within the first few hours did prove difficult to deal with). On the same note, Fallout 4 wastes no time in throwing you into the wasteland to explore on your own. There’s not much of a tutorial, and they give you all the tools you need to be successful after the first few missions.
Players will have access to their own Power Armor following the first big mission, a vast departure from previous titles that delegated the suit to an afterthought or late-game perk. Now like an Iron Man suit, it’s an external item in the game that players get in and out of and runs on fuel, fusion cores scattered throughout the game and up to the players to find. The armor can also degrade in quality, and when the arms, legs, helmet, chest or arms reach zero, they’ll be unequipped and can’t be reequipped until repaired. Your armor can also be upgraded with various buffs and enhancements that become available as you level up and allocate points into certain perks that give you access to these upgrades. When you’re not in your power armor, weapons and armor don’t degrade in quality and don’t need repairs either. This is a huge change from the previous Fallout games, some players may not like it, and some may enjoy it. I for one greatly enjoyed this. They kept repairs to the important item, your power suit, but left your weapons and regular armor alone which saved me a lot of frustration of having to track down similar items to use to repair my own. The gun and armor customization is a feature that lets players truly customize their weapons and armor buffs to their choosing. I didn’t use the customization too much, only because I found plenty of unique and customized weapons and armor from dead enemies from throughout the wasteland. Another big change is that the VATS battle system no longer freezes time. When you’re selecting your targets through VATs time now moves at a slower pace, instead of being frozen as it was in previous Fallout entries. The biggest welcome change is that players can now sprint! This makes running around the wasteland so much easier, although, if you sprint in your power armor you will burn through your fuel faster than you can say “deathclaw omelet”.
I went into this game expecting it to be a great Fallout game, one that would surpass last generation’s titles due to the new hardware. I knew going in that Fallout 4 wouldn’t be an open-world technical masterpiece like The Witcher III, but I didn’t quite expect the game to look as bland as it does at times. In some situations, like looking down on the remnants of Fenway Park, certain assets appear to have an incredibly low level of detail and wouldn’t look out of place in a PS2 game. Bethesda has clearly implemented an aggressive LOD system to keep assets from overtaxing the PS4 and XB1 hardware, a smart move for a company that’s had a history of low-performing games, but one that stands out amongst newer titles. These graphical deficiencies and the occassional stutter don’t detract from the overall solid art style Fallout 4 brings to the table. The overall look is more appealing and cohesive than Fallout 3 and will probably age better as a result. Also, the improved story and upgraded gameplay elements are a vast improvement over previous titles, and produce a more compelling, exciting new Fallout that has met my expectations, but failed to exceed them.
Fallout 4 takes itself in a great new direction, one that seems to have a much stronger foothold in what it wants and strives to be. It presents Fallout 4 as a wasteland that is up to your perception on how you would like to shape it. Throughout your quest to find your son, you will encounter a memorable cast of characters, and see lands and locations like you’ve never seen in other games. Fallout 4 gives fans of the series enough new things to play with to create a newfound experience that many are sure to appreciate, once they give it a fair shot. My only true complaint comes from the graphics. The graphics are good, but not great, and the draw distances really leave something to be desired. Seeing a bunch of blocks (when you should be seeing detailed buildings and structures) in a next-gen exclusive game does leave a bad taste in my mouth. However, Fallout 4 is the wasteland survival experience players have been waiting for, and it delivers on many fronts that are important to fans and newcomers alike.
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