Fallout 4 is one of those special games that only come around once every five years or so. A game that revolutionizes mechanics instead of simply reusing them, that takes risks with common game design, that simply oozes attention to detail and sheer creativity around every corner. Like with Skyrim and Fallout 3 before it, Bethesda has once again cemented their positions as the kings of the open-world genre and delivers upon the claim that they’ve ushered in the next generation of sandbox games with this newest title. Fallout 4 creates a beautiful post-apocalyptic Boston that will be sure to draw players in with just the sheer abundance of things to do, and while it may have some issues here and there in the technical department, this is a must-own title for any gamer’s library.
The game starts with a brief glimpse at life before the Great War, the catastrophic, world-altering event that sets the savage and unrelentingly hostile lifestyle of the Fallout series into motion. While initially it remained as a mystery to players what exactly life was like before the bombs dropped, Fallout 4 offers a peek into the daily routine of the common folk. After creating your protagonist (with a stunningly complex character creator, I might add,) you find out that life before atomic annihilation was…normal. Aside from the presence of a friendly robot butler, life in the Fallout universe was essentially how Americans in the fifties perceived a perfect world. White picket fences and smiling faces, hot coffee and a freshly-delivered bottle of milk in the morning. It’s peaceful, but an inevitable shadow looms overhead of total destruction, and it isn’t long before alarms are sounding all over town and your family is transported to the local Vault, massive underground testing facilities advertised as safe havens during a nuclear war. You and your family are sent into cryogenic freeze chambers, and during a brief moment of lucidity in your frozen isolation you see your son being stolen away from you and your spouse killed in cold blood.
When you emerge from your pod some 200 years have passed, and after a brief tutorial you’re sent out into a nuclear Boston, Massachusetts, on a quest to rescue your kidnapped child and get revenge on whatever organization may have stolen him from you. As far as plots are concerned, the setup is at least an interesting one. While there are some predictable points along your journey, there are still plenty of twists and turns to be found, and the stellar voice acting on all accounts ensures that you’ll be at least somewhat invested in the events unfolding, even when you’re reasonably sure of the outcome. The most important voice actor to mention in this new iteration of the series, however, is the protagonist. For the very first time in the series’ history, the main playable character is no longer a voiceless puppet on which the player can project upon, but instead a voice actor that communicates through Mass Effect style dialogue trees. While I lament the loss of being able to see exactly what your character will say at any given time, the brief descriptions of responses are usually enough to get the point across. The loss of skill checks is also something I find somewhat disappointing, as they created some of my favorite moments in Fallout 3 and New Vegas, instead the only S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stat worth anything when it comes to conversation is Charisma, and even the effects of that are usually limited to asking for more money to perform side quests.
It’s still relatively easy to create a unique personality for your character, but I can see where some people might find the combination of streamlined dialogue and a voiced protagonist concerning. Nonetheless, I myself find that it didn’t really get in the way of my fun, and by the time the main campaign was over (about forty hours in or so, with some heavy side questing taking up the time in between,) I found myself having grown attached to the voice actor, especially when they’re given the reins to let loose and get crazy. Taking Psycho (the in-universe equivalent of steroids) makes your character shout angrily and hurl expletives at the top of his lungs, activating the Nerd Rage ability makes them hulk out, and there’s a particularly goofy sidequest whereupon your character takes on the role of a Batman-esque superhero, complete with the unnecessarily deep and campy voice. It brings color to the performance that the usually monotonous tones the voice actors bring can’t compare to, and I remember those special moments all the more for it. It must have been a tough choice for Bethesda to decide to go with a voiced hero this time around, but in my opinion it paid off in the long run.
While there has been some streamlining, for better or for worse, when it comes to the dialogue options, the gameplay has been nothing short of overhauled. Melee swings feel satisfying, the gunplay is competent, and VATS (the game’s version of a targeting system) has been redone so that the entire vibe of combat is far more fast-paced than its predecessors, and all for the better. Whereas in Fallout 3, guns were largely inaccurate at long range, reloading took an extremely long time for most weapons, and VATS stopped time completely so that you could plan out your strategy, Fallout 4 guns can be as accurate as you build them to be, reloads are timely and make sense, and VATS instead simply slows things down, bringing a certain sense of urgency to every fight because you need to plan out your next moves wisely. I’ve seen some people call it ‘a Call of Duty clone’ because of these vast improvements, but I’m inclined to disagree. I remember playing Fallout 3 back when it came out, and I loved it to bits, but the combat needed a lot of work done if it was to really be taken seriously at the big boys’ table. Fallout 4 makes the efforts it needs to to have fast and fun shooting mechanics, and the wide variety of things to use this new combat system on is a big benefit as well.
The Commonwealth is a big and scary place, after all. It’s only reasonable to think that since the player gains so many advantages with their weapons and tactics that they didn’t have before, it only makes sense for the monsters to be bigger and badder than ever. Enemy designs have been given a near-complete overhaul with the introduction of the new engine, and their new looks suit the feel of the Fallout universe far more than they did before. While Radroaches are still relatively the same, Feral Ghouls are fast-running, grotesque zombies that are but remnants of their former selves, Super Mutants are rampaging brutes that stomp around the countryside and kill any humans that get in their way with their sheer physical might, Synths are robots that take on a distinctly human appearance and use laser weaponry, and the ever-feared Deathclaws return with some more new tricks up their sleeves, including invisibility and wall-running, as if they weren’t strong enough before. Every one of these new creatures has spectacular attacks and animation, and even after getting into a fight with a pack of radroaches a hundred times, I was still surprised at some of the things they could do, like hiding under trash cans to block bullets or flanking me with their numbers to stop me from killing all of them at once. Even the smallest creatures do things that you would never expect, and while a human Raider may kill themselves with their own molotov cocktail every once in a while, the AI is absolutely spectacular and makes battles challenging and fun.
Perhaps the biggest new overhaul aside from the combat is the presence of settlement building. In a move not many people anticipated, Fallout 4 includes an astoundingly robust weapon and home base crafting system. You can pick up many things throughout the Commonwealth and use it to create Junk, parts you’ll need to put together walls, floors, defenses, painting, doghouses, and all manner of things. It’s an optional mechanic, but for those who hanker for some true creativity, you can make some awesome fortresses, quaint homes, and even light shows. There are so many possibilities available for what you can build, but sometimes it can be a little tricky to line objects up the way you want them. Your items have a bit of trouble snapping into place sometimes, but for the most part it functions decently enough, especially for a mechanic that didn’t need to be there in the first place. The weapon crafting fares far better in my opinion, as it relies upon your acquired perks in order to upgrade your equipment instead of simply relying on resources. There are thousands of parts you can swap in and out for the proper materials, and the options can be truly overwhelming to a new player. Want to wrap your aluminum bat in barbed wire and razor blade? Done! Want to put three bayonets on your minigun? Done! Almost any kind of weapon you want, you can build with a little patience, digging, and elbow grease.
Another key improvement made on past iterations is the world and its general aesthetic, which takes on a more colorful and lively palette instead of the browns and grays found in Fallout 3. The sky shines a beautiful blue in the mornings, the night have blends of purple hues and pinks as the sun begins to set, even the creatures have far more variety when it comes to general appearance, especially the more radioactive beasties who shine a brilliant green even as they attempt to cut you to ribbons. The world may have suffered from an apocalypse, but there’s a tranquil beauty present that just hasn’t been met in the past, and it’s a welcome change to see some life breathed into Fallout 4’s Commonwealth.
There are many other improvements that have been made in Bethesda’s attempt to create the next generation of open world gaming, such as improved Companions, an abundance of small details and easter eggs for players to suss out, the invested factions and their quest lines, and even the addition of mech-like power armor, but there’s simply too much to go into. So much has been done to make things feel fresh, and the majority of it are fitting changes that make the game feel better overall. There is the odd graphical glitch, and on one occasion a save file was botched due to my character suddenly becoming unkillable, but Fallout 4 is a masterclass, a true representation of what open world games should be striving for. It does so much right and so little wrong that I find it impossible to not recommend it, and fans of Bethesda’s past work will find themselves surely invested in what irradiated Boston has to offer. Welcome home.