One of my favorite Xbox 360 games was Fallout 3. I played it for over 50 hours (not a lot by Fallout standards, I know) and did every quest I could. Thanks to the karma system, my title was Scourge of Humanity. I became a vampire, battled grotesque creatures, the works. When Bethesda announced Fallout 4, on my honeymoon of all times, I was absolutely ecstatic.
How does it stack up to Fallout 3? It’s got the typical Bethesda polish issues, but it’s a game of the year contender.
- TL;DR: The Fallout experience you’ve been waiting for.
- Platform: Xbox One
- Hours Played: 52
- What I Played: Main missions plus a ton of side missions, 200+ locations discovered
- Should You Play It?: Yes!
Fallout 4 takes place where all other Fallout games have taken place — in the irradiated wasteland left behind after nuclear weapons have torn the world to shreds. There was some marketing showing gameplay from before the bombs dropped, and there is some that I won’t spoil here, but it’s very quick and lays the lightest of groundwork. At the end of the day, the Sole Survivor is tasked with surviving in the Commonwealth, a.k.a. Former Boston, and finding his kidnapped son.
After one of the most involved facial creators I’ve ever seen (seriously, Bethesda wen’t absolutely crazy with it) and setting up your initial stats, it’s off to the Commonwealth. There are four factions to do missions for and side with: the Minutemen, the Brotherhood of Steel, the Railroad, and the Institute. The Minutemen are a ragtag militia group trying to unite the common people. The Brotherhood of Steel, the “good guys” from Fallout 3, are trying to eradicate the robotic abominations called “synths” created by the scientifically-minded Institute. The Railroad is a group of synth sympathizers, trying to preserve all forms of life. I definitely enjoyed the story in Fallout 4 more than I did in Fallout 3, with it’s use-the-water-supply-to-destroy-the-world deal. The main story in Fallout 4 is a bit lacking until the you really choose a faction and go down their path, but it gets pretty damn fun. At least the Brotherhood of Steel side does, since that’s who I went with. Ad Victoriam!
I gotta say, though, that the main story in Fallout 4 isn’t what I’ll be remembering the most. As with Fallout 3, I’ll remember the side missions and strange locations that I’ve found. Some of my favorites:
- I found a building with all sorts of mazes, bloody piles, heads on spikes, and arrows painted on the walls and floors. At the end, there are two chests to pick from. Choosing one sets the other on fire, because of course it does.
- I walked the length of the Freedom Trail, just like I did on a real life trip to Boston, and saw all the same sights I did then. With Super Mutants at every corner.
- I became a super hero, the Commonwealth’s own Silver Shroud.
- I helped a robotic naval outfit get the USS Constitution unstuck from the building it ran aground into.
Those are just a few of the dozens, if not hundreds, of things I’ve done so far in Fallout 4. The Commonwealth is packed to the brim with towns, military outposts, train stations, and all manner of weird places just begging to be explored. One of my favorite locations, Goodneighbor, is a town run by ghouls. I helped the ghouls take over Tenpenny Tower in Fallout 3, so I fell right in love with Goodneighbor. Doing just the quests that spawned from that town took multiple play sessions. If there wasn’t enough to do from quests and exploration, Fallout 4 also employs the radiant quest system from Skyrim with quests that repeat nearly infinitely. Those quests are fairly simple, like clear out a base or get an item from a location, but it keeps you from ever having an empty quest log.
I haven’t even touched on the settlement building aspect of Fallout 4, which could be it’s own standalone game. Settlements are towns and outposts that, once liberated, can be built up in any way you desire. You can plant crops for food, build homes for your settlers, and set up defenses for when you are attacked. Workers are assigned to tasks like defense and farming and, with a high enough skill level, shopkeeping. Some of the things people have built are downright crazy, like the Tower of Flesh. I’ve set up shop in Red Rocket Truck Stop. I’m not really one to build up a big, flashy town for myself. I’ve got every type of workbench inside the garage of Red Rocket Truck Stop, with a couple of storage containers and extra stands for my power armor.
Both weapons and armor can be modified like crazy. Weapons can be upgraded with scopes, grips, stocks, and other parts to fit your playstyle, while armor can be modified for extra protection, carrying capacity, action point refresh rate, and other bonuses. All of this building and crafting comes with a cost. Almost every single piece of junk in Fallout 4 serves some purpose, whether it’s picking up duct tape for the all-too-valuable adhesive or scrapping entire cars for their steel. Pro tip: all of your junk stored in a single settlement is available for building things in that settlement. You don’t have to carry it all around, which would be impossible anyway, or have to store it all in a single container.
Legendary items are a great addition to Fallout 4. Certain enemies will be marked as legendary with a star next to their name. When killed, they’ll drop a specially modified item that can be further upgraded at a settlement. For example, my current favorite gun is my Never-Ending .44, which has an infinite clip size.
Power armor, the giant suit of armor shown on the cover of all Fallout games, is always a coveted item. Strangely, the Commonwealth gives you access to a low-level version of this hulking exoskeleton within the first few hours of play. When your character climbs in, the HUD completely changes with gauges for health, radiation, and action points. Steps have a healthy weight to them and you can easily hear the force behind each one. Power armor is excellent for it’s damage reduction, falling damage negation, and radiation protection, but it’s expensive to pilot. Using power armor requires fusion cores, which are few and far between. Thanks to that, you have to really choose your spots to use power armor wisely. I basically left my power armor to gather dust for most of the game until a story mission required I put it on to survive the radiation, but by the end of the game I had about 50 fusion cores so I just went nuts. Power armor can also be upgraded with different modifications, paint jobs, and other tools.
Another futuristic touch in the deathly wasteland is the Pip-Boy. Your character gets one almost immediately and it’s key to your survival. It shows your physical status, inventory, quests, map, and the all-important radio. The main radio station, Diamond City Radio, plays old-timey tunes with an excellent DJ. Really, he’s great. If you’re just out putzing around and don’t need to listen to any conversations, do yourself a favor and pop it on. You can even turn on the Pip-Boy’s display as a flashlight and play games on it. The collector’s edition of Fallout 4 came with a wrist holster for a smartphone to let you have your own, real Pip-Boy. I’ve played around with the app and it works pretty well! Definitely cool.
Combat in Fallout 4 is definitely more free-form and fluid than in Fallout 3. VATS, the Vault-Assisted Targeting System, turns you into a momentary super soldier capable of firing off multiple shots at specific limbs in slow motion. Shots rack up a critical meter, which you can rip off whenever you need some extra juice. Criticals never miss, so use that to your advantage. VATS no longer stops time completely, either. Instead, it slows time to about 5% of normal speed, so you still have to think on your toes. You can favorite up to 12 items, three for each D-pad direction, for quick access during these quicker fights.
The classic RPG roots of Fallout 4 are on display at every turn. There are locks to pick, computer terminals to hack, and holotapes to find with all kinds of side stories to read about. Item weight management is still (curiously) a thing, forcing you to return to your HQ every so often. Radiation lowers your max health and since Fallout doesn’t have any regenerating health or automatic shielding like Halo, you always need to keep your ears open for your geiger counter’s chirp.
There are 70 different perks to pick from, each with multiple ranks, giving you almost endless possibilities for builds. I went with a John Wick build that I first saw on Reddit — high luck, pistols only, and maxed Lone Wanderer, a perk that gives you extra carrying capacity and damage when playing without a companion. Thankfully, Dogmeat doesn’t count as a companion, so I was able to roll with him throughout the game. He is AWESOME. You can even equip him with armor from Super Mutant dogs, a bandana, and goggles. GOGGLES!
No matter what your build, you absolutely have to put a point into Mysterious Stranger (a trenchcoat and fedora wearing man randomly appears to one-shot enemies) and Bloody Mess (enemies randomly explode into bits). Also, if you mess up your initial stat distribution, don’t worry too much. You can use skill points to increase your base stats. You can also level up indefinitely, so if you play long enough you’ll have access to every skill.
Conversations in Fallout 4 aren’t nearly as deep as they were in Fallout 3. For starters, all conversations have four options, each of which is a short three or four word response which expands to some generic sentence. This is a marked decline from the branching, wordy dialogue of Fallout 3. The lip movement on NPCs faces is a bit too Muppet/flappy, as well. It’s a shame, too, because I always wanted to do a smooth-talking high charisma playthrough, but the dialogue in Fallout 4 doesn’t seem worth it to me.
Even with the lower ceiling for dialogue, the Commonwealth feels alive. Enemies can be heard talking to each other, sometimes about your previous deeds. Companions will let you know when they like and dislike things that you say or do and can even be romanced. As I mentioned, the Commonwealth is certainly large and obviously brown, but not very sharp. It’s surprising to see the low level of texture detail when other large, open world games like The Witcher 3 came out this same year. Another surprising negative is how the frame rate drops pretty substantially when there are more than about a half dozen enemies in the area at once. I’ve also had the game straight up crash on me a handful of times. It’s a commonly known fact that Bethesda games are released in a buggy state, but these are still disappointments in a largely stellar game.
Fallout 4 is a hell of a game. You can easily get lost in it for hundreds of hours, uncovering the mysteries of the greater Boston area. Hell, you could spend the same amount of time just building cities with the robust settlement system. The main story is alright, picking up after a while, but the most fun is found out in the wasteland on your own. Fallout 4 isn’t as nice in the graphics department as you’d expect a AAA release to be, and it’s also got some frame rate and crashing issues. Technical issues aside, Fallout 4 is a damn good game.