November 9, 2015

Review – Fallout 4

Fallout-4

Right, let’s give you your TL;DR before I jump into the review. Fallout 4 is a really good game, but it’s not perfect by any means. As a matter of fact, it’s really damn flawed in a lot of ways. A lot of stuff will be super familiar if you’ve played past Fallout games, with some improvements and some downsides. It’s not the greatest game ever, but the game is good, and there is a LOT of it.

Oh, and Polyamory is totally cool, which is totally cool.

With that out the way, let’s dive into my longer form thoughts on Fallout 4.

The main plot of Fallout 4 is pretty simple, and certainly not the primary driving force behind the game. Taking around fifteen hours to complete, the plot sees its hero thrown two hundred years into the future in a hunt to discover if their son survived the nuclear end of the world. It’s a simple story with enough of a relatable core to drive a narrative forward, but it’s certainly not the most engaging plot thread you’ll find in the game.

The fact you are two hundred years displaced in time is never really properly delved into by the main plot. Occasionally characters will take interest in your status as a historical oddity, but largely the player character and NPCs they interact with seem to just not care. What this plot thread does however do is help to make Fallout 4 a very accessible entry point to the series for new players.

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By taking a character from before the fallout and placing them into a time, place and world they do not understand, the player and player character can both begin their adventure from the same place of exploration. This does slow down some plot elements for experienced players, but it provides an accessible entry point into a complex set of lore for those starting here.

While the main narrative does feature some interesting new lore to existing fans, nothing in the main plot is too earth shattering to learn. Most of the interesting plot threads are enclosed in side stories, but these at times feel forgettable. While the side stories teach players the most interesting things about the world, many of the NPCs involved in telling those stories are bland and forgettable. It’s a weird double edged sword. I find myself remembering lore and stories, but not the people I went through them for.

Oh, and if you were wondering, yes there are faction specific endings in the game you can go for, so that’s good to know.

While I was very dubious of Fallout 4’s visual design in advance of launch, now I have the game in my hands I can tell you it actually looks really nice in person. It’s certainly not the most beautiful game ever, but the world design more than makes up for raw horsepower shortcomings in the graphical department. I will however warn you that the console versions of the game see considerable framerate dips in certain interior environments, which is very, very unfortunate. For a console game that sits at 30 fps, dips below than in interiors are really disappointing to see.

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Right, let’s talk about Fallout 4’s dialogue system. In short, it feels like a very sizable step back for the franchise. Where once your dialogue choices were full sentences, with context and elaboration, now your dialogue choices are symbolised by one word emotional tones they might evoke.

The problem here is at times you’ll say things you did not intend, or cause conversations to go in a direction you did not intend, due to lack of available information. While this kind of short snippets system works okay in a game like Life is Strange where you can rewind if a dialogue option doesn’t play out how you expected, in a game like Fallout getting locked into a dialogue choice you misunderstood due to minimized up front information feels like a step backwards.

The dialogue streamlining to me posed no benefits, and took a lot away from the past system.

Still, even with the dialogue system itself lacking somewhat, the relationship system in Fallout 4 still managed to end up a shining star in the game. Forget the days of morality systems rating your actions outright good or bad, hello to companions who judge your every action. Save a drowning puppy, some of your companions are going to love that, while others will think you soft. Eat a person, well that’s undoubtedly going to make a few companions wary of you, but others are going to think you’re pretty metal. Rather than the western RPG standard of red and blue morality, we instead see morality judged on a personal preference basis, and that feels really damn rewarding.

Oh, and as I kind of hinted at earlier in this review, Polyamory is totally a thing that’s supported in Fallout 4. You can have multiple partners of differing genders and it’s no big deal. So long as everyone involved is cool with it, polyamory is totally an acceptable thing. That shouldn’t be as exciting as it is, but it felt like a really cool little addition. Goodbye western RPGs that force me to romance just one person. I’m looking at you Mass Effect for not letting me romance Garrus and Liara at once.

Next up, how is the map? Simply put, it feels huge and varied. Secrets are hidden around every corner, from playable retro video games to hidden quests and boss fights. The map was incredibly rich with content, rarely feeling like space was wasted. While it might not be the largest running point to point ever, it feels huge in scope, density and variation. I was not at all disappointed by the scale of the world I was presented.

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One thing that really does help the exploration of such a rich world feel more manageable is the inclusion of Fallout 4’s house creation system. Using a very sims-ish creation system, you can build bases that house a reliable bed, workstation and places to stash your belongings. It’s a huge relief to know there’s a reliable place to return to in the world, which made the base creation system super rewarding.

The main downside? Managing your resources in the Pip-Boy is still a muddled, complex experience. Working out what you have and what you need is a nightmare when trying to build large, complex structures. Items are organised in odd ways, with it unclear what they can be broken down into. Working out what you have at your disposal is a complex and tiresome diversion.

Right, let’s talk a little about combat. Combat in Fallout 4 is pretty much unchanged for better and worse compared to past games. You still have the active combat system available, but for people like me who prefer RPGs to shooters V.A.T.S. combat is still the way to go. Slow down time, pick out a specific body part and attack. There are some minor tweaks introduced to active combat like a system that offers dramatic attacks every now and then, but your opinion on fallout combat is likely to be unchanged by Fallout 4.

When it comes to having companions join you on your adventure, the improvements made to the companion system are minor at best. You can send your companions out to go set points or fetch things for you, but this is not the major overhaul to Fallout’s lacking companion system many had hoped for. Still, putting combat aside the cast of available companion characters are all strong, well defined, unique and memorable. I really damn liked the companions.

As soon as I had a few new companions available Dogmeat kind of fell to the way-side for me. The lack of ability for him to die took away any tension when bringing him along, and there was no option to bang him. Move over puppy, there’s a bunch of hot post apocalypse people to seduce.

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I wanted to love the power armour in Fallout 4, but the game certainly did not make that easy for me. The combat armour is a single unit which retains a persistent presence in the world when not in use. It can be upgraded, and requires a specific unique fuel source to operate. While the power armour is bloody awesome when fueled up and running, there are some considerable drawbacks to actively using it as a strategic element in your journey across the world.

So, let’s say your power armour is out of fuel. It can still technically move, but it’s incredibly slow. You move further through the world completing other tasks, and collecting fuel as you go. You reach a point where the armour would be useful. You need to backtrack to where you left it, fuel it up, use a chunk of that fast draining fuel just to get back to where you wanted to use it before it’s back to the action.

There are certainly times it’s useful, and it’s exciting to use, but often the journey to collect it didn’t always seem worth the effort involved.

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Let’s talk a little about the new leveling system. you can now pour near limitless levels into powering up numerical stat values, or pump your perks into SPECIALS skills, which provide new special abilities that persist within the world. These are all wrapped up in an adorable level of visual polish, with cute Fallout themed animations linked to leveling progress. While the system was adorably presented, it did feel like a focus on raw numbers over meaningful additions at times, and SPECIAL abilities were spread out in a way that had a weird effect on the way my experience was paced.

So, it’s time to talk bugs. Fallout 4, like pretty much every open world Bethesda game, is buggy as all hell right now. Visual errors, save bugs, hard progression blockers and hard crashes. While these were hours apart at times, Fallout 4 isn’t some magical release that’s going to fix Bethesda’s past issues with buggy releases. Save often, back your saves up and be prepared for weird visual issues left, right and centre regardless of your platform of choice.

Ultimately, if you’re a Fallout fan you already know what to expect from a lot of this. It’s a Fallout game that feels huge and clearly has a lot of content baked into it. The main fifteen hour plot isn’t really the driving force as much as side quests and narratives in the world are. The combat system remains its same unchanged hybrid of real time action and RPG style pauses and target selects. While house building improves player quality of life and some of the new perks on offer make interesting changes to gameplay, side stories often lack memorable characters and there are glitches EVERYWHERE. Still, polyamory support always gets some bonus points from me.

Fallout 4 is a really good game. There’s a lot of content in there for series fans. I really enjoyed it, but my recomendation does come with some very strong caveats

Join the conversation! 15 Comments

  1. I’m only doing this because I love you and your work…that, and I woke up grumpy this morning:

    “cool little edition.”
    “Dogmeat kind of fell to the waste-side”
    “cute Fallout themes animations”
    “these were hours apart between at times”
    “remains it’s same”
    “still, polyamoury support always gets some bonus points from me.”

    You mean

    “cool little addition.”
    “Dogmeat kind of fell to the wayside”
    “cute Fallout themed animations”
    “these were hours apart at times” OR “these were hours between at times”
    “remains its same”
    “Still, polyamoury support always gets some bonus points from me.”

    Those just jumped out at me. Still, thanks for the review! Regarding the dialogue system, in Mass Effect sometimes you’d end up saying something a lot different than what the dialogue choice said. How does it compare to that?

  2. Yep, was a deliberate joke, but enough people have quibbled it 😛

  3. Can you comment a little more on the romance/LGBT depictions in the game? I have some concerns over what initially seems like a character creation that forces you to create a heterosexual character, and then permits you to romance companions of either gender later.

    This just seems really problematic and kind of tacked on, suggesting that player characters can only really be bisexual or straight and not gay or lesbian.

    The depictions of gender (and a complete lack of sexual diversity) in Fallout Shelter doesn’t bode well.

    Anyway, perhaps you could be so kind as to answer these questions:

    1. Is it an accurate understanding that the game only allows for the creation of your character as half of a heterosexual couple during character creation?
    2. Is it accurate to say that all companion relationships are gender neutral, but even if a player only pursues same gender companions the possible dissonance with the opening is never addressed?
    3. Are there other companion/NPCs/quests that depict LGBT people? E.g. quest giver referencing their same sex partner?

    • This issue is a side-effect of adding a specific backstory for the protagonist.
      It’s certainly something to take into consideration and is worth discussing, but my main concern is that this backstory is spread throughout the gameworld.
      Granted, one can role-play such things away (I’ve decided characters in Skyrim weren’t the Dragonborn for instance) they become a constant annoyance. The background of the protagonist of Morrowind as a foreign prisoner makes playing a Dunmer annoying as they’re _still_ called “outlander”.

      The stronger narrative will make the game more approachable and give people who’re less accustomed to open world sandbox RPGs a bit more direction.

      However, we’re left with the issues you mentioned. It’s a tough nut to crack, and I’m not sure where I stand. Mainly because I know there will be mods. Custom backstory, no backstory, etc. It’ll happen.

      • It is, but its one that other developers (Bioware) have found a way to circumnavigate well. Dragon Age 2 and Inquisition and Mass Effect 3 all found ways to place the player in a developed and generally linear narrative while still not shoehorning the player into a specific sexual orientation.

        What is potentially most concerning for me is the fact that (unlike say, the first Mass Effect, which didn’t have a M/M option) from what I understand, your character is (at least in the opening) unavoidably heterosexual. Allowing for a choice of gender in both characters at the start would have easily mitigated this without much issue.

      • It’s probably going to come down with how willing you are to suspend disbelief. You could consider your character homosexual, but say, add the caveat that in 1950’s America societal pressures led your character to conceal that + make a “normal” family to avoid persecution/please parents/etc. And now free of social mores, they can express who they actually are. But that’s a pretty caveat and probably won’t fit a lot of peoples vision for who their character is.

        But yeah, other than that, I’m sure modders will hack that up, though that doesn’t remove Bethesda’s negligence in this case.

  4. did you run across many bugs in the game?

  5. Several of the things you disliked are things I’ll probably like (I’m unusual in that I love inventory management. I spend so much time doing that, just chilling out), and vice-versa, but it covered all the points I was curious about clearly and fairly.

    As such, this review was suitable for me to stick with my plan for this game: When I have a more powerful computer (this one’s a bit shit), and all the major expansions for Fallout 4 have been out for 2 months I’ll jump on it.

    Why the wait? It sounds like a game I’d want to sink a single character deep into, and adding mods to an existing save often breaks the save. (I’ve lost so many good Skyrim charcters to discovering that X mod combined with Y breaks Z quest etc)
    This is a Bethesda game. I will be modding it.

    In any case, thanks! You’re giving me more value than I’m paying for, so now I need to find a way to make more money to give it to you :p

  6. The dialogue thing, though not deal-breaker for me, is definitely going to be an annoyance. I remember in the Mass Effect games, choosing a dialogue option because the blurb seemed like something I’d say, and then Shepard going some crazy direction that I could not have possibly predicted.

    It is what it is, I suppose.

  7. having only played 3 and New Vegas this sounds about like what i was expecting. to me the franchise has always sat comfortably in the 2.5,3/5 range; good games i could kill a lot of time with, but never quite in “great” territory. anyway, nice review. looking forward to reading your Tomb Raider review when i get the chance.

  8. Awesome, informative review!

    The base building thing seems incredibly boring and pointless to me. It’s an open world, why would I want to spend so much time in one place?
    What interests me most is exploring post-apocalyptic Boston. The best part about FO3 for me was just exploring D.C. and having that awesome feeling of exploring something in a game that I explored in real-life, but in a totally different way.

    Again, props on the review, answered a lot of questions for me

  9. Aside from loving the new leveling system over the previous fallout games I find this review on point. My worst criticism would be towards the new dialogue system, but i think they can patch an improvement. Just add more words into the damn dialogue description options. It won’t “fix” the dialogue completely, that ship has sailed, but it would be a well placed band-aid.

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