War. War never changes. And neither does Fallout judging by my time spent with the newest entry in the series. Sure, there’s the odd tweak here and there – such as the streamlining of some game mechanics and the introduction of a deep new crafting system – but underneath it all lays the same open world adventure filled with murder, mystery and mutants. Not that it’s a bad thing.
The familiarity of the gameplay allows you to jump into Fallout 4 and find your feet pretty easily, letting you get on with what’s important in a post-apocalyptic world – exploring, shooting maniacs and mutants in the face, and grabbing all kinds of loot – but there’s also some unwanted remnants of prior console ports of the Fallout titles too: a plethora of bugs, and a somewhat erratic framerate.
When you first start Fallout 4, everything seems good technical wise. The graphics aren’t anything special but they do the job nicely, the framerate seems agreeably consistent and bugs seem few and far between, but as you get further and further into the game cracks begin to show, and now, with over 40 hours invested into it, it can get pretty ugly at times. Don’t get me wrong: overall, Fallout 4 performs much better than its predecessors did on the PS3 and Xbox 360, but it’s disappointing that with the power of the current gen consoles we still have to endure times where the game is little more than a slideshow. Announced less than six months ago as being pretty much complete in fact, you have to wonder if the game should have been kept in the oven just that bit longer until the numerous bugs and technical issues had been ironed out, but alas, here it is. And despite its shortcomings in the technical department, Fallout 4 can only be described as one word: absorbing.
It’s not long after you’ve created your character in the idyllic town of Sanctuary Hills that the shit literally hits the fan. Within 30 minutes you’ve gone from the peace and tranquillity of living the American dream, to witnessing a heart-wrenching tragedy after being cryogenically frozen in the wake of an atomic blast, before finally emerging from the vault that has preserved you for 200 years. Some may question Fallout 4’s rather hurried opening – and the fact that you emerge from a vault to a new world without so much as batting an eyelid, and as a badass killing machine to boot – but they needn’t bother. Yes it’s silly, but Fallout 4’s story gets the job done in order to provide an entertaining adventure without bogging you down with deep lore or menial tasks. Bethesda know what you’re here for, and that’s developing your own wasteland wanderer, exploring a desolate yet ever-enticing environment and turning every living thing that stands in your way into a bloody mess. Actually, scrap that, it’s not so much as any living thing as it is anything.
Finally free from the Vault, what you do in the Commonwealth is up to you. Do you follow your character’s story arc, amassing companions as you go? Find some other Commonwealth dwellers in need and become a benevolent leader? Travel the wastes as a lone wanderer, killing anything you encounter mercilessly before looting and then feeding on their corpse? The choice is truly up to you, and this is where Fallout 4 shines. The chances are you’ll probably spend your time doing a bit of all three in the end – even with the best will in the world, your intentions of progressing the main story are thrown out of the window when you see an interesting building in the distance or pick up an errant radio signal. Hell, even the slightest hint of a group of super mutants or raiders nearby is enough to get me to deviate from my planned course, greedy for the experience and loot that they provide. Of course, like Fallout 3 and New Vegas, none of the game’s mechanics or features are spectacularly realised – everything is merely functional – but Fallout 4 is one of those games where the complete package is just simply better than the sum of its parts, and that’s largely because of the fantastic world that Bethesda has created.
Fallout 4’s Commonwealth is undoubtedly the star of the game, displaying much more depth and character than your player-controlled avatar despite them finally finding a voice. Whether you’re out exploring the open world or the insides of over 100 buildings, there’s always something to interest or distract you. Sometimes it’ll be enemies to kill, other times it might be a safe for you to crack or a computer terminal for you to hack, but you’re never too far from an opportunity to earn experience or loot. Being an RPG, experience and loot are the two things that you can never get enough of in Fallout 4 either, as they enable you to develop your character, and in turn take on some of the more fearsome foes and areas that the commonwealth has to offer. Some may be disappointed to find that character development has been somewhat streamlined since Fallout: New Vegas, with traits and individual skills now amalgamated to some extent into the perks system. This wouldn’t have been too bad if the system was more intuitive, but the perks menu in itself is a bit of a mess, and you just don’t feel like you have the depth of character development options previously exhibited in the series. What Fallout 4 does introduce though – and is the reason why you’ll want to collect as much loot as possible – is crafting, which enables to customise and improve your equipment to increase your survival chances when adventuring.
Crafting mods for your equipment is child’s play however, compared to the fact that Fallout 4 allows you create and manage entire settlements with the junk you find on your travels. The game does an absolutely terrible job of teaching you how to use its powerful tools in order to create fully-featured safe havens for your buddies in the Commonwealth, but with a bit of trial and error and a bucket load of perseverance you eventually get to grips with it and can build some truly interesting settlements. There’s not a great deal of point in building them – they don’t particularly offer anything unique except the opportunity to progress in some side missions and earn a couple of achievements or trophies – but nevertheless, I found myself spending hours just building up a nice little sanctuary for me and my people to relax, trade and start out life anew. That’s what I’d like to think anyway, but in reality I just made the place less of an eyesore for when I’m managing my bulging inventory of junk and equipment for fear of becoming encumbered.
Fallout 4, then, maybe isn’t as good as it should have been, or at least as good as we’d all hoped. Everything new that has been added is pretty inconsequential. Everything that has been streamlined detracts from the series’ depth. Luckily though, the amazing game world presented, combined with our natural curiosity to explore, means that it’s still a highly enjoyable adventure that is unmissable for fans of the series. Aside from the settlement building system, there’s nothing revolutionary here. Just a spattering of evolution across the board that makes this the most playable and accessible, yet shallow Fallout yet.