War. War never changes.

In the Fallout universe, this rings especially true, and Bethesda made sure players get a hefty dose of nostalgia along with their radiation upon the much-anticipated return to the Wasteland.  All of the franchise mainstays, running gags, and annoying quirks that have endeared me and others to the Wasteland remain, and the major gameplay changes that were made appear to work, at least for now.  I have to admit, I came into this with the fear that, after all these years, and after so many disappointing new-gen titles, Fallout 4 would simply not feel the same.  We all knew the visuals would be pretty, we all saw the screenshots, we all watched the gameplay demos, we knew what to expect from a technical standpoint from Bethesda. I was afraid that, underneath all the fancy window dressing of new-gen capabilities, would be an empty, soulless game in which nuances, story, and characters took a distant backseat to Destiny-esque FPS combat and new crafting modes. I am happy to announce that this is not the case.  Fallout has stuck to its CRPG roots.

The sheer depth of Fallout 4 still managed to overwhelm me, even though I knew what to expect from it. For a player new to the franchise, coming out of that Vault must be akin to being dropped in the middle of a lion’s den.  The opening cut scene and the prologue serve their purpose, to dutifully provide a minimal amount of backstory, allow the player to develop an emotional attachment to the characters, and of course drop that iconic line. Nothing inspired about the storyboard here, the old “searching for kidnapped son” trope, but the voice acting as been near-universally great in my play-through so far,  and the dialogue and emotionally taught opening moments do just enough to make me care about the characters, and right from the beginning, you can’t help but find yourself invested in what’s happening.

Interestingly, this is less of a Vault Dweller story than I had expected. The protagonist, whether you play as male or female, is an adult when bombs dropped, and remains the same age in 2277 due to being cryogenically frozen by Vault-Tec. In previous iterations, players would take on the role of someone who was born in and grew up in a vault. In Fallout 4, however, you play from the perspective of someone who was alive before the radiation, and still remembers the good times. This adds an entirely new emotional dimension to the story. Imagine barely escaping nuclear destruction only to be secretly frozen and re-awoken 200 years later.

Mechanically, the engine functions well ; weird physics and glitches have mercifully been a rarity for me (about 25 hrs. in on PS4) and those that do occur are more goofy than destructive.;  A weird leg wobble on a two-headed deer, Dogmeat’s feet levitating half an inch above the ground, etc…  The only true major complaint I have about this (and then I’ll go right back to gushing, I swear) was the almost 36 hour long install. After poking around some threads, I discovered I was not alone in experiencing such a long install, but be aware it appears to be a super rare issue and confined to PS4.

Non-V.A.T.S. combat is almost frustratingly clunky but serviceable (par for the course with this franchise), and to be fair you shouldn’t really be playing Fallout for the combat. V.A.T.S. itself is mostly unchanged, except for a tweak to the Critical Hit algorithm, instead of randomly rewarding players with a critical hit on a certain percentage of successful hits based on player stats, there is now a critical hit “bar” the “charges up” with successful hits in combat, and when fully charged, allows players to manually “unleash” the cinematically different critical shot/hit.  To me, this system works a little better, especially for players who don’t build characters with high Perception or Agility scores who would have, in the past, had difficulty scoring critical hits on strong opponents with any regularity or confidence.

Combat outside of V.A.T.S. is smoother than Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, but will do nothing to excite FPS fanatics. Melee combat operates (obviously) a lot like Skyrim.

I know, you didn’t buy Fallout 4 for the combat. Most of your favorite factions, along with their goofy politics, loyalties, and hatreds, are back, along with some fascinating new ones. The mysterious, dangerous, and technologically advanced Institute lurks in the peripheral shadows. The Brotherhood of Steel is clanking around the Boston wasteland with their typical righteously fascistic attitudes. The ability to partake in wasteland politics, and greatly influence certain events, often amounts to state-building, and adds yet another layer of depth to the whole experience. What kind of groups are out there, and what are their goals, and how do their goals reflect how you want to play? You can essentially shape the political landscape of the entire wasteland through your actions, and combining that with the Minecraft like new crafting system (which I will get into later), you really do begin to feel like you are building your own kingdom to protect and rule. It’s incredibly satisfying.

Power Armor, the most recognizable piece of gear from the franchise, has been tweaked a little bit as well. Instead of being extremely heavy, but normal armor that you equip through the Pip Boy, it is now essentially a personal tank. It is now much more like actual Power Armor than in previous games, and you really feel invincible while wearing it (be advised:  you aren’t). To counter act the potential issues that come with receiving the game’s most powerful armor within the first two hours of playing, Bethesda decided to introduce a power source for the armor, fusion cores, and they are super rare. Your suit is essentially useless without them, so use of your Power Armor becomes much more calculated; you can’t just wear it everywhere anymore because you run the risk of running out of power and having the ditch the suit in the middle of nowhere, hoping no one steals it (yes, Power Armor can be stolen).

The new crafting system is incredibly convoluted, and the game offers you virtually no directions on how to get started. You kind of have to just experiment and learn on your own. Your first introduction to it will be the Sanctuary questline which you will receive soon after leaving the vault. You just have to build up some resources and defenses for their fledgling town, but there is no real tutorial. It took me hours to realize you can actually just walk around the build location (the game makes imaginary “limits” to your settlements, outside of which you cannot build or scrap) and craft on the go. Also, certain supplies necessary to build the more advanced buildings are pretty hard to find if you don’t know how to look. Once you get the hang of it, however, and once you have a good stockpile of materials, building up your settlements becomes a fun and meaningful creative exercise as your settlements grow and face food shortages, raider attacks, etc…

I’ve seen the map size criticized, but to me it feels the same as the DC wasteland, but with much more depth. The Commonwealth contains a lot more indoor and vertical space to explore, with more locations crammed into the areas.  Trust me, there is no claustrophobia or shortage of things to explore and loot. Which, when you really think about, is what Fallout is all about; loot. Get out there and start scavenging!

Score:  9/10

Pros: Gorgeous and colorful vistas and landscapes, Improved V.A.T.S. combat dynamics, Deep and engaging story, SO MUCH LOOT, Crafting system works once you learn it.

Cons: Possible long install times, awkward facial animations and glitchy textures somewhat common, somewhat clunky combat.

Helpful Tips:

  • Prototype Sentry Droid MKIV is a powerful early boss I ran into very early in my play-through. He can be found at the Robotics Disposal Ground and will drop some great loot. Problem is, I ran into him at level 6. He can be destroyed via the same terminal used to activate him, if you have the right stats. Otherwise, and this is how I killed him at such a low level; there is a pack of mole rats and a mirelurk nest nearby, if you can stir them up into the fight, they will attack the droid and distract him, allowing you time to heal and regain AP.
  • You can get the ridiculously powerful Cryolator gun that can be seen in an expert locked case as you exit Vault 111. Normally, you would have to level up for hours before being able to pick the lock. However, as other players have found as well, you can just return once you have Dogmeat as your companion, head to the Cryolator, ask him to fetch, and he will unlock the case automatically for you, granting you a very powerful gun super early in the game (good luck finding ammo for it, though).
  • com has the best and most extensive beginner’s guide to Fallout 4 that I’ve come across, you can find it here.