Fallout 4 Review – Bethesda Improves the Series to Near Perfection
Fallout 4 on PlayStation 4
It is the year 2077 in a quaint little town within Boston known as Sanctuary Hills. All is well as you settle down with your family after just returning from war. You’ve given some of your best years to your country and life is now changing for the better as you kick back with your spouse and child. But you are a fool. Not because you desire happiness, but because you thought your service changed something. Yet everyone knows, war never changes.
It is a lesson that many inhabitants of the Wasteland have learned before you, and one that you must also come to terms with in Fallout 4. As players step out of the cold embrace of Vault 111, they will be greeted by a world that is entirely new yet eerily, and sometimes horrifyingly, familiar. A world that has seen unspeakable acts in the name of science and will witness many more as humanity tries to pick up the pieces.
It’s that struggling humanity that gives Fallout 4 and its Boston setting an undeniable character. Yes, this is still a mostly barren wasteland full of irradiated threats, sprawling decay, and those who have long given up on any sense of decency. But, in all of this there is life. Real, unconquerable, hopeful life. It’s clawing its way to the surface while the push and pull of several forces try to force its growth in the direction they feel is best for the future, and that’s where you, the player comes in.
When you first step into the harsh sunlight that greets every wanderer, you begin a mission. You must recover something that was taken from you; but with no understanding of the world as it currently exists, you must turn to its inhabitants. At the same time, they are turning to you. You are a savior of sorts, one born from unknown depths and just so happens to have what it takes to help the people. Like all Fallout games in the past, this is where Fallout 4 excels. You have the freedom to go and do as you please (for the most part). Within that free space, you can help or ignore others as you see fit. These choices comes with a price, though, as they always do.
Often enough, choices affect nobody but the player, so it may be easy to gloss over them. But eventually, eyes will turn to you, and every decision will ring hope or despair throughout the Commonwealth. In Fallout 4, freedom is now more than a particular faction hating you. Freedom has a gravity that perfectly balances that sandbox, do-as-you-please feeling.
The story itself is quite a bit heavy-handed at times. Things move at a rather accelerated pace in what seems to be an effort to fend off narrative stagnation. You may find yourself joining a faction only to realize that you are now its supreme leader an hour later. These grand transitions may seem a bit jarring at first, since you may not even realize this was going to happen. There were a couple of times it turns amusing, with some NPCs remarking how quickly and unexpectedly you rose to power within their ranks. Fallout 4 tries to stress that the speed of your promotions is due to the desperation of each faction, as they all try to put their plans in motion while subverting the efforts of others.
You have other ways of interacting with the people and world, as well. The most notable of these are the settlements you can establish out in the Commonwealth. These bases will serve as storehouses, workshops, and bastions for people you save. Tying you closer to characters that in other games would be quickly forgotten, Fallout 4 charges you with the care of each life you save. Making these settlements even more engaging, and sort of addicting, is the fact that you can build on these locations. Expand existing structures, build brand new ones, add power, decorate, set up defenses, and more to fully personalize each and every location. The feature also acts as more than just a “build things, raise happiness” side-game; if you choose to progress certain quest lines and perks, these settlements prove to be an invaluable asset. Hard work is rewarded for those who take part in rebuilding the Wasteland, but this duty is never forced on you.
Crafting expands to the player’s tools as well, with an increased variety of fully-customizable weapons. Sights, stocks, handles, muzzles, and more are able to be swapped out and fine tuned to create your perfect weapon. If you’re into the more up-close and personal type of wasteland violence, you’ll be happy to know that the customization courtesy applies to melee weapons as well. Get ready to mod up some baseball bats and brass knuckles; raiders won’t know what hit them.
Weaving every odd end together is the Fallout action, and boasting a familiar feeling for returning fans yet a more refined approach to perks, shooting, and V.A.T.S. The perks are much clearer, broken down in a nice chart (that you also receive as a neat poster with retail copies of the game) that clearly states what they do. You can plot out your course of progression to prioritize certain abilities, and with no level cap, you can eventually revisit some branches you may have skipped over.
You’ll want to pay close attention to these perks since the enemy is well equipped this time around. Enemy AI has gotten quite the bump. They’ll flank, use cover, expose weaknesses, and they have some seriously good aim. More often than not, I found myself forced to be quick on my feet thanks to overconfidence and diving into situations I had absolutely no right to enter. Variety among large groups of enemies is also improved. Snipers, brawlers, suicide bombers, beasts, grenadiers, and more will constantly challenge, using the environment and their equipment to the best of their advantage.
While the enemy AI is challenging and engaging, the companion AI in Fallout 4 is seriously lacking. It’s almost as if they always know exactly where not to stand. You do have the ability to give them orders, but those are quickly undermined by the most trivial of things, such as a bottle on the floor. They are very useful at attracting attention, which is often necessary for you to catch a breather during more difficult encounters, and they serve as great mules for all of the stuff you will inevitably pick up. We won’t bother asking exactly where in Dogmeat you’re storing guns. On the downside, they will block your escape, spoil your stealth, and seem to straight up ignore you at random. At times this was frustrating, especially when a companion possessed a specific skill needed for a certain situation.
Then there are the cracks. With a game as massive as Fallout 4, a crack or two is expected, but they do tend to interfere with gameplay at times. For starters, the game world is absolutely beautiful. Light shines through rundown buildings and barren forestry, you can see fires and explosions in the distance, and everything in the game goes about a normal yet lively routine. But every now and then it can be too much for the game to handle. On both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, there were moments when the framerate would slow to a crawl and the graphics would just break down. It happened during the much larger combat encounters, and while you can anticipate these occurrences during the story, they can catch you off guard out in the wild.
Graphical glitches aren’t too much of a surprise in games of this scale, after all, the game is huge and there is a ton of content packed onto the disc. What’s a bit harder to deal with is quest lines that just don’t work. More than once was I left narratively abandoned when the triggers for a quest just wouldn’t click. There were times when a prompt would instruct the player to either talk to a specific person or head to a certain place and absolutely nothing would happen upon doing either. NPCs would stare at you silently no matter how much you prodded them, heading to required locations would lead to no results, and that would essentially leave you dead in the water. Making matters worse was the fact that it always seemed to happen when the quest really started to pick up. These are things that will hopefully be fixed in due time, but at the moment are major nuisances, especially for those looking forward to experience everything that Fallout 4 has to offer.
Even with its issues, Fallout 4 never fails to impress. It took the dead expanse of previous iterations and breathed a type of life that takes good care not to betray the experience fans have come to know and love. It is something a newcomer can easily get lost in as they discover several worlds within a Boston that appears decimated on the surface, yet is writhing with a spirit waiting to be led, or destroyed. It is a truly great game in every sense of the word. Expansive, immersive, engaging, and, every now and then, thought provoking. It is a step forward for the series as a whole. The Wasteland is every bit as deadly and seemingly uninviting as it’s always been, but beneath the surface lies more life than the pre-Great War world could ever hope to witness. The way every mechanic and decision perfectly marries to each and every other one is nothing short of amazing. War may always stay the same, but Fallout 4 has grown the series in marvelous ways.