Review: Fallout 4

Game: Fallout 4
Recommended price: $25
Metacritic Score: 84
Completion Time: 22-100+ hours
Buy If You Like: Fallout 3, FPS Skyrim, Post-apocalypse recycling simulators

Not your father's wasteland.

Not your father’s wasteland.

After 95 hours of gameplay, I have come to one conclusion: Fallout 4 is one of the strangest games I have ever played. It is simultaneously brilliant and baffling; moving the franchise forward and pulling it back again; an unfinished and undocumented disaster packed with the most intricate of details.

Like I said: strange.

The main thing to understand right away about Fallout 4 is that it is almost a direct continuation of Fallout 3 (in terms of feel), and not Fallout: New Vegas. While many people say that New Vegas was the pinnacle of the (3D) series – and that may well be the case – it was also developed by an entirely different design team. Fallout 4 is a Bethesda game, not a Obsidian game, and so it has more in common with Skyrim than anything else.

From a gameplay perspective, Fallout 4 is the best that the series has ever been. The gunplay and FPS elements have been refined to the degree that it is now entirely possible to play the game without using the VATS system at all. Indeed, even when using VATS, time no longer freezes, but simply slows down, always keeping the player in the middle of the action. The addition of Legendary enemies (and their assorted loot) keeps enemy encounters relevant and exciting throughout the entire game. Many of the staple monsters in the game have received a conceptual facelift, such that Feral Ghouls, Deathclaws, and even the Sentry Bot feel both “new” and like they should have been that way all along.

Textless stories.

Textless stories.

Then there is the crafting. Oh, the crafting. Every single piece of post-apocalyptic debris is now salvageable into crafting components to support the Settlement-building part of the game, or the gun modding. This one “small” change completely shifts one’s exploration perspective, as now suddenly all the empty rooms you might encounter are full of the priceless treasures that are typewriters, office fans, and aluminum cans. Indeed, this might almost work too well, as it is easy to get distracted with salvaging these things rather than seeking out other, more hidden loot.

By the way, let me just say that Bethesda seriously nailed the ambiance and setting in general. Boston felt like a real (ruined) city, and not just a series of loading screens and skyboxes. Even the surrounding cities and suburbs felt like actual towns. Putting aside their gameplay elements, the addition of Settlements really went a long way in making the wasteland feel populated by real people, rather than simply being trash heaps from which raiders and enemies spawn.

That said… a lot of the rest of the game just feels off.

The Lockpicking and Hacking minigames are back, directly lifted from their original incarnations, unexplained in any real way in-game. Speaking of unexplained, the Settlement system has one of the worst UIs I have ever seen in a videogame. The Perk system overhaul is similarly ugly as sin, giving the illusion of depth but none of the functionality. Perhaps the Skill point system wasn’t all that much better, but at least each level felt like it had tangible progress towards a goal.

Some lines are okay.

Some lines are okay.

The voice-acting is extremely good, but the dialog itself (and the choices given) all seem rather bad. Indeed, this was the first Fallout game I have played in which the main story quest felt inconsequential, incomplete. Several times I had to look up what the main quest even was, as the “find your son” narrative receded into the background radiation of the wasteland.

All told, I played Fallout 4 for 95 hours and still ended up skipping a tremendous amount of the game. In all that time, I never got around to doing any quests for the Brotherhood of Steel, or visiting Salem, or even really poking around the bottom-right part of the map. There is so much more that can be done… and I’m unlikely to muster the drive to see it through. Does this indicate the game is deficient in some (many) ways? Perhaps. On the other hand, what right do I really have to complain about a game that generated 95 hours of entertainment?

The bottom line is that Fallout 4 is a game worth playing, whether you are a fan of the series or if this is your first Fallout title. I don’t think Fallout 4 is possible to become anyone’s favorite game, but there is more here than in 99% of the other games you could be playing.

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Posted on December 11, 2015, in Review and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. The lockpicking/hacking minigames feel like an artifact. In the TES games you can attempt to pick any lock so the skill-check of the minigame makes sense, but in Fallout you can’t even try to pick the lock without the proper perk level. It might even be justified if bobby pins were scarce, but they aren’t even remotely so. In the end, the minigame is superfluous and just serves to slow you down; I’m already ready to mod it out.

    I think the biggest problem with the perk system is balance. Some perks are no-brainers and others are just useless. Has anyone ever put points in lead belly? I find myself taking the same perks on every character with only the weapon one changing. As a result of this you never really feel like you have to make any difficult choices and tradeoffs, many times it’s more a feeling of “which lackluster perk do I put this point in?”

    Another thing is that some perks are kind of boring, like the ones that give x damage resistance per level. At least the weapon damage ones tack on a little bonus at the higher levels.

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    • Yeah, there is a LOT of filler in the Perk system. Even more so once you realize how many of the Perks are just roundabout ways of saving money. Stimpacks now heal you by 80%? Great… you reduced the cost of Stimpacks by 66%. “Fusion Cores last twice as long!” Neat, I only need to buy half as many from the vendor.

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  2. @Matt
    Hmm I am nowhere near finished yet but at lvl 22 I still haven’t found the “time” to put any points into my special abilities. They have all been used on perks, and every time I have had several to choose between with actual anguish for not being able to take both right now.

    I aggree partially with the locks/hacking though. The “double-wall” as in requiring both perk and actual skill feels a little weird. It’s not something that bothers me much though…. The inventory management however… Terrible UI for that…Same with the weapons modding tbh. Not being able to tell exactly what the base weapon is can be annoying when trying to compare. Especially when you find weapons with so long names that the weapon time is just rreplaced by dots or similar weird stuff.

    Then there is the companion controlling system, their AI/pathfinding etc. Also annoying…

    But despite all the flaws I am still really engaged by the game, and even the settlement/building part. Something i usually never spend my time on in other games.

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    • I actually agree with you in the sense that there are a lot of good Perks. The problem is that they will always be good Perks for every single character build, and thus become the default. If you had to reroll right now, would your selection of Perks be different? I might change the weapon type just to see if I can break 1H guns, but everything else seems preordained.

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  3. Salem is very quick, and while very different and a good showcase for what it is, it’s just over so quickly that it hardly leaves a lasting impression.

    I’ve always wished the hacking and lockpicking minigames would go away (or in my case I just mod them out). I don’t mind the skill check (although too often a master lock gives worse loot than a novice lock, so there is that), but the minigame itself is bleh, especially hacking.

    As for the main quest; I think if done start to finish, its amazing content that flows incredibly well. If you do some main quest, some side stuff, and keep jumping between, I don’t think it works as well. This has also been the case (at least for me) with Bethesda games, which is why I approach them all the same. First char is main quest only, then I reroll for side stuff (in F4 that’s only been one character, in Skyrim it was 4-5 due to builds). The big plus is that the game allows you to do that, and you don’t feel like you missed out or are gimped during the first run, which IMO is great design that might be harder to appreciate as many won’t notice.

    Ultimately it’s not just the 95hrs (though of course that’s telling itself), its that in that 95, how many were high-quality, very entertaining hours? I’ve got 103 according to Steam, and a very high majority of those hours are some of the best gaming of the year.

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  4. The more I think about it, the more I wish they would just do away with lockpicking and hacking, or at least overhaul them. Ideally, lockpicking is part of an alternate character build that is less focused on head on combat and more on stealth, but in Fallout 4 there’s no opportunity cost to picking up the perks so lockpicking just becomes a no-brainer pick for all your characters that essentially equals more loot. And that’s it, lockpicking doesn’t give you any opportunities for alternate advancement or anything (sometimes you can pick a lock to short circuit a dungeon, but normally you want to loot the whole place anyway). It’s literally just “put points here for loot” and you’d be crazy not to do it.

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    • The funny thing, now that I think about it, is how the Lockpicking/Hacking system IS skippable by having the correct follower around – one can pick Master locks, and the other hack Master computers. Sometimes they will fail, but you can often just keep forcing them to try until they magically succeed.

      I think I’m more up upset, as Syncaine mentions, that there was no real difference between Master locks and Novice locks when it comes to loot, at least beyond the Cryo gun in the beginning Vault. I seem to remember there being multiple restricted areas in Fallout: New Vegas (if not Fallout 3) that had no other way inside, and contained unique loot. I suppose in those games, the Skill point system made it much more onerous to spec into, so greater rewards should be expected.

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