Game Review: Fallout 4

If you’re looking for a game to occupy all of your free time for the next few months, Fallout 4 certainly fits the bill, Nick Smit finds.

I’ve heard that Fallout 4 is described as the Skyrim of the Fallout series, and for the most part, that seems to be pretty true. Both games seem best characterised by the additions and tweaks to the established formula that encourage new avenues of gameplay, keep the experience fresh for returning fans, and make the series seem more familiar to newcomers. But just like Bethesda’s Skyrim, Fallout 4 does not make the leaps in technical quality that many players were perhaps expecting and find it difficult, at times, to reconcile its action-oriented new paradigm with its RPG roots.

The story does start the game off on the right foot, to be fair. Fallout 4 gives a certain kick to the opening sequence that is rather unique to the series. You emerge as the sole survivor of Vault 111 – an underground bunker built hundreds of years ago to protect humanity in the event of a nuclear war. But while we Fallout players have left a vault a dozen times now, this is the first time we will have entered before the war. Anything else will get into spoiler territory, so I’ll just let that pique your interest about the player character and their motivations might be tempered.

The way I played it, the pre-war experience made my incantation of the sole survivor determined to rebuild. This was amply served by Fallout 4’s new workshop mechanic, which allows you to construct bases and settlements for you and the struggling citizens of post-nuclear Boston, as well as giving you something to do with the random junk you tend to pick up on your travels. Perhaps less idyllically, I also became interested in giving a certain someone a little wasteland justice. To this end, the combat mechanics of Fallout 4 have been dramatically improved over Fallout 3 and New Vegas, with an FPS that feels more like a traditional shooter and less like a first-person RPG where you click to make the enemy numbers go down.

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Fallout 4 gameplay.

But there were some changes to V.A.T.S that irked me in particular. Where V.A.T.S traditionally paused the game to target the specific destination on an enemy’s body you’d like the pain train to stop at, it now goes into a bullet-time mode where your opponent is still very much in motion. This might not seem like much of a difference, but I’ve always felt that the option to fight in a turn-based style opened the series to people who weren’t so fond of, or competent, with FPS. Those with FPS skills, like myself, tended not to use V.A.T.S that much anyway. So while shooter fans are better served with the beefier combat, the seemingly unnecessary changes to V.A.T.S actually alienates some players.

Some of the other mainstream components didn’t work all too well either. The introduction of voice-acting for the main character seems like a good cinematic choice, but the technical constraints of this limits dialogue to four options, which tended to be the minimum in previous titles. And while the voice-acting itself is actually quite good, it’s hard to stay immersed in a character’s plight when the camera wanders off mid-sentence by virtue of Bethesda’s general lack of polish. And now the part you’ve been waiting for: the bugs.

There are a lot of them, perhaps even more than usual in a Bethesda game, but I never really ran into one that was game-breaking. While it’s important that some people are reporting they’re having problems, my experience of bugs ranged from mildly immersion-breaking, to funny and occasionally annoying. I shot a raider who was clearly so upset at me besting him that his ghost must have possessed his rifle to keep firing on the ground after his death. I saw a woman slide along the ground for 20 metres to lean on a wall, becoming the smoothest person in all of the wasteland. I travelled to a car yard to be blindsided by a two-seater having some physics issues, but I reloaded and it was fine.

Is it okay that Fallout 4 seems so unrefined considering how much money was thrown at it? No, but it has become somewhat begrudgingly expected from the series, and the sheer scale of things to do, does allow us to forgive it somewhat.

Bottom line: buggy, unpolished, and at times confusing? Yes. Vast, deep, and at times compelling? Also yes. Bethesda… Bethesda never changes.

Image: Nick Smit, Fallout 4