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Fallout 4 Review: There’s Just Something S.P.E.C.I.A.L. About It
Let’s not mince words, Fallout 4 is clearly the most anticipated title of 2015 for most gamers. Fans of Fallout are furiously intense about the game, though I was never one of those people. But I found myself carried along by the hype and excited to play the latest in the series. While I have to admit I haven’t finished it yet – mostly because who has that kind of time in their lives – I am immersed in this world, and find myself constantly checking the clock while I’m playing because it keeps lulling me into that false sense of “you won’t stay up until 1:00 AM.”
Spoiler alert… I haven’t gone to bed before 1:00 AM since I received it.
Platforms: PC (Version Played), PS4 (Version Played), Xbox One
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
Genre: Post-Apocalyptic Time Destroyer
Release Date: November 10, 2015
ESRB Rating: Mature
For those that don’t know, Fallout 4 is the latest entry in Bethesda’s post-apocalyptic franchise, which branched off from an alternate history where the world is a stylized version of 1950s American ingenuity. Nuclear power has been harnessed and is used to fuel everyday items, but the threat of nuclear annihilation is close to the horizon. War – which as you know, never changes – does change the face of the world, and you and your family retreat into a specially built Vault to protect yourselves from the fallout. I won’t drop any spoilers, but it’s time for you to venture out of your Vault and play in this incredibly huge, amazingly dense world.
Fallout 4 starts as you would expect: there’s some story, and you’re given the chance to choose your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats. Choose them wisely, as they’ll unlock an entire map of perks that you can later choose from as you level up. It’s overwhelming at first, but as you begin to explore the game, you quickly discover what you want to put your points into. Me? I’m working on getting my armor as blinged out as possible, so I’m focusing on “Armorer” and “Science,” which have pre-requisite points needed in your main attributes.
Also, be sure to pick a good name. I didn’t, and Codsworth just calls me mum. But there are plenty you can choose from, apparently.
There’s just so much to explore, which is fantastic and terrible at the same time. It’s a good thing because I’m so, so into sidequests and world exploration, but it’s a bad thing because I’m nearly 20 hours into this game and I am so far off the main quest that I can’t even remember what it’s supposed to be anymore. I mean, my Pip Boy does an incredible job keeping track of it all, but aside from vaguely important details about my main quest, I don’t know why I’m supposed to go where it has me going. I’m too busy getting involved in sidequests off of sidequests I’m already on (what is that even called?).
The gameplay itself is exactly what you’d expect. Movement is pretty standard, as you can switch in-and-out of third-person view if you don’t want to go all first-person. The familiar VATS options and accessing your Pip Boy are also available. You can assign weapons to specific slots on the D-Pad, as well as healing items. Of course, the gameplay is also rife with absurd glitches, which I’m sure is also something you’d expect. Want to craft anything? Popping out of the crafting station automatically puts you into first-person mode, no matter how you were oriented before. If you try to move, you’ll go in a different direction than you’re pushing on the analog stick, as if your character got disoriented from working so closely with chemicals. Tapping the PS4’s touchpad a few times will pop you back into third-person, or you can just wait and the game will do it automatically.
It wouldn’t be a brand new Bethesda game if that were the only glitch, though. Subtitles often don’t work, giving you the words for what the first person in the cut scene says, but then leaving those up for the entire conversation. My dear, loyal dog often gets stuck at hilarious angles, making it look like he’s peeing on just about everything. He also loves to ignore my commands, meaning he suddenly appears on elevators and stuck through doors. When I go into VATS, or try to sneak and shoot an enemy while hidden, I’ll suddenly be looking through the back of my own skull, with the outline of my face blocking the enemy I’m targeting. And let’s not even talk about the hilarious monstrosity that is my shadow when I catch a glimpse of it.
But for every glitch, there’s an equal and opposite powerful draw to keep playing the game. While the glitches pulled me out of the game constantly in the first eight hours, they became part of it for the next12, and didn’t interrupt the immersion of the world at all. In fact, I started to see every little problem as part of this post-apocalyptic world – of course I can see through my own skull, I’m an irradiated creature of the new world. Speaking of which, there are all the monsters you remember and adore – or crapped your pants in fright over – from Fallout 3, and more.
Fallout 3 isn’t a bad word here – I haven’t mentioned it yet because of course this game is similar to its predecessor. I wouldn’t say “it’s just more Fallout 3” – far from it, as there’s so much more to do in this game than there ever was in the third, and that’s saying a lot. For example, you can build settlements now, using special Workshops built in strategic places. Within the boundaries of each Workshop, you can scrap nearly anything you can interact with, and then turn it into buildings, furniture, and resources. If your settlement needs a water supply, you can plop a water purifier directly into a river, and then make and connect a generator to it. Need food? Plant a bunch of crops and assign a human to it. Build up your defenses with spotlights and turrets, as well as structures you can man with your population. Each settlement has a goal you’re trying to reach dependent on the number of – well, dependents. People need a certain amount of resources, and their Happiness level rises as you meet their needs.
I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade, but from my personal experience, I did not enjoy the companions. The dog was a decent fighter, but more often than not, he would run into a fight when I wanted to sneak, get himself all busted up, and then cry incessantly until I went and gave him a Stimpak. Whenever I was scavenging, he was constantly in my way, meaning I would only have the item highlighted for a second, and when I went to pick it up, I would instead talk to the dog. Other companion options will pop up during the game, but for the most part, I found it easier to travel without them.
And the developers had the forethought for this, as well as so many other options in the game, which is why the Perk tree is so enormous. If you choose to be good in one thing and terrible in another, there’s a Perk for that. Don’t want the companions? Some Perks will help you. Want to make all of the things? There are lots of Perks for that. There are plenty of ways to play this game, and every step of the way, you’re encouraged and supported to be as creative as possible. There’s almost no such thing as “off the rails,” because there are no rails – I guess you could say where we’re going, we don’t need rails.
My main problem with Fallout 4 is that it’s definitely, 100%, absolutely created for fans of the franchise. There are so few tutorials – you’re just expected to know what to do from previous experience. If I didn’t have my boyfriend sitting with me at one point, I wouldn’t have even known that I could wear multiple pieces of armor, that I could shoot while not in VATS, or that I didn’t have to carry around 80 pounds’ worth of healing materials. But it’s true for newer features as well – there’s nothing that explains that you can scrap everything while in Workshop mode, or that the mode only lasts a certain radius, or how to do things as simple as assign workers to defense structures. So much of it was trial and error, which can be good for the kind of players who love Fallout: you’re typically going to be the kind of people who dabble and push every button and explore every option. But sometimes, it’s nice to get a tutorial, especially for those of us who don’t worship at the altar of Bethesda.
I didn’t think I was going to love Fallout 4. But I’ve reached that point of no return: that point of “just one more mission” until 1:00 AM, of “just have to get to the next level,” of “how much more can I carry before I have to lug all this back to my base?” I’m at the stage of grief where I regret not having the money to get the Pip Boy edition. And, against all of my better judgment, Fallout 4 is actually making me want to go back and finish Fallout 3 – when I’m done exploring the entire Commonwealth, of course.
In short, if you’re on the fence, don’t be. Jump the fence, buy Fallout 4, then run home and play it. You can even build your character ahead of time while you’re waiting for the game to arrive. There are so many quests that it’s fulfilling even for people with busy schedules, because it’s easy to run one or two missions and then move on with your life. Well, it’s not “easy,” because the game is so fun that you just want to keep playing it, but it has nice, well-defined moments when you can put the controller down and not be lost when you pick it up again. This game is a must-buy for the already initiated and a great introduction for those of you who haven’t emerged from a Vault, blinded by the sun. Take the plunge: leave the Vault, explore the world, collect as many Caps as you can, and drink Nuka-Cola.
Review Disclosure: A review copy of Fallout 4 was provided by Bethesda Softworks for the purposes of this review.