Gamers have had more than a bit of time to digest Bethesda’s latest title, Fallout 4. While it’s a new game in a new location, the game does seem to try to cut a new path for itself, while still keeping the previous titles well within its view. This works in somewhat limiting effects that may have dilute the experiences for gamers that are expecting something either familiar or altogether different. The fourth edition of the series is a bit of a mixed bag of old and new mechanics, at least within the greater Bethesda realm of design. Fallout 4 delivers deeply into some aspects most of us find familiar, while simultaneously leaving many gamers wanting in other ways that should have been explored a bit more deeply. The game itself feels like it’s caught somewhere between the Fallout 3 experience and it’s more serious and dark counterpart, Fallout: New Vegas. Fallout 4 never quite reaches the depths of depravity that we saw in New Vegas, but managing to stay out of the almost slapstick brand of cartoon violence that Fallout 3 had at some moments. The latest Fallout is an interesting beast that tries to deviate somewhat drastically from its predecessors in some respects while still maintaining that classic, “Fallout” feel that many of us are accustomed to ever since the re-introduction to the Fallout franchise with of Fallout 3 in 2008.
Fallout 4 introduced something we’ve never seen in a Bethesda game before. Players are now able to construct buildings and manage settlements in the post-apocalyptic setting. A great addition in many respects, as it gives players a feeling of control while attempting to shape the Commonwealth into something more habitable for settlers and traders. There’s quite a bit that goes into building a successful and happy settlement for the folks that is not readily apparent or explained in-depth. Players must think of everything from food and shelter to defense and even a clean water supply. Simple aspects that most may not things about immediately, like whether or not there are enough beds and the amount of power available all has an effect on the Settlement and the happiness of those who dwell within it. After a few hours with these new mechanics chances are you’ll have a pretty good handle of them and it’s really not a bad addition to the game, even if constructing a series of towns doesn’t quite appeal to you. It does help the player feel like they are making at least a minor difference in reshaping a world that’s be blown to shit.
This construction system does have somewhat of a “tacked-on,” feel to it however and has a fair share of woes. Building will seem incredibly janky at first, walls won’t “Snap” into place when trying to attach it to an adjoining wall. That is until you seemingly tilt it or move your character just right, then suddenly it fits. In some cases flooring panels just won’t allow the players to lay them down on perfectly flat ground. For players expecting a more consistent and easy-to-use building system in the vein of games like Minecraft or Terraria, will find themselves quite disappointed and downright frustrated at moments. The settlement system is also unfortunately plagued with more than its fair share of bugs. Common annoyances players may come across are cases where a settlement registers as having no “defense,” despite players littering the place with defensive turrets and structures. This will negatively affect that settlement’s happiness until is is corrected. This can usually be fixed by simply moving a turret or placing a new one. Sometimes, something as simple as cutting down to one and then reconnecting it seems to right whatever went wrong.
If really fun, engaging and sometimes, downright silly side quests are your thing, Fallout 4 does a pretty good job of delivering on that. Players will find themselves wandering irradiated lands looking for elusive and eccentric scientists or targeting a precision nuclear strike. (No, not Megaton!) Every time I think I’ve found the last interesting side-story in an area I stumble across someone willing to give me a new job that is a bit more than simply walking into a building and killing raiders or Super Mutants. Quests seem to be positively littered across the Commonwealth, hidden behind seedy, burned out buildings and in dingy, radroach filled tunnels. There seems to be no shortage of things to do and find in the blown out, decaying corpse that is the greater Boston area. Some of these quests are so well hidden though, players may miss them all together if they aren’t willing to comb through every square foot of ruins. In this case, Fallout 4’s greatest strength is also one of its weaknesses. It’s incredibly easy to get wrapped up with the endless stream of generic quests that the Minutemen, Brotherhood of Steel and other factions are more than willing to just pile on top of you every chance they get. While it’s a very good way to make a couple of caps quickly, most players will find that it gets old fast.
This randomly generated quest system is ripped straight from Skyrim’s faction quests. In Skyrim these quests would continually be given to the player as a long as they made the effort to speak to the NPC that’s charged with dishing them out. They were, in no manner required to do. This is also the case with Fallout 4’s quest system. Factions will just give them to you as long as you want them. There is one distinct difference with the way this randomized quest system is managed, however. Certain members in certain factions will just give you quests as long as you’re in earshot. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, whether you’re just there to sell some junk, picking up a new companion or whether you’re there for another quest entirely. Simply being near certain characters will give you “new” quests. This little bit of frustrating bullshit will most likely cause you to avoid certain settlements. You will especially avoiding characters that may just decide it’s a good time to give you a quest. (fuck off, Preston. I see you, you stay away!)
In some cases you can ignore these quests, in others you’ll find that you are not so lucky. Quests that require the player to rescue a kidnapped settler or pay their ransom may actually be the shittiest quests to be included in a Bethesda game to-date. It doesn’t take much time to rescue them to start with, but there are cases where you save someone, only to have that exact same settler get kidnapped again, almost immediately! Now, you might think that you can just leave these quests alone, just sitting in your journal. As long as you don’t act on the quest it’s just waiting for you to complete it like all the others. That’s what I thought and I ended up being dead wrong. A kidnapped NPC has a shelf-life of about three in-game days. After that, their captors kill them of course. These kidnappings also seem to happen no matter how well-defended a settlement is. It is because of this endless quest system that just force-feeds you bullshit that the game can quickly become boring, repetitive and just generally unsatisfying. Why Bethesda wanted such an aggressive quest system that amounts to busy work is beyond me. This is an especially confusing design choice when gamers discover that there’s so many excellent story and side missions available.
Beasts of the Commonwealth are still pretty great. While Raiders, Super Mutants and Ghouls are what will be found out in the wild the most, there are some nice additions within these enemies. Ghouls are quite standard, every now and again you’ll find a “Glowing One” who will douse you in a more than healthy dose of radiation if they get too close. They also have the added advantage of taking quite a bit more punishment then their undead-looking, squishy brethren. The ghouls just feel a bit more threatening this time around too. Most are fast and they have a tendency to crawl out of the woodwork when you least expect it, in most cases quite literally. They are fast and often attack in large packs. While they really aren’t that threatening later in the game, the presentation is great. A great addition to the Super Mutant enemy type is the Suicide Mutant. These crazy bastards arm a mini-nuke, carry it like a football and run at you. If they get close enough they just explode. Killing them before they get to you, if you can successfully avoid shooting their carrying arm grants you a nice little surprise as well. Of course the iconic, mutated, giant Mole Rat is back. It wouldn’t be a Fallout game without it. This time however, you’ll be excited and also maybe a little bit horrified to know that a few of these special little buggers have frag mines stuck to their backs. That was a real surprise the first time I found that out.
Bethesda has made some great improvements with the weapons and their customization in Fallout 4. Gone is that annoying degradation system for your weapons and jams are now thankfully, a thing of the past. Just about every weapon can be customized or torn down to get raw components and even other mods. This allows a player to take their very favorite gun and carry it along with them through the game, throwing upgrades on it as they level so it keeps pace with them as the progress. The selection of weapons is certainly nothing to shake a stick at either. While the player will start out seeing nothing more than homemade pipe guns, they soon give way to a myriad of firepower that has miraculously survived the end of the world, and then some. Many players may even find it hard to give up the odd-looking, yet surprisingly effective pipe guns as well. What first seems like a low level poor excuse for a real firearm turns out to be a useful, yet ugly looking choice of weapon. Special weapons can be found scattered about the Commonwealth or being touted around by legendary enemies. These legendary guns have a variety of special effects on them that may coordinate well with the kind of character you’re playing. Best of all, just about all of these legendary weapons can be modified as well.
Just as with weapons, the selection of armor and it’s effects are quite deep. Armor adds not only damage reduction, but protection for radiation and energy damage as well. Just like the legendary weapons, there is legendary armor pieces. As if that’s not enough, players will also have more than a few opportunities to equip power armor throughout the game. This adds significant boosts to the player’s carrying capacity, damage reduction and just general “coolness.” Like the weapons, you can modify and upgrade your armor to scale or just give you some extra durability. The downside to power armor is that if you begin exploring early on or just have a keen eye while scanning your surroundings, you’re bound to find a suit of usable power armor very early. There is even a mainline quest that drops you into a beefed up suit early on, to throw down on something you’ve really got no business fighting to begin with. While the advantages are great and throwing on a suit of power armor definitely makes you feel like a badass, it just feels like it’s all a bit too soon. With the number of suits littered around the map along with the fusion core power supplies to run them, the feeling of this kind of hardware being a rare armor-type just isn’t there. It doesn’t quite feel rare at all. In fact power armor is awfully common. While I am sure glad I got the suits, I didn’t bother wearing any of them until I was almost level 30. They just make the game far too easy for the quest lines that you’ll find yourself doing early on in the game. This is also the case later on, with a character over level 50 and power armor it feels like I am running around with God-Mode enabled.
Fallout 4 is definitely a Bethesda game, for both the good and the bad reasons. It’s what we’ve come to expect from the developer at this point. The game’s got no shortage of bugs in it. From hilarious little glitches that send an enemy flying into the stratosphere after you’ve delivered a devastating punch, to seemingly game-breaking bugs that lock the player in the VATS system or Pip-Boy. Other bugs that seem to plague most players, like disappearing gun models haven’t been patched out yet, while elusive and hard to pin-down bugs crop up randomly. A current favorite of mine is seemingly caused by looking down the sights of a scoped weapon. For some reason this action will cause the character to warp in some direction. Sometimes it’s only a couple of feet, while other times I’ve warped hundreds of meters in a direction I wasn’t even looking in. This bug is thankfully rare and hasn’t caused any real problems, but nonetheless is something that seems to show up on extended play sessions.
As strange as it sounds to say, it’s become somewhat of a hallmark of a Bethesda title. While certainly these bugs are not a good thing to experience, we’ve seen it so often from Bethesda that it would be almost weird to have a polished experience. Like a good B-movie, it tries desperately to hide what’s going on behind the scenes, but somehow manages to slip up enough and show us what’s really going on. These bugs, both big and small affect how we view the game and while it would be better if Bethesda actually took the time to squash more of them, they also don’t completely ruin the experience in most cases. In some instances they add a bit of humor to a setting that is otherwise depressing.
If you’re a fan of the Fallout franchise, or just Bethesda as a whole then I can recommend this game for you. While it does diverge a bit from the other Fallout titles, with a bit more shallow role-playing and has more emphasis on the first person combat aspects of the game, it does play to it’s strengths and powers forward despite the setbacks of bugs and just generally curious design choices. If you’re a gamer who gets hung up on things that aren’t as polished as they should be then I’d wait a bit on this Fallout 4. Either until the game gets more patches, has a wider library of mods, which already seems to be growing daily, or until it’s on sale so you don’t feel like you just ate $60.00+ on something that may have more than it’s fair share of pain-points. It’s a good game that will hopefully turn out to be better as it matures.