Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Platforms: Xbox One (Version Reviewed), PS4, Windows PC
Release Date: November 10, 2015
Fallout 3 redefined how the series was played, bringing the decade-old RPG to consoles with first-person action. Fallout 4 certainly does not redefine gameplay, but it builds on a winning formula.
Nuclear New England
This time, you get a glimpse of life before the bomb. A veteran of the war, you have the perfect nuclear family (pardon the pun) and a lovely house in the suburbs of Boston. But that life changes in an instant when the bombs fall, and nothing could prepare you for the momentous journey that lies ahead of you as you exit the vault and step foot into the wasteland known as the Commonwealth. This review is spoiler-free, so I’ll leave you to discover the rest of the story for yourself.
Besides the change in location, the Fallout you know and love is back, and it begins with some tweaks to an old favorite.
The most iconic aspect of Fallout remains the V.A.T.S targeting system. You use action points to pause the fight and target specific parts of an enemy. But the V.A.T.S in Fallout 4 doesn’t pause the action like in games past. Instead, it brings time to a crawl.
At first blush, the change seems negligible, but the ramifications are noticeable. Enemies are still in motion as you pick targets, so if you take too long your 90% to hit may become a 0% as your target takes cover. It encourages faster decision making and smarter use of your action points.
And V.A.T.S isn’t the only aspect of the game to see a tempo increase — the overall gunplay feels much faster than its predecessors. Items can be favorited onto a 12-slot quick select for fast weapon switching on the fly, and all weapons now allow you to melee bash with the right bumper. Melee attacks can also be blocked with a timed button press, but you still can’t target specific limbs in V.A.T.S if you’re using a melee weapon.
The quick gunplay is most pronounced when facing the fast zombie-like feral ghouls. The radiated humans hurl themselves at you with a frightening ferocity that requires a balanced use of V.A.T.S and real-time aiming to handle effectively.
If third-person shooting is more your style, the game can still be played from that alternate view, but it still doesn’t feel quite right. You can’t switch shoulders to check around corners, and it’s much harder to spot valuable junk or hidden secrets when playing from this view. It’s an improvement over past games, but there still isn’t a compelling reason to use it for anything more than a way to check out your character’s attire.
Neverending Tools of War
Weapons in Fallout 4 are varied and highly customizable. Each weapon can have multiple modifications that affect damage, range, recoil, ammo, or appearance. This unlocks a nearly endless amount of weapon choices, and even if you don’t invest your skills in weapon crafting you can find something like a “Night-Vision Powerful Pipe Bolt-Action Rifle” on the ground. Luckily you can also rename any of your weapons at a workbench to something a little shorter and easier to remember.
The abundance and variety of weapons mean you will constantly have a new toy to try out, and the same goes for armor. Your protection is also customizable with modifications, and you’re free to mix and match different pieces to create your perfect wasteland attire.
Then after you’ve customized your weapon and armor, you can hop into your suit of power armor and customize that too. I favor stealth-focused gameplay anytime I pick up a Bethesda RPG, so the power armor wasn’t quite up my alley. If you like more aggressive play, then power armor will be your go-to gear. It lets you take more hits and negates any fall damage, but it needs to be powered by scare fusion cores.
The Real You
The customization options don’t stop with your tools; your character is even more customizable than before. A powerful face sculpting tool lets you get as detailed as you’d like in character creation, and your perk choices feel just as expansive.
Each time you level up you’re presented with a chart of 70 different perks, most of which have multiple stages, and many perks are more than just a passive stat increase. Take “Ghoulish” for example, which makes radiation heal you instead of harm you. If you level it to rank three, some Feral Ghouls will randomly become friendly.
Fallout 4 embeds legendary enemies among the faceless foes of the Commonwealth. These legendary characters are much tougher than normal enemies and carry unique items with special effects. The harder the difficulty you play on (I was on Hard) the more frequent these enemies appear. It’s a welcome evolution to the series with its ability to turn an easy encounter into something more difficult and much more interesting.
There’s also no shortage of cross-faction combat, and the Brotherhood of Steel makes a return in Fallout 4. This time, they have aircraft at their disposal which can lead to far more dynamic battles.
I often found them battling super mutants in the city, and any time I heard the crack of gunfire and the buzz of engines, I was running head over heels just to be a part of these rather impressive large-scale battles. But just as the game is at it’s best, it’s hampered by technical issues that never seem to go away.
When facing melee attackers you can often defeat them with confusion.
Fallout 4 doesn’t improve the long-term issues Bethesda has been dealing with for almost a decade. The large-scale encounters cause the framerate to tank, turning fast-paced action into clumsy stuttering gunplay. Loading times for fast-travel took over 60 seconds in some cases, and AI behavior is still deadly simple when it comes to stealth gameplay.
Wastelanders are still oblivious to the dead bodies of their friends, and will half-heartedly search for intruders if you pique their interest. But these weaknesses cover more than just stealth gameplay. When facing melee attackers, you can often defeat them with confusion. Just jump across some obstacles or climb out of their reach and their pathing abilities short circuit faster than a Protection dumped in saltwater.
Next: Map Size & Base Building