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Fallout 4: review

Fallout 4, arguably one of the biggest games of 2015, was released this week. OTwo’s Aaron Poole gives his first impressions on one of the contenders for Game of The Year.

War never changes, and neither do Bethesda’s RPGs. In 2005, developer Bethesda released The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. This game carried with it an RPG formula that worked so well, it would become the base template for all future games of its kind released by the company. As time went on, Bethesda released Fallout 3, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Fallout: New Vegas, each time tweaking their template and further refining it to attempt to make the best game they could. Now in 2015 their concentrated refinements have created Fallout 4, Bethesda’s most recent RPG.

It’s important to know that Fallout 4 is essentially the same game as Fallout 3, set in a larger area with improved graphics, AI, skill tree progressions and storylines. It’s exactly what fans wanted, which is more of the same, but better. If you’ve played past games in the series, you will immediately feel at home, and Bethesda know this; utilising the slogan ‘Welcome Home’ in their marketing campaigns was completely deliberate. It’s the same gritty universe you’ve grown to love, and Bethesda have invited you to fall in love with it again.

For those unaware, the Fallout series is based in an alternate timeline where, after the detonation of the Atomic Bomb, humanity put their mistakes behind them and embraced atomic energy, harnessing it for its power rather than treating it as a weapon. This leads to an accelerated future where robots and artificial intelligence exist, and everything is powered by atomic energy. Eventually, resources begin to dwindle, and a craving for power causes an inevitable Third World War, only this time the surface world is blown to oblivion, resulting in the survival of only those who resided in purpose built shelters called Vaults. Each of the numbered Fallout games sees you control one of the surviving members of these Vaults, as you exit them for the first time and begin to explore the remains of what used to be.

“A caveat here to anyone with an active social life, with roughly twelve hours of gameplay covered, Fallout 4 is living up to its expectations as an involving RPG”

This edition of the franchise brings the player to a post-apocalyptic version of Boston. From the moment you exit Vault 111 to greet the outside world, you are met with the sight of the world that will become your sandbox for as long as you want it to be. Immediately, the improvements on previous instalments are noticeable with regards to the environment; husks of trees cut rays of sunlight in a realistic manner, clouds part to make the starry night sky clear, fog encompasses you and rain blocks your field of view. This small addition already adds much more depth to the player experience, making it that much harder to let go of the gamepad.

One of the more anticipated refinements to the game is its crafting system. Previous instalments have had fairly basic methods of crafting incorporated into general gameplay, but for Fallout 4 it has been given a complete overhaul. Literally every item lying about is a tool you can use, whether it’s to be used for modding weapons and armour or repairs. Gone are the days of hoarding around useless items. See a car? Scrap it for steel. See a Table? Scrap it for wood.

All of these are used when it comes to the apex of Fallout 4’s crafting system: the ability to build your own settlement. This feature is a completely new addition, but acts as more of a mini game rather than anything conducive to the plot. Regardless, you may very well find yourself spending hours upon hours constructing and defending your own settlement, especially if you’re looking for something substantial to keep you occupied once the main quest has been completed.

In terms of actual gameplay, the player is treated to a familiar first or third person combat system (which you can switch between on the fly) that has been overhauled. Shooting feels great; the character animations mimic real-life reactions, and the animations added to each weapon only amplify the satisfaction gained by pulling a trigger. V.A.T.S, the target selection tool that froze time in previous installments returns in a modified form. Rather than completely freezing time, it only slows it down, which adds a level of urgency and intensity to the process, given that the enemy you’re fighting is still charging towards you. The mix of strategy and utility that this new V.A.T.S encourages is a unique selling point of the franchise, and is far more satisfying option than shooting in real time, which the player also has the option of doing.

Outside of combat, the player is treated to one of the best dialogue systems within games in recent years. Overused voice actors are not an issue; Fallout 4 is host to a multitude of different voices, one of which actually belongs to your character for the first time ever within a Bethesda RPG. The only downside to the gameplay is that, as with any other Bethesda game, there are bugs and glitches that will often surface while playing. This is especially noticeable when it comes to companions, who are still more useful as walking suitcases for extra equipment than allies in battle. Hopefully these will be ironed out with a patch in the future, but past entries in the series indicate otherwise. In any case, glitches like these are to be expected, and they ultimately add to the Bethesda RPG experience. What use is a Fallout game without an enemy being launched 20 feet into the air because of a bug?

“If you’ve played past games in the series, you will immediately feel at home, and Bethesda know this; utilising the slogan ‘Welcome Home’ in their marketing campaigns was completely deliberate.”

It is pleasing to notice that Bethesda have made clear improvements in their storyline crafting. Fallout 3 was known for its head first approach with regards to its main storyline; from the get-go you were on a quest to discover the whereabouts of your father, with the game pushing you in the direction of the main quest and leaving you to your own devices with side quests. Fallout 4 does the opposite: the main quest teases you, painfully so, taking a good two hours before feeding you any substantial information with regards to the main plot. Also, the side quests don’t feel like side quests in the traditional sense; they all feel as if they have links to the main plot, and somewhat influence it depending on their outcome (something that has been built and developed on from New Vegas’ notoriety system). This is quite a clever move by Bethesda, as the story slowly encapsulates you to the point where you’ve entered a liminal state, losing track of time and becoming a thrall to the story.

A caveat here to anyone with an active social life, with roughly twelve hours of gameplay covered, Fallout 4 is living up to its expectations as an involving RPG. With an abundance of stories to explore and quests to engage with, as well as your own settlements to look after, Bethesda have crafted the quintessential single player experience. With the power to push it over the edge or rescue it from ruin, Boston is the ultimate sandbox, and is at your mercy.