Game Review: Fallout 4

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Time for another game review. This time I went to play Fallout 4, a game I had in my backlog almost since it came out, as my wife gifted it to me in December 2015. We’re both big fans of Fallout 3 and New Vegas, so here’s my review.

The first thing to say is that I agree with other reviews I’ve read and watched after finishing the game when they say Fallout 4 is a great game that happens to be a not-so-great Fallout game. Bethesda made a lot of substantial changes to the core gameplay. Some of those changes were real improvements and some others set the game so much apart from the previous titles that many hardcore fans don’t like them.

The Good

Compared to previous games, Fallout 4 is graphically impressive, but not as impressive as many other games in the market that were released before or after it, around the same time. In any case, the improved graphics make it even more immersive and help satiate our ever-growing thirst for better graphics as gamers.

Combat has also been improved and works much better than in previous Fallout titles, both in direct action mode and while using VATS, the latter now slowing down time during the whole action sequence instead of pausing it while aiming and resuming while shooting. The improvements are noticeable both in the feel of the combat as well as the reaction and behavior of enemies while in combat. It’s a bit of a shame that Fallout favors stealth so much, giving stealth critical hits a high damage multiplier that can even be increased through in-game perks, because I tend to use stealth and VADS, missing out part of the fun.

But, to me, the biggest improvement Fallout 4 brings to the table is an impressive level design. Some people have complained that the map is actually smaller in virtual measures compared to Fallout 3 or New Vegas (I haven’t checked), but it’s packed with many varied locations (small mistake: not providing an Explorer perk that would reveal all undiscovered locations like in the previous titles). These locations expand the world not only horizontally but also vertically. This verticality could be occasionally found in some previous titles. From memory, I recall the different heights of Megaton in Fallout 3 or the whole Lonesome Road expansion to Fallout New Vegas. But Fallout 4 takes it to a whole different level, both in indoor areas as well as outdoor areas and, many times, in the way both types of areas connect together. You can enter some building in Boston at the street level, go up some floors, exit through the roof, find a bridge to a multi-level and elevated highway, continue traveling, exiting the highway later using an improvised elevator or another bridge, etc.

Some reviewers have mentioned how Fallout 4 is game that is, simply put, fun to explore, and I think it really is. Even if you expected something slightly different from a Fallout game, you could just forget it’s Fallout and explore the wasteland around Boston, and it’s incredibly fun.

The Bad

It all comes down to opinion, but I’d say the worst part about Fallout 4 are the repetitive missions helping settlements (or settlers in general), dispatching Institute coursers, etc. A few of them are OK but it gets tiring and, after spending many dozens of hours in the game, the “Help defend <location>” sign was irritating when it came up.

I hold a similar opinion about the (very quirky) building capabilities in settlements and trying to make settlers happy. Mostly because I like Fallout but I don’t like The Sims that much. A recent comment I read in Reddit a few weeks ago by a self-described gaming center employee explained that kids nowadays, due to distractions or a lack of time or dedication, are mostly interested in multiplayer-only games like Overwatch, Counter Strike or Rocket League; or open sandbox games like Minecraft. Games they can play for any amount of time at any moment without side quests or main quests. I personally believe the settlement management mechanisms introduced in Fallout 4 could be designed to cater to that specific audience, and also to give a more meaningful way out to all these usually-meaningless miscellaneous items you can find in the Fallout universe. Then, again, I prefer to play the role of a solitary survivor, exploring the world and doing quests, instead of wasting time managing settlements. If I ever replay Fallout 4, I’ll mostly ignore that part.

I didn’t welcome the simplification or merge of S.P.E.C.I.A.L. attributes, skills and perks. I prefer the original mechanisms were S.P.E.C.I.A.L. attributes are harder to change and provide a base to your character, but do not prevent you from maximizing any in-game skill and, in addition, you could choose and gain interesting perks from time to time. Fallout 4 simplifies all of this too much, in my opinion, and is also missing the part in which attributes and skills played a important factor in the way you could solve many different quests, either through specific dialogue options that were only available if you had the needed skills or through specific actions that could be performed with in-game elements.

This last part has been the source of many complaints from users and has almost become a meme, apparently reminding Bethesda to have New Vegas in mind instead of Fallout 4 for the next Fallout game. I don’t think that’s entirely fair. Bethesda did try to have a good story in Fallout 4 like it had in New Vegas. At least, it compares favorably to Fallout 3, in my opinion. And the game did have different endings and factions like New Vegas had. It’s true, however, almost the only skill that affects dialogue options is Charisma, giving the player a higher chance of persuasion in selected dialogue options, but the game allows saving mid-dialogue, so you can always retry if the dice roll doesn’t turn out as you expected.

The Ugly

Bugs, bugs, bugs. Technical bugs have been ever present in past Bethesda games. This, together with Bethesda’s typical reliance on modders to fix many of the game issues, are memes nowadays. In Fallout 4, this goes way too far. It’s not fun to find the dialogue system glitching in the first 30 minutes of gameplay, putting up with some extremely long load times (in my case they were noticeably longer when the loading screen was blank, but even with non-blank screens they were long and I’m using an SSD that works flawlessly so far), looking to the ground were some corpses rest and see the framerate tank from solid 60fps to 40fps (why?), having godrays produce weird framerate issues and graphical glitches, or experiencing a few game crashes here and there.

These bugs have reached a level in which they’re hard to ignore and are starting to impact the game experience noticeably for me, and it’s obvious the technology behind Fallout 4 is a bit obsolete and has been pushed too far into territory it was never meant to be. Without having knowledge on the game engine internals or its source code, but as a software developer, I get the impression it’s time to re-architect the game engine or write a new one for the next game.

The weapon and armor crafting systems reminded me of the ones present Dead Space 3 and I find them fun to use, but they come with a few drawbacks too. I prefer items and armor to wear out and needing repairs, because that emphasizes the survival aspect of the game. However, I can see how that’s hard to manage when the weapon you’re using has different parts that have been crafted and assembled together.

Conclusion

The gameplay in Fallout 4 is actually very fun, in my opinion, and lets the player choose from a wide selection of activities and approaches, but it lacks a bit of focus compared to previous games, in my opinion. It’s still a solid 8.5, to give it a specific score, and if you focus on playing just the way you want to play, it can be a 9. I’ve spent more hours in Fallout 4 than in Fallout New Vegas, so that should mean something.

Technically, the game is a 7 or 7.5 and this time the technical aspects cannot be ignored, dragging the overall score down to somewhere close to an 8 or 8.25, in my opinion.

I cannot compare Fallout 4 to Fallout 1 and 2. Isometric RPG games are almost always out of my interest, but I can compare it to Fallout 3 and New Vegas and, in that comparison, I’ve joined the hordes of people who think the best game in the series so far is Fallout New Vegas. But I insist: Fallout 4 is not a bad game at all, and will probably give you over a hundred hours of very fun gameplay and wasteland exploration, so do not hesitate to give it a shot, unless you want to boycott Bethesda for any number of reasons.

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