I’ve made a lot of friends since returning to the Commonwealth wasteland: an android noir detective, a Super Mutant who read one too many Shakespeare sonnets, and Deacon. Sarcastic, sneaky Deacon. We’ve been on all sorts of adventures in the year 2287, ranging from freeing synths Underground Railroad style to liberating entire swaths of land and towns for settling with a roving militia. It’s a wild world out there with plenty to do, but at a certain point the excitement fizzles out into repetition, returning to the daily life I had before the Great War.
Fallout 4 continues the tradition of an atomic obsessed retro-futurist daydream originally in the guise of an obtuse RPG series. When Bethesda took over for Fallout 3, it was fitted into the Gamebryo Engine like a new suit of power armor, becoming the hybrid first-person, open world shooter it is today. That formula has not changed in 7 years since Fallout 3’s release, for better or worse. The shooting has been vastly improved for both normal aim down sight gameplay and V.A.T.S.-the proprietary dice roll/RPG style element lifted from the original titles.
In previous games most combat was spent in VATS mode or waiting for VATS to refill, but The gunplay feels great and is enhanced by the customization options afforded for your many weapons. You start off building and looting pipe and rust guns and move onto sleek sci-fi and military grade bangsticks. Along the way, upgrades can be crafted at stations that improve or change the stats and effects of your weapons. I turned an early game revolver into a silenced sniper rifle with a few mods and it became a devastating tool.
As a crucial game element however, it shows the same repetition. There’s so much shooting and bashing to do that hundreds of hours of regular old shooting peppered with the occasional slow motion head shot can feel like a grind rather than a fun set piece. This is the kind of game that begs multi-hour sessions, but most of that time will be spent doing the same thing ad nauseam. I find myself seeking out non-combative solutions to quests and sidestepping raider encampments to avoid having to brandish my arms.
A critical quest involves the taking and developing of settlements for the people of Boston to find safety and trade wares under your banner. You design these settlements with scrapped items you find throughout the game, and there is plenty to design from houses to defense mechanisms and shops that net you gear and money. A novel idea at first but the management and defense of these settlements begins to repeat and wear thin quick. Despite being such a highly touted new mechanic for the series, it wasn’t given enough variety or reward to string me along. After a good break I find myself going whole-hog and attacking a base giddily and raising my flag proud. The metronome effect that this game has tends to swing toward a more positive feel as soon as I find a new gun to tinker with or a good side quest to keep me going.
The quests in this game continue the fine Bethesda tradition of being excellently written. The radiant story system really shines through when a quest comes up on a radio station and brings you on a fantastic short story ranging from becoming a comic book hero, to joining a military battle in progress. These side quests are the best part of the game and introduce the best characters and companions that can join your party. John Hancock, the impromptu mayor of Goodneighbor and resident sarcastic ass has been an absolute joy to bring along strictly for the quips he says during and after battles. This attention to detail and character development is woven throughout all the factions and towns in the world and I highly recommend picking it up as its a better excuse for wandering Boston than the main story. The justification for bringing your character into this world becomes a back of the mind worry as I keep meeting cooler and funnier people and settle into the post-apocalyptic world. Again, this is nothing new for a game of this ilk.
Worth mentioning is the now trademarked “Bethesda jank” that comes packed in with each Elder Scrolls or Fallout title. It’s basically become a meme that these games will break and glitch like no other. I was mid-firefight with a particularly raunchy band of Super Mutants, bobbing and weaving attacks when, I found myself firmly planted halfway into a car frame. Suffice to say, I had to reload my save. This is the norm for these games; something goes awry on a scale of “well that’s dumb” to “no modern game should perform this terribly” and I have to hope I quicksaved in a safe place to restart.
I’m half past frustrated that we traded a polished, working product for the funny 30 second clips of a character model deflating like a balloon: this isn’t an acceptable game to play at times. Performance on the console versions is poor even for 2009 standards and nearly ruins the locomotion set by such a great franchise. I want to play this game for hours on end, and often do, but I’m worried I’ll be set back so many times by anything from the usual goody glitches to a real hard crash-both have happened like clockwork. After so many years to put out more of the same problems along with repetitious gameplay, it doesn’t do enough to bring the franchise forward. It makes the wait and hype that built over those years unjustified to me.
This is a good game. This is a big game. I love the characters and stories they tell, and there’s some cool guns and perks strewn throughout. But the problems that keep coming up with this series are firmly dug in, and it looks like they aren’t going anywhere for the next cycle of games. I’m hoping that by 2022 they’ll be able to really revamp this model, because these are some of my favorite games to dive deep into. I’m going to be playing this game for months on end, but I’ll be grumbling all along the way.
A Vault Boy and his Dog
Fallout 4 has jank and a weak main quest, but great side quests and deep weapon-upgrades draw you in for more.