This review is based on the PlayStation 4 retail version of Fallout 4, which I purchased myself, because I’ve not yet bamboozled anyone into thinking I deserve a promotional copy. It was written after finishing the main storyline, a chunk of side missions and after spending a lot of time exploring.
So after more than 55 hours with Bethesda’s Fallout 4 I decided to call it enough and sit down to write this review. What do I think of Fallout 4? It’s more Fallout.
There, that’ll do it, thanks for reading!
I jest, but honestly if you’ve played either Fallout 3 or Fallout New Vegas then you know what you’re getting into with Fallout 4. Yet again you’re dropped into a huge post-apocalyptic wasteland populated with endless places to explore, countless ghouls to shoot, and plenty of friendly NPCs to help out too. This time you’re traveling across the Commonwealth, a fancy name for the ruined remains of Boston and its surrounding areas.
As usual you’ll explore this sandbox at your own whim, while looting and scavenging items along the way, slowly killing and trading your way to being a more efficient and resourceful wanderer. That said, there are some notable differences that set Fallout 4 apart from its earlier entries.
The upside of having a chatty protagonist is that it makes the game’s conversations a lot more immersive…
The most obvious addition is that of a voice. Yep, as I’m sure you’ve heard, for the first time in a Bethesda RPG your character actually speaks beyond just grunts and yelps of anguish. The choice of male or female, and extensive facial customisation options, return as normal. But even during customisation your character is already chatting away, letting you know that they’re going to be a little more vocal this time.
Once you’re into the actual game, every conversation with an NPC offers a set of 4 phrases to pick from, each summarising an optional response. Oddly the rules of these options change a little depending. Sometimes you’ll get a tone such as “Sarcastic” and other times it will be a brief example of what you want to say. However, across dozens of hours only twice did I pick an option and then realise my character was then saying something drastically different than what I’d wanted to say. Some may understandably find these snippets a little too barebones, but I personally preferred this snappier approach to cycling through a dialogue list.
The upside of having a chatty protagonist is that it makes the game’s conversations a lot more immersive. There are now conversations with multiple people at once which make use of alternative camera angles and feel more like interactive cutscenes. Furthermore, I found myself much more immersed in the narrative than usual.
Compared to earlier Bethesda games, the downside of turning your character into, well… a character, is that it highlights some odd little quibbles about the game’s plot too. How does a woman go from happy housewife to gunslinging mass murderer? I don’t know, but that’s what my character somehow did. It’s a minuscule point to raise against the game, but it’s a trade-off of turning what was practically a walking window in earlier games into a living character with a personality, a voice and a real presence in the world. But this is also a world where drinking excessive amounts of water and chowing down on a squirrel brings you back from the brink of death, realism is hardly the name of the game here.
Out of all the game’s storyline’s the primary one is the most tantalising…
Another welcome addition is the inclusion of factions, who bring with them an extended series of quests, with recurring characters and an evolving story each. Better still these factions are eventually interwoven with the main storyline at appropriate times, which enriches the experience and adds to that whole immersion thing I was talking about. The goals of these factions later start to bump into each other, causing you to prioritise who you want to throw in with. Pleasing everyone is just not possible. This might irk completionists, but if nothing else it’s an excuse to replay the game to see how the other paths play out.
The main storyline itself is actually kind of great, most of the time. Without spoiling it, it’s a story with plenty of twists and enough muddy moral choices to leave you scratching your head over what path you should take. It’s not a tremendously complex tale by any means, but it’s a little more complicated than just shooting the devilishly bad people and helping the saintly good people. Out of all the game’s storyline’s the primary one is the most tantalising and despite my desire to save it for the end, I couldn’t help but often prioritise it just to find out what would happen next.
Right, I’m going to talk about the story in a little more detail here so for those who don’t want to hear a single spoiler, just pop down to the next section and I’ll join you in a moment. A lot of the game’s storylines in some way involve the Institute, a kind of warped creepy evolution of MIT. Paranoia is running high around Boston as people fear the Institute is going to clamber into their window and secret them away in the night, replacing them with an identical synthetic human. Furthermore nobody knows where the Institute even is, with the ruins of the old campus completely derelict. Although this atmosphere is fantastic early on, the mystique obviously can’t last forever and the eventual reality is not quite as compelling as the mystery was. Still, the gradual revelations aren’t as straightforward as they could be, but it’s disappointing to see the game set up some interesting themes early on to then seemingly lose interest in saying anything too thought provoking.
Your friends feel like much more than wise-cracking pack mules this time…
Companions make a return here, letting you pick one follower at a time to join you on your travels, but they’ve also been given an upgrade. Almost every companion now arrives with mysterious backgrounds to coax out of them or conflicted emotions to help untangle, sometimes they even grant Bioware-style loyalty missions. It certainly helps make your friends feel like much more than wise-cracking pack mules this time and gives them a bit of depth. And yes, you can flirt with them, provided you’re charming enough. The courting options are a little barebones and anyone hoping for a scandalous sex scene to cap things off will be disappointed. Still, it’s nice to woo the odd friend and with a gameplay bonus for sharing your bed with a loved one, even the most romantically indifferent of folks may want to seduce their chosen travelling partner. Oh and romance options come in both heterosexual and homosexual flavours, which you would expect because c’mon, it’s 2015, duh.
Interestingly I found myself wanting to pick the companions that I found most likeable on a personality level, rather than those who I found most useful on a gameplay level. Yes, Dogmeat is adorable and you can put him in a little bandana, but he’s just a dog. He doesn’t have a tragic and intriguing backstory, a backstory that I want to impress out of my other companions by showing off how good I am at unlocking doors and saying “Yes I can do that”, whenever anyone asks for help (pro-tip, a lot of companions love it when you agree to do favours for the Commonwealth’s lazy inhabitants).
For all the good with companions I’m baffled that there isn’t an easily accessible companion menu. I was talking to a fellow player of the game this week who said they found one companion perplexingly in the middle of a field, having seemingly wandered off on their own. Similarly, I unlocked a new companion later in the game and had absolutely no clue where they were, leaving me to wander around the general area approaching everyone who looked vaguely like them. Finally, I found them nearby, but the fact I had to stop and dash around looking for them, because the game gave me absolutely no indication as to where they were hanging out, is a little silly.
The workshop system is one of the most memorable features of Fallout 4 and is enough to justify making you grab everything not bolted down…
It’s not just companions that are tricky to manage, tedious menus are what Fallout 4 is all about. Having to scroll through a list of equipment as you snap on each piece one-by-one, because trying on an outfit automatically unequipped everything you had on, is just one example of the boring tasks involved in inventory management. This might not be so bad if the game didn’t encourage you to carry so much at once. Early on ammo can be scarce, meaning the smart move is to carry a variety of guns, which each utilise a different type of ammo. You’ll also find different types of healing items and endless piles of junk. While it might be tempting to entirely ignore the stacks of cans, pencils, duct tape, cigarette boxes and other miscellaneous clutter, that would be a mistake, because the game’s new crafting system heavily depends on you hoarding a collection of forgettable trash.
Thankfully, the workshop system is one of the most memorable features of Fallout 4 and is enough to justify making you grab everything not bolted down. This feature takes Skyrim’s Hearthfire house-building DLC and laughs in its face. This time you can not only build and position individual props and items, but construct entire buildings wall by wall, individually placing each section as you please. This ability extends to doors, staircases, gun turrets, beds, lights, bathtubs and so on. You can lose a lot of time just building your own little town, and I’ve seen people gleefully do so, as the amount of customisation is staggering.
Meanwhile, more of the series’ dubious decisions have returned unchanged from earlier games, for example random death is always just one annoyingly placed landmine away, and with no checkpoints outside of traveling to new zones, it’s down to you to remember to save the game. You can however set up an extra autosave trigger for when you first open up your trusty Pip-Boy a set amount of time between the last save. Also another glorious addition is a quicksave option, which can rapidly be selected from the main menu. But this still doesn’t change the fact that repeating content blows and explosive weapons such as missiles and grenades can still fell you faster than you can say “Crap, I better save the game in a minute”.
While we’re being all grouchy, let’s talk about bugs! Hey, it’s a Bethesda game, of course it has bugs. I’ve actually found Fallout 4 to have the least amount of irritating bugs but perhaps the highest amount of comical, bizarre bugs. I’ve seen endlessly rotating wrists, guns stuck to clothes, hilariously long awkward pauses in conversations and even frantically bleeding concrete walls. On the annoying bug list I’ve had one complete crash and one missing dog companion (apparently a glitch for many that will soon be fixed). But that’s all in terms of disastrous problems. I was dreading a Fallout New Vegas situation when I began playing, but Obsidian’s spin-off has thankfully not inspired any of its quirks to jump ship into Fallout 4. Crashes are rare, load times are often blessedly short, don’t worry Fallout 4 on the PS4 is more stable than you dread it is, at least it was in my experience.
There’s a whole lot of dead scorched earth to walk over, which doesn’t look a whole lot different from that earlier patch of dying grass…
Exploration is a big hook when it comes to Fallout, yet here the the map of Boston may look surprisingly small at first, in the sense that you can travel across a good chunk of it in a very short amount of time. Yet that said, it’s very dense. It’s difficult to travel in a straight line without coming across some sort of hidden door begging to be opened. As well as the larger buildings and sprawling hidey holes to explore, there’s an abundance of little extras to see too. Plenty of times I came across a single-roomed structure that would contain a hint at its past, either on a computer, on a written note or even just from putting together the visual clues. These additions enrich the world and make exploring worthwhile beyond just finding more things to shoot.
Speaking of guns, the shooting in the game is as averagely adequate as you’d expect. It feels clunky and cumbersome but is sufficient enough to do the job. Point and shoot, that’s all there is to it, right? Well the V.A.T.S. targeting mode does make a return too, where you can slow time to a crawl (no longer does it freeze time, I’m afraid) as you target individual limbs and let the game handle the shooting for you. This uses up your limited action points meaning unless you’ve pumped a satisfactory amount of experience points into the relevant stats you’re likely going to have to duck into cover to let it recharge, or just charge in there shooting from the hip if you like.
When it comes to levelling up it’s all handled via perks, which are permanent enhancements to your character. You’re granted the ability to purchase one each time you level up and there are plenty to choose from. Some will unlock new crafting options, others will make you a better shot, while most add fun little gameplay benefits; such as the ability to be healed by radiation. Even climbing through level 40 there were still plenty of perks that I wanted to grab. This is helped by the ability to raise your overall attributes each level too, the statistics which govern a lot of what your character can do such as how many hit-points you have or the amount of action points you’ve got at your disposal.
For all its content Fallout 4 does sometimes get a little bland. There’s a whole lot of dead scorched earth to walk over, which doesn’t look a whole lot different from that earlier patch of dying grass and funky irradiated fruit. Enemies come in the same few varieties with Mad Max-esque raiders populating the majority of the game’s buildings while hulked out super mutants take up residence in the rest. Meanwhile zombie-like ghouls scramble around in sewers and a couple of different mutated creatures wander the wilderness and waters each. On some rare occasions you’ll find robots. That’s about it, you’ll be shooting a lot of things in Fallout 4 but it’ll mostly be the same few things from start to end.
The game’s difficulty curve is also a little odd. I played the game on the standard difficulty, not touching any of its alternatives for this initial playthrough. Save for runs in with ferocious Deathclaws the game is a bit of a breeze for the most part. The more you level up, and the more you purchase perk upgrades, the easier the game gets. After pumping in about 30 hours I’d gone from scrappy shooter to cackling terminator, which allowed me to launch through the remaining content with Herculean confidence. This is helped by the presence of power armour suits. Power armour has gone from being another piece of gear to an Iron Man Mk.1 style battle suit, which you can jump into to wreck havoc with, assuming you have the fusion core fuel for it. But hey, whether this a good thing or a bad thing is entirely dependent on your tastes, and with the difficulty dial right there in the options there’s nothing stopping you from tweaking things to your fancy.
All in all, Fallout 4 is likely precisely what you expect it’s going to be. Only those with entirely fresh eyes and no experience with Bethesda’s earlier games are going to be surprised by what they find. If you’re one of those lucky folk, then Fallout 4 is as good a place as any to start, with its packed sandbox setting and engaging storyline. If you’re a fan of practically any of Bethesda’s RPGs released since Morrowind then you essentially know what to expect. It’s more of that, but tweaked here and there to make the experience a bit smoother. If you were expecting a leap in quality I’m afraid there isn’t one here, it’s business as usual.
Basically, it’s an enjoyable and involving game, if sometimes a little dry, and it’s happy to absorb as much of your free time as you’ll let it. I allowed it take a lot of my time and I’m still going back every evening for more, which is perhaps a good way of summing things up. For all it’s problems and goofs I still want to play Fallout 4. None of its issues were ever enough to stop me from having fun. As long as you go in knowing what to expect, I wager you’ll have a good time too.