Reviewed on: PlayStation 4
Also available on: Xbox One, PC
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
To start with, I have a serious confession to make, and it is that I am reviewing Fallout 4 without finishing its main story quest. There’s a good reason for this; the game is absolutely massive, and I am not the kind of reviewer to fake “finishing” the game in order to give you an opinion of it. To me, that’s tantamount to lying, and as a reviewer, I feel that my chief function should be honesty above all else. That said, I’ve played a lot of it. Be aware that I can’t stand “roam around looking for stuff to do” games that Bethesda has been known for, as I absolutely loathe The Elder Scrolls series (Morrowind, Oblivion, Skyrim) and I didn’t enjoy Fallout 3 or Fallout: New Vegas at all. In fact, all of these games have bored the hell out of me, to the point where I quit playing them within five hours.
In spite of all of that, I have fallen madly in love with Fallout 4. I cannot wait to tell you how and why.
The reasons for this sea change are pretty simple; after playing numerous hours of it, I’m still nowhere near completing all the main quests, but I have still engaged in an unparallelled adventure of truly epic proportions. It’s like going to an all-you-can-eat buffet where everything – and I mean everything – is good, a few things are absolutely flawless, a few things are a little weird yet still manage to be pleasant, or at the very least they remain unobtrusive. The kicker is that the total size of the buffet is about five miles long from start to finish, and trying something new means working up an appetite for it on the way to attaining it. It’s a brilliant design methodology. I haven’t completed the main story because I simply haven’t needed to; there’s so damn much stuff to do and a million ways to go about doing it, and that’s the kind of problem that works in Fallout 4‘s favor when playing the game. As far as reviewing it, well…
As someone who doesn’t like Bethesda titles (historically speaking), enjoying this game has come as a major shock. If I had to pinpoint one reason why the change took place, it’s probably because the shooting mechanics feel like a shooter and not an RPG. The previous two Fallout titles felt as if your free-aim accuracy didn’t mean much, and they tended to start you off in such a way that you felt woefully underpowered to even attempt walking out of the Vault. Luckily, Fallout 4 does not take this road. The free-aiming feels like it has legitimate function, and while the stats still affect your accuracy and chance to hit, zeroing in on a target’s head when aiming down sights or scope almost always yields positive – and more importantly, intended – results. This simple refinement made me feel more in control of the combat situations I encountered, and it changed the entire way I saw and played the game in front of me. Sure, I still use VATS (the game’s lauded targeting system) for some of the clutch hits I need to deliver in a fight, but for the most part, a stealthy double-damage headshot from long distance works wonders. It’s empowering, and it makes a player’s controller skill a contributing factor to their success, if they choose to play that way. Let’s face it: a lot of players will.
Beyond that, Fallout 4 gets you feeling powerful pretty quickly, and that makes a major difference. Within two hours, I had a suit of power armor and a minigun as the cap to a particular mission, and I was immediately treated to shredding Raider mooks and a giant boss. I failed miserably on my first try, and I found my problem was the way I was playing, as well as the lack of a suitable soundtrack. I went back to the PlayStation menu, fired up Spotify, queued T. Rex’s “20th Century Boy” and retried the mission, and thus succeeded without incident. Immediately, this sequence had become one of my favorite experiences of this console generation, and a memory that I’ll take with me forever. The game had many other moments where this was not only repeated, but topped. Until you’ve killed a Behemoth – a literal giant – with nothing but a heavily-modified pistol and your wits, you haven’t lived. Giving the player a brief feeling of overwhelming power near the start of the actual adventure was a key factor in my engagement with the game, and I think a lot of other games can learn from that.
On a side note, there is an NPC who will likely speak your character’s name. It’s the most profoundly unsettling thing, because if you used your actual name, it solidifies your involvement in the game on a very subtle psychological level. It’s almost as if that one moment caused the game to ride this nigh-impossible line between “so interactive that it’s scaring you out of immersion” and “so interactive that you really feel like you’re inhabiting this virtual world.” I’ve named characters after myself since Dragon Warrior on NES, but this is the very first time an NPC has voiced my name when addressing me. I think that it’s the coolest piece of first-person meta-interaction since Psycho Mantis in the original Metal Gear Solid, only in a much more understated and subtle way. I’ve never thought much about putting “Grant” (“Grah-nt,” as Cogsworth’s delightful Received English accent pronounces it) as the name of a character in a game I’m playing, but it was a downright wicked curveball to actually hear someone say my name aloud. That’s a very nice touch, Bethesda.
There’s plenty of characters to interact with in Fallout 4, but the most important one is the world itself. For all its irradiated desolation, Boston is still very much alive, and it bleeds from every nook and cranny. It also has a lot of junk to pick up, and thus begins the only real problem I found with the game; however, in true doube-edged fashion, it also ties directly into the game’s coolest feature. Your player character will start securing multiple settlement areas during the course of play, and once you have those areas, you can start crafting items and structures from the junk you accumulate. This can enhance armor, weapons, power armor or even build / fortify your towns. These towns will start to generate resources for you, once you meet certain conditions. Eventually, your towns will form a network that will benefit you as well as each other, at the cost of needing to be defended, staffed and maintained. In order to build those defenses, you’ll need a whole lot of junk from a whole lot of places, since certain items are found more often in particular areas, and all items can break down into specific materials that are repurposed into the structures / items needed.
The issue comes with the fact that collecting junk increases the weight your character is carrying, and once your limit is reached, things get aggravating. You are unable to walk quickly, jump worth a damn, run away from enemies or utilize fast travel between landmarks. You’re constantly going to play a devilish shell game of “get all the stuff, drop most of it, finish the area, grab all the stuff, go outside, drop all but the stuff required to fast travel into the nearest box, fast travel to the base where I need the materials, drop off the materials at the workshop, fast travel back to the stash box, pick up the stuff, repeat the last four steps until finished,” and you lose so much quality time with the game due to load times taking place between fast travel hops. Seriously, if you came away with a particularly big score from a junk-laden area, you can expect to bounce back and forth anywhere between two and six times. Leveling your strength stat, upgrading your armor to carry more and wearing power armor (with green military paint, as it too boosts strength) helps this process, but that takes a long time to get to the point where this process isn’t an unmitigated chore.
When you succeed in it, though – there’s nothing quite like it. Build a shanty town, create farms, running water, defensive positions, automated turrets, beacons to let people know that they can find a safe home there, and watch your towns thrive. Really, that’s the thing I spent a great deal of time doing, and I don’t regret it in the slightest. My network provides lots of security for villagers as well as financial stability, since storefronts are a common sight in my villages. From what I can tell, it’s almost entirely optional, but provides a layer of world management and civic interaction that really adds to the authenticity of the world you’re spending time in. Beyond that, if you recruit a lot of people via your villages, you can simply fire a flare in the sky during a tough boss battle. You’ll suddenly go from being a lone a dude with a kazoo to having the whole damn Wu-Tang Clan backing you up. Better than that, actually. It’s so awesome that I can’t accurately describe it without cursing, which I can’t do here. Just take my word for it.
Speaking of spending time, this game is a timesink of the most obscenely righteous order, and completionists have a metric ton of work cut out for them. There’s so much to see and do that I stayed active during the entire course of play, only stopping to enhance armor or weapons, or work on a settlement. Other than that, I was out there, constantly fighting to survive in a world that wears its unforgiving nature on its sleeve. It’s a work of wonder, plain and simple. That said, there are a few glitches I’ve found: hit detection problems pop up from time to time, odd room-to-room teleporting when shifting to and from a scoped POV while inside buildings, enemies becoming unkillable when they fall into water in armored suits, etc. However, nothing I’ve encountered has broken the game even once, and considering the size of this thing and how much is going on, that’s not just an impressive display of technical prowess; it’s a legitimate Christmas miracle that it holds together as well as it does. Coordinating all those moving parts simultaneously has got to take a fair amount of black magic, and I’m in awe of how un-buggy this game is at launch.
All in all, Fallout 4 is a must-buy, must-play, must-keep game. That said, please understand that scoring this game is a difficult proposition. I’m really hesitant to give it the highest marks possible, especially considering that I haven’t seen everything there is to see, but there’s so much meat on this thing that I won’t stop chewing until well into next year, maybe longer. The score I designate here isn’t simply given; it’s earned through and through, and matches the sheer volume of what this game offers the player.
Many games use the word “experience” to make up for shortcomings, or perhaps an overreliance on plot progression instead of actual gameplay – “you don’t really play it, it’s to experience the story” brands of logic, casually favored by indie titles that conveniently forget what a game is supposed to be by the word’s very definition – but this is a product that can truly and completely make that sort of boast with a straight face. It truly is an experience above all else, and if you like video games, this is an experience you absolutely need to enjoy. Savor it. Dive in, and happily forget to breathe.
Congratulations, Bethesda. After thirteen years of disliking your games, Fallout 4 has made a true believer out of me, and an ardent one at that. This is some damn fine work, guys. I have no idea how in the hell you’re going to be able to follow this one up. Good luck with that.
The review copy of this game was a physical disc provided by the publisher.
I sincerely wish that every game had this much love, care and sheer craftsmanship put into it.
Fallout 4 is an absolute triumph in every sense of the phrase. Nothing else needs to be said, really. Stop whatever you’re doing right now and go pick this up.
Yes, you. Right now. Run!