War never changes, and like Bethesda’s previous work such as Skyrim and Fallout 3, the quality of their latest ambitious effort, Fallout 4 never changes from being anything other than truly magnificent. After eight long years, Fallout 4 seems like the natural evolution of Fallout 3 and New Vegas, adding tremendous scope to many of the excellent systems fans have to come to expect from the series.
For the first time in the series, (and much touted by the developers) you start your story in a pre-apocalypse alternative America. Here we’re represented with a version of the American dream that is fueled by fusion power with robot butlers that soothe your crying children. It’s an intriguing glimpse into the wider world of Fallout and it’s a humorous, satirical take on a twisted version of American history.
However, it’s not long before the bombs drop and you and your family are soon running to the nearest Vault you just happened to sign up to moments before. It’s a surprisingly, emotionally charged opening that soon sets you off on a quest to find your missing family. As with most of Fallout’s quests, what starts off as a simple journey with clear motivations, soon turns into a more complex tale where your loyalties and moral compass will be twisted and turned. Like Fallout: New Vegas you will come across various factions who all have their own visions of how the Commonwealth should look. Each have their own motivations and each faction has an understandable perspective on this morally murky post-apocalyptic world.
The joy of this all is the freedom you’re given to shape the world. As always you have the power to choose who will rule in this new world order, even if it means killing every other faction so you can rule the roost. However, you cannot be all things to all people so you will have to eventually side with some factions more than others, creating enemies when sometimes you may not wish to. Whole quest lines can be missed and your story may take a totally different turn. It’s makes decisions weighty and you feel as though you are truly making an impact upon the world for better or worse.
Freedom isn’t merely confined to who you align yourself with, everything in Fallout 4 is as customisable as you want it to be. Everything you pick up from weapons to clothing can be customised. You can almost totally dismantle a weapon and rebuild it from the ground up, even changing what type of ammo it fires. The options are mind-boggingly comprehensive and truly allow you to play how you wish.
However, the best thing about the customisation in Fallout 4 is how intrinsically linked it is to scavenging. The Fallout series has always seen you scavenging for ammo and stimpaks, but now everything you pick up has value; from clipboards to mops; antique globes to hot plates; all these items can be broken down into the raw materials needed to add that scope you always wanted to your hunting rifle or line you clothes with deeper pockets so you can carry more. And it’s deep pockets you will need, as Fallout’s 4 world is littered with loot that you’re constantly on the look out for.
Yet the series goes one step further as now you can even customise the towns you are aligned with to create settlements. These settlements add a new complex resource management system to the Fallout series as all settlements need beds, food, water and defenses. You can even add power and provide your settlers with televisions and radios. With time you can even set up stores and share resources throughout your settlements through creating supply lines.
It’s an incredibly deep and complex system, that may not always clearly explain itself, but was one I found really compelling. I’ve spent just as many hours building my own settlement and establishing supply lines as I have questing and continuing through the main story. However, as with everything in Fallout 4, this is – barring a few exceptions – a totally optional aspect of the game that you can spend as much or as little time as you wish with.
That’s the joy with Fallout 4, there’s so much to see and do, but you’re never penalised for taking one path rather than another. Instead there’s a genuine sense of discovery as you wander across the wasteland. It’s not uncommon that as you’re on your way to complete your next quest that you will stumble across three others that peak you’re interest just as much. Each of these quests that you encounter are all creatively written, demonstrating excellent humour, pathos and moral dilemmas in equal measure. Outside of these quests, there’s so much storytelling just in the environment alone, whether it’s stumbling upon another Vault, or coming across a log cabin filled with secrets. It’s an interconnected open world, that isn’t merely just a collection of side quest activities, it’s a living breathing world with it’s own history and filled to the brim with enemies.
Combating these enemies is the best it has ever been in Fallout. Weapons feel punchier and hit detection finally feels inline with most modern day shooters. You could quite easily play through the game as a traditional shooter if you did so wish, however returning is Fallout’s VATS system which is as satisfying as ever to use. There’s still also a keen sense of danger as VATS only merely slows down time rather than stop it completely so you have to make your tactical decisions quickly and efficiently.
Power armour has also seen a significant overhaul. When stepping into it, you now become a walking tank capable of tremendous destruction. However, your armour now relies on fusion cores which are scarce and when using your armour you quickly run out of fuel. It makes your use of it rare moments of empowerment that are gratifying. Along with customisable options, power armour feels more significant than it ever has. Therefore, it’s unfortunate that you often just have it stored at one of your settlements and rarely remember to pick it up before heading into most battles.
This isn’t the only niggling issue though because, as with most other Bethesda games, Fallout 4 is plagued by a series of bugs. Most of the ones that I experienced weren’t game breaking, but when characters clip through walls, quests don’t start properly or the game just generally locks up you can’t help but feel frustrated. I found the approach to dialogue the most frustrating. Important dialogue takes place in the third person and can sometimes be difficult to initiate and occasionally just pauses. I much preferred the more traditional approach to dialogue of previous Fallout games. It may have looked simpler but it felt more functional.
Despite these small niggles, Fallout 4 doesn’t fail to be anything other than a worthwhile gaming experience, an experience which is one of the best this year, if not of this most recent generation.