War. War never changes. About eighteen years ago, a company called Interplay set out to design a post apocalyptic role playing game based on the GURPS license. Late in the development cycle, Steve Jackson Games got cold feet due to what the company viewed as excessive violence. This forced the creation and implementation of a new IP with an original role playing system. The result was a tactical post nuclear role playing game set in the irradiated ruins of California. To survive in this bleak world, the player was given access to a laundry list of skills to develop, as well as special bonuses called perks that range from the incredibly useful to the silly. After a successful sequel and the promise of a third installment, Interplay shuttered its development operations. This was to prove to be nothing more than a prolonged setback, however. Because war… war never changes. Fresh off of a run of successful RPGs of their own, Maryland-based Bethesda Softworks purchased the rights to the Fallout I.P. Fallout 3 was released to much fanfare in 2008, ten years after players followed the chosen one on his quest to save his tiny tribal village. Now, seven years after Bethesda’s 3D revamp of the series and 5 years after Obsidian’s Fallout: New Vegas, players are once again preparing to enter the wasteland and fight for the survival of the human race. Because war, war never changes.
Fallout 4, as with most games in the series, opens with a monologue that serves to establish the series’ general running themes of hopelessness and the futility of armed conflict. This time, however, the monologue is not delivered by the disembodied narrator voiced by Ron Perlman, but rather by the playable male protagonist. I was skeptical of a voiced main protagonist at first. However, it goes a long way in selling the more personal narrative that Bethesda craft this time around. Without getting specific (because I’m sure there are three or four of you out there who haven’t yet played the game), the story is competent and definitely a step up from what we’ve seen from Bethesda in the past. However, there’s nothing about it that really knocks you out. The character creation system has been streamlined. The complex array of sliders from previous Bethesda offerings has been replaced with a sort of “face sculpting” system. Simply highlight a facial feature or region and it can be easily shaped with a flick of a thumbstick or a keystroke. Once your character’s physical appearance is sorted out, you get to spend a couple of minutes poking around your prewar suburban dwelling and even get a glimpse of the neighborhood as you race for the vault to the tune of blaring sirens and panicked suburbanites.
Postwar 2287 Boston and the surrounding wasteland are beautifully rendered. After two games of grimy, brown desert, we finally see some colour returned to the world of Fallout. I am, of course, referring to the developer’s colour pallet, not to greenery. It goes a long way in breaking up the monotony. The geography is also much more varied, running the gamut from nuclear desert to irradiated marshlands and, of course, the dilapidated urban ruins of Boston. The character models, while not quite up there with some other developers, are a marked improvement over the smudgy, washed out things seen in Skyrim, and Bethesda’s animation continues to get less robotic. The lip syncing on some of the ancillary characters sometimes leaves something to be desired though. The real time conversation system is a welcome change, but some characters have a tendency to walk away from you when they are in the middle of telling you important information. This can lead to sometimes having to cycle through rather lengthy conversations all over again. The crafting system is hit and miss for me. I enjoyed being able to slap upgrades on all of my guns. There’s nothing quite so satisfying as sneaking up on a horde of super mutants and silently dispatching them with a suppressed Gauss rifle. It was also great to finally have a use for all of those junk items. However, I was a little disappointed that I could not craft weapons from scratch like in the previous two installments. The gun play has been revamped and plays out much more smoothly than it did in Fallout 3. There’s even a bit of a rudimentary cover system for those of you who like to play in first person. Grenades, Molotov cocktails, and other small, thrown incendiaries are now equipped alongside guns. This renders even the lowliest of humanoid enemies far more challenging and deadly than in the previous two offerings.
While completely optional, I feel like I should talk a little bit about the construction system. Over the course of the game, the Minutemen faction will task you with clearing areas suitable for settlement. These areas can then be built into farms or villages. While technically completely optional, it is advantageous to build up at least one of them as the merchants in your own settlements tend to sell better items than the ones in the preexisting towns. The building system is simple and straightforward, and makes use of the myriad types of junk items strewn throughout the game world. The myriad prefabricated structures available in the build menu also help to speedup the process.
If I had to single out one aspect for negative criticism, it would be the leveling system. All of your skills are entirely perk based. It is Bethesda’s IP, they can do what they want with it. However, as someone who has been playing Fallout games since 1998, Perks are bonuses to skills, they are not the skills themselves. There are still plenty of the classic perks (like Ninja, Action Boy, etc.), but having to waste perk points to even be able to pick a lock or sneak effectively is a bit of a mild irritant. In future installments of the series, I would like to see a return of the old skills list and perk system. Than being said, I have found Fallout 4 to be one of Bethesda’s more enjoyable games. As of the writing of this admittedly very late review, I have one character at level 50+ with just under a week of total play time invested, and another character somewhere between level 15 and 20. I have several bustling settlements under my control. I’ve even amassed quite a collection of power armour (which functions more like a mini mech this time around, pretty cool).
If you enjoy a good post apocalyptic romp and a decent revenge story, give Fallout 4 a spin.
-fluid gun play
-layered armour system
-power armour as a mech-like vehicle
-entirely perk-based leveling
-crafting weapons from scratch
-skills list and tag skills