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Fallout 4 REVIEW – At home in the wasteland

by Joey Davidson | November 9, 2015November 9, 2015 5:00 am PDT

It feels like it’s been forever, doesn’t it? Forever since we finally stopped playing Fallout 3, forever since the rumors of a sequel started a few years ago, and forever since Bethesda officially announced Fallout 4 at E3 this year. It’s too bad we couldn’t just freeze ourselves in a cryogenic chamber and skip all that interminable waiting.

After seven long years, though, it’s finally here, piled on with expectations and promises that few other games, even other sequels, have foisted upon them. I don’t envy Todd Howard, the director behind the game.

We have a wide new world to explore known as the Commonwealth, set in what used to be Boston, filled with icons to light up and bloody messes to create. Can the Commonwealth fulfill all the promises that come with a game like this? Will the game be different enough – or does that even really matter?

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Joey Davidson

I’m just going to start this thing by making a statement here, for the first time.

We haven’t really talked much about the game while playing it, right? We’ve played it at the same time, we talked super briefly about where we were earlier last week (like, maybe, Tuesday), but that’s about the extent of it.

Without any idea about what you’ve been doing in Fallout 4, I think I can safely say that we’ve gone about the game in entirely different ways.

What do you think?

Eric Frederiksen

Aside from exchanging a few gameplay tips here and there, we’ve barely talked about it at all, probably because we’ve been too busy actually playing it to bother with things like human contact, or eating, sleeping, and all of that unnecessary stuff.

Even if we somehow took the exact same path – which is pretty unlikely – I won’t know until a few minutes from now.

Joey

I think I’ve made a safe assumption here. You’re right, it’s highly unlikely that we even took a similar route.

I started my game on the straight and narrow. I followed the quest line precisely, I made sure to stick near the opening areas both in and outside the vault, and I did very little in the way of wandering.

That slow, methodical play pretty much became my routine for the first, I’ll say, 10 hours. Then I got distracted.

This here is the brilliance in Bethesda games like Fallout and The Elder Scrolls. It’s so easy to see some icon on your compass or some tall object in the distance and just think, “yeah, why not?”

I have around 40 or 50 hours played in Fallout 4. It’s been my retreat for the last week, and it’s managed to keep me up late at night in a way no game has in a long time. I won’t sit here and pretend that it’s absolutely perfect (it’s not), but I will say that I haven’t been as interested in or distracted by a game like this in a very, very long time.

I haven’t beaten the story. Heck, I don’t even think I’m that far into the main quest line. I haven’t really cared about it, though. I’m just so happy exploring and diving into nooks and crannies that the story hasn’t even been a focal point for me.

Was I right? Did we play this differently?

Eric

There are some similarities. I also lost a lot of sleep thanks to Fallout 4. Like, this is going to be a huge problem for me. Time disappears without any trace or warning once I step into the wasteland.

I’m closer to 70 hours at this point, I think, including all the times I died and had to do stuff a second time because my saving habits hadn’t come back.

I haven’t just been exploring randomly, but it’s nearly impossible to stay on the rails in a massive game like this. Even worse when it’s Bethesda making it. I’ve spent way too much time customizing my pad, crafting and renaming weapons, and – of course – wandering around. I did dive into the story though, and while I haven’t finished it, I’ve played through enough that I have a feel for how they’re telling the story this time around.

And you’re right. It’s not perfect. It’s a Bethesda game, through and through, with all the bumps and bruises and nooks and crannies.

Joey

I rolled on the PlayStation 4. You were on the Xbox One. You can interject if I’m wrong, but the game was pretty stable for me.

I had some odd framerate drops in, oddly enough, a few enclosed bunkers and on top of high structures. Mostly, it felt solid.

Eric

It was mostly stable most of the time. I did hard crash once. I had the same framerate drops with seemingly no particular cause. I also have a power line hanging in mid-air in my hometown, not connected to anything.

Joey

Yeah, I had some issues with placing lines as well. Hold on, hold on, let’s start our next section here. Let’s talking about the base building.

Fallout 4 has base building.

Joey

Right, base building.

Bethesda’s games, in my mind, have always been a touch convoluted when it comes to juggling menus and managing multiple crafting systems. You break down components for scrap, switch between crafting chems, armor, weapons, power armor and, now, base building itself.

I really dug making this settlements for the Minutemen. That was one quest line I stuck to. Going out to some remote area, clearing it of raiders or ghouls and building, say, a farm complete with structures made from spare wood, clearing out old bombed out cars for parts and making generators to power ridiculous turrets and radio recruitment towers? Good stuff, I had a lot of fun with this.

The menu system and managing all the components required to actually build stuff? Convoluted, confusing and sometimes frustrating.

This will be easier for the general public. Someone undeniably smarter than you and me will make a YouTube tutorial, and the world will be a better place. For us? Figuring it out on our own? Sort of a pain, right?

Eric

There’s a help section in the pause menu for Fallout 4 and the first time I scrolled through it, my jaw dropped at just how many items populated the list. This is a dense game, and you’re right. The menus are hard to go through, even for veterans of games like these.

Joey

Yes! And, I want to believe that it’s the game’s density that makes the menus so tough. Bethesda did well here, to be clear. It’s just that there’s so, so, so much going on that it becomes really hard for users to discern everything with a clean menu system. The sheer density of the game makes learning a lot harder.

Eric

There’s not really much of a tutorial in Fallout 4, at least not in terms of a locked in area where they take you through all of the game’s elements and force you to look at them each. And that’s a good thing, because that would take hours, and it would make starting a new game miserable.

With that said, that means that help bubbles pop up constantly in the first ten or so hours, and it’s easy to miss them. It took some getting used to even after I got reacquainted with it.

Joey

I sort of loved and hated all of the complicated stuff for that exact reason.

I hate hand-holding in games that do the same things every other game does. If Bethesda had elected to, say, teach us what leveling is and how to spend points in our perk charts, I would have been annoyed. They don’t really do that, aside from the subtle pop-up dialogues. Players are left to experiment and try new things, and I applaud the team for making that decision in a triple A market flooded with titles that spend more time on tutorials than on character exposition.

At 40 hours in, though, I still feel like I’m on shaky ground when it comes to the more complex parts of settlement design.

Selecting and placing objects in this base building mode is a bit janky at times, but that’s not really what’s holding me back from understanding. The system is just complex enough that getting a firm grip on it takes a lot of time.

Quite frankly, I didn’t think I wanted base building in a Fallout game. Now that it’s here? It’s another layer to the time-sink.

I actually go searching for items to scrap in order to make my base even more bigger.

Which, hey, can we start another section for inventory management, dialogue trees and all those other nitty gritty mechanics? Please?

What’s a player gotta do to get a “Mark as Junk” button?

Eric

There’s junk everywhere in the wasteland. And almost all of it is useful.

Uh oh.

Joey

Typewriter? It might have a spring. Glasses? Those probably have screws.

That single plate in an abandoned cabin out in the middle of nowhere. That’s ceramic, and I need that for my generator.

Eric

And that’s not even a dent in the list. Inventory management in Fallout 4 is tougher than it’s ever been and one of its biggest downfalls simply because you have to spend so much time looking for things.

Eventually, I had to start building my base around this problem. Sure, my pad is dope, but that steamer trunk in the living room that looks like it’s just a cool accent? Filled to the brim with nuclear weapons. The ice box outside is for all my food. I have a crate for my melee weapons. There’s a dresser for clothes.

Hey, I might need this stuff later.

Joey

That looter’s regret, right? You never know when something you just pulled out of some corpse might actually be useful. It has a star next to it? Crap, I probably shouldn’t get rid of it ever.

I just want a junk button, man. I feel like that would solve so many issues. Or, like, a “To Scrap” or “To Sell” tab in the inventory. I want to be in the middle of a random vault, find a weapon, look at it and immediately decide to keep, junk or scrap it.

As it stands now? I bring everything back to one of my many settlements and I spend around 15 minutes flipping through Pip-Boy screens.

As complex as the base building is, the inventory and, heck, dialogue system is so stripped down by comparison.

With the inventory, you can sift between weapons, ammo, aid, apparel, junk and misc. You can’t send anything to any specific list, the game does that for you. You can sort by, well, I’m not sure. There’s a sort button, but it never really tells you how you’re sorting things unless it’s the alphabetical one.

The dialogue system? We’ve gone Mass Effect. Four single or two word answers are mapped to your face buttons, and sometimes they have a unique color so that you can try and charisma your way through.

“Piper liked that.”

Eric

And I think that’s to the game’s benefit, largely. Fallout 4 is so massive, and so many things are interconnected in subtle ways, that having a list of options for every situation would become burdensome. Instead you can decide at a glance how you want to respond.

I never felt like my character was saying something different than what I’d selected, so despite the dialogue menu’s spartan look, it’s doing its job just fine.

Something that forced Bethesda’s hand in this respect, and something that’s certainly going to be divisive among both old fans and new is that the protagonist now, for the first time in series and Bethesda history, speaks.


Joey

I had no problem with this whatsoever. I was a male vault dweller. The voice work for that selection was done by Brian Delany. He was fine, man.

I especially liked zipping through conversations. Subtitles come up, and pressing A stops the dialogue and moves to the next line. I loved this, because your character…

Eric

“Go on.”

Joey

Yes! “Uh huh.” “Right.”

Instead of just skipping and going to the next line, your character pushes the conversation with a subtle, colloquial cue. It’s so stupid and small, but I loved it. It felt really natural, just like all of the speech did here.

At least, I didn’t mind it.

Eric

I played as the female vault dweller, voiced by Courtenay Taylor, and I agree with your assessment on the voice acting. Solid all the way through and consistently delivered despite the sheer number of lines these actors must’ve had to record. We were thinking the male voice actor might be Troy Baker, because he’s in every game, but there’s so much dialogue in Fallout 4 that he wouldn’t have time for any of those other games in the last couple years. I’m not kidding or exaggerating, either.

I think the way the vault dweller speaks when interjecting like that is indicative of what makes Bethesda’s game design so enthralling – and enthralling is really the right word here. There are so many minor details that make things feel that much more real, that much more believable, and that’s just one among countless details.

While, again, we haven’t finished the story, I’ve encountered quite a few story characters and, like the vault dweller, they’re all well acted with what I would say is some of the best voice acting yet in one of Bethesda’s games. I actually regretted offing an antagonist thanks to his writing and acting.

Lots of fans are going to be unhappy about that voice acting simply because it’s there when it hasn’t been before, but it’s solid. The other element of the game that’s been divisive coming up to the game’s release is the quality of the game’s graphics.

The sights and sounds of the wasteland

Joey

I sort of get the complaints. The lens of nostalgia is really great at making video games look much, much better than they actually did. Fallout 3 wasn’t exactly the best looking game around.

That thing, as much as I loved it, was a swamp of browns and grays that could only be described as, well, homely.

Will Fallout 4 blow people’s minds in the graphics department? No. I’ll even offer that it’s not nearly as gorgeous as, say, The Witcher 3.

However, Bethesda makes it work just fine, as far as I’m concerned. I really do get that people want the biggest games of a still fairly new generation of consoles to look absolutely stunning. I also get that PC gamers are looking for titles to flex their hardware.

Bethesda does some cool stuff with art design, color choice and user interface, but the game never really looks all that remarkable. It doesn’t look bad! It just doesn’t look incredible, either.

Eric

Beautiful environments, potato people. I think Bethesda’s crafted a convincing, attractive world filled with all kinds of unique touches, and the lighting does a lot to help.

But you’re right. It’s not going to be remembered for the graphics. It looks light years better than Fallout 3, and anyone who says otherwise is just trying to get a reaction. But the game isn’t really going to come into its own until the modding community gets their hands on it and starts re-texturing, remodeling, and redesigning it bit by bit.

It looks good. We’ve seen ugly games. This isn’t one of them.

Joey

Agreed. Framerate issues aside, I had no qualms with the visual quality of Fallout 4. Quite frankly, that’s not why I enjoy games in this series. I don’t play them for their graphics. I play them for their longevity and diversity of content. Fallout 4 knocks those things out of the park.

While we’re on the more aesthetic side of things, I think we both dug the music, right? The radio stations and the ambient stuff.

My biggest complaint would be that Diamond City Radio, the station that plays the awesome tunes like “Atom Bomb Baby,” just doesn’t have enough songs. You hear the same stuff far too often, and I’m totally the player that keeps the tunes rolling while I play. Hearing the same stuff constantly gets a tad old.

Eric

This is one way my play style diverged not just from yours, but from the way I played Fallout 3. I played that game for something like 130 hours, and I had the radio on for most of it. Wow.

This time around, I left the radio off quite a bit more frequently. There’s a few interesting things about the soundtrack this time. It’s largely the same as in Fallout 3. There are absolutely a bunch of new songs, but there are quite a few old ones. A bunch of the songs, like “Atom Bomb Baby” are new, and I thought they were written for the game, but it turns out there were some novelty albums about nuclear war, and those were real songs in the 1950s.

The game’s score – that is, the composed background music – is awesome. It changes dynamically to match the situation, and it always fits well. There are some really gorgeous compositions in here that make turning off Diamond City Radio and its awesomely awkward DJ worthwhile.

For those missing Fallout 3‘s Three Dog, don’t worry – the new guy is fun in his own right. Coupled with the similar soundtrack, having the same DJ would’ve been too much.

Whether you’re digging on Diamond City Radio or the score, you’re not just standing around listening to the radio. Usually. Most of the time, you’re blowing raiders’ heads off with any one of a countless variety of guns.

The guns. They feel good!

Joey

The gunplay in Fallout 3? Pretty rough. Honestly, it was easily one of the weakest parts of the game, and it sort of hurt the overall package for me.

Fallout 4 does a lot to address that issue. The game feels like it was purposely designed with gunplay in mind this time. Yes, the V.A.T.S. system is still in place, and you can still manage your encounters through slow movement and action points, but shooting from the hip and actually aiming at enemies in real time works, too.

In fact, I used the V.A.T.S. system far less in Fallout 4 than I did in 3. In 3 it was a crutch, in 4 it is a feature.

Eric

I wouldn’t put it up against, say, Destiny, but it no longer holds the game back. I’m getting as many headshots outside of V.A.T.S. as I am inside, and that’s definitely something new.

Something else new is the way the game handles the series’ iconic Power Armor this time around.

One small but consistent problem with Bethesda games is that you’ll get the best armor at some point in the game and there’s no debate about which armor is the best – you just end up wearing that armor for the next hundred hours. In Fallout 3 there was never really a reason to take it off.

This time around, Power Armor requires, well, power, and it’s not locked behind a quest. That means that you can get your hands on power armor quite early and start customizing it, but you won’t be using it exclusively. The batteries that power it aren’t super rare, but I spent a lot more of my time walking on my own two feet instead of locked into a steel suit this time around. It helps keep the experience of wearing it fresh and ensures you never get bored of your armor.

And how about that HUD?

Joey

I loved being able to change the paint on the armor, to make it mine. I also loved the HUD. That quick switch to yellow instead of green, and there’s just this really nice and heavy feel to it.

It doesn’t feel bulky or obnoxious, it just feels hefty and, I don’t know, strong. You feel like The Deathclaws stand no chance when you’re in your Power Armor.

The HUD even feels real as rain falls on the helmet and spatters on the screen like drops on a windshield.

You mentioned quests as a necessity to get the armor in Fallout 3, and that’s a perfect segue to the quest structure here.

I will say before we dive into this really hard… All my wandering and experimenting meant I was accidentally doing sidequests before even starting them. I would meet people for the first time, talk through the menus and realize that I’d completed their sidequest already and collect my reward and experience without even leaving. That was glorious.

Eric

It feels like just about everything I do as I’m exploring is going to have a quest associated with it some point. I took down a gang of thugs and found in one or their computers that two other gangs I’d taken down were listed as failures. It’s a small thing, but it makes it feel like a bigger world.

Joey

Yeah, that type of interconnectivity, whether it was reading the terminals or talking to strangers or, heck, listening to the DJ on Diamond City Radio reference you, that made this game feel real for me.

Eric

The same sort of quest system we saw in Skyrim is present here to ensure that there’s no lack of ways to keep your time occupied as one settlement or another has yet another attack from raiders or ghouls.

Where the game is really starting to shine, though, is in the main questline. I think people who live in or love Boston are going to adore this game. One quest had me following the Freedom Trail – that line of red bricks on the sidewalks of the real Boston – to find a secret organization, visiting some of the city’s historical locations along the way in a manner that felt appropriate to the game, rather than just feeling like a tour guide through the city.

Another has you diving into someone’s memories and this shows Bethesda starting to experiment with some more linear narrative elements in their storytelling. This doesn’t take away from the game’s open freedom by any means, but it’s creative both in terms of how it’s presented and how you navigate through it.

Whether you stick to the rails the game provides or go off, it’s really, really hard to get bored in Fallout 4.

Fallout 4 offers a whole lot of game for $60. It’s a fantastic adventure into the wasteland, and it’s packed with diverse content.

Fallout 4 arrives with some minor hitches, but the overall package is so ridiculously large and varied, that we’re totally okay with the menu system, occasional framerate drops and simply decent graphics.

This game will suck your life away in the best way possible. If you get into Fallout 4, you’ll have a hard time letting go. In a calendar year that’s already had a few open world affairs that have been absolutely mesmerizing, Fallout 4 stands out as yet another outstanding effort.

You won’t regret picking this one up. For sure.

Buy.

Disclaimer: We received a copy of Fallout 4 for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One from the publisher. We totalled more than 100 hours of play before writing this review.

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Joey Davidson

Joey Davidson leads the gaming department here on TechnoBuffalo. He's been covering games online for more than 10 years, and he's a lover of all...

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