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Fallout 4

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: Bethesda
Release Date: Nov. 10, 2015

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


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Xbox One Review - 'Fallout 4'

by Brian Dumlao on Nov. 18, 2015 @ 2:00 a.m. PST

As the sole survivor of Vault 111, you enter a world destroyed by nuclear war. Every second is a fight for survival, and every choice is yours. Only you can rebuild and determine the fate of the Wasteland. Welcome home.

The previous console generation sold the idea of the basic Bethesda RPG template to the masses. Stats actually displayed noticeable effects, worlds in which you can do just about anything and explore almost every spot you see, and fairly good explanations for not meeting as many people as one would expect. This was all packaged in a game that has too many secrets to uncover and can last seemingly forever. After a wildly successful jaunt in The Elder Scrolls universe, the team has returned to the retro-futuristic American wasteland in Fallout 4, five years removed from the Obsidian Entertainment spin-off and seven years from its own proper sequel.

Though few would expect newcomers to jump into a series in the fourth iteration, the opening sequence does a good job of getting people up to speed with the universe. After World War II and the dropping of the atomic bomb, many believed that a large-scale nuclear war was imminent if more countries got the technology. However, that never happened, since the power of the atom was harvested as energy and man flourished with inventions to make life easier. Things were good for a while, but resources eventually ran thin, and war was once again becoming a reality.

You play either a husband or wife who's recently returned from a military tour of duty. It's a typical morning in the suburb of Sanctuary Hills, and after going through your morning routine, you answer the door and fill out some information from your local Vault-Tec salesman. Unfortunately, it's also the day the bombs drop on America. Escaping to the vault, you, your spouse and your infant son are whisked away to cryogenic pods. Unfortunately, you temporarily gain consciousness only to see your spouse gunned down and your child kidnapped. When you fully come to, you discover that 200 years have passed since the bombs fell. You also discover that you are the lone survivor of that vault. Determined, you venture into the Wasteland to find your son, hoping he's still alive after all these years.

The opening moments serve several different purposes. The first is to paint a picture of what life was like before the bombs dropped. You see it touched on and spoken about in previous titles, but it's fascinating to play a small sliver of it. This is especially true when you realize that the future crafted here is stuck in the style of the early 1950s, with some retro futuristic items, like robot designs and portable computers.

The other purpose that the opening serves is to let you create your character. As for the physical attributes, there aren't too many face types available, but there are loads of different ways to create a character as beautiful or ugly as you want. You can easily spend a good chunk of your early time with the game in this section alone.

During the visit with the Vault-Tec salesman, you're asked for more information. The series' S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system returns, and you can assign your starting stat points into categories like Intelligence, Luck and Strength. This time around, you can't have any category below a level 1, so while you can have your character start out as a complete weakling or lacking in charm, he or she can't be completely devoid of any category.

The main game mechanics will feel very familiar to those who spent lots of time with Fallout 3 or Fallout: New Vegas. Though you can change your perspective to an over-the-shoulder, third-person view, this is considered to be a first-person action RPG. Using real-time melee or ranged attacks, you can fight large insects, humans transformed by heavy doses of radiation, raiders, and synthetic robots as you navigate a postapocalyptic Massachusetts, which is now known as the Commonwealth. If you prefer a more tactical approach, you can use the VATS system to read the stats of your foes and aim for specific body parts to inflict damage or kill them. Along the way, you can take on companions to help you in a fight or have them carry stuff for you.

Though the base mechanics are largely familiar, the elements have been tweaked enough to make them more interesting. For starters, the basic gunplay has been improved quite a bit, so you're less reliant on the VATS system to score hits. VATS also slows down time instead of stopping it, so you can't use it to stop the action and think about where you want to aim. Using VATS builds up a critical hit meter, so you have more control over when it's used. As for your companions, they're hardier than before, so it'll take lots of damage before they need help. Even then, your canine companion is so hearty that he even heals himself after being incapacitated for a short while.

It should also be noted that there is an official app to let you turn your smartphone or tablet into a real-life version of the Pip-Boy wrist computer. When linked to your game, you're given full control of the Pip-Boy functionality, such as changing weapons, discovering radio signals, and viewing the map without having to pull it up in-game. It's a neat feature, but ultimately, it's a cool gimmick that is more useful if a second player is handling all of this stuff for you while you concentrate on the action.

The S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system has also undergone a few changes. On the surface, the chart of your perks and characteristics is more visual. Look deeper, and you'll see that you have some more control over which upgrades you get. The ability to choose perks is under specific categories but only unlocks once that category reaches a specific level. The perks also have levels of their own, so you can essentially dump a load of points and max out your favorite before moving on to something else. For those who want to max out everything, the game features no level cap, so this is entirely possible to do.

One of the more striking changes in the game has to do with the iconic power suits. They're still one of the most powerful things you can get in the game, but you'll be able to access one very early on. There are a good number of suits scattered all over the Wasteland, but none are in pristine condition, so you'll find ones with missing armor in key limb areas. The suits eat up nuclear energy pretty quickly, and with so few of these batteries in the game, you're not going to ride around for long stretches of time, keeping the game more balanced in the process.

When you aren't fighting, you'll likely be conversing with inhabitants in the world. The game follows a conversation style that's like Mass Effect in that you're given four button choices that change your responses to questions and requests. While they are very different in tone, they don't affect much in the dialogue except for how other characters respond to you. You can be as nice or as smarmy as you want to most people, but their responses still follow one main path after they respond in kind to your attitude. The lack of moral choices is weak, but at least it ensures that main story avenues aren't missed.

For the most part, you'll travel from one major location to another, performing missions while picking up clues about the whereabouts of your son. The story missions let you visit some pretty big places, like the remnants of the town of Concord and Diamond City, which is essentially a converted Fenway Park. The missions are great, but the main story is a very slow burn. The level of intrigue is there, but the pacing is slow enough that disinterest could set in quickly. The tale really picks up in the last third of the game, but better pacing would've made things better.

There's a mind-boggling amount of things you can do outside of the story-based missions. Of those things, only a few are necessary for the end goal. You'll encounter traders who have more equipment and ammo. Larger settlements let you change your appearance with more styles — if you've found the necessary beauty books. The world is littered with many places of interest, and most lead you to side missions that vary in length. Some missions lead to discovering major factions, like the Railroad or the Minutemen, which unlock even more bases and missions. There's even the ability to call on these forces to assist you in a mission or in random battles. Interestingly, you can side with all of the factions, so you have the benefit of their protection. Even if they fight each other, they won't touch you unless you provoke them by killing one of them.

Crafting is also present, and while the series has had it before, it wasn't done to this level. There are a plethora of items that can be collected, and all of them can be broken down into base elements for crafting. There are loads of stations where you can craft items in just about every category. Cooking pots let you turn meats and irradiated vegetables into something more edible. Gun tables let you outfit new mods to your weapons, turning a weak pipe pistol into something with stopping power and range. Clothing tables let you add things to your clothes, and harnesses let you fix up the armor and paint on your power suit. There are even chemistry sets that let you concoct first-aid kits and drugs that provide some great highs and boosts. In a sense, if you can imagine it, there's probably a table or station where you can craft it.

If that weren't enough, the crafting mechanic also extends to settlement building. After clearing the ghouls and raiders in an area, you can clear up debris and build defensive items, like fences, guard towers and turrets, and you can assign people to those stations. You can also build houses that range from a simple one-room shack to a venerable palace with multiple floors and loads of furnishings. You can also grow vegetables, collect water and wire up the town with power. Without any real restrictions to each settlement aside from the physical space and materials at your disposal, you can turn a suburb into the next tiny metropolis.

Though it's an optional activity, settlement building comes with loads of benefits. On a small scale, having more of them means that you have more places to store your materials and weapons. Get enough of them close together, and you can access the stashes remotely instead of having to shuttle between locations. Thinking about the bigger picture, you can form alliances with neighboring settlements to create a system of trade and commerce. It also gives you the ability to call on those allies for help, which is beneficial if you aren't allied with any factions.

For those who want to immerse themselves in a postapocalyptic world, it's a blessing that there are so many things to do and places to go. It can be a curse for those who only care about the main plot. The main quest is a decent length for an action RPG, but the areas between each major story point can be distracting. It doesn't take long before you find random areas of distress that open up trading shops. You'll easily stumble upon new radio signals that open up new quest lines. Some small towns lead to bigger things, and before you know it, you've spent hours sidetracked by a completely different set of stories, crafting drugs to combat raiders and settling abandoned places, all of which have nothing to do with your main quest. The amusing thing is that the quests are so enjoyable that you may not care. They also have more interesting tales, so while finding your son is always a concern, it's fascinating to explore people's paranoia about synths or see what the Brotherhood of Steel will do to maintain order.

Over the years, Bethesda RPGs have garnered a reputation for being wondrous but buggy, and this entry, despite using the same engine on more advanced hardware, is no different. There's a lot of clipping around small piles of debris, hair goes through clothes, and hands sometimes go through weapons. NPCs sometimes block your path in hallways or doorways, and your dog gets pushed around by other characters. The dog is often a source of some of these issues, as you'll see it jump through furniture, push through walls, or jump off rooftops. Cut scenes often display situations where you get a shot of someone's face but no one is talking. Specific to the Xbox One version is a loading issue where you can get into a new area or pull out a weapon you haven't used, and you'll get a pause in the action. The effect can be reduced if the game is running on an external drive, and it can almost be negated with an external SSD.

Aside from the bugs, Fallout 4 looks quite good. This is especially evident during the character creation process, but the rest of the inhabitants look fine, even if they don't sport the same level of detail. The only exception is your infant son, who resembles a doll. The world and its towns have a decayed beauty that is brought to life by the solid texture job and variable weather system. The particles from dust are good, but fire doesn't look like it made the leap to the next generation very well. While not necessarily a revolutionary leap from the previous title, it does look more improved.

The game sounds good, especially when it comes to the score. Used sparingly, the haunting melodies set the stage for wonderment and dread as you discover new areas. If you want a break from the score's perpetual gloom, you can tune in to various radio stations. Sound effects are excellent, especially in surround, as they come in at a great volume; melee attacks sound meaty, and shots sound impactful. The voices for the raiders and other enemies suffer from repetition, but the performances are quite good, with everyone perfectly cast and their lines largely well done.

In the end, Fallout 4 is essentially Fallout 3 with a few more features and tweaks. That isn't a dig at the game, but that's what most fans of the series will think. The experience is top-notch, as few developers try to pull off something this large and immersive, and fewer still ever do it right. Even with the bugs, Fallout 4 is a highly addictive and fun experience that gamers of all types will enjoy.

Score: 8.5/10

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