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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


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PS4 Review - 'Fallout 4'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Nov. 9, 2015 @ 5:00 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.

In a year filled with excellent games, Fallout 4 is still one of the most anticipated titles. There were only a few short months between the announcement and the game's release, and information has been relatively thin, so it's no wonder the fervor and anticipation for Fallout 4 has reached a crescendo. There are some drastic changes to the formula, but Fallout 4 is pretty much what you'd expect: more Fallout.

Rather than being placed in the shoes of a voiceless character with minimal backstory, you play a specific character in Fallout 4. You're either the mother or father of a pre-war nuclear family, and whichever character you choose is offered a chance to escape into a vault on the day the nuclear bombs fall. What they don't realize is that Vault 111 is a special vault to test the effects of cryogenic sleep. Your character awakens 200 years in the future and must venture into what was the Commonwealth of Massachusetts but is now a war-ravaged wasteland known as the Commonwealth. Along the way, they'll encounter various political factions, including the Brotherhood of Steel, deadly super mutants, and The Institute, a mysterious organization that replaces humans with synthetic copies.

On the surface, Fallout 4 has not changed a lot from the last games. The combat, controls and gameplay will feel familiar to anyone who spent hundreds of hours exploring the Capital Wasteland or the Mojave Desert. There are some minor changes to the combat. Gunplay has been smoothed out and plays more like a modern shooter. Aiming and firing is faster and easier, grenades are tossed with a button press, and you can melee-smash enemies with the butt of your gun. V.A.T.S. (Vault-Tech Assisted Targeting System) slows down time rather than stopping it and allows for targeting accurate shots. You no longer gain a flat bonus to critical hits when you use it; instead, every shot in V.A.T.S. fills up a "critical meter," and when it's full, you can spend it for an assured critical hit.

While the critical meter allows for less abuse than in Fallout 3 or New Vegas, I preferred it. You can still get criticals in other ways, including headshots or sneak attacks, but it's great to stock up and use it when you really need it instead of depending on chance. High-luck builds get further critical modifiers, so you get fewer criticals but more meaningful ones. It's probably going to bother people who enjoyed exploding the head of every single raider in the Wasteland, but it makes for a more cohesive game.

There's a noteworthy change to the Power Armor. In previous Fallout titles, Power Armor was high-tier armor that sometimes required special training to use. In the earlier games, it made you practically invincible, and in the later games, it was some of the best equipment you could get. Instead of being equippable, you now enter Power Armor as you would a vehicle, and it renders you immune to fall damage and increases your carrying capacity, among other bonuses. You can customize it with armor pieces that provide new abilities, from shields to auto-healing. The downside is that Power Armor needs to be maintained, so you need to scavenge semi-rare fuel sources to power it. You can use power armor without fuel, but it loses most of its advantages. The fact that fuel is so limited means you have to go out of your way to use it. Power sources are rare enough you'll want to save them for a tough fight. It's effectively the armor equivalent of the Fatboy mini-nuke launcher.

Fallout 4 retains the trademark S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stat system but revamps it. Every character now begins with a one in every stat and a set number of points they can spend to raise those stats. Stats are scaled very differently, so lower stat numbers are not as crippling as they were in Fallout 3. Every character now gets one point a level to spend on perks, which are tied to an associated SPECIAL stat. The higher your SPECIAL stat, the more perks you can access. There are 70 perks in all, with many having multiple levels. There are also special bonus perks you can obtain by completing quests or finding magazines and bobbleheads in the Wasteland.

On paper, the new skill system is a simplification, but in some ways, I find it to be an improvement because SPECIAL appears significantly better balanced than it was in prior titles. Every stat has a use, and you're not helpless if you don't invest in a stat.  

This is further amplified by the crafting system. Almost every piece of equipment and a majority of special weapons can be customized at workbenches located throughout the Commonwealth. Crafting allows you to exchange material for mods that alter a weapon or armor's abilities. Some of these are trade-offs, like more range but less damage, while others are upgrades. However, creating these mods requires you to invest in special perks. Most of the SPECIAL trees have a crafting perk associated. Melee weapons are Strength, Armor is Endurance, and so on. The nice thing is that you're not obligated to grab them. Enemies have modified weapons that you can strip for mods and slap onto other weapons, in which case you're at the mercy of the loot drop system, but you can still power up weapons. This allows you to customize even low-combat characters to be combat powerhouses.

There is one area where I find Fallout 4 to be a frustrating step backward, and that is in how it handles non-combat situations. Fallout 3 and New Vegas rewarded the idea that your character could be competent and capable in non-combat matters.  Fallout 4 seems to have done away with that. Fallout 4 is closer to other games in the genre in that your primary skill set is based on killing, and anything else is secondary.  It's disappointing to someone who preferred high INT/high CHA and trying to find alternate solutions to problems, but it won't bother people who preferred to use a shotgun instead of a repair kit. There are persuasion options, but they largely seem to be charisma checks where the result is higher pay for a job or avoiding a fight by talking down a threat. If your perks or stats have any impact, it's unnoticeable.

Located throughout the Commonwealth are potential safe zones, and once you've cleared them of baddies, you can turn them into safe zones. Settled areas can be upgraded by setting up farms, creating shelter, and so on. You collect material from the Wasteland and convert it into objects you can place around the environment. Beyond some things needing a generator and beds needing to be indoors, you can put things wherever you'd like. You have to set up defenses against raiders, but in my experience, the existence of the defenses prevented raids. It's a neat feature because it makes you more invested in the otherwise forgettable areas and towns. If you don't like the concept, it's also largely ignorable. The Settlement mechanic is poorly explained, but once you get the hang of it, you get a bunch of customizable sandboxes all over the Wasteland.

The Commonwealth is a far busier place than the Capital Wasteland, so you're more likely to find new things while exploring than you were in Fallout 3. This is probably the single strongest point of Fallout 4: It's fun to explore. There are some natural barriers but nothing as tedious as the tunnels in Fallout 3.
You're also going to spend more time in city areas, with twisting streets and rooftops playing a bigger part in exploration than in the ruins of Washington D.C. Scattered throughout the Wasteland are Legendary enemies who drop special loot. They tend to be found off the beaten path as a way to reward the player for exploring. As you explore, you can use new settlements to store loot and materials.

The writing lacks some of the moral complexity of recent games like The Witcher 3, but it's just as engaging and fun as it was in Fallout 3.  I enjoyed the sense of paranoia that accompanied the "synth" plots, which are clearly an homage to "Blade Runner." There are some weird writing issues, though. Characters occasionally say lines or come to conclusions that make no sense. A character asked me to help kill a group of raiders to ensure that people knew not to mess with him. Upon doing so, I asked him if he was worried they'd retaliate against him, and he said that it wasn't an issue since nobody will know he was involved. Other similar contradictions pop up with some regularity, so a few missions feel disjointed.

I don't think the voiced protagonist works as well as the previous unvoiced ones because it doesn't go far enough in either direction. As a player avatar, they're too opinionated and self-possessed to work, but as a defined character, they're not developed enough to like. They're somewhere between a character like Commander Shepard and the faceless, voiceless avatar from Fallout 3.

It's just a minor blemish, but it does render some plot missions a tad toothless. After spending dozens of hours in the Wasteland doing minor missions for fun, it can be jarring when your protagonist has a panic attack about her missing son and her urgency to find him. The core story mission suffers in that it's opposed to what the player is interested in. It's paced like a frantic search through the Commonwealth, but with so many side-quests in your way, it's easy to lose track. It doesn't help that it's not the most engaging plot in the game, either. I was far more interested in the politics and tribulations of the towns than I was in my character's family. This is especially true because the paranoia around synthetic copies, which goes hand-in-hand with the main plot, is far more engaging and interesting.

Fallout 4 is a visual upgrade from Fallout 3. It's not one of the most impressive-looking games on the market, but there are a lot of great bits of visual design. I enjoyed exploring the world and seeing the locations that had been crafted. I particularly enjoyed the ominous radstorms that occasionally washed over the Commonwealth. Monsters such as the Deathclaw look nicely ominous. However, the human models look fake and plastic, especially in comparison to The Witcher 3. The voice acting is a mixed bag, with some very solid voice work alongside some low-effort work. The usual Bethesda problem of recycled actors is noticeable and a bit disappointing.

My experience with Fallout 4 was much better in terms of bugs and glitches than Fallout 3 on the PS3. Physics and AI bugs are unfortunately common, but I never got one that broke a mission or rendered something impossible to complete. Occasional glitchy physics or improper script triggers were fixed by a quick reload. One perk gave me 95% accuracy on headshots when it was supposed to give me a 20% boost. I suffered a hard freeze on one occasion, and on another occasion, the game world refused to render properly until I restarted, but by and large, it was a smooth experience over dozens of hours of play. The frame rate took a hit in certain areas but usually only during busy fights. It's not a bug-free experience, and players should be prepared for some occasional wonkiness, but it's tons better than Fallout 3.

Fallout 4 is pretty much everything you'd expect from a sequel to Fallout 3. It's bigger and more detailed than its predecessor. The gameplay is streamlined, which largely seems to benefit the combat and exploration at a cost to the dialogue and non-combat elements. There are few things as fun as grabbing your pipe rifle and wandering into the Wasteland to find a new ruin to explore or a new settlement to create. Beyond the main plot, there are possibly hundreds of hours of things to see and do. Fallout 3 fans should find a lot to love here, and newcomers to the franchise will find a great place to start.

Score: 8.5/10

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