Fallout 4 delivers the classic post-apocalyptic experience the series is known for by throwing players into the ravaged Boston wasteland, and though it has some all-too-familiar quirks, it combines many of Bethesda Softworks’ best features while providing refreshingly new elements.
After playing, replaying and hunting achievements in Fallout 3 and owning Fallout: New Vegas on multiple platforms, I had high expectations for Bethesda’s latest installment. Since purchasing the game on its Nov. 10 release and investing many hours into it, I noticed several changes that create a more fast-paced and personalized experience.
Perhaps the most notable feature is the implementation of settlement building. In past titles, players’ in-game homes were decorated with dull, pre-made packages and mainly served as a storage location. This bland system received a major overhaul in Fallout 4, where players now collect junk from the wasteland to be repurposed into decorations, structures and resources to adorn a community. What surprised me more than the feature’s depth was how much I enjoyed it. While I don’t typically spend much time building environments in any game, I couldn’t help but feel invested in my town, and I was proud to look at my self-sustaining, well-defensed home and to know that I created it. As is expected, Fallout’s pioneering into building has its faults. The pieces don’t always fit together quite like they should, and it’s frustrating when a structure can’t be placed where there’s clearly ample room. Maintaining multiple settlements’ happiness levels is also tedious, and I quickly found myself focusing on only one location.
The combat also received changes to create a more fast-paced feeling. Out of my experience so far, nothing startled me more than going into V.A.T.S. mode to target a jumping Radroach and see the Radroach gliding menacingly in slow motion towards me. In the game’s predecessors, players could stop time through V.A.T.S. to target an enemy’s body parts, but the targeting system now only slows the enemies’ advances. The looting system has also been revamped; players no longer have to open any containers as the contents are now automatically displayed in a dialogue box next to the container. I was slightly disappointed to see that even though these changes were implemented, pulling up your Pip-Boy’s menu still pseudo-pauses the game and gives players a chance to safely heal and compose themselves.
And then there’s the armor and weapon mods—the glorious, plentiful mods. Hundreds of mods are available, and each one prepares players for anything the wasteland may throw at them. During my current playthrough using only melee weapons, I have noticed that the mods tend to favor guns over melee weapons. Don’t get me wrong, I love swatting away Raiders and Super Mutants with my tricked-out Super Sledge, but with the high-damage weapon being found early on, it invalidates many other creative weapons that I now have no reason to use.
The equipment mods and settlement creation took the game to a more personalized level, and the changing of Power Armor into an Iron Man-esque suit creates the powerful feeling that Power Armor should invoke. That’s right, Power Armor is now a mechanized suit players climb into instead of toting it around in a backpack like a change of clothes. The helmet overlay and booming sound effects that come with wearing Power Armor make the game’s wasteland hero a force to be reckoned with. Having a voiced protagonist also made me feel more attached to my character and his storyline.
Despite these immersive elements being implemented, I still haven’t gotten over the fact that the karma system was replaced with a reputation system that greatly affects the storylines of companions. It wasn’t totally unexpected—the Fallout series has a history of fluctuating between karma and reputation usage—but not having negative and positive karma attached to my decisions makes some quests and actions seem less compelling. I could help the settlers fend off the Raiders, and I could help the Raiders wipe out the settlers, but with only a pat on the back and a small reward waiting for me at the end of each option, I don’t really feel inspired to do either. The companions of Fallout 4 also have specific, sometimes unpredictable likes and dislikes. Actions as simple as picking a lock or bartering for more pay can provoke a reaction, and while the system seems like it’s supposed to help players choose a companion fitting of their playstyle, it made me realize that I just don’t care what my traveling partner thinks of me. For that reason, I prefer to stick with the canine companion known as Dogmeat. He’s loyal, he’s fearless and he doesn’t silently judge my moral decisions.
Issues aside, like many Bethesda games before it, the defining and most enjoyable characteristics are complete opposites: the massive scope of the game and the meticulous attention to detail. After investing several hours in one character and starting over as another, the two were completely different, and I can only assume that every subsequent character will follow suit. Cautiously picking apart mutant-infested buildings only to find a teddy bear with eyeglasses reading a newspaper is a small but humorous addition to a bleak and depressing wasteland, and it’s refreshing to know there are similar situations I’ve yet to find.
There’s much more in store for me in Fallout 4, and I can’t see myself being finished with the game any time soon.