Improving on a Winning Formula
Whether you will enjoy Fallout 4 or not boils down to one very simple question: Did you enjoy Fallout 3? Bethesda does not deviate much from the success it had with Fallout 3. There are minor gameplay tweaks, but you will be having a very similar experience to the earlier game. This is not meant to be a criticism. Fallout 3 is a classic and was one of my favorite XBox 360 games I ever played. There’s nothing wrong with taking a successful product and presenting it again with slight improvements.
Fallout 4 expects you to be very familiar with Fallout 3. There are few tutorials and they are short on details. After a brief introduction to the game and basic tutorial, you are tossed out into the Commonwealth to survive on your own. The main plot, like Fallout 3, is very simple. You, your wife, and newborn son were living a quiet happy life in a small town in the East Coast. Suddenly, there’s warning of an imminent nuclear strike and you and your family are rushed to Vault 111, a deep underground bunker for people to live free of the radiation. You and your family, for reasons unknown, are cryogenically frozen. You awake 200 years later and see a man attempting to steal your son. Trapped in the cryogenic chamber, you are forced to watch the man kill your wife and run off with your infant son. You escape the Vault and embark on a long journey to find and rescue your son. The game also focuses on the mysterious group of scientists called the Institute. The Institute has been creating synthetic humans, the newer versions look and behave exactly like regular humans, and releasing them into the world. Everyone, be it human, ghoul, or Super Mutant, is afraid of this shadowy organization and the Synths they create.
Even though the main story was interesting, the side quests are much more enjoyable. During your journey, you encounter several groups that you can join and assist. Each of these groups give you quests that you complete to make the group stronger and earn yourself shiny new weapons and armor. Each group is unique and have their own motivations. For example, the Brotherhood of Steel are paramilitary group obsessed with collecting and studying pre-nuclear disaster technology. They loath Synths and view them as the manifestation of science going to far. The Railroad is a group on the opposite end of that spectrum. The Railroad is a secret organization that rescues Synths from the Institute that enslaves them. They hate the Institute but care for Synths because they view them as equivalent to people, whereas the Brotherhood of Steel does not. The more missions you complete for each group, the more you learn about their group’s history, the individual people in the group, and their reasons for their actions. These side quests are more enjoyable because they involve interactions with people and major decisions. The main story mostly involves going from place to place hoping for information about your son.
The combat is slightly improved. It’s easier to fire guns from the hip and even though there’s no iron sights, aiming with the crosshairs is easy enough. You’re still going to have to rely on the V.A.T.S. for the majority of combat. V.A.T.S. is mostly the same except the critical hits have changed. Instead of having a random chance for a critical hit, each successful shot slowly builds up your critical meter. When the meter is full, you can execute a critical hit for maximum damage.
The new gameplay additions are crafting and settlement building. Every random item you find can be broken down into its parts and used to either enhance weaponry or armor, or create buildings for your settlement. Guns can be modded to change their effectiveness. For example, if your character has a high sneak rating, you can mod a silencer onto your weapon. Or if your current weapons are ineffective against robots, you can build a mod that increases damage to robots. It’s a great way to customize your character and change your overall gameplay. Fallout 4 also allows you to create your own settlement. All the resources you find can be used to create buildings to improve your settlement and attract more people. You can grow food, build homes, create a power source, build defenses, and make a thriving community.
Personally, because I”m sure there are some people who enjoyed it, I disliked the settlement building. It was poorly explained and I struggled to place my creations where I wanted them. The interface is the opposite of user-friendly. Nothing is really explained about what the buildings are and how helpful they are for your settlement. It also didn’t seem that necessary. The combat isn’t so difficult that I need extra help and I bought this game to explore the vast wilderness and complete quests, not build cities. What was exceptionally grating was that this building is completely optional until a pivotal point in the game. You are introduced to settlement building early on and given small quests to help your settlement grow. But they’re completely optional; and since I was trying to speed through the game so I could review it, I didn’t complete them. The rest of main missions didn’t involve crafting, so I didn’t focus on it. Suddenly, in the middle of a very important main mission, I was required to craft a complex structure. The structure required multiple parts and hardware, and had to have lots of power which all had to link on the same grid. It was very confusing and hard to manage. I spent the better part of an hour trying to fit part A and B together, but the game wouldn’t let me. It kept telling me to put the two parts together, but wasn’t allowing me to. It was very frustrating and yanked me from my immersion and fun.
One of the best new additions is the Power Armor. Very early in the game, you’re given a gigantic armor suit you can step in and out of. All your basic functions remain the same, such as using V.A.T.S. and your pipboy, but you have the extra defense of a suit of armor. It adds a nice variety to the combat. Now, instead of hiding behind cover, peeking out and using V.A.T.S., then hiding again, I can stand in the middle of a full group of Raiders and mow them down like the scum that they are. The Power Armor makes you feel in control of the Wasteland instead of the lone survivor trying to survive.
Your companions also provide a variety to gameplay. Throughout the course of the game, you will run into several different NPCs, any of whom you can choose to be your companion as you trek through the world. Companions are invincible and often draw fire from enemies, leaving you with the opportunity to flank them. Companions are also useful because they will carry your extra supplies for you. Each companion is unique and has their own likes and dislikes. For instance, Codsworth, your robotic butler, is very old-fashioned and courteous. He likes it when you choose to do noble acts, such as helping someone for free instead of charging them. He dislikes it when you behave like a mercenary or use drugs, such as Psycho or Jet, to enhance your combat abilities. Successfully earning the respect of a companion leads to extra rewards and bonuses for your character.
The graphics are great. NPCs look realistic and their mouths are perfectly in sync to the words. The voice actors all bring life and personality to the vast amount of people you will inevitably run into. Especially your companions, who each have their own backstory and connection to you. I encountered only a few bugs and framerate drops. Only once did I have to restart the game. There are many loading screens, but they are mercifully short. It’s a drastic improvement over Fallout: New Vegas.
Overall, if you enjoyed Fallout 3, then you will absolutely love Fallout 4. Bethesda took the same formula and slightly improved it to create a new, but refreshingly familiar feeling. It won’t be long before your off questing and humming along to the same 1950s music as you were 4 years ago. If you have never played a Fallout game before, I’m not sure I recommend it for you. As I stated previously, it does not hold your hand. Very little is explained and the confusion the game might cause for a newcomer may be enough to sour the experience.