Fallout 4 is great. I’m not going to make you read the whole post to get to that. But, you will need to read on to find out why it’s great. I wasn’t a massive fan of the series before a friend of mine convinced me to preorder Fallout with one sentence: “you can build a settlement”. Not that I have built a settlement yet, but still it was a nice idea.
First off, Fallout 4 looks amazing. The world is rich and colourful, everywhere looks different so you can see that you’re progressing. It’s a good improvement on Fallout 3, which had a colour palette composed primarily of brown. The environment is actually nice to wander through, as long as you’re prepared to run in to camps of Super Mutants to appreciate it. The towns and cities you’ll come across are great to be in as well, from the ramshackle Diamond City to the neon depravity of Goodneighbour, they have their own identity.
It’s easy to become distracted on your travels, you’ll pick up new quests or places to explore just by walking through a city and overhearing someone’s conversation. I had loaded up my log just walking through Diamond City on the main questline. You start out on the hunt for your son which will take you across the Commonwealth and back again, several times, and along the way you will come across hundreds of interesting and different characters.
Of course you’ll have the chance to drag some unfortunate survivors on your travels with you and experience their skill in charging straight at your target, soaking every round with their face and then sitting in the middle of the battlefield, moaning about their wound. In between being gunned down and teleporting across the map to be by your side, you develop your relationship through conversation or through likeable actions (opening locks, being nice in conversation, etc). With great companionship come acceptable bonuses to XP gain.
On the note of conversation, the dialogue system has been simplified down to 4 options. If you haven’t modded your game, you’ll get 4 short options at points in the conversation. These will barely summarise the sentence you’re about to utter and will shunt your conversation down a different path almost immediately. Generally, you’re a pretty likeable guy (or girl) though, so you shouldn’t get in too much trouble.
Another change to the formula is in the VATS system, which now slow down time instead of freezing it. It keeps the flow and fear in combat going, although can be finnicky when picking your target. It’s a little bit of breathing room to pick off the best shots and try to come out on top. The Critical system has changed as well, filling up a bar with every successful VATS shot and then activating a critical shot when needed. It will never miss, so can be banked up and used against a Legendary creature for a guaranteed headshot.
The most enjoyable – and easiest – part of the crafting system is gun modification. I’ve spent a lot of time breaking stuff apart and smashing it onto a gun to make it better. There’s a massive repertoire of mods for you to use, with some requiring certain perks to unlock. You can use up most of your supplies making a long-barrel, glow sights, Marksman-stock Pipe Rifle (called Eagle’s Eye), but it’s worth it when you shoot a Super Mutant in the eye from 3 blocks away. The only problem I’ve found with guns so far is that ammo can be a little hard to find near the beginning of the game, and I ran out of ammo for two or three weapons in the heat of battle. Add another 10 minutes at the workbench to mod up a new weapon and I’m back in the field.
On the other hand, building and maintaining a settlement (the main selling point of the game for me, remember) is not so easy. There isn’t really a tutorial on what to do, aside from dropping down some beds, a water pump and some food. Most of the buildings and rubbish strewn around a town can be scrapped for materials, which has left some nice vacant plots in Sanctuary, but I haven’t been brave enough to actually rebuild my home town.
The times I’ve tried, it’s been a fight with the terrain, the materials and the interface. My particular bugbear is with the crops, which will jump 7 feet into the air because of a stone in the ground, or won’t be set down near that slightly grassy patch because of reasons. My vegetable garden is a mess, but the farmers are insufferably grumpy all the time, so I don’t feel too bad. I’m insanely jealous of the bases people have managed to build but, for now, the inhabitants of Sanctuary will be 5 to a room and they’ll like it.
Likewise, the micromanagement of the inhabitants could use some work. You can assign them to different tasks, which they’ll diligently perform until the second apocalypse (totally unconfirmed). Once you’ve done that, finding out who is assigned to what is a matter of hunting down an inhabitant, hovering your cursor over them, and then strafing around them until you spot a highlighted green object in the distance. Atom help you if it was behind a building…
Beyond that, there isn’t really any guidance on how to use your settlement efficiently, such as combining certain crops to make the most useful material in the wasteland – adhesive. There is also a built-in system to share your resources between settlements – a very useful system, but there isn’t a message telling you how to set up your supply lines. Look out for guides online, because there are a lot of useful tricks that you can set up to run your settlement at maximum efficiency.
I’d also like to say that in Bethesda’s effort to distance the game from Fallout 3, which was a slog to get started in and only got harder, they may have strayed a little too far the other way. Within the first hour, you’ll find yourself with clamped teeth, a decent set of Power Armour and a Minigun, expunging a Deathclaw from the Commonwealth. With that out of the way, you’ll join a gang and you’re off to save the world. Not that I don’t appreciate that – I’d never seen Power Armour or a Deathclaw before that, so now I completely understand the twitch Fallout players have.
Whilst the effort in to providing a rich and explorable landscape with branching sidequests is appreciated, it does make the main storyline feel expendable and quite short in comparison. To be fair, I haven’t completed the story yet but I’m on the cusp of breaking in to THE BIG, BAD PLACE and it doesn’t seem like that long ago that I was taking my first look at a ruined wasteland. It also seems a little out of place that a man (or woman, depending) who witnessed the EVENT THAT STARTED IT ALL would go on to romance a surface dweller for their own selfish need. As a sidenote, our wedding rings are safely hidden away in my dresser now.
Glitches and half-thought systems and everything aside, I love Fallout 4. It’s a great game. It looks wonderful, it’s rich in story and full to the brim with intricate details that make the world feel alive. When I have some spare time, I’ll always want to drop back into the wastes of The Commonwealth and slaughter some raiders in the great hunt for my son. With some preparation (and countless mods), I might even take on the mammoth task of rebuilding civilisation in my image.
Or I might complete my bobblehead collection.