Fallout 4 Review – Not Just a Wasteland

Developer: Bethesda Games Studios                                                                                 Publisher: Bethesda Softworks                                                                                         Platforms: PC, Xbox ONE, PlayStation 4                                                                           Reviewed On: Xbox ONE

Once again Bethesda has brought us another entry into the Fallout Series, Fallout 4. This game takes place in a wasteland known as the Commonwealth, formerly the Commonwealth of Massachusetts before the infamous war that led to a total nuclear fallout. The game uses a new engine as compared to the previous two games along with some new features such as construction and item customization. The famous VATS system also returns, this time with the ability to manually inflict crits. Has Bethesda delivered a rousing and groundbreaking experience once again or is this just another average sequel?

PLOT & STORY

Once the game begins we are immediately faced with something new, the game actually starts off in 2077 before the nuclear fallout! And at this time we find our character (male or female pending your preference) enjoying his leave from the military with their wife or husband, again depends on preference, and infant son, Shaun. The family also has a Mr. Handy robotic helper named Codsworth. Once you’ve created your customized character, a hallmark of modern Bethesda games, a Vault-Tec rep comes to the door asking, as their slogan says, “if you’re prepared for the future.” After some brief dialogue you accept his proposal of your family gaining a spot in Vault 111. Then, in a great bit of story writing, an alarm sounds, signifying that a nuclear weapon is coming. You and your family rush to the Vault, arriving just before the shockwave. In startling fashion, the player finds that the Vault is a cryogenics experiment, set to freeze the residents until it is deemed safe for them to be thawed.

Vault 111

You go along with it and after being locked inside an unknown amount of time, a stranger open the cryo pod containing your spouse and son. The stranger kidnaps your son and kills your spouse for resisting. As you watch in despair, the cryo pod slowly comes back online and you drift into hibernation. Sometime later there is a malfunction and your pod opens. You stagger out only to find you’re the Sole Survivor of Vault 111. You leave the Vault and find an irradiated wasteland outside. After locating the loyal Codsworth, you continue through the Commonwealth, searching for any clues about your son and his kidnapper. I must say, Bethesda outdid themselves on this story. Its emotional and feels real all the while. Its a much better story in terms of writing and execution than the previous Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas. There’s also some great twists in store to keep it interesting.

You make your way to Diamond City, created out of what used to be Fenway Park, and locate a detective who promises to help. He is Nick Valentine, a defective prototype synth (android) created by the infamous and secretive scientist organization known as the Institute. Unlike other synths who have programmed brains, Nick has had the mind of a 2070’s police detective implanted into his brain.

Nick_Valentine

Using these skills he helps you locate the last known location of your son and his kidnapper, now known as the mercenary Kellogg. When you finally track him down, you find out that he was hired by the Institute to retrieve a baby from before the nuclear fallout. They required a clean, non-radiated child for some experiments. After a flurry of tasks, you find plans to build a device to teleport you to the Institute. Once there you discover that the kidnapping happened 60 years ago and your son, Shaun, is now the Institute’s Director, known to them as Father.

Fo4Shaun(Father)

This complicates things, the Institute is despised for kidnapping wastelanders and seizing scientific equipment by any means necessary, but your son is their leader… Once you find this out you can either choose to assist the Institute and destroy its threats, or, destroy them for their merciless actions against the Commonwealth.

Long story, isn’t it (and that’s a good thing!)? As I said before this story is much more well written than past Fallouts and well executed. It has great tension and emotion while feeling incredibly real to the player. I didn’t expect the story in a video game to tug at me like this one would. Now I actually did piece the direction of the story together long before finding the Institute, but it’s still fairly unpredictable. I’m clever like that. The plot is one thing, but what about the characters and the other factions in the game? Let’s break it down.

FACTIONS 

As with past Fallout games, the game has different factions that the player can be part of. These are the Minutemen, Brotherhood of Steel, Railroad, and Institute. The Minutemen are a militia organization whose mission is to protect the Commonwealth. Arriving in Concord, you find the Minutemen who are pinned down in the Revolutionary War museum by a group of raiders. Their current leader, Preston Garvey, explains that there is a suit of power armor and minigun on the roof from a crashed Vertibird. The player can use this to assist the Minutemen and kill the raiders. After that he should be available as a follower and you can move forward with the Minutemen questline. Their goal and purpose makes them my personal favorite faction. I just like the idea of helping people, as basic as that sounds.

Preston_Garvey_launch_trailer

The Brotherhood of Steel is the old standby of Fallout, present in every game. The Brotherhood of Steel is a quasi-religious organization whose mission is to find and preserve pre-war technology. In the Commonwealth, you locate a scouting party in the Cambridge Police Station. This is recon squad Gladius, led by Paladin Danse. After helping them clear out ghouls, you can advance the questline and help them get back to the Prydwen, the Brotherhood’s airship. Eventually, Danse will be available as a follower.

Fo4_Paladin_Danse

Finally, there’s the Railroad. They are a humanitarian organization whose mission is to protect and assist synths that escape from the Institute. While most synths are basic robots, some are androids with their own personalities. Thus some are capable of free thinking and deciding to leave the Institute, which the Institute obviously would not like to happen. They are led by Desdemona, a ginger haired woman. After locating their headquarters and joining you can advance the questline.

FO4_Desdemona

Finally, the Institute is a technological utopian organization that seeks to restore the Commonwealth to its former glory, by any means. After the fallout, Cambridge Institute of Technology students and faculty constructed an underground utopia with the technology they preserved.

FO4-institute-concourse

As I explained, you eventually find plans to build a teleporter to gain access to the Institute. You find this by helping an ex-Institute scientist named Virgil in the Glowing Sea area. Once inside you can advance the questline after speaking to Shaun/Father.

Now I have to complain. The other 3 factions have quests you can do to help end the Institute’s reign of terror. Once you reach a certain point, you cannot advance the quest lines any further for the remaining 2. If you do the quest to blow up the institute with the Minutemen, the Brotherhood and Railroad will not engage with you. You can talk to them, but you won’t get quests. I wasn’t even that far into the questlines for the Brotherhood and Railroad when this issue came up. I think this was a poor design choice and unfair to the player who may want to do more. I just don’t get it. Also, the Brotherhood will be hostile to you if you help the Railroad, something with them being worried about their helping synths I guess, but that seems arbitrary to me. At least if you destroy the Institute with the Minutemen the factions are neutral. It doesn’t make sense that the Desdemona won’t give you quests if you become Minutemen leader, though.

CHARACTER DESIGN

I need to talk about this because I think they executed this better than any Fallout to date. The unique designs of most major characters and story development with each is great in Fallout 4. You will like every follower in this game. Preston Garvey is a man with a troubled mind, before the Sole Survivor comes along he feels like a man without a country. His storyline consists of helping him overcome his past and current emotions and restoring the Minutemen to their former glory. Nick Valentine is one of my favorites. He struggles with fitting in because of what he is and with the personality of the real Nick Valentine in his mind, who has been dead for 210 years. Danse is pretty basic though, the usual righteous man who wants to be a beacon to the rest of the Brotherhood and seeks validation. Then there’s Piper, the clever and dogged reporter who seeks truth, Curie the Mrs. Handy who seeks to understand what it means to be human, Hancock the drug fiend of a ghoul who just wants to be a decent guy and lead the people of Goodneighbor the right way. My favorite is probably Old Longfellow. While he is in the Far Harbor DLC and not the base game, he’s exceptional. He’s mysterious and gruff at first, but you find out he’s not so hard as he seems. He’s just a good man who’s been through a lot. And he tells you like it is, which is a great character trait that fits him well.

Old_Longfellow

Each has a well written in moving story in some way, making the characters feel very dynamic. You will also find yourself actually caring about each one. Best character design in a Fallout, no question.

GAMEPLAY

Most of the core gameplay of Fallout 4 remains the same as the last two games. Thank God you can finally sprint in this game by pressing the right bumper! It’s still first person shooter style with a variety of melee weapons and firearms. VATS also returns, which is the famous system with which you can target specific body parts. Unlike past games, you now have a crit meter in VATS and by manually pressing a button you can fire a critical strike. Weapons can now be upgraded and have parts added to improve different stats. Now you can make your weapon the best it can be rather than having to find new, more superior weapons. You can also do the same for armor. You will need a weapon workbench to upgrade weapons and an armor workbench for armor.

FO4_VATS

Power armor has been overhauled, you no longer require training to wear it. Instead, you will now need Fusion Cores, small nuclear batteries, to power the armor. Without them the armor loses its enhanced capabilities. Each piece (helmet, arms, legs, torso) can be upgraded and have modifications added. These provide varied effects, from increasing strength to providing rad resistance. There is also a jet-pack mod for the torso piece, which makes for some interesting gameplay. But slow down there, rocket-man, parts can be damaged and will require materials for repairs. The materials you use for armor and weapons are collectively known as “junk”. Any mods or upgrades will tell you what material is needed in the menu of the workbench or power armor station.

Power_Armor_Station_in_FO4_Trailer

In quite a big change for the series, Bethesda expands on the idea of building construction from Skyrim and allows you to freely build structures and other objects through a workshop station. Simply hold down the menu button on the controller and boom, you can start building in the workshop radius. It’s not just walls and floors though, you can place lights, storage, furniture, stores and defenses for your settlement. Want some home decor to spice up the place? No problem, you can put up art and other decorations. Fallout 4 does all this through settlements, locations you can clear out and provide for settlers in the wastes. Note they will require food and water as well, and defenses like turrets, settlement doesn’t do much good if your settlers are dead. I think this was well executed and a good addition to make the gameplay interesting. Although, there can be some frustrations with obstacles keeping you from placing objects and structure parts snapping in place facing the wrong way. This was annoying but I was able to build complete houses from scratch.

Sanctuary_Workshop

If you have the Automatron DLC installed, you can also create a robot workshop. With this you can build diabolical machines with which to rule the world! But if you’re not into world domination, you can just play around with the different part combos. There’s a variety. You can have access to all assaultron, protectron, sentry bot, and robobrain parts. Each has a head, torso, legs, and arms. You can add parts that provide better stats, improve carrying capacity, provide damage, and even emit electric discharge that can damage enemies. There’s a variety of weapons too, from shishkebabs (a flaming sword) to Fat Man launchers.

FO4AUT_Robot_Workbench

You can even choose a voice. You can have them speak in simple beeps or give them full speech. There’s fully voiced male and female voices too, if you’re feeling lonely. My biggest enjoyment from this was building a huge sentry bot with a Fat Man launcher and gatling laser, then giving him a pleasant male voice and naming him Marvin. Great juxtaposition, am I right? That’s about it for the gameplay, lets talk about the world map as it’s an important part of the game.

WORLD DESIGN

Fallout 4 has a rather dynamic world map, from forests to cities, bogs to beaches, and a particularly deadly radiation filled hell-scape called the Glowing Sea. And it literally does glow. The world also feels alive in a way. Just wandering the wastes you can find interesting locations that all have their own stories. Some even contain notes you can read that give you an idea of what went on. This makes for some great immersion. The Automatron DLC did this well by explaining the experiments for creating robobrains. Turned out RobCo was using the brains of convicts set to be executed to power the processors. Something went horribly wrong and the robobrains were retaining their former consciousness and revolted. It was like a damn horror movie, I couldn’t believe what I read. Then there’s the Glowing Sea. What sounds like an ideal vacation spot turns out to be a monster filled death zone with all perils you could imagine.

Fallout4_E3_Wasteland

This is Fallout on steroids. It’s a fairly large area with ghouls, radscorpions, and the occasional Deathclaw and will try your patience. Don’t go there without power armor, you will most assuredly die otherwise. Thankfully, you only have to traverse the length of it for one quest. However, exploring will reward you here as you can find some great loot. I found a Gauss Rifle and an almost complete set of X0-1 power armor just by wandering around the Glowing Sea. That is one thing the game does well, rewarding you for exploration. You can find some great things just by picking a direction and walking.

There is one drawback to the game world, the size. It’s smaller than the Capital Wasteland and New California which is disappointing. While there are quite a few locales, I was actually running out of things to do in the game, much quicker than I did in Fallout 3 or New Vegas. Okay, so I’ve put 160 hours into this game, but still, the game world is just lacking.

SOUND & GRAPHICS

Lastly, I want to discuss the sound design and graphics in the game. The sound in this game is great. The music has more variety than previous games and creates a great atmosphere. Weapon and movement sounds are quite realistic, adding to the immersion. The voice acting is very good, Bethesda usually does a great job finding actors. The voice actor for the male Sole Survivor (Yes, your character can talk in this game) isn’t quite where it needs to be. Some emotional bits leave a lot to be desired from him. Now we get to a big pet peeve I had with the sound, reusing assets from Skyrim. The game is built on the same engine, but recycling sounds? I would have thought Bethesda was better than this. Most of them are miscellaneous sounds that I can’t recall specifically, but they add up and you will notice if you played Skyrim. I swear the super mutants will Shout at me next time I see them.

The graphics are slightly improved from Skyrim. Its built on the same engine, animations are better, lighting is improved. The colors are also one of the great things about Fallout 4’s graphics. They are vibrant and dynamic making for a realistic atmosphere. However, textures look about the same as Skyrim, which is a little disappointing for a game that was released 4 years later. More should have been done to improve the existing engine so they don’t look the same.

THE FINAL VERDICT: 8/10

Fallout 4 is extremely underrated by the Fallout fan base in my opinion. The game has the best character design and story writing of any Fallout I’ve seen. The game feels very real, which for my play style is entertaining. Gameplay changes were needed and executed quite well in this Fallout entry. Item mods and construction are great features and a few quality of life changes improve the series’ gameplay. Some graphical updates, improved animations, and new features really make this feel like a next-gen Fallout game. Ordinarily, this game is a 9/10, but the small issues I listed like the inability to continue the questlines of certain factions with little explanation, the sound recycling, and the construction glitches bring it down just slightly. Something about being told I can’t continue a story gets under my skin, since the story is incredible. I don’t mention glitches in the review since I really didn’t experience any worth noting, and that’s great considering its a Bethesda title. Overall, Fallout 4 is a fun, immersive game worth playing. Yeah, there’s a couple of flaws but all the good features of this game outweigh them immensely.

Photos attributed to the Fallout Wiki Nukapedia http://www.fallout.wikia.com. I have no affiliation to Bethesda Softworks™ or Bethesda Games Studios. Any thoughts or opinions expressed are mine alone.

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