Friday, November 13, 2015

Fallout 4 review


    I am a huge fan of the Fallout series. The original Fallout games were a bit before my time but Fallout 3 was a revelation and inspired me to check them out. I love their satirical look at society, comedy, pathos, melodrama, and, of course, shooting things in V.A.T.S. As such, I was very excited about Fallout 4's announcement and interested in what sort of changes they would be making for the series.

    The answer?

    Flawed but fun.

    I'll get into a discussion of the game's storyline in a later article as the work deserves my full attention but both it and the gameplay have their ups and downs. This is a revelation of a game, truly, and I would remiss in not giving it a 10 out of 10 but this is because the massive amount of content as well as fun to be had compensates for its glaring flaws rather than the latter not existing.

My survivor looked like Ned Stark and his wife Daenerys.
    Fallout 4 makes numerous improvements over Fallout 3 and New Vegas but, unfortunately, also makes several changes which are decidedly unwelcome. There's also numerous changes which are roughly as good as the previous version but took some getting used to. A frequent joke about Fallout 3 was it was "Oblivion with guns." A joke about this game would be it's "Skyrim with stiff voice acting."

    The premise of the game is you are the Sole Survivor of Vault 111. You, your spouse, and your infant child are living a happy life in the Pre-War era of America when nuclear was breaks out. You all swiftly head out the door to the Vault, only to discover it is a cryogenic freezing chamber where you and your family are put in suspended animation. During your sleep, your spouse's chamber is attacked and your child taken away before you're awoken to the brave new world of 215 years after the apocalypse.

    Cute joke on the time, Bethesda.

    There was some mild controversy with the fandom over the fact the protagonist is voice acted now given the traditional blank slate protagonists of the series. Gay and lesbian fans of the series also expressed some displeasure over the fact that, in a series where homosexual relationships had always been possible, you were shoe-horned in a heterosexual one in the Pre-War era. I, personally, think it would have been better to have been able to determine the sex of your spouse as well but note the Sole Survivor can have actual gay and straight romances later. I'll get to the romantic element later, though.

Recognizable landmarks become excellent battlefields.
    The biggest change to the character other than his/her set backstory is the addition of voice acting. While Brian T. Delaney (male), Courtenay Taylor (female) do a serviceable job with the Sole Survivor, the simple fact the writing is unchanged from things like Skyrim and Fallout 3. Choices range from superficial opinions ("I hate newspapers", "I love newspapers") to phrasing various levels of irritation with your surrounding associates. Compared to Hawke from Bioware's Dragon Age 2, the Sole Survivor comes off as somewhat flat and two-dimensional.

    The changes to the leveling system are also questionable with the new Perk system replacing the perfectly serviceable and comprehensible skills system. The various Perk trees were confusing and complicated, making it more difficult to know who and what I wanted as well as what was available. The lack of a level limit is appreciated, though, because it allows you to eventually get everything you want. I also dislike the loss of the repair system since that provided a sense of rarity and decay to items.

Poor Garvey is the nicest guy in the Commonwealth.
    Despite this, there are a lot more changes that I appreciate. Gone are the "easy" enemies of the game with Molerats, Radroaches, and Raiders all having much-much more powerful versions of themselves. One of the early enemies of the game is a Deathclaw which is encountered when you have a chain gun and suit of tank-like power armor. It's a nightmarish fight and really goes a long way to restoring that monster's terrifying nature. There's a later fight where you also encounter a Dagon-esque Mirelurk which is every bit as horrible.

    Companions are an area where the game improves on previous editions quite a bit. In addition to taking the complex stories and personalities of Fallout: New Vegas, it also allows the much-desired romance plotlines for them. I was particularly fond of Piper and Garvey, the former being a post-apocalypse version of Lois Lane and the latter reminding me of Boone from Fallout: New Vegas. There's also guaranteed crowd-pleasers like Nick Valentine (an android detective) and the endearingly sycophantic Codsworth.

Nick has a face only his robot mother could love.
    Changes I like include the alteration of the series' traditional Power Armor from something which is just an elaborate suit of plate-mail to something more resembling Iron Man. You can only use it for as long as your Fusion Cores last and yet, while wearing it, you are able to take on nearly invincible foes. Another change I liked is the ability to take over and lead your own faction in the Minutemen early on in the game. You get a real sense of power and authority from your association with these do-gooders and I decided to wear its signature combination of tricorn as well as Captain America outfit for the rest of the game.

    Another welcome addition to the system is the revamped radiation system. Before, you could very easily ignore radiation throughout the game. Now, it replaces hit points and can swiftly fill up a meter with damage. This makes concern over radiation exposure much more immediately dangerous. I had to make ample use of both Rad-X and Rad-Away throughout the game as well as pay multiple trips to the doctor. Stimpacks and food are changed too, making both of them much more relevant to daily survival.

I played on Easy and Super Mutants were *terrifying*!
    A big change to the game is the addition of Settlements which have their ups and downs. There are numerous locations across the map which the Sole Survivor can take over, invite settlers, and proceed to decorate to their hearts' content. While an excellent time sink I spent much time decorating with portraits, toilets, and generators--I felt this should have been more of an optional pursuit as Sanctuary was more than enough of a town for me to build rather than the dozen or so I ended up constructing. It doesn't help I often ended up having to bail them out from Raiders and other groups when I invested a great deal in giving them machine-gun turrets and artillery *grumble grumble*.

    I will say the graphics aren't noticeably all that improved from the Xbox 360 version I played years ago. The character models are much-much better and that's not nothing but the gameworld doesn't feel all that different. It still has the same vaguely plastic, vaguely cartoonish style of the original game. Compared to say, the Witcher 3, it looks last generation. On the other hand, that same plastic and cartoonish style made the original Fallout 3 look more advanced than it should have been. Funny how that works.

    The Commonwealth is beautifully detailed with some real crowd-pleasing sights like Diamond City (constructed on a baseball field), the Brotherhood of Steel's zeppelin (The Prydwen), and the U.S.S Constitution now outfitted with rocket boosters. The developers do an amazing job differentiating it from the Capital Wasteland, going for a dried scrubland look over Fallout 3's radioactive hellhole. The detail in individual levels is sometimes stunning with a comic book shop level containing dozens of unique models not used anywhere else in the game. It doesn't have a moment quite as amazing as seeing the Capital Wasteland for the first time but it has a few which come close.
Piper is awesome. That is all.

    Fans of the series will be interested in several changes to the lore. The Eastern Brotherhood of Steel has reverted to the West Coast's doctrines in certain areas and is now an expansionist feudal state which eliminates all nonhumans it encounters. They're closer to Space Marines now than the heroic order under Elder Lyons and I couldn't be happier. Those who thought Bethesda should have come up with original factions for Fallout 3 will note all of the ones in the Commonwealth are really interesting and worthy additions to the setting's lore. I'm particularly fond of the Institute and think it's a great "villain" you might actually want to side with.

    Indeed, one thing I really liked about the game was the addition of a very gray and gray set of morality throughout. Despite the fact Garvey, Piper, and most other characters are good, the simple fact is all of the major factions have serious flaws. You have a choice of evils to side with and everyone brings something different to the table. There's no group which is so awful, though, I didn't see why anyone wouldn't want to side with them, though. This is a stark change from the usual Black and White handling of things like the Enclave as well as Caesar's Legion. Hell, if I have a complaint, it's that your character has to work *REALLY HARD* at being evil if you want him to be a bad guy. There's no opportunity to nuke Megaton or be genuinely evil in this game and that's actually disappointing in its own way.

What is this strange object? A...tree?
    Unfortunately, fans should be aware the game comes out of the package with the usual array of Bethesda bugs. Clipping issues, getting stuck in locations, parts of the map not loading properly, and even getting stuck in elevators for infinity are not unheard of. I had all of these happen to me. Also, whenever I took an elevator ride, a Mister Handy called "Doctor Goodfeels" appeared beside me for no apparent reason. That is perhaps the single strangest bug I have ever encountered in any game whatsoever. All of these will be patched out eventually but I wish they'd delay a month or three to get these hammered out.

    I'm also a bit back and forth about the music. The majority of the licensed soundtrack, as mentioned, is from Fallout 3. I loved the soundtrack there and its very evocative. However, there's also an additional set of orchestrated music which is sometimes a bit too loud for the events onscreen. I would have preferred silence as an option since I could literally turn on a radio station if and when I wanted to hear the music. On the other hand, songs like "Atom Bomb", "Rocket 69", "Don't they know it's the end of the world", and "The Wanderer" are really-really good.

    In conclusion, this is a good game with some serious flaws. I'm very-very glad I played it but fans should be warned it has a number of problems. The increase in enemy strength, well-designed companions, imaginative detail, and simple joy of exploration are contrasted with the bugs, mediocre protagonist, and unnecessary gameplay changes. The good heavily outweigh the bad but this is a game I repeatedly asked myself, "why did they change this?" I'm still going to give it a high score, though, because it's quintessentially Fallout and I'm off to play it some more.

8/10

5 comments:

  1. Been taking my time with this game and are mostly on the minuteman stuff at the moment. This is due to Beth's great decision to put most of the game via steam download for the pc, 19GB out of the 24GB that isn't on the disc.

    Not the first time they have done this, but with Skyrim it was only 6GB compared to 19GB that isn't on overall I feel.

    Mostly have the same opinion on Fallout 4 for now as you, ain't surprised you can't be really evil, Beth seem to have a thing against allowing players to do just that, have noticed the usual issues and already mod's are propping up on the PC on Nexus.

    Hopefully some great mod's will come out in due time that will enhance the game, with some hopefully finding their way to the Xbox one when B eth test it out.

    Though like Fanfiction 90% of it will be in the bad category and most likely nude mods or armour mods. But you will no doubt get some great ones like quest mods or something like Project Vega was for NV.

    Hopefully settlement mods that clean up the mechanic's will come out as well. As while there's potential in it Beth kinda left it underdeveloped and confusing at times as well.

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  2. I've tweaked my review a bit Oliver to include commentary on radiation, the music of Fallout, and a picture of Nick Valentine because he's such an awesome-looking character. This is one of those games I want to savor and I don't want to actually get through it too quickly since it's a huge world but actually feels pretty small given how much I want to explore the Wasteland potentially forever.

    I think what's saving this game is there's few which really reward exploring the way Fallout does and the fact it's just "more of the same" is not a bad thing in the slightest. I even love the Timesink element of creating a little love nest for my romance options (Cait and Piper) from the Red Rocket Gas Station.

    And yes, modders will get YEARS out of this.

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  3. Agree on that, Beth's open world games despite how they haven't changed much over twenty years still have that quality to them few open world games can match.

    Same here this is a game that I plan to spend months on and explore everything I can.

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  4. I like Deacon but it looks like they toned down the tongue in cheek humor and puns.

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  5. I agree that Followers are handled better in this game compared to previous entries. As much as I liked New Vegas's companion I never really felt like my character developed a rapport with them in the way I did in 4. For the most part they pretty much treated The Courier as a sounding board for their thoughts on their own issues.

    My main problem with the Sole Survivor is that unlike the past Fallout protagonists they have too much personality to really create your own character in the way you could in the earlier games. But they're never fleshed out to the point where they become an engaging character like Geralt in the Witcher. What we end up with is an awkward mish mash that never emerges as either a blank slate for the player to shape or a truly compelling character in their own right.

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