It's been seven years since Fallout 3 originally released in late October 2008, a huge game that many could hardly believe ran on last generation consoles. It's hard to believe it's been that long, but in that time a lot of things have changed for open world video games. Games like Grand Theft Auto V and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt have proven that you can have a large open world and still have your game look beautiful while maintaining a (relatively) steady framerate on consoles. After seven years and a ton of innovation in the industry, can Fallout 4 stand out as the best current gen open world experience?
Bethesda has never been known for their compelling narratives, instead being praised for the size of the worlds that they've built. Fallout 4 doesn't seek to change that image, choosing to fall back on a similar template as Fallout 3 which also tasked the player with finding a missing family member. The main story is a short, predictable romp through the wastes that culminates in a very unsatisfying ending that left me wanting more. Fallout 4 chooses to tease players with the idea of fighting for the oppressed Synths, who have been hated by humans for quite a long time for reasons that are revealed fairly early on.
It's an intriguing concept that Bethesda almost immediately throws out the door in favor of having a cookie cutter story in which the Synths are the evil boogeymen, creeping into society and slowly taking over the Wasteland. It feels like a missed opportunity and I hope it may be expanded on in the game's future DLC.
Another disappointing aspect of the game is the new dialogue system, which has replaced Fallout 3's full text responses in favor of a Mass Effect style system that briefly summarizes the mood of the players response. Unfortunately, Fallout 4 falls into the Mass Effect hole of the summary not matching the tone of the actual response. Occasionally the summary doesn't feel like a summary at all, as though the designers left placeholder text in the code for that response (the amount of times "sarcastic" shows up is laughable).
It's an unfortunate side effect of Fallout 4's switch to a voiced main character, a new feature that I would gladly exchange for more (and better) dialogue choices. All these issues with player choice and overall writing left me completely disinterested in the story, while also making the game seem much smaller in comparison to its predecessors. It's a glaring issue that's left me uninterested in continuing the adventures of "Nuclear Snake" after "only" 30 hours of gameplay. Speaking of which...
Bethesda has never been known for making quality gameplay, which often consists of button mashy style combat and hoping that you can get back to exploring ASAP. With Fallout 4, Bethesda intended to change the gameplay for the better stating that they were planning for the combat to feel similar to games like "Destiny". I'm happy to say that Bethesda has finally stepped their game up and delivered quite well on that promise. Shots actually land where the player is aiming, third person combat is now viable (although not perfect), and the inclusion of a quick melee button avoids annoying inventory management if an enemy gets too close. All these improvements positively affect the experience in such a way as to make combat a joy instead of a chore.
Bethesda has put a ton of work into making guns fun to use: whether you're using a rifle to snipe some far away raiders or using a double barrel shotgun to blow a ghoul's head off, Bethesda has put the work in to insure that players will enjoy themselves. These improvements to the overall combat have also changed the V.A.T.S. system from a crutch that players are practically forced to utilize, to something that feels like a nice bonus to give the player the best view of a well placed headshot. It's a pleasant surprise from Bethesda and is a trend I hope carries into their next projects, whatever those may be.
The only downside to the gameplay is that the game seems to stick extremely close to the Bethesda formula in that it follows the basic loop of picking up everything you can find, selling it, repeat. While this isn't a negative point in its own right, I'm a bit tired of the loop after all these years with Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas. Hopefully Bethesda is able to add some variety in their future titles to spice things up for returning fans.
Another vastly improved aspect of the game is companions, which have been significantly improved with most having their own special questlines that players can partake in to get a shiny, new perk upon quest completion. The ability to command these companions also prevents players from getting stuck in a room while their traveling buddy blocks the only exit. I played through all of Fallout 4 with a companion by my side, something I never would have imagined in a Bethesda game.
Along with the improved companions is a new settlement building feature, which allows players to build settlements in various locations throughout the game. It's a very fun addition that is unfortunately hampered by extremely clunky menu design and some annoying hitboxes that can get in the way. For those who don't want to play Bethesda's version of "Minecraft", you'll be happy to know that it is almost completely optional, with only one main quest requiring me to enter the Workshop menu for less than five minutes.
Finally, Bethesda has changed how the series' iconic Power Armor works. In Fallout 3 it was equipped via the Pipboy and was just like any other armor. In Fallout 4 Bethesda decided to put a much larger focus on the suit, allowing players to fully customize it to their liking and improve its functionality by making the player much more durable while wearing it. This sounds all well and good, but is balanced out by the player having to find "Fusion Cores", which are basically Power Armor batteries. It's a nice addition that I unfortunately didn't use very much due to not wanting to waste the Cores, but I'm sure some players will get a kick out of it.
Fallout 4's visuals are an absolute improvement over Bethesda's last generation, with Bethesda finally injecting some color into their worlds rather than having them completely green, orange/yellow, etc. It makes the wasteland feel less dull to be in, while also making it easier to remember important landmarks due to the more memorable designs. The game suffers from some poor animation in human characters, a trend that's been in every Bethesda game and shows no signs of stopping. Some rough textures may be found as players roam the Commonwealth, but they aren't bad enough to be considered unacceptable.
The only issues I have with the game is ocassional performance dips in areas that don't seem to make sense, such as standing in a room with one other NPC making the franerate drop to 10 FPS or less. These dips weren't frequent enough to really effect most shootouts, but it was still annoying when I couldn't talk to a person I needed to talk to because the game would be running so poorly.
Another hugely improved part of the game is its sound, whether it be weapons or music. Weapons are just so satisfying to shoot, the sound of a shotgun or laser rifle being shot and the gory response making for some incredibly entertaining moments. The in-world radio soundtrack is also a nice addition, featuring some fun songs (The Wanderer) mixed with some slower, sadder songs (The End of the World) that capture a refreshing variety of music for players to explore with. The only negative I can think of is that it's about half new songs and about half reused songs from Fallout 3 which is a bit disappointing.
The voice actors for the player characters also do a competent job at selling their roles, even though some lines are better than others. I suppose that's the downside to recording thousands of lines for a single game. Supporting characters are also acted well enough to draw me into Bethesda's new wasteland, but none stand out as particularly amazing. It's good to see that Bethesda put enough work into the voice direction to make the world feel alive, it has to be difficult to manage in a game as large as Fallout 4.
Fallout 4 has been in development for a very long time now, and it often feels like that fact doesn't show. While the game clearly looks better and plays better than its predecessor, it never really feels like I'm playing anything more than a large mod for Fallout 3. While this isn't a bad template to follow, I feel as though I've grown tired of the formula and I was hoping for something new in the moment to moment gameplay. It's something that was nagging at the back of my mind the entire game, and I hope we see more changes from Bethesda in the future.
The game also isn't pushing any graphical boundaries, although it is clearly a vast improvement over Fallout 3. As I mentioned in the beginning of the review, other open world games have released and perform better while looking prettier. This isn't a dig at Bethesda, as their games are more complex with their A.I. and characters living their lives around the wastelands, but it's still disappointing that this is still happening after all these years. Hopefully it's fixed in later games: maybe they'll even use a new engine (fingers crossed).
Fallout 4 is one of the most content packed games on the market, offering plenty of scavenging, killing, and questing in a large open world. Although the game didn't keep me as invested for as long as I had hoped, it was still a whopping 50 hours of gameplay that I thoroughly enjoyed. When you factor in enemies and loot that repopulate and the new settlement building/ miscellaneous quests, it's easy to see Fallout 4 being the "forever game" for some people. In terms of value, it's one of the best games released this year.
It's been a long road to Fallout 4, with many fans waiting years for this new entry and I feel as though it thoroughly met my expectations without exceeding them in any way. While this makes for a pretty middling game, Fallout 4 is an acceptable sequel to Fallout 3 that serves as an example of what Bethesda can do with this generation of consoles. I just hope to see some kind of deeper innovation in the future.
Happy scavenging to all you Vault Dwellers out there, but remember: War. War never changes.
Final Score: 7.5/10