I played through Fallout 4 on the PS4. It’s a Bethesda game, so jank ensued. However, Fallout 4 never actually crashed…so that’s something.
Fallout 4 doesn’t make a great first impression. It hitches it’s wagon to the well-worn clichéd phrase ‘War never changes’ which is meant to bookend the narrative. However, having played 56 hours of Fallout 4 and seeing all endings, I have no clue how the phrase really relates to the game at all. I mean, you could make an argument for it I guess, but it’s just a weird choice to have this here at all.
The game starts in pre-apocalypse Boston as you, your spouse and your new baby Shaun are enjoying a nice summer’s morning. Very quickly though, the sirens start to sound and you have to leg it to your new home, Vault 111. Events transpire and you wake up 200 years later to find your spouse dead and your son missing. You venture out of the Vault to find a wasteland, a brutal and unforgiving place, which you’ll have to deal with on your quest to find your son.
It’s a pretty boiler-plate Fallout story, as Fallout 3 had a similar main throughline, with you having to leave the Vault to find your Liam Neeson, and the main story in Fallout has never been that good. Your first few hours in the Commonwealth will be a whistle-stop tour of many of the systems you will have to contend with in the game. If you watched Bethesda’s E3 press conference, it’s that. All of that. It’s almost like a ‘vertical slice’ of a game that you would hear of going out to press. Power Armour, crafting, base building, buddies, perks, looting. It’s all there up front and if you’ve never played a Fallout game before, I could see this being almost impenetrable. Hell, even I was struggling as some of the tutorials are so bare bones, I hardly knew what to press and when. The base building mechanic is something I still don’t think I really understand because the tutorial (mapped out like the Wasteland Survival Guide quest from Fallout 3) actively doesn’t tell you things like having to assign settlers to certain pieces of equipment, and how to connect things to generators for power.
It doesn’t help that Fallout 4’s starting areas seem rather lifeless. Vault 111 is at the top corner of the map and there’s not much around it. I get that the developers want you to go along the critical path for a while, but compared to the rest of the map, it’s totally barren. So the best thing is indeed to stick with the story, and as soon as I stepped foot in Diamond City (like Fallout 3’s Megaton), I started to feel more excited. Diamond City is full of character, and teeming with kooky NPCs that are a joy to be around. Unlike Megaton, it is also extremely colourful, with the games colour pallete really showing the difference between this and it’s predecessor.
Fallout 4 is not a pretty game by any stretch of the imagination, but at these moments, it does have it’s charms, with the game’s art style improving on anything seen in the series before. The style seeps into the quests too, as side quests start coming thick and fast. Side quests are really the meat of Fallout games, often feeling more robust than the main quest. You’ll be sent off on strange tasks, like going to find some green paint for a guy who really wants to paint a baseball scoreboard, or finding a boy in a fridge. There are tons of quests to sink your teeth into, and you should be able to find something to your fancy.
After the first few hours, locations start to become more diverse. You can find yourself stumbling on an old insane asylum, a colonial museum, a pristine art gallery or even a downed aircraft. The world building in Bethesda games really is fantastic and it is in full force here. You can easily get lost for hours, forgetting what you even went out into the wasteland for originally. There are so many little things to find and little pockets of dark humour that it’s a joy just to exist in the world.
There are some weird decisions in Fallout 4, and it feels sometimes that it’s just stretched too thin. The one example I have is game tapes. You can find magazines in the Commonwealth, which come with tapes for your Pip-Boy where you can play old-school arcade games. There are lots of games, but I did this precisely once and that was to get a trophy. It’s a fun bullet-point to have at an E3 press conference, I guess, but I would rather they had focused more on something else. I like the base building aspect but it’s not explained and not fleshed out at all. And that trademark Bethesda jank is here in full force. It’s rather charming, until it makes a quest uncompletable and then it’s suddenly not funny anymore. Luckily this didn’t happen to me, but there are reports of this happening to people.
The janky jank is definitely something they need to address. I don’t think Bethesda can get away with another one of these. The engine needs an overhaul and it needs updating. The frame rate in my time with the game has sometimes dipped under 10. I can’t begin to imagine how complex this stuff is, with thousands and thousands of variables, but releases such as The Witcher 3 and MGS V this year feel far more polished and cohesive. These two games have nowhere near as many things going on as a Fallout game, but that’s not going to matter to the average Joe consumer. The new Elder Scrolls (I guess that’s next) simply has to be better.
Fallout 4 is a jittery mess at times, but it’s hard not to buy into it. And that’s because the rest of the game is so damn good. It may not have as high of a bar as the other open-world releases this year, but it feels as strong if not even more. Fallout is all about the delectable charm and darkly comic situations you can stumble across randomly in the wasteland. Fallout 4 is a new standard for Bethesda’s open-world RPGs, although at times it’s hard not to argue that the standard should have been higher.