So then. Hot on the heels of MGSV came Fallout 4- another massive, next-gen release in a series of games I love, with a well-organised hype train and a final product that promised to be the best thing since Berserk. The game rolled around in November, and I finally got to play it over Christmas. Is it a bold step forward for Bethesda RPGs? Or is it just a holding pattern until they finally take a big leap forward technologically?
Story wise it’s arguably the best of the modern Fallout games, and is oddly the inverse of Fallout 3. Whereas that game had you grow up in a Vault after the nuclear apocalypse and set out to find your father, 4 has you play one parent trying to track down their baby kidnapped from a vault. But I’m getting ahead of myself; the game casts you as one of a married couple that flees to a vault as the bombs are just starting to fall. You’re cryogenically frozen upon arrival, and after your spouse is killed by mysterious ne’er-do-wells you escape the vault to discover it’s two hundred years later and SOMEONE’S GOT YOUR BAIRN. So you gotta go get him back like. If you’re into that kind of thing. Personally I hate children so I spent my time doing anything else. Ahem. The story has some interesting twists but its characters are the stand-outs. The game has several companions with their own backstories, personalities, likes and dislikes. The two mandatory ones in the story are excellent; robot Detective Nick Valentine and fiery reporter Piper Wright endeared themselves to me more than every companion in Fallouts 3 and New Vegas combined, due in part to how the game handles your character now. See you’re voiced for the very first time in Fallout 4, which has its problems (more on that later) but definitely adds to the feel of the game and its world building. Your character feels less like a cipher for the player and more like an actual character that’s part of an on-going story. It’s down to personal preference in the end but I like Bethesda’s approach here, and it definitely helped with roleplaying. Seeing your character interacting with people is genuinely immersive, and it doesn’t feel at all jarring, which is a surprise. The story itself places emphasis on picking a faction and working towards a final battle a la New Vegas, and while its world doesn’t have the depth of the previous games the characters and locations it does have are excellent.
Gameplay wise is where things go downhill, and it’s mainly due to things being simplified. On the plus side, the combat has improved quite a bit- the guns feel a lot more weighty and satisfying to shoot, and combat doesn’t make you want to spend all your time in V.A.T.S any more. However, unlike previous games, shooting feels like the main option now. In New Vegas the speech system was fantastic- the options were pretty much limitless, and effected by all manner of traits ranging from Intelligence and strength to your skill in speech or firearms, speech was an invaluable weapon in the wasteland. Here speech is limited to four options (one for each face button) that are generally “More information”, “Sarcastic” (a general “Be sassy” option that definitely does not need a dedicated slot) “Yes” and “No”. It’s painfully limited, and genuinely feels like a real step backwards. Similarly the new level-up system feels diminished. In 3 and New Vegas with each new level you sank points into a variety of skills including lockpicking, melee, medicine, speech etc and a new perk (a perk every other level in NV’s case)- this worked brilliantly. Here every time you reach a new level you pick a perk or put one point into your S.P.E.C.I.A.L (Strength, perception, endurance, charisma, intelligence, agility, luck) with no skills. In my playthrough I had barely any perks because I sank most of my points into Charisma (for speech) and endurance (for max health), picking perks that boosted max health because the game feels less like an RPG and more like an FPS with RPG elements, which really isn’t how Fallout should play. Eventually I realised my biggest problem with the game is that it feels too much like “Mass Effect”; shoot your way through an area, reach someone important, kill them or use the magical “We shouldn’t fight” speech option, which comes in two flavours: “Let’s not resort to violence” (Good) and “Don’t fight me, I’ll murder you” (Not so good). Now don’t get me wrong, I love Mass Effect, but these are two different games, and Fallout taking cues from a simpler, streamlined series doesn’t feel right. The game’s biggest new addition is crafting (because of course it is), which alternates between being reasonable and infuriating. Messing around with the system in your own time is decent; it’s fun to mess around with and reasonably rewarding. Whenever the game makes you craft something as part of the story there’s no tutorial, no explanation and it’s bloody infuriating, though fortunately it doesn’t happen too often.
Overall, Fallout 4 is a success, but it has problems. Its characters, world building and character interaction are all very good, but in what I presume to be an attempt at welcoming new players the game oversimplifies some of its most important systems to its detriment, and feels more like an FPS with decent RPG elements. It’s a good, strong step into the next generation for Bethesda and I enjoyed it a whole lot, but personally I’m looking forward to New Vegas developers Obsidian taking over and using this as a launch pad for something truly special.
By James Lambert