Fallout 4 teaches a valuable lesson. Bethesda cannot make functioning games; instead they make wonderful experiences. Fallout 4 is ugly, broken and seems to be constantly attempting to tear itself apart. But man, its a great game.
Fallout 4 is the latest installment in the long running series of quirky post apocalyptic RPGs and bears the brunt of some extremely high expectations. Announced with almost no build up and very little in the way of gameplay shown before release meant we feared the worst. But Fallout 4 has manged to live up to expectations, even the bad ones.
I began the game with my long standing Fallout character; Arseface. As I chuckled away to myself that I would yet again bring subtle satire and biting comical genius into the world of Fallout, I was horrified to find that the game had become mindful to my little tricks. My robot butler called me Arseface with little fanfare. The surprise and genuine laughs this brought was something that continued well into the final chapters.
The first thing you notice is that everything feels considerably better than it ever has. No longer does your character sprint around constantly sliding over non existent grease covered surfaces. Animations are slicker and everything has an uncommon level of polish…for a Bethesda game. That last part is important, as you might need to check those expectations of quality at the door. While its true that the bar has been raised further than it ever has been previously from a gameplay standard, the longstanding tradition of Bethesda jankyness remains. Animations break, necks extend like rubber and then snap back suddenly, and sometimes a character would decide corporeal form was for nerds and phase into walls.
Where there is little to complain about is in the shooting. Gone are the days of Fallout 3, where bullets decide ‘nah, I’m not into this’ and fly off into the sky rather than hitting a target. Gunfights are loud, brutal and stupendously fun. Enemies pull off some stylish death animations, particle effects explode around you and after all these years VATs doesn’t feel like its the only way to play the game. VATs is no longer the walking stick that stops Fallout’s shooting from collapsing in a frustrating heap. It now only slows down time, rather than putting the world into an awkward standstill, so your character can still enjoy a few bullets in the chops before choosing a target. The little details make it all come together, such as robotic enemies armour breaking away as you lay on the hurt. Overall, it is a very welcome change to the traditionally wonky fighting.
Power Armour has benefited from some drastic updates too, now acting as sort of a power-up which requires resources to sustain usage. It shields you, hits harder and protects against health nullifying radiation, but only so long as you can power it with fusion cores. Jumping in a custom built killing machine is a dream come true, and splattering drug crazed bandits along the way is simply the icing on this particularity violent cake.
To compliment this, a new weapon crafting system has been introduced, allowing even the worst arms to become tools of untold destruction. This also applies to armour, drugs and the aforementioned battle suit. There is a considerable amount of choice to be had, but locating the resources needed can be a chore. To find what components an item is made of you have no option other than finding it in your inventory, which is time consuming. You can highlight sought after resources in a checklist, but it can still be a slow process.
When you aren’t shooting everyone you see, you are talking. One of the main points of contention from fans was the fact that main character is voiced rather than stuck communicating in short text segments. It may not be to everyone’s liking, but it doesn’t feel too invasive to the world building. However, for players who like to roleplay (you know who you are) it can quickly ruin the fun, as a this is the closest to a pre-set personality the series has ever come to.
The dialogue wheel is certainly a weakness. Its functional, but leaves room for error such as skipping out on information and occasionally, saying the wrong thing to the wrong person as it offers only an abbreviated version of your choice of words.
Defining your vault dweller’s choice of skills is quite different to what may have been expected. While in Fallout 3 and New Vegas you add points to a long list of options that would slowly improve over time, Fallout 4’s perk system takes full control. Perks are chosen each time you level up, with no level barrier. Each has unique effects and range from basic improvements such as accuracy, to the ability to control the mutated wildlife itself. Its easy to miss the wealth of choice and control that was established before, but the new system is fluid and intuitive.
The quests are somewhat of a mixed bag. The majority are wonderfully realized, with excellent writing and voice acting to accompany explosive setpieces. There is a fair few which are less than engrossing and fall into typical open world routines. Go here, kill/collect that and return. These particular examples feel lazy and under utilized, but when crafting a world as expansive as the commonwealth it can be necessary to cut corners. And Bethesda has some sharp scissors.
The world of Fallout 4 is richly detailed, albeit slightly smaller than what may have been expected. Bethesda seems to have chosen quality over quantity which helps immersion greatly. There are very little repeated hallways, caves and ruins, something which has been a problem for past games from the developer. One thing to note is that the environment feels a little less ‘weird’ than before. We didn’t find anything close to the plight of the Antagonist in Fallout 3. Thats not say it it doesn’t get odd; the village of psychotic Mr Handy’s was one of the most enjoyable moments in the long campaign. There are still plenty of surprises, but even so the tone has a somber edge and is focused more on the harshness of the wastes than it’s quirkier aspects.
But where the intentional oddities falter, the unintentional ones shine. Its not overreacting to say that Fallout 4 is fundamentally broken. Textures fail to load, companions throw themselves off cliff faces gleefully and lines of dialogue just vanish into the cold vortex of time, never to be heard again. There are a few laughs, such as hearing an NPC talking on a radio station as he was standing directly behind my character, but it gets old fast. While Bethesda has fixed numerous issues, they can’t seem to stop the Creation Engine from throwing earth rending tantrums.
This carries over to the performance, as in its current state Fallout 4 is a mess. Huge frame drops and hitching are just another fact of life in wasteland, predominately in the various cities. On a fairly beefy machine, boasting a i7 Core processor, 8 GB of ram and an AMD 7970, FPS would routinely drop to sub-30. AMD users beware, Nvidia has got it’s sticky little fingers all over this, so it might best to wait until optimized drivers are released.
The poor performance would be acceptable if the world was particularly pretty, but this is not the case. Textures are low resolution, characters are muddy and the view distance is limited. Lighting quality is high however, with some very impressive godrays during the daytime. Occasionally, when the weather become grim and misty during those long dangerous treks on decaying roads, F4 can be quite breath taking.
One vexing new addition is the inclusion of towns in which you can craft materials, free form structures and defenses. They have some minor micromanagement attached such as food and water requirements, but the effort you must go to to craft these feels disproportionate compared to what they provide in return. There is very little desire to build up fortifications as there seems to be no noticeable rewards for doing so. That is other than the ability to craft an enormous sign with a particularity offensive human appendage shooting flames intimidatingly above your home. Towns grow in size and complexity over time, but as it wasn’t a vital part of the experience it can be easy to ignore this altogether.
Fallout 4 is an example of a game overcoming its numerous glaring issues and presenting something wonderful. The world is captivating, filled to the brim with great characters, places and activities to keep you playing for months. While numerous glitches hamper the experience, its difficult to argue that they outright spoil it. Once you begin investing time, the problems melt away to reveal yet another stellar title from Bethesda, and a truly worthy sequel to the Fallout franchise. Just be careful around deathclaws, those guys are touchy.