Originally published on GameInformer.com November 12, 2015, at 7:00 PM.
Selected for Blog Herding -- The Best Blogs of the Community, 11/19/15.
6,753 views as of June 4, 2018.
Update 6/4/18: Select screenshots from this pictorial appear at bottom.
Nothing goes to waste in the wasteland of Fallout 4, and that is especially true of the time you'll spend in its open world. Bethesda's long-awaited return to the post-apocalyptic nuclear landscape feels both fresh and familiar, at least for the first six or so hours that I'll document here. I'll avoid any important reveals, but you might want to read this later if you don't want any spoilers now.
Among the highlights of my play-through thus far have been experimenting with the character creation tool, sightseeing the cool retro-futuristic aesthetic, comically mishandling combat scenarios, upgrading my character and weapon, encountering the variety of interesting survivors that inhabit Boston and its environs, and housekeeping in my settlement.
As you might be aware, I'm a sucker for character creation tools. Bethesda has some of the best around, especially in its Elder Scrolls series. The feature seems more robust in Fallout 4 compared with its predecessor, but that just might be the upgrade in presentation, including actually seeing your creation in action (I don't recall that being prevalent in the last game).
It did seem to me that there were more options for generic faces and skin tones this time around, offering more opportunity to experiment with ethnicity. From there, individual features can be selected from a range of choices, with variations possible for each one. That said, the preset choices seemed limited, and their variations offered only subtle differences.
For instance, some tools allow you to adjust the height and width of the nose's bridge, length, tip and nostrils. There's relatively less depth here. Still, there is enough range that you can create a custom character that allows a sense of ownership and immersion in the game. Ironically, although I started far afield from the default model, my ultimate creation somewhat resembled it.
Part of the enjoyment of a character creation tool, especially one that allows a gratifying range of customization, is in seeing your model portrayed in the game's real time action and in its cut scenes. The Saints Row and Mass Effect series do this well, and I was pleased with its implementation in Fallout 4. Granted, sometimes the models can appear glossy or lacking texture, however, not enough to distract.
The developer's knack for interactive dialog trees also makes a welcome return, providing another layer of customization to the in-game proceedings. The options, as before, suggest how your character will respond without indicating the exact dialog to follow, and could influence how the rest of the conversation will go. For example, choose sarcasm and enjoy the biting remark to follow (above).
The art design, which resembles a kind of 1950's World's Fair vision of the future filtered through a nuclear winter lens, continues to impress with its marriage of sleek vehicles and equipment, futuristic gadgets and weapons, simple uniforms, post-war era wardrobes and interiors, scavenged outfits, makeshift gear and encampments, and generally inhospitable environment.
What differentiates this version thus far is a more dense and colorful world, whether the forests and waterways of Massachusetts or the colonial towns you visit. This welcome setting contrasts with the consistently sparse and drab world that stood for the post apocalyptic Capital Wasteland of Fallout 3. Granted, that world was convincing, but this is more inviting, if that can be said of a post fallout landscape.
The player's experience in the prologue and, as before, in the vault serve as a kind of training ground where some gameplay elements are introduced. Exploration, basic interaction, scavenging and hacking are all key elements at play. As for hacking, a holdover minigame, learning this skill will reveal story elements in the form of computer files or found audible holodisks.
All of this provides more explanation and context for your actions or the world around you. Of course you can forgo some of this content, especially as story and side missions likely will unfold most of the time organically when you meet other characters. The story setup itself is pretty basic, but the characterizations and dialog create the best foundation for forward momentum besides plain old curiosity.
Enemies also will test your reflexes early on, as a familiar infestation of radioactive roaches ask to be squashed by your fledgling melee skills. The action covers standard combat ground but at least tosses you into the thick of things without too much of a delay. Some have complained about the brief prologue and story setup, and indeed more depth and context would have been appreciated. On the upside, training isn't a grind.
In fact, it doesn't take long before you make the transition to the surface. Despite lacking the emotional impact you might expect (and in that respect no different from Fallout 3), the prologue provides needed contrast to the aftermath of nuclear attack. But most of the heavy lifting in that department is again provided by the impeccable art design, which portrays a believably scarred world.
From scorched earth to stripped or fallen trees, charred vehicles to debris strewn streets, skeletons to miscellaneous artifacts, the designers capture an existence turned upside down in the blink of an eye. It's testament to their considerable accomplishment that when crafting my first settlement (more on that later), I hesitated often when deciding whether to scrap debris for resources, as it takes away from the atmosphere of the game.
Melee combat is introduced early and is a well-crafted and important part of one's strategy for survival in the wasteland. But ranged combat is the star of these games as is exemplified by the return of V.A.T.S. (Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System). As before, this system requires action points to access so should be used judiciously. The advantage is in slowing time and allowing for the most effective target selection.
The elements do not appear to have changed much if at all, but then the system performed fairly well in the prior game. Players can select from among the enemies in their field of vision, and then which specific body parts to target. The higher the percentage on any given part, the more effective the shot will be. Just don't take too long, as your slowed opponent can still get their own shots off.
My character, Killissa, is no Mad Max despite trying to brand her as such. She is dangerous, but unfortunately the threat she presents is more to herself than others. Considering the source of her combat prowess, it's no wonder my hapless skill got her killed when trying to use V.A.T.S. against nearby mongrels (top), not using it when outnumbered by raiders (below), and bringing a gun to a 'nade fight.
I don't know if the game's perks can save me from myself, but they certainly can't hurt, not like serial dying anyway. Leveling up bestows points that can be distributed among S.P.E.C.I.A.L. perks: Strength (melee damage/carrying capacity), Perception (V.A.T.S./lockpicking), Endurance (total health/sprinting), Charisma (persuasion/negotiation), Intelligence (experience points/crafting), Agility (stealth/action points), Luck (critical hits/rare items).
My description is an over-simplification, but the upgrades available do have real (virtual) world benefits. Knowing my weaknesses, I so far have buffed strength and endurance most, with perception and intelligence next. But I don't neglect any and it's usually difficult for me to choose, though scouting the skill tree is invaluable to planning your character's development over time.
The game is not without its glitches, which is unsurprising considering the breadth of content in this open world title. Many relate to presentation and hit detection though others can be more profound (more later). The first I noticed was bloatflies that clung to the air, which made them easy for picking off if so inclined. Another involved a dead mole critter that flailed about when I placed armor on top of him.
In terms of presentation, I know many are criticizing game design in this department. I'm not sure if most complaints are related to the PC version, but I found the PS4 version to be well crafted. Yes, there are some glossy or dull textures here and there, but as someone for whom presentation is important as far as immersion goes, those rare occurrences did not distract from my enjoyment of Fallout 4.
In general, I found the art design inspired, sound excellent (in my gaming chair, headrest speakers showed off ambient noises and directional sounds), textures detailed, lighting realistic, animation smooth (including foliage, water, rain and clouds; too-common static skies are a pet peeve), particle effects dramatic and the color palette subtle and varied.
Of course, presentation means nothing if the gameplay is broken. Thankfully, the experience is solid and fun despite my best efforts to break it. Helping in this regard, in addition to the aforementioned perks, is the game's crafting mechanic, which is among the best. What sets it apart is the ability to break apart items for component parts, including when upgrading weapons, and the depth of upgrade options per weapon or article of clothing.
Crafting becomes all the more integral and enjoyable when combined with the rewarding loot grinding element that offers a wide variety of items from standard sources such as fallen enemies, locked chests and safes. A companion that can effectively double your carrying capacity by storing items for you (as in Bethesda's The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim) adds to the emphasis on building and upgrading your inventory of useful items.
I believe I upgraded my pistol (adding an extension, replacing the sight, reinforcing the grip and improving the receiver) prior to an encounter with a camp of scavengers. All were on patrol, but I managed to pick off all four or five, including an attack dog, from a distance. Lining up head shots and executing nearly flawlessly, which I did, was rare in Fallout 3, when missing shots (especially at range) was common.
It should be noted that enemy AI is decent, if not infallible. Firing shots did raise an alarm among foes, though they soon returned to their normal patrols. Crouched (hidden) is the best approach, as when spotted your opponents will target or rush you and in numbers if near each other. I also had one scavenger earlier who repeatedly lobbed grenades and Molotov cocktails at my higher position.
Firing from the hip at close range actually proved less effective than a ranged attack, but having conventional shooting mechanics as a more viable option in general this time around, alongside the more strategic and exacting V.A.T.S., adds another layer to combat options when facing off against the many foes that attack from a distance. That category even includes creatures like the pesky bloatfly.
Bloatflies in particular are a nuisance as they are prevalent, especially mobile, attack in numbers and spray you with a toxic substance. As with most foes, attacking when near can increase how effective you are, but reduces your response time. For flying critters such as these, V.A.T.S. can help slow them and line up shots. The payoff is in a satisfying, if gross, kill shot (above).
Companions not only help carry items but can find them or alert you to danger. Dogmeat is my first and tried to warn me about a pack of mole creatures but I didn't listen until they were mauling us. I don't know about others, but your dog can be commanded to go, stay, follow or search. And he is fully capable on his own of killing enemies from moles to raiders or scavengers.
In this regard I'm grateful to have a companion on my journey. As in Skyrim, they can assist with practical matters as described above, but the real benefit is sharing the sometimes lonely road with company. And fortunately, they can't die, at least at the hands of enemies. I did accidentally wound Dogmeat when he strayed into my line of fire, so you might be able to kill them (again, as in Skyrim).
Towns are fun to explore. When I rolled into one, I thought it relatively safe as I was supposed to meet folks there. But around the corner I wandered into a raider position, including a foe that surprised me apparently from behind cover in a large pothole. Cue firefight. Likewise buildings can hide enemies around tight corridor corners. Of course, loot also abounds, so exploration can be rewarding -- and tense.
Besides multistory buildings, you can also scout out entrances to subterranean paths such as sewers. In the same town I found a hatch as well as a large hole; I assumed both led to the same area, though I could be wrong (I didn't take the former route). The same caveat applies, however, as I found what appeared to be a Mirelurk corpse, at which point I turned my low level character around.
On a side note, when in tight spaces and using the third person perspective, a common gaming bugaboo surfaces to torment players during combat. Camera position from behind the character can be problematic when the character's back is against a wall or object as the character or environment can then obscure the player's vision. Still, it's not unique to Fallout 4 and can be corrected with the first person perspective.
Everywhere you go you'll encounter colorful characters, some of whom will require your assistance. Bethesda excels at this practice in both its Fallout and Elder Scrolls franchises, so fans will know what to expect though each encounter thus far feels different. That said, the character Preston (above) was responsible for my most significant glitch to date in Fallout 4.
I agreed to follow him and his ragtag group of survivors out of town, but his entire group was confounded by a derelict car in the middle of the street. They went back and forth the length of the car but couldn't go a few steps beyond to get around it. I tried walking ahead to see if they'd follow but no such luck. I decided to take advantage of the impasse by looting a nearby building.
In the seconds that took, Preston had disappeared. He was nowhere to be seen up or down the road or anywhere else. I assumed he must have teleported elsewhere, as can sometimes happen to NPCs, and worried the mission was dead in its tracks as his companions didn't move. But shortly thereafter they got around the car and sprinted ahead as if they'd fallen behind. Of course Preston was found at our destination!
As mentioned earlier, the dialog tree offers various options and is fun to explore the consequences, though truth be told at this early stage there are no obvious repercussions and no major choices that I've come across. On a side note, one other minor glitch occurs when using subtitles (which I always do to avoid missing any dialog): They can get stuck so you'll experience an entire conversation with one subtitle for a participant.
It is indeed worthwhile to speak with every NPC as they might have something worthwhile or funny to say, or even contribute a side mission depending on their predicament. Besides often entertaining, characters benefit from unique models and voices. The character of Mama Murphy (above), for instance, is memorable and her New England accent felt authentic. Too bad it reminded me that most so far seemed to lack a local dialect.
Pleasantly there is an opportunity to try out more advanced armor and weaponry early on, though the scenario in which you find yourself can be harrowing, as befits the premature upgrade. Of course the Power Armor and Gatling gun you can equip are overpowered against relatively minor foes like raiders, but that won't keep you from appreciating how you can shred such opposition.
Killissa had the misfortune of facing a Deathclaw (above) with me at the controls. As you can see, I went through about 90 rounds of ammunition without taking a step back as the creature closed the distance on me. Dogmeat's angry bark (bottom) no doubt was meant for his overconfident master, who was shortly tossed across the street.
As is my practice against overwhelming odds, I ran away. OK, against most odds, I'll run away. At least from the safety of cover I have a fighting chance. In this case I used a second floor perch and the ground floor to fill the Deathclaw with lead. The problem is, he would disappear down the street in order to lure me out. It worked, and I was unceremoniously tossed again.
But before I could be manhandled once more, I was able to watch the beast cut through raiders one by one. The last holdout (above) clearly was in denial, or was an eternal optimist. Well, maybe not eternal.
My spray and pray tactic did succeed eventually. That is, it succeeded in quickly using up my Gatling gun ammo. Thankfully I kept rifles and a shotty in my arsenal so used them to try and hold the Deathclaw at bay. Dogmeat, too, took turns wounding it (top). I did feel bad when he crossed my line of Gatling gun fire, but thankfully he heals fairly quickly. In the end, my Power Armor was worse for wear, but we did outlast it.
So far I've greatly enjoyed adventuring in the wasteland again. The successful formula of Fallout 3 has been revived with a new story, setting and characters, and improved gameplay especially shooting and crafting. Building settlements is a new feature that helps broaden player options for interaction with this iconic game world, and one that I tested for a brief spell.
When at a settlement, where players can craft, concoct and otherwise upgrade items in their inventory, the option to build will be available. This allows players to move objects, destroy objects (into their component parts), or create and place objects such as furniture, equipment, fences, walls, doors, roofs or entire structures. Some, such as beds, even function to improve morale.
I have to say it's addictive to tidy up the space for your new friends, especially when they are quick to use items like chairs (I even see them tending gardens, which likewise can be created). They also set about working on the settlement, including hammering and crafting, though I don't believe there is a practical impact to such endeavors.
The tool kit is accessible and intuitive, though takes some experimentation. For example, moving a structure within the same space can be problematic if you've already placed other items like doors, as they don't automatically move with the structure and can then block its placement. Also, if used to storing items in a toolbox, know that you can't move it, only destroy it, in which case I don't know if the stored items disappear.
That raises another issue, namely, that you can store items in a toolbox or at a workbench, but I don't think these storage options are the same as I believe their inventories vary. I could be mistaken, but that's one matter I'm unclear on. I also confused settlement building with the kind of castle-defense base mode in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and worried about online attack!
I did calm down when I realized my mistake, but another source of angst is whether to break down objects like collapsed homes, derelict cars, burned out beds or other furniture, etc. These all provide a keen sense of atmosphere and their absence detracts from that, but players do score a lot of materials for upgrading other items in their inventory or for building their settlement.
In the end, the settlement option is a nice addition to an already deep game and one that, at least six or so hours in, provides a nice and entertaining addition to the franchise. Even as a stand alone experience, gamers will enjoy the well crafted setting and deep gameplay that offers hours of exploration and action in a memorable open world adventure.
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