Spencer Fawcett shares his thoughts on Bethesda Game Studio’s brand new post-apocalyptic first person shooter.
It has been four years since the release of Bethesda Game Studios’ The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and the team in Maryland have been hard at work on the next entry in the Fallout franchise – Fallout 4. Announced at this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, Fallout 4 marks a crucial milestone as the studio’s first current generation game on the Xbox One, PS4 and PC. And while Fallout 4 doesn’t reinvent the wheel for the franchise, there is so much fun to be had traveling through a post-apocalyptic Boston that you won’t even notice.
Fallout 4 starts off with you living the American Dream: lovely (and customizable) significant other, beautiful home with a white picket fence, a baby boy and a robot butler. Your familial duties are interrupted by a man from Vault-Tec, the fictional security and tech company, who says that you and your family have been chosen to live in the Vault nearby. You close the door in the salesman’s face only to hear on your television that nuclear bombs are dropping. You run through the “have nots” in a last minute entry into Vault 111. There you will stay for 200 years until you re-emerge with a quest that is more engaging than any of Bethesda’s previous story outings.
The game’s graphical presentation and style are more colorful this time around, with not as many mud-browns and grays as well as some some holiday (in-game clock) decorations around a town set inside an abandoned Fenway Park. You’ll also come across a bright red rocket affixed to a local gas station and many of Boston’s landmarks as you explore the wasteland. Fallout 4’s graphical strength comes in the detail and interaction with the world. There are many varied Non-Player Characters (NPCs) to interact with. One that sticks out is a Japanese robot that serves noodle bowls. Every time you talk with him, he says the same Japanese phrase - the conversation is transactional only, but there’s subtle satire in a character that only reacts when the player interacts with them and has no backstory or quest to give.
One of the more noticeable changes from previous Bethesda games is the inclusion of voice-over work for their main protagonist (Brian T. Delaney for the male; Courtney Taylor for the female) as you pick four dialogue options that mirror Mass Effect and the more recent The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. While the choices may seem limiting at first, considering the suite of dialogue options in previous Fallout games, it makes sense because the options and conversations will naturally flow towards your desired direction if you choose to go down that path. While the dialogue options and change for voice-over work are for the better, the lip-syncing never hits the mark 100% of the time. It’s good and commendable, but not great.
Fallout 4’s gameplay hasn’t seen drastic improvements but the core Bethesda gameplay that crosses from Fallout to The Elder Scrolls games is fun in its own right. It operates much like Fallout New Vegas, with an aim down the sights with an added sprint function mapped to the left thumbstick and grenades mapped to the right-shoulder button. In previous Fallout games, the rate at which you ran was dependent on factors such as whether or not your weapon was holstered or if you had enough agility points. The sprint in Fallout 4 streamlines the process considerably. Fallout 4 also does away with the weapon degradation system used in previous Fallout games where you would have to repair your favorite weapons with a weapon of the same type. Again, the gameplay in Fallout 4 is much more streamlined and accessible.
Some of the gameplay mechanics never really quite gel with the tone and feel of the world Bethesda put so much effort into crafting. Over the course of the game, you will find yourself with the option to bring recruits with you on your journey. Dogmeat returns as your loyal German Shephard, while there are certain surprise companions that are left for the game to unravel. The problem is that your companions cannot die. Any tension or emotion that could have tethered the player to their favorite companion all but evaporates because they’re essentially walking suitcases that will carry your items if you find yourself over-encumbered. They stay true with their own interesting backstories and motivations for accompanying you but they’re only tools for the player to use.
Weapon crafting a weapon of choice opens up the player’s imagination. I chose a laser Sniper Rifle and a modified pistol with a scope. It’s fun to see your favorite weapon change and evolve as the player does. You can even rename your weapon if you choose to come up with your own wacky personal touch. The base-building mechanic introduced in Fallout 4 is a cute distraction but ultimately just adds more things for the player to do. You are responsible for clearing and establishing settlements and providing the NPCs that live there with food, water and power. If you’re the creative Minecraft mindful player, then you’ll have a ball with the options available.
Radiation plays a much bigger role in Fallout 4 than in previous Fallout games and works within the rules of the world. At certain points, while exploring the world, you will come across barrels of nuclear waste, an irradiated ghoul or rat, or even an acid rain storm - these all add to your radiation level, which takes away your health. Much like Dark Souls II that punishes you for foolishness, Fallout 4 operates under the same logic, though there are plenty of Rad-Aways for players to stockpile. But be careful, because eating food or drinking also adds to your radiation level.
The animation in Fallout 4 has seen the fewest improvements, which in 2015, is generally unacceptable. The player character changes stance if he’s standing at an incline, but the majority of context sensitive animations are largely unchanged. You still open doors without touching them and items that you can pick up, but not add to your inventory, still float in mid-air like you’re some klepto-psychic. It’s troublesome to see that, even with the computing power of current generation consoles, unrealistic animations that suck you right out of this beautifully immersive world can still be prevalent in one of the biggest AAA releases of the year.
Overall, Fallout 4 improves on Bethesda’s tried and true gameplay based on exploration and discovery, while also making necessary gameplay changes. Some niggling details keep it from being truly spectacular but what’s here is fantastic on its own. Welcome home, Wanderer.
Spencer Fawcett is a screenwriter who also does production work for NBC/Universal. He has written for Parade Magazine and ASUs The State Press. Twitter: Whizbang813