Fallout 4 - Review

http://invisiblekidreviews.blogspot.de/2015/11/fallout-4-review.html

Bethesda open world RPGs sure enough don't come out all too often, making the release of each and every one of them an event. With such a huge amount of content put into every Elder Scrolls or Fallout game, it's obvious that it takes quite some development time to put everything together.
Fallout 4 is the newest entry in the Fallout franchise. After the hugely successful Fallout 3, that revamped the entire franchise's mechanics under Bethesda's control, it was a huge leap for the franchise and post-apocalyptic games as a whole. Bethesda aims to reattempt said success with Fallout 4. Having been announced in the same year as it got released, there wasn't that much of a timespan to build up huge amounts of hype, yet still Fallout 4 nevertheless caused tremendous anticipation and can rightfully be considered one of the biggest gaming highlights of 2015.
But with expectations so high for this first Bethesda open world RPG of this console generation, does it live up to the legacy of its predecessors?


Story

The plot:
Fallout 4 is set in a post-apocalyptic Boston in the year 2287, 210 years after a devastating nuclear war, in which the player character emerges from an underground bunker known as a Vault. After having witnessed the kidnapping of his son, the player embarks on a quest to find and rescue him.
(source: Wikipedia)



Fallout 4 starts off just before the bombs fall and put the Earth's surface to waste. After a rather short intro, in which you can choose your gender and looks, as well as get introduced to your wife and child, the actual Fallout or apocalypse starts. You are headed to a nearby vault in which you are set to survive the nuclear blast.
Fallout 4's intro is definitely servicable but is definitely not as strong and filled with mystery and fascination as the ones from Fallout 3 and New Vegas. The reason for that is that Fallout 4 throws you right into the wasteland a little too quickly, missing out on giving you enough time to get to know your family well enough to care, find out how life before the apocalypse was or even how life inside the vault is. It all sadly comes off very much as a missed opportunity. However, things get much better once you get outside the vault to explore the wastelands of Boston for yourself.
Fallout 4's storyline architecture very much resembles the one of its predecessor New Vegas. Instead of finding out who left you for dead, now you are tasked to find out who kidnapped your son while you were locked away in the vault. The quest to find your son is quite a good premise and gives the player an effective main drive to keep pushing through the world. Yet, much like in New Vegas, different factions with vastly different views on how the world should work slowly reveal themselves to you throughout the story, giving plenty of choices on whom to follow and help.

The end is only the beginning.

While the doing quests and helping different factions in Fallout 4 is just as inriguing as ever, Fallout 4's main premise and quest to find your son really suffers from it and quickly devolves into an afterthought. On top of that, many supposedly big twists, important revelations and especially the multiple endings in the main story feel very abrupt and fairly unimpressive.
With that said, both from a mission design- and story related perspective, Fallout 4 comes off as not a bad story but just a fairly basic one. It would be wrong to say that Fallout 4's main quests don't have their strong and epic moments, yet those are few and far between and most notably pale in comparison to the much stronger main storylines of both Fallout 3 and New Vegas.
Still, Fallout 4 has great stories to tell and quests to pursue, yet the player won't find those in the main story rather than the side-missions and occasional unexpected happenings and characters he meets throughout his journey. These side-quests are where the true fascination and fun in Fallout 4 lies - the unexpected.
Most of the time, side-quests are hands down the strongest aspects about Fallout 4, and definitely the aspects of the game that will stick with you the most. Whether it's investigating a patrol group of guards that have gone missing or trying to get an old family relic back to its rightful owner, there oftentimes is more behind simpler sounding quests than one would assume at first glance, making many side-quests fun and sometimes quite deep tales of their own.
Even when Fallout 4's main story comes off as a solid albeit not extraordinary one, wandering off into the unknown territories of Fallout 4's open world and simply exploring everything for yourself is just as fun as ever.
To amp this fun up even further, it is highly recommended that you take one of the 13 companions in the game with you, who will provide insightful and amusing commentary to your actions and tell their own respective stories as you travel with them.

The side quests are where the real obscurity and memorable tales are at.


Gameplay
 


Open World - "A Varied Composition of Despair and Colors"

After the wastelands of the capital city Washington and the Mojawe desert around New Vegas, Fallout 4 has you explore the wastlands of Boston and its surroundings.
And while it certainly comes down to a question of taste, it can easily be said that Boston marks the most colorful, detailed and varied open world in the Fallout franchise yet, with landscapes ranging from Boston city itself, to fields of grass, huge scorched radioactive craters, swamps and even beaches.
Most importantly, the entire world in Fallout 4 feels much more lively and colorful thanks in large to the changing weather conditions, blue skies, more varied wildlife and more accessible buildings.
Boston itself is also very faithfully recreated with crumbling landmarks and sights in Boston serving as fascinating yet also sad reminders of a time passed long ago.
Nevertheless Boston is way not as desolate as it might seem. Streets are filled with raiders, super mutants, ghouls and other creatures that will always keep you busy when exploring as you oftentimes encounter whole gangs and outposts of them.
What further awards aimless exploration in Fallout 4 is not only the numerous variety of loot and other objects to obtain while scavenging, but also the introduction of Legendary Enemies - randomly appearing enemies that are harder to take down. Each legendary enemy drops a unique piece of gear, making it worth the effort required to kill them. It's a great addition that adds a new factor of unpredictability to encounters and gives you a great motivation to hunt down those mini-bosses in enemy gangs.    

Welcome to Boston! The most colorful and varied Fallout location yet.


Combat Mechanics - "Now We're Talking"

Combat or the gunplay in Fallout 4 has received a much needed overhaul for the better.
Ever since Fallout 3, shooting felt incredibly clunky and borderlined on being almost completely useless without the VATS system in the game.
This however now has greatly changed in Fallout 4. Now, shooting without the VATS system actually feels just as smooth and reliable as in any other FPS shooter. Each gun can now be reliably used without the VATS system by either shooting from the hip or specifically aiming down the sights and actually hitting your enemies. Also, each gun feels unique and different with each of them having a specific kick to it. Sure enough, the gunplay still doesn't necessarily play in the same league of games that completely revolve around FPS shooting, yet finally the mechanics in the game make shootouts actually feel like real firefights.
Not only does that make Fallout 4 much more fun to play, but it also balances out the VATS targeting system very well, avoiding that you rely on it too much as it was the case in the previous Fallouts. Both aiming with or without VATS are now equally good options during battles - options that are further held up by the fact that weapons can no longer degrade after frequent use.

"Wow! I actually hit what I aimed at?!"

With that said, being able to pinpoint specific bodyparts with the VATS system is still incredibly useful, even now when you will probably find yourself shooting guns more often without its help. Aiming at a suicide bombers arm to shoot it off to let him drop the carried bomb to explode in the middle of the gang, is only one of the many ways for why VATS remains inexpandable in some situations.
What further gives VATS and fights a much needed edge however, is the new change that time doesn't completely freeze when you are using VATS. Using VATS now only slows down time and has you still be at fatal danger since enemies keep attacking you as you aim at them. This is a very clever and good choice that makes battles much more intense and avoids the player feeling too safe and relying too much on VATS mode, as it was the case in Fallout 3 and New Vegas.
The enhancements in Fallout 4's combat mechanics are probably the most efficient changes made to the Fallout formula. This is additionally enhanced by the fact that Fallout 4 seems to throw much more enemies at you at once. Gangs and outposts appear to be much more crowded and deadlier this time around, yet which isn't too bad since the new gunplay mechanics provide you with fair chances to stand your ground.

You are no longer safe during VATS mode.


Weapon and Armor Customization - "To Each His Own"

Adding another layer to Fallout 4's vast amount of customization options, is the ability to customize your weapons and armor to your liking. This has been a huge request for many years by fans of the franchise and it finally has been pulled off in a very satisfying way.
Every single gun in Fallout 4 can be tweaked and changed up with various weapon modifications to boost the weapon's specific performances. Whether you are prefering a scope on your revolver, a laser on your rifle, or something else, the possible combinations offered in the game are truely tremendously huge, which is the same case for the game's armor customization.
The kicker about the modifications however is that you can only build them if you have the required perk and materials for it. What at first might sound like a tedious bummer is actually a quite smart design decision to make random items and other junk useful, giving them a purpose other than just being sellable stuff. Materials are therefore gathered by collecting various items littered throughout the world and scraping or deconstructing them to use their materials for either weapon and armor customization or building things for your settlements (more on that later).

The possibilities are seemingly endless.

Regarding armor, the iconic Power Armor, which of course also makes a more prominent appearance in Fallout 4, is now used quite a bit more differently than before. Now, the Power Armor acts more like a temporary vehicle that runs on fusion cells. While it's of course great that the Power Armor can now also be modified to a high degree in a lot of ways, it is a bit of a letdown that it is not possible to wear this iconic piece of gear throughout the entire game after having acquired it. Thus, as you run out of fusion cells, you are forced to leave your Power Armor behind and keep going without it. Sure enough, this decision was probably made to avoid making players feel overpowered in the game. Yet always having to leave behind the Power Armor you worked so hard on whenever your fusion cell runs out, feels weird and puts a limit to your fun with it (even though it is always marked where you left off your Power Armor on the map).

The Power Armor indeed feels much more like a vehicle now than an armor.


Perk System - "Don't Fix What Ain't Broken"

What will undoubtedly be received as a very polarizing change in the franchise's mechanics is the new perk system in Fallout 4.
Now that skills and the karma system are completely gone, the game instead relies on what is called the perk system. Unique perks or abilities with various levels of intensity, are now tied to specific columns like strength, agilty, intelligence, etc. Thus, aside from often requiring a specific level of your overall character, a specific perk can only be selected or upgraded to if your character has a high enough status on the specific column the perk is located under. Though in general this system works, it feels very streamlined and robbing off your freedom you had in previous Fallout games, where you could simply upgrade the skills you make the most use out of and simply pick the perk you want.
Even though the perks available in Fallout 4 are plenty and varied enough to oftentimes make it hard to come to a decision, it can become very frustrating when you spot a perk you want that is located at the absolute bottom of a column you didn't invest too many points in. So that you are then forced to tediously unlock each layer of the column until you unlock your perk so that you can select it.
The system is hard to describe via text and has to be experienced in order to make out whether one hates or loves it, yet it undeniably is an unnecessarily annoying step back from the previous customization freedom in Fallout 3 and New Vegas.
Most probably the perk system was implemented to (once again) avoid having players pick specific perks right away and overpower their character. Yet, seeing how this was never an issue in the previous Fallouts, one might wonder why Bethesda felt the need to change what ain't broken.

Talk about overcomplicating things.


Dialog System. - "The Bioware Effect"

But Fallout 4 is more than just running and gunning.
Throughout your experience in the wasteland, there's also a lot of talking to be done. And how you interact with other characters has substantially changed from previous Fallouts.
The most obvious change is that your character actually has a voice. And what at first might come off to some as a distracting design decision that might destroy one's immersion into the game, is actually quite well implemented and well acted throughout both for female and male characters. Emotions, humor and anger are well acted and fit the character to become relatable.
What is the real distraction that pulls you out of the game, is the very misguided and lackluster new dialog system. Working almost identically like Bioware's dialog system from the Mass Effect games, instead of a box with a variety of choices, players are now limited to four options at a time. Once a decision is made, you are only occasionally allowed to go back and get more information about the other topics that were displayed. Very obviously, this is yet another decision to streamline the entire experience and make it more newcomer friendly. Though it can be admitted that Fallout 4's new dialog system feels more natural, it simultaneously feels like the RPG elements in the game got further watered down with it. Considering how much effort went into creating the world of Fallout, the new dialog system comes off as quite limiting, preventing the player from digging deeper into the world and its lore, in favor of deciding between redundantly simple "good or bad" responses and having quicker conversations.

Dumbing the dialog system down is a crime towards Fallout's deep lore.

Occasionally even more frustrating is the way the game phrases the dialog options.
Most options during a dialog are just a word or two and no complete sentences. Oftentimes this can lead to moments when the player isn't completely sure what his character is about to say. The best example for this is the option during dialogs to use "sarcasm" - that's all it says. This can be very misleading and can often lead to situations in which you want to make a joking response to another character, when suddenly your character flatout insults them.
Overall, the dialog system gets the job done but feels very bothersome and unreliable in many ways. Luckily enough Fallout 4 is still filled with more than enough characters that have very interesting things to say and stories to tell, who kind of make up for the limited dialog options.

When your character unintentionally turns from hero to jerk in a heartbeat.


Settlements - "Autodidactic Town Building Simulator "

Gathered resources and materials are not only there to customize your weapons and armor though. As one of the biggest additions to the Fallout series, Fallout 4 introduces settlements.
Settlements inhabited by assigned characters give players the freedom to decorate and build structures like houses from scratch as long as they have the required materials to support it. Being able to actually build your own house, garden, defense system, stores, and other things inside your settlement is a very nice addition to the game that provides a great deal of ownership to the player. Players can really run wild with their fantasy and creations, going so far as to building structures with multiple flats and neon light signs.
Thankfully though the settlement mechanic can largely be ignored by players who aren't interested in it, with no penalties being involved when doing so.

Home Sweet Home.

The big downside, and probably one of the biggest reasons why many players will ultimately avoid focussing on settlements, is Falllout 4's tendency to not explain in any way how settlement building actually works. While the game overall tends to simply not give enough tutorials to many crucial aspects of the game (making it possibly not that newcomer friendly as intended), the settlement mechanic is the perfect example for that. Without any clear introduction to how it all functions, the player is forced to find out all the workings in the settlement editor for himself, immediately breaking the flow of the game and making players feel put off by it.
On top of that, the settlement editor doesn't always work the way you want it, making simple things like two fences not correctly snapping together for some reason really frustrating.
The settlements feature still remains a nice addition to the game but feels unfortunately somewhat rushed and tacked on, which becomes most apparent through its lack of clear tutorials. However, players willing to invest a lot of time and effort into finding out how it all works can truely build some amazing things with it - but those players need a lot of patience. 

Why does building a simple fence have to be so hard!? Snap together already!


Graphics
 

Fallout 4's graphics have been a huge topic of controversy ever since its first trailer got released. And even though graphics are never as important as a game's essential gameplay, it's still fair to say that Fallout 4 is a fine looking game, but also one that clearly doesn't utilize the full capabilities of this generation's consoles.
With environments being much more detailed, character models improved and textures enhanced, Fallout 4 is a big step up from its predecessors but nevertheless underwhelming when it comes to its overall look and technical polish when compared to other large open world RPGs as for example The Witcher 3.
Even despite the fact that the most severe issues present in previous Fallouts, like heavy stuttering, game freezes and corrupt save files, have all seemingly been resolved, there still are some technical difficulties that players will undoubtedly come across: some occasional framerate drops (if only for a couple seconds), some unnatural looking animations, some not matching lip-syncing and inconsistent character model quality are the most obvious downsides of the game's look.
Yet, once again, these can all rather be considered nitpicks that only become apparent at close examination. But given the fact that we already saw what graphical extravaganza games like The Witcher 3 are capable off, Fallout 4 is a fun game to play that just looks like it's a few steps behind what's considered a standard in big league action RPG titles nowadays.


Sound
 

Soundwise, Fallout 4 delivers just as well as its predecessors before it, with an awesome score that always changes seemlessly to fit the mood and location, as well as great voice acting performances throughout and consistently great sound design from monster growls to gun sounds. 
There's aboslutely no downside here, except for maybe a little more variety when it comes to the songs played on the radio. Yet even that is nothing that harms the overall sound expertise in this game.

Who needs cutting edge graphics anyway? Let's go exploring!


The Verdict

Just like any big action RPG that Bethesda releases, Fallout 4 offers a tremendous amount of content and "bang for your buck". Filled to the brim with a variety of quests, characters to meet, locations to explore and loot, Fallout 4 is another Bethesda game that will immerse you in its world, making you lose hours upon hours to it. 
A big overhaul of the gunplay mechanics as well as the addition of weapon- and armor customization mark the most welcome new addition to Fallout 4's updated core mechanics. 
Yet not everything that Fallout 4 offers is on par with its predecessors or necessarily a good design decision. Aside from a servicable but rather unmemorable main story, especially for old-school Fallout fans, the new streamlined perk system that abandons skills and karma, as well as the ill-advised and limiting new dialog system, come off as big missteps for the franchise. It was clearly aimed to give the game a quicker flow and appeal more to non-RPG gamers, but those redesigns sadly end up feeling more like unneeded limitations rather than improvements.
One of the more interesting additions to the game, the settlement editor, comes off as a great idea with a sadly very lucklaster execution. The main reason for that, is that it's a complex feature that ends up being very poorly explained. What could've been a potentially very fun mechanic for every player to enjoy just becomes unnecessarily long to get into through a lack of a good enough presentation or tutorials.

There is no denying that the sheer effort alone that went into creating the huge and vivid world of Fallout 4 alone makes it a great game. With just so much to explore, see, do and find out, Fallout 4 is easily worth devoting lots of your time to as you will have an equal amount of fun playing it. 
However, Fallout 4 will definitely come off as more impressive towards newcomers rather than longtime Fallout fans, who rightfully might feel a bit underwhelmed by the small number of effective innovations and the watered down RPG elements in the game - especially compared to the previous Fallouts.
But even considering that, thanks in large to its rich world and loads of content, Fallout 4 overcomes most of its flaws and still is a great and very fun game worthy of losing yourself in, even when it's not the new highpoint for the franchise that some expected.
          
   

 Final Verdict: 8 out of 10 

Status: Great




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