War Never Changes, But Fallout Does
by Gino Fanelli | published Nov. 23rd, 2015
There's a lot to be discussed here, but allow me to start off by saying if you liked Fallout 3 or New Vegas, you'll love Fallout 4.
A more stream-lined ranking system, massively improved graphics and a completely overhauled combat system has fixed more or less all of the main faults in the previous two titles. The map is huge, both by sheer magnitude and by the unbelievable concentration of content. There's always something to do, and with a solid 22 hours put into the game, I feel as if I've hardly scratched the surface of post-apocalyptic Boston. If it's one thing Bethesda does well, it's creating worlds that not only have a lot to explore, but that you want to explore.
That being said, Fallout 4 is a paradoxical game. It's not perfect. In fact, there's a lot wrong with it. The weird bugs that pop up in every Bethesda title are still there. One such instance that comes to mind is, when exploring an abandoned shopping mall, I came across a shipping container. Inside, a brahmin stood, running as if in a field yet just flashing and glitching in and out of existence. So I, being the merciful savior of The Commonwealth, decided to put the poor bastard out of it's misery. The body stuttered a few times, before blasting through the wall of the shipping container and landing 50 feet away. There's weird moments like that pretty much all the time; NPCs spawn out of the ether, bodies contort into bastardized monstrosities and sometimes you'll just get stuck inside the floor. You can define that as part of the charm of Bethesda games, but it can become a nuisance.
The good far outweighs the technical difficulties, however. The new combat system is just fucking awesome. Taking inspiration from Destiny, Fallout 4's gunplay is more than just drastically improved, it's damn near flawless. To be fair, Fallout 3's gunplay was more or less atrocious, making you rely on your VATS system for conflicts, as real-time shooting was worthless. Fallout 4, meanwhile, is reminiscent of Far Cry; perfectly tailored for a first person shooter audience. VATS still exists, and is also tactically improved. Time no longer stops when using the targeting system, but rather slows, to a crawl, making your choice of targeting seem more meaningful, a last ditch resort to try and win a conflict rather than a "press here to win" option.
Meanwhile the actual response enemies have to combat is refreshing. The crippling system was always a part of Fallout titles, but in New Vegas and 3, crippling meant little. An enemy could have both their legs crippled, yet still be running, or at least limping at you. Fallout 4 took notes from Dead Space to make limb targeting much more meaningful. There's some certain ethereal satisfaction to blasting off booth of a ghoul's legs with a shotgun, only to have him continue crawling ravenously at you. Or dismembering a rifle-wielding synth's arm, only to have it bewilderingly try to shoot it with one hand.
Enemies travel in packs, move surprisingly quick and are genuinely terrifying. My first experience with them came when looting a dimly lit abandoned supermarket, when after knocking over a can, the dead bodies on the floor groaned and rose slowly before charging in from all directions. That's what the key to the revamped enemies. Rather than simply existing, waiting for a player to roam into them, enemies seem to exist and act outside of the player. Raiders build settlements and have lives, which glimpses of can be caught through eavesdropping. Ghouls dwell in the shadows before being summoned. Mole rats build up systems of tunnels, bursting out of the ground in colonies at the most inopportune of moments. All of this contributing to a world that is vibrant and truly alive.
Which is to say, there are consequences to your actions. The meaningless karma system from New Vegas is gone, replaced with a system that mimics reality. Rather than telling you when you've done good or bad, your actions can have hidden ramifications that the player can not possibly predict. For example, a mission I took to help find a kidnapped caravaner's daughter led me to reveal a massive conspiracy surround the town of Covenant, thereby making all residents of the city attack me if I go within shooting distance. Which can be frustrating, as you're likely losing opportunities unwittingly throughout the game, but it makes you question your choices. It makes you not just want to indiscriminately kill, but think before you shoot.
Dialogue as well has been given a revamping, with a voiced protagonist and a stream-lined, four choice dialogue system (usually yes, no, sarcastic or tell me more), with some speech check options. Some of the dialogue can be tedious, with your protagonist speaking five words for every Shakespearean essay the NPCs spit out. But in all, it's far more cinematic than New Vegas or Fallout 3. Characters themselves vary from completely forgettable to truly exceptional. Hard-boiled synth-detective Nick Valentine, for example, stands out as a truly exceptionally formed and acted character, while characters like Covenant's Honest Dan is more or less a cookie cutter rough-around-the-edges good guy. But there are a lot of named characters. A real lot. So much so that going off of the "if they're named, they're important" idea, which worked in Fallout 3, is no longer an option. Some have no value, some do. Hell, even some of the unnamed NPCs are important. It's pretty much a crapshoot trying to decide which ones are and which ones aren't.
Which goes for much of the collectibles and environment. Granted, every single object now has meaning, by being able to break down trash into base components that can be used to build settlements, mod weapons and armor and create chems. The thing is, unless you know exactly what you're trying to make it's pretty much impossible to know what you need to be carrying, and trying to cover your bases fully is a surefire way to become outnumbered. Do you need 40 toasters? Probably not, but you could drop 30, realize you need 11 to build what you want, and spend the next 45 minutes trying to find one toaster. While that can seem tedious, the weapon modding is some of the best of possibly any game ever, with so many options that it'd be a real struggle to find two different people playing with the same weapon. Meanwhile, base-building can be fun, but as far as I've gone in the game, I'm still not quite convinced it serves a practical purpose.
Fallout 4 is a massive game, hitting on more notes than its predecessors and creating a vibrant world that begs to be explored. Clear your calendar for your venture into the wasteland.