After years of hope, rumours and speculation, one of gaming’s most requested sequels has gone gold and made its way out to retailers across the globe. Of course, I’m talking about Fallout 4, Bethesda Softworks’ greatly anticipated follow-up to its epic post-apocalyptic RPG, Fallout 3. It was the biggest announcement at this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo, and is undoubtedly one of the three biggest releases of this fall season, if not the biggest.
Taking place after the events of its fantastic predecessor, Fallout 4 tells the story of a nuclear family. It begins in front of a mirror, in a 1950s inspired alternate timeline where robot servants are a normality. There, we meet a sweet and respected family, the head of which happens to be a veteran. Together with his wife and their less than one-year-old son, Shaun, the patriarch has settled into suburbia just outside of Boston, Massachusetts, and is living what looks to be a blessed life.
Things don’t stay that way, though, because shortly after a Vault-Tec salesman comes to the door and tells the family that they’ve been pre-selected for safekeeping in a local vault due to the aforementioned military service, the shit hits the fan. Sirens blare and people start running, all heading towards the same place: Vault 111. Nuclear war has come to Boston, and bombs are about to blow. Our protagonist and their family must run for cover and get into the underground bunker before they turn to smithereens.
Instead of being like the vaults from Fallout 3, Vault 111 is an experiment, wherein each inhabitant is locked into a chamber and frozen in time like Han Solo in carbonite. As such, our unsuspecting protagonist and his (or her, but more about that later) family is shepherded into these chambers and chilled for safekeeping. Their expectation is that they’ll be awakened and reunited in the future when things are safer, but that doesn’t go as planned, forcing our hero to awaken alone without the ones he loves. Thus begins a quest to discover what, exactly, happened to them during his long, 200 year slumber.
I used the term ‘he’ above, but what’s neat about Fallout 4 is that it allows you to play as either the husband or the wife. When it begins with the two getting ready for the day in their quaint, tiled bathroom, you’re given the choice of which character to assume and can also customize them to your preference. There are different faces, races and modifiers to choose from and adjust, and it’s also possible to name your avatar as you see fit. Then, you allot points into your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. skills, deciding whether to be more or less proficient in categories like Strength, Perception, Endurance and Luck.
If you’ve played a Fallout game before, or have been keeping a keen eye on Bethesda’s amazing, black and white S.P.E.C.I.A.L. tutorial cartoons, then you’ll be well aware of how this all works. However, if you’re new to the franchise, then what you need to be aware of is that these skills are the basis for your character. They can be improved as you level up, but the way that you set yourself up at the beginning of the game has a great impact on how you’ll play.
For example, if you like to swing melee weapons like a Major League Baseball player (as I do), then you’ll want to focus on Strength. That’s what I did, while also putting a good amount of points into Endurance, which allows my character to better withstand both radiation and physical violence. That’s just me, though.
The great thing is that player customization has been upped even more, through a new perks system that features ten different options for each S.P.E.C.I.A.L. skill. Then, each one of those can be upgraded quite a few times on top of that, giving you a lot of options to play with in order to get that perfect build. If you happen to put ten points into something from the get-go, you’ll be able to unlock its level ten perk from the start, which is also nice.
However, I found that I preferred some of the earlier perks, like the power-adding Big Leagues Strength perk and a helpful perk that made me less susceptible to damage. We’re all different, though, and each person that plays Fallout 4 will do so differently and will have a unique experience as a result. That’s the beauty of a game like this.
For the most part, the gameplay found in Fallout 4 is very reminiscent to what many of us loved about Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas. It doesn’t really change things up in a revolutionary way, but I don’t think that that was necessary, because if it’s not broken then you don’t need to fix it, and Fallout 3‘s gameplay definitely wasn’t broken.
You wander (or fast travel) through the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ wasteland, exploring dilapidated buildings, rustic shacks, underground bunkers and towns as you progress. And, along the way you’ll meet new characters, take on a plethora of different quests and make an impact on the world around you. Whether you do that as a good guy or a bad guy is up to you, and the dialogue supports that. The same can also be said about how you play, be it wielding a spiked baseball bat, a powerful mechanical gun or a laser rifle.
How much you use the V.A.T.S. slow motion targeting system is also up to you, and how good you are with it will depend on your character’s proficiencies. It’s definitely a helpful asset, though, and is great to call upon during a heated battle. It works much in the same way as it did before, and what’s helpful is that you can build up and deploy a critical hit when you deem fit. A metre fills at the bottom of the screen and does so over time, and once it’s full you can press a button to pull off said extra-powerful attack.
V.A.T.S. is once again able to help turn the tide during a difficult encounter, and I’ve called upon it to do just that. Even on normal difficulty, Fallout 4 isn’t an incredibly easy game, especially if you’re someone who likes to conserve health like myself. I don’t like using health potions, stimpacks or healing water in games unless I absolutely have to, and sometimes I pay the price for that. I have in this one, because I’ve died after coming close to clearing out an office building full of strong ghouls, who seem to be more ferocious and powerful this time around. You’ll get set back to your previous save or auto-save when you perish, and sometimes that’ll set you back more than you’d expect.
Continuing on with the gameplay, it’s important to note that Bethesda’s latest open-world/western RPG has a new crafting system, which allows you to create chemicals, stimpacks and other items, or modify things like weapons and armor. It’s a nice addition that those who love to go in-depth with such things will really appreciate, and is something I plan to use more of in order to get the most out of all of my items.
This mechanic also extends into settlement building, which is new to the franchise and honestly not my cup of tea. Through this system, you can help other survivors (such as the settlers you meet near the beginning of the game) by establishing and protecting a settlement for them to live in. This is done through picking up materials, or by breaking items down into them, and using those to build a multitude of items, be it shacks, floors, walls, beds or what have you.
Shops, turrets and other defences can also be built, and you can go so far as to create electricity with generators and other power conductors. Pre-release materials showed people going in-depth with their creations, but I’m not as talented and kind of wish that I didn’t need to worry about building or protecting settlements. Then again, it’s not like I’ve been forced to spend a lot of time on it.
When you talk to people in the game world, you have the option of being nice to them and agreeing to help, or saying no. You can also be sarcastic if you please. The dialogue tree is varied, although some have complained that it’s been streamlined a bit much, and I don’t have any major complaints. The writing could be better, and isn’t phenomenal overall, but that’s not to say that it’s bad.
It helps, too, that the main character is fully voiced, with each sex having somewhere around 13,000 lines of dialogue if I remember correctly. I’ve never minded silent protagonists in RPGs, but it’s nice to be able to listen to voice acting this time around. The actors also do a pretty good job, but you’d expect that from a game of this ilk.
In creating Fallout 4, Bethesda has built upon one of the greatest games of all-time and released a very impressive and immersive sequel. It's not perfect, or the exact sequel that I was hoping for, but it's a rich and detailed experience that fans of the series will surely appreciate.