War, War Never Changes
Those words are at the heart and soul of every memory I have of Bethesda's first person Fallout games, I'm not as much of a fan of the series as many folks - I tended to prefer the Elder Scrolls and Skyrim was a firm favourite of mine. Until Fallout 4 that is, the game which made me fall in love with the Wasteland and spend hours combing it for secrets, loot and action.
So here's my review of the game, not of the story or of the side plot, but of the game. Bethesda very kindly supplied this copy of Fallout 4 for the Xbox One and I've been playing it since I got my hands on the game - and if you want a one stop shop answer for the age-old question which often surrounds video games or any media really...
Is it good?
Yes, yes it is. It's worth the money, time and effort you'll invest in the game and it rewards you in ways which other games can only dream of.
Customisation is Key
Right from the start you can see that Fallout has changed, it's got a new character generation and pulls you into the world from the get-go. You can customise your character, choosing from male or female. All of the customisation is real time, no sliders and works via sculpting using the controller to make adjustments and change the various selectable features of the character - it takes a little getting used to but I really like this system.
Then you'll get to answer a few questions, we've all seen the gameplay trailer by now and anyone who's played the game has met Vault Guy at the door. Here you'll set your SPECIAL attributes and choose a name. It's a fantastic touch that Bethesda has recorded over a 1000 of the most popular and comedic names they could think of so your Robot Butler can address properly (or improperly considering some of the names!)
Atom Bomb, Baby
Soon things are going to go from bad to worse, and if you think you can hang around at this point, don't worry - spend too long and the bombs really will drop on your head.
Plot stuff happens and eventually you'll emerge into the Commonwealth Wasteland, out of Vault 111 and see the seemingly endless horizon of possibilities. When you emerge into the Commonwealth Wasteland and step, blinking, into the sun you'll find a different Fallout than those which have come before. A lot has changed in terms of the core gameplay systems such as levelling up, and inventory management.
You have a voice now as the main character and a dialogue wheel, with Sarcasm as an option too, which is just great!
Some items have zero weight, like ammo, so you can hang onto your ammo types and hoard them like Ebeneezer Scrooge without weighing yourself down. Good job really considering that changes in the crafting system (we'll talk about that in a bit) have made every item in the game worth 'something' even if you can't get too many Caps for it. This has the knock-on effect of transforming my gameplay into a Fallout version of Supermarket Sweep, where I need everything off that shelf, even if it's a box of toilet rolls.
Inventory management is pretty easy and intuitive. Your Pip-Boy handles all of the UI functions, and it appears again in real time. Press B to access it and poke around to your heart's content, you can even load holotape games on there and spend some quality time with the likes of Atomic Command (Missile Command) and Red Menace (Donkey Kong) if you so desire.
You're going to spend a lot of the early hours of the game poking around the first Settlement area, your old ruined home of Sanctuary. From the start you can clear it out with your trusty Robot Butler and begin to lay the foundations of a functioning new settlement. I wasn't actually building anything but a neat little place for me to call home, where I could put all my things.
At the core of the new game is the most expansive and detailed crafting system I've encountered in pretty much anything. After accessing the Workshop bench I was able to drop into build mode at any time and from there, all in real time, I was able to construct or scrap a lot of stuff in Sanctuary. Well, after a few hours I'd pretty much reduced the place to a massive amount of stored items (appears in green in the build mode), scrapped stuff (appears in yellow in the build mode) and cleared a massive area of ruined houses, trees and broken furniture.
I had a quest to do, but this was more engrossing. Not as though the quest wasn't engrossing either, but CRAFTING a place to call my own took priority.
Everything you scrap or store ends up in your settlement's Workshop. You can also transfer items and junk directly there at any point by interacting with it and hitting X. Do this regularly as well, otherwise you'll end up over-encumbered in no time at all, even in Power Armour.
I dived right into the build mode though and it just works, it works in real time, things snap together and move around as you manipulate them. You're going to need to be creative if you want to build upwards, since you don't float around like some kind of ninja-ghost in build mode, you can be attacked, you can fall off things and be impeded by solid objects.
An hour or so later and I'd got a passable place to call home, a few beds in there - it would do for now until I got more resources. I tagged a few items for search and set off on the quest.
I'm not going to spoil it, but I got resources, weapons, killed a bunch of things and even ended up with a cool reward which is now stored in my HQ. I had a few new friends too and the game taught me the basics of constructing a working settlement/community - even though I'd done a lot of the prep work without realising it in my quest to build a safe place to stay.
It's not just settlements that can be built (from a huge range of things), but there's also weapon, armour, power armour and other crafting options in the game. You can modify your weapons from a massive array of parts, made yourself from junk and base items, same for the armour you'll wear (which can layer with clothing) and of course the power armour - which requires a fuel source and is pretty awesome - in fact it's my favourite thing so far.
The new Perks system also takes a bit of getting used to, as you level up you'll get points to spend in your SPECIAL and the Perks system. It's all self-explanatory and works really well, with Perks having their own ranks, unlocking new things as you take them. You can't take some Perks until you level your SPECIAL in the correct way, and it's worth noting you'll need to boost CHA to at least a 6 and nab the Local Leader Perk if you want to share resources from your settlement Workshops for building purposes.
Gun Nut if you want to mod firearms and so on. You'll be told what you need in the crafting system, and the Perk chart is easy enough to understand.
Shooty Bang Bang
One thing which always put me off Fallout 3 and New Vegas was the shooting, melee - it didn't feel quite right, there was always something off about it and thankfully in Fallout 4 Bethesda hired on a Destiny dev to help get things sharper. So now it's sharp enough for me and there's even a cover system, just push near an object and wait for your weapon to lower, then when you press the Left Trigger you'll pop out of cover.
Apart from that, aiming and shooting are good. Real time combat is just as fun, tactical and engaging as competitive shooters out there on the market. And for those of you who love VATS slow-mo, its back, with more time to set up your shots and quicker AP recovery. Good news all round really for people like me who do like to take their time and get some sweet critical hits.
I'm not sure (reading various places online) what folks are on about regarding the graphics of this game, they look great to me and they're a cut above both Fallout 3 and New Vegas. The character design is better this time around and the NPCs look pretty decent. Rad Storms look fantastic, the weather, time of day and special effects all look good.
I've encountered minimal graphical problems with the Xbox One version and thankfully no stutter, though I've heard some folks have had something like that happen. It's a good looking version of the Wasteland and ticks all the boxes for me in that regard. I love the music and the radio stations, the voice work is good and I'm amused at some of the dialogue banter between various characters.
I'm probably around 30 or so hours on Fallout 4 now. I've got a bunch of settlements, still haven't touched the main story and I'm as happy as I can be with that. I'm engrossed in making defences and protecting my assets, doing side missions which are pretty interesting and getting more and more loot. Even killed a few Legendary enemies and got some sweet loot from them. I've learnt how Power works in the game and how to light my settlements in the most efficient way possible.
I've got functioning farms, scavengers and supply lines (thanks to CHA 6 and the first rank of Local Leader).
Dogmeat (my trusty dog companion) has dog armour, and I've started construction of a new building in Sanctuary for my recruits. I've not romanced anyone yet and I've explored a fair bit to the South of Concord, a little to the East of Sanctuary and a lot to the West.
I've still got a load to do and I'm far from bored of any of it. Hell, I haven't really used the Fast Travel system all that much either, that's how much fun I'm having exploring.
Top marks Bethesda, this is the best game from you so far.
I'm a Fallout fan at long last!