In the open-world genre there are two juggernauts that seem to never disappoint when they release new titles, one is Rockstar with their Grand Theft Auto titles and the other is Bethesda with the Elder Scrolls and Fallout series of games. Sure there are many other open-world titles out there, but none come close to the scale, scope and sales numbers of these franchises. Bethesda is back after the stunning success of The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim with the Fallout 4, the latest entry in the beloved post-apocalyptic series. This Fallout is set in the Boston area of Massachusetts and it is a deep, addicting, and terrific entry in the franchise.
Fallout 4 is set in The Commonwealth, which is the greater Boston area and centers around a Vault 111 survivor who wakes up after 200 years to the devastated remains of the world. The game actually starts with a brilliant character creation segment where you get to shape your character’s face and body using a ridiculously detailed molding system. While Bethesda still struggles to create hair that actually looks good their facial morphing system was insane and my first 2+ hours were spent getting my character looking just right. Once that was done you started roaming your home in the year 2077, meeting your Mr. Handy Codsworth and playing with your baby. A Vault-Tec agent stops by and convinces you to opt-in to the Vault program (you are accepted because they state you have previous military experience, which at least explains why you can shoot), good thing because bombs start dropping shortly and you are rushed to the Vault.
In order to not ruin the story at all (although it is probably common knowledge by now) once you wake in the Vault it is 200 years after the world was bathed in nuclear fire and you are determined to find your missing family. The character is a true fish out of water as it embarks on a dangerous journey outside the safety of Vault 111. You are greeted pretty quickly by Codsworth and start exploring nearby regions making alliances, starting settlements and coming closer to finding your family as you dig deeper into a conspiracy surrounding a group called the Institute. The Institute manufactures ‘Synths’ robots that are very similar to Terminators from the movie franchise in that there are robotic grunt varieties and infiltration models that can blend into society with no one the wiser.
Being a Fallout game and a Bethesda one there are literally hundreds of side quests that easily divert you from the main quest and found this to be one of the biggest weaknesses of the title. There is little to no incentive as you play the game to try and find your missing family. The questline is easy to follow from the start but the key moment that sets up the main plotline is quite brief and there are few reminders in the form of story cues to push you on that path. When (or if) you choose to follow the clues and search for your family the segments are really interesting and different from the myriad of other quests available. I absolutely love the wealth of opportunities available to pursue in Fallout 4’s wasteland but would have liked to see more emphasis on the key plot-line, perhaps not forcing it down your throat, but more reminders that your family is important and missing.
Aside from the main plot-line there are dozens of key side missions, hundreds of diversionary missions, as well as untold amounts of content just sitting there without any missions assigned to them. There are the obvious missions to rebuild the Minutemen, a militia force that has fallen from prominence as well as a chance to join the infamous Brotherhood of Steel, but there is so much more if you explore and experience the world.
As I was wondering the greater Boston Airport area, I stumbled upon a robot race track that had Mr. Handy and Assaultron models zipping across the track. Unfortunately, the track was run by raiders and I found myself in a heated battle. Some quick hacking skills at a nearby terminal allowed me to trigger a self-destruct sequence that ended the racing enterprise in a series of devastating explosions. Other diversions are creepy houses setup with all sorts of layers of traps, and periodically there are scenes of teddy bears just getting all romantic. The point is Fallout 4 is a dense, dense world but one that is not overwhelming if you take your time to explore.
One of my biggest gripes with some other open-world titles like Assassin’s Creed is the myriad of collectibles and map points that quickly overwhelm the narrative. In Fallout 4 there are plenty of collectibles like magazines and bobbleheads but locations appear as you meet and talk to people or just frankly discover them. Take a walk between Sanctuary Hills and Diamond City and you will stumble upon Hospitals, Breweries, factories, small housing developments and shanty towns. All of these have their own little story, their own enemies or allies and are all worth investigating. This exploratory approach really helps add a compelling depth to the world of the Commonwealth, too bad as mentioned the main narrative gets lost in the shuffle at times.
From a gameplay perspective Fallout 4 is a much richer experience than Fallout 3 or New Vegas. Gunplay is a lot tighter and more refined, even featuring a simple but effective cover mechanic. The V.A.T.S. system is back with modifications, instead of stopping time it greatly slows it down allowing you to pick a spot to aim your shots. A nice tweak is that critical shots charge over time and you can choose when to unleash it for a devastating final blow. The levelling system has also had a major overhaul, there is a full S(trength) P(erception) E(ndurance) C(harisma) I(ntelligence) A(gility) and L(uck) chart that has a large array of perks assigned to each attribute. You can either increase the base S.P.E.E.C.I.A.L. attribute or one of the perks assigned to it as you gain levels. Some perks have level and attribute requirements so it prevents quick access to the deep perks. Early tip, Mysterious Stranger, Local Leader, and the Scrounger perks are great early ones to pick!
Other big tweaks to the Fallout formula are the ability to setup bases, build them (basically anyway you desire) and customize weapons, armor and even Power Armor. This freedom to build and impact your world is as interesting as it is intimidating, the game introduces the world building mechanics with little to no tutorials and you are quickly left to experiment in order to proceed. With some practice you will learn that all new settlements need basics like a recruitment beacon, beds, food, water and defenses but you will quickly realize that adding supply lines between bases is the key to success.
See your building materials are local to your settlement, unless you establish a supply line to another base then you can share. In order to do this you need settlers and the local leader perk, get this quick and your bases will grow with you. What do settlements give? Hard to say, a well stocked one like Sanctuary Hills for me has a private home, Four power armor chassis, all crafting benches, every type of store and a small army of NPC’s. Frankly it truly feels like home in between missions.
Fallout 4 is all about these nuances, a settlement you build feels like home, a mysterious gallery in Boston is the home of a vigilante killer, hospitals are filled with Super Mutants staking their territory. Every moment and location in Fallout 4 is crafted but then left to evolve and just be part of the world. Unlike most other open world games I truly feel Fallout 4 is my game, I am the one wandering the wasteland stopping or starting conflicts, building my resources and partnerships and sporadically remembering my family is missing. The world is huge, nuanced and bloody and one that cannot fail to hold gamers in its grip as they explore the Commonwealth. Fallout 4 is another truly great game from Bethesda and one that is going to be generating unique stories and experiences for players for years to come.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00YQ2MM2M][amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00ZOFPNTY][amazon template=iframe image&asin=B016EVKLDY]