Fallout 4. What can one say? After years of anticipation, the 2015 sequel to Fallout 3 (2008) and Fallout New Vegas (2010) is found to be bigger and . . . different. It should be different, at least in some ways, of course. Fallout 4 (Bethesda Softworks, Rated M) is a BIG game, as so many new ones are today, but it tries to be too much in this reviewer’s view. How can a video game have too much? Well, Fallout 4 isn’t just any video game. It is one in a series, one in a franchise (Fallout New Vegas technically isn’t part of the franchise, but that makes no difference to player perception or lore) with a certain style and lore.
While there is a lot to be happy about with Fallout 4, the new gargantuan level of building and crafting (together with the related radiant quests) is not integrated well with the actual story of the game. It’s almost as if they’re two different things, two different games held together by thin threads. The story comes off as being really minimal compared to both the other in-game activities and the last two Fallout game stories. The ultra-tragic story sets the mood of the game, and when that mood is betrayed (finds no outlet), the resulting annoyance (anger and dismay, more like) spoils the game. But more on that later. Since this Fallout review would be really (really) long for one blog post, it was divided into two. This first part goes over things that are the same and things that are different in this newest Fallout (the lists here are not exhaustive), with the second part presenting the story, with commentary, and giving a final overall analysis and rating.
Things that are (Basically) the Same
Fallout 4 is a large, open world, post-apocalyptic action role-playing game (RPG), just like its predecessors. (However, as others have pointed out, Fallout 4 is more of a sandbox game than an RPG.) Unlike FO3 and FNV, the urban areas in Fallout 4 are all truly open; this is a vast improvement over FO3 in particular. However, the Boston area is so full of alleys and tight spaces that I find it very difficult to remember where I’ve been. I suppose this is not only challenging but close to real-life, so I’m not sure that it’s worth complaining about.
The basic background story is still the same, of course. Fallout takes place in the future, following a world war that resulted in a nuked-out, radiation-soaked world. Much of the decor and other atmospheric elements are from the optimistic, post-war 1950s. You need to have a good dose of “suspension of disbelief” to enjoy the game, which I don’t think too many people have a problem with. What I mean by this, for example, is that FO4 still has 200+ year old (processed) food in it that is apparently still edible. If nothing else that stuff would be light years beyond stale, but it’s all part of the game’s humor.
It seems like many other physical things would be even more deteriorated, or simply gone, compared to what is depicted in-game, and one wonders if there’d even be enough oxygen to support life considering that there are so few plants. All the mutated creatures in the game are unrealistic, or so it seems; back stories of many of them are what make up much of the game’s lore. Oh, and the aliens. The beauty of the Fallout series is that it dares to be fun and strange without overdoing it.
The game is anti-establishment and generous in humor, as always. ~Spoiler alert!~ Do you recall the “pink slime” controversy? Well, it’s included in Fallout 4. At one of the schools (I’ll let you find which one) you’ll see the “food paste” they started feeding to all students and faculty. You can find out about it through computer terminals and holotapes. Of course it involves a school selling its students out for money and the government experimenting on unwitting participants. In our real world, ground beef can contain 15% “pink slime” and still be labeled “100% ground beef.” So much for teaching our kids and students that honesty and accuracy matters . . . thus, the anti-establishment tenor isn’t just for conspiracy nuts.
One anti-establishment example went too far in FO4, in my view. It involves one of the Vault Tec experiments. These are a staple of the Fallout series, but this particular experiment involved breeding children for their DNA and then disposing of most of them once they turned 18. Vault Tec had done all kinds of abhorrent experiments on persons without their consent, but this one takes the cake. The nudge-nudge wink-wink of anti-establishment humor in the Fallout series is meant to have a serious basis, but when taken too far, it’s off-putting. This is a minor thing, but it’s one more example of the writing in this game that makes it a lesser entry in the franchise, in my view.
You can play in either first or third person, as usual. One reason I play Bethesda games is that they are one of the few developers who give the player the option to play in the much more immersive first person.
It’s violent and gory. Yeah. Apparently gamers all have blood lust, or at least that’s what Bethesda thinks. Unfortunately, there is no setting that enables a player to lessen the blood and gore, even though there’s a perk for increasing it . . . The language is also very much in the gutter. We live in a fallen, sin-filled world. Instead of the series’ well-known phrase, “War. War never changes,” it’d probably be more accurate to say “Sin. Sin never changes.”
Factual history and/or science has always been a neat aspect of the Fallout series and this game is no exception. Since the game takes place in Boston and its environs, the “freedom trail” was included in the game, along with its informational plaques. It is used in conjunction with the humorous USS Constitution quest and “the railroad.” The in-game Railroad saves runaway synthetic humans (synths), analogous to the historical Underground Railroad that assisted runaway slaves in the US, and is one of the four factions. I very much admire this aspect of the game and if you check out the freedom trail link provided, you can read about a great many historic sites that are part of the game.
Socio-Religious aspects. The level of religious reference in the game seems about the same, though there are some minor differences. They’re noted since this site is interested in Christianity in the culture. The two previous Fallout games didn’t include crosses at any churches in-game, even though they were obviously Christian churches; Fallout 4 is no different. Cemeteries have headstones with skulls on them, while small family plots hold wooden crosses.
In Diamond City, the urban base in the game where you have a residence, there’s an “all faiths chapel.” There is no readily visible sign for it, which is odd, but inside people can be seen praying–the traditional Christian way. If you sit on the pew in there, you receive a temporary perk: 5% boost in experience gained for 8 hours. You might happen to stumble across a funeral in the Commonwealth, too, but it’s rare. A surprising thing I noticed once is that the synthetic person Nick, who has the memories of a 21st century detective, sat down in an old church and prayed. Nick and some of the other followers have a high degree of morality.
A very different addition of note is that super mutants have suicide bombers now. Islam is the only socio-religious group that produces and utilizes suicide bombers, so you can think of that the way you want.
Various radio stations and side quest signals are still part of the game. This is a pretty cool aspect of Fallout games. You don’t have to only listen to the standard music and ambient sounds if you don’t want to, and you can follow various distress signals for additional side quests.
It’s modifiable. Bethesda games are fairly unique in that they allow players to modify the game and make additions to it. These mods aren’t official, of course, but coders love this. Mods have always been the realm of the PC version of the game only, but the XBOX One will soon support mods.
Things that are Different (Good and Bad)
I’ve already noted some changes to things that are basically the same, above, and won’t repeat those here.
Building, Crafting, Cooking. The most obvious difference between Fallout 4 and its predecessors is the amount of crafting, cooking, and even building, you can do. You don’t have to craft in the game, as you find lots of items that are already modified, but if you don’t you’re missing out. Weapons and armor (including power armor, and even clothes with the highest level perk) are modifiable, and fighting aids (drugs) and grenades can be manufactured. New to the franchise is the ability to put together buildings and otherwise build up settlements. This is pretty much essential when playing Fallout 4, although it’s possible to play the game through without doing this activity. If you don’t do these “sandbox” things, the game will no doubt be quite short. The building of settlements is to ostensibly build up support and numbers for the Minutemen faction, but I don’t know if it really matters in the end. It also helps you be a good person in the game and build favor with some followers.
There’s no level cap and there are tons of perks with their own levels. The absence of a level cap is new, but the perks are both old and new. In order to obtain all the skills and perks with their various levels, it’s been reported that you’d have to reach level 275. I’m not quite sure this is accurate, since Bobbleheads and magazines give you perk levels, too, but it is an indication of how diverse this game is compared to its predecessors. Followers each give a perk, too, if they learn to respect you.
Many interior spaces are more artistically eerie, both visually and musically. This is a good thing, and my son noticed and loved the music immediately. Most of such scenes involve the use of mannequins, and some are humorous.
Instead of the overall “karma” value found in the previous games, ethics is based on individual followers’ favor and disfavor of certain actions (so, peer pressure seems to be the focus instead of objective morality). The followers then provide, or not, certain perks. I was surprised by this change and don’t care for it. I don’t hate it, but I DO hate how Fallout 4 is like Dragon Age now (made by BioWare). Dragon Age Inquisition (the most recent in that franchise) isn’t that great of a game, but whether it’s great or not, Fallout should maintain its own personality and not all-of-a-sudden mimic another game. There is a small amount of “romance” in the game, as in Dragon Age, and apparently success or failure in this area is dependent on the follower’s disposition toward you (of course) . . . as in Dragon Age. I haven’t played the romance aspect of the game since (1) I’m generally not interested in that, (2) my character is in MOURNING (Bethesda!), and (3) since I’m not playing . . . Dragon Age!
Also akin to Dragon Age is the way dialogue between you and other characters is accomplished, which at least some players find annoying. Instead of a drop-down list of speech choices, as with the earlier games, there is now more of a wheel with generalized choices (always four, whereas in the past it was more or less complicated, depending). That is, now you don’t know for sure what your character is going to say. Generally, I don’t mind because there have been no real surprises. It’s much more well done than in Dragon Age, where a seemingly innocent choice may turn out to be sarcastic and lead to unforeseen consequences.
The conversations are also now voice acted, possibly reducing the immersion and role-playing aspect of Fallout 4. I don’t mind this so much as some players, as I basically identify with the character whether the voice is mine or not. However, Bethesda should’ve included a setting for players to turn their character’s voice off. They included a setting for seeing the conversations via cut-scenes (again, this is Dragon Age vs traditional Fallout), or not, which is nice. So why they didn’t give this choice with the voice acting, I don’t know.
Too many followers. Yeah, I said it. Just because you can make a bigger game doesn’t mean that a laundry list of follower choices is better (particularly when something as important as the story is lacking in content). I have no intention of using them all; they aren’t all interesting enough to make me want to replay the game in order to utilize them, either. I’m one of those people who has a small number of close friends instead of many social friends, and I’ve found myself playing the game that way. I travel with Dogmeat, Codsworth, or Nick Valentine. I intend to utilize MacCready (who was an obnoxious boy in Fallout 3), I just keep forgetting that he exists.
I’ve traveled with Strong, the Super Mutant follower, because I liked traveling with Fawkes in Fallout 3, but Strong is not at all like Fawkes. In fact, he’s really annoying in that he dislikes a number of OK things, including picking non-stealing locks. So, while he was following me I stopped doing those things and I got his perk soon enough, I guess. But with all his disfavor (which, if you know about super mutants, doesn’t even make any sense), he’s not a fun follower. There’s one follower (Cait) from the Combat Zone that is for people who want to play as a bad character, but my son didn’t even want to try her as a follower. I’d much rather have the traditional “karma” back in the game and let the followers simply be enjoyable companions.
Super Mutants are now like green giants of legends and fairy tales. I don’t like this. Super Mutants are not legendary giants, but mutated humans that look a certain way in Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas. The mutants of this game look old and wrinkled, and have legs that are stick-like instead of muscular. I find this to be just weird, a stupid and unnecessary change. The Behemoth mutants even throw rocks now, like you’d imagine giants would, instead of vehicles and other man-made objects.
There are now weather changes, including radiation storms, and the environment has more variety than in past games. There’re the urban areas, swampy areas, underwater exploration (although this seems to be a waste of time), and the completely irradiated (and very challenging) Glowing Sea.
Some player names can be heard in-game. If you choose one of the built-in names in Fallout 4, Codsworth (your personal butler) will use your name instead of “mum ” or “sir.”
Odds & Ends
There are other aspects of the game worth mentioning. There are bugs and glitches–quite a bit more than expected after reading about how Bethesda took more time before the game was released to fix them. One really irritating example is that my character can’t use the captain’s room aboard the USS Constitution. After all the quests related to that ship are over, the captain gives you his room. I’ve talked to him three times about it, and it still hasn’t registered to the game. I can sleep in the bed, but everything in his room and in the ship is still stealing to me, even though there are work benches there, I’ve done everything for them, and I’m even supposed to be a resident there. I’m very surprised this wasn’t fixed with the first update the game had. The facial reconstruction (which includes tattoos) is broken now, too. Both these things are bad bugs that should’ve been fixed by now. (I don’t mind the weirdnesses caused by the engine used for the game. Those things are just funny and kind-of add to the game. I DO mind quest bugs, though.)
A positive thing I wanted to mention, somewhere, is the rendition of the song that is associated with the Fallout series. It plays during the main loading screen. It is really nicely done and I love that song. I love it not only because it’s a great song, but because it is so closely associated with something. It IS Fallout, it is the soul of the series. (Just as the awesome opening song for Fallout 3 sets the tone for that game.) Music is one thing definitely done right in the Fallout series.
Lastly for this section I wanted to mention the second most annoying aspect of the game, the story being the first. In second place comes game-generated radiant quests. There are character generated radiant quests, which are fine, but then there are the ones that pop up, “Such and such settlement is under attack; help defend such and such place.” These happen way too often, so often that they happen while you’re in workshop mode you miss them without even having had the chance to do them. So whatever settlement got hit will have taken damage, perhaps even a named character was killed. I don’t mind at all defending settlements, it’s just that these little quests, like I said, happen waaaay to often.
Continued . . . as mentioned in the introduction, the rest of this article is found in the 2nd part, Fallout 4. Sometimes Bigger Isn’t Better (Story). Thanks for reading!
Additional Reading and References
Vault Dweller’s Survival Guide: Collector’s Edition. Hodgson, David S.J., and Nick von Esmarch. DK/Prima Games (Indianapolis), 2015.
Guy Beats Fallout 4 without Killing Anyone, nearly Breaks the Game [bad language alert]
Lasted updated of edited on January 17, 2016.
A verbal review with my son: