Review : Fallout 4

Fallout 4 was one of the most hyped and talked about games of 2015. It doesn’t really get any better than an open world RPG set in a post-apocalyptic, nuclear wasteland. Except maybe when that game has a bad-ass sense of humour, some retro charm and a canine companion.

The reason we’re reviewing it in 2016 is one of the reasons it was so well loved: there is so much content you can spend an eternity playing. The depth of the Commonwealth is almost bottomless; those of you who kept up with our Fallout updates may have noticed the whole Novastream crew has been playing since launch. Unlike those reviews, this one will have spoilers, so look away now if you’ve just emerged from Vault 111 and don’t want to know what’s waiting for you in the Wasteland!

The open world style of the game can be intimidating when you first start. The map is absolutely huge and there’s so much to explore that you find yourself constantly waylaid from where you intended to go. Similarly the combat is unwieldy, as it’s not particularly smooth or easy to manoeuvre and takes a bit of getting used to. Being someone who’s never played the Fallout franchise previously I didn’t understand VATS and didn’t realise how useful it would be until I was almost 20 levels in. It would’ve made a huge difference in those early quests! I distinctly recall looking at the perk chart for the first time and wondering how long it would take to max it out. I can say after around 8 days of game time I have yet to achieve this feat.

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Much of the early game was spent over-encumbered, crawling to storage because I couldn’t bear to leave behind a plunger and doubling back after dumping at a settlement. If there is one piece of advice to take on board it would be to load up on the carry perks as quickly as you can. A huge strength of this game is the ability to get you hooked on hoarding complete and utter junk. Absolutely everything you find is useful in one way or another, and when you think about it, it actually makes sense. In a nuclear wasteland, any junk you find could be used to rebuild and the options to build fantastical creations in your own settlements will keep you hoarding throughout the game.

Fallout 4 also features settlement creation, where you can build almost anything you could imagine. Sky high shacks, elaborate defences, and beautifully arranged farms were just some of the things I spent countless hours trying to perfect, where the only limit (to a certain extent) is your imagination. The creation element of this game is a masterstroke, and creates an almost entirely separate experience. It’s like playing The Sims, before hooking into a suit of Power Armour and mini-nuking an Institute Synth to absolute death. To me, that’s a game that ticks A LOT of boxes.
While journeying, you will come across a wide array of enemies. The Feral Ghouls are uniquely terrifying, especially when they lurch their irradiated, empty skulls at you with great pace. Crafty Raiders and brutish Super Mutants, the more refined, yet equally deadly Gunners and all the other bugs, monsters, and general ne’er-do-wells the Wasteland has to offer. The sheer number of different enemies means that combat is varied and challenging, with the ability to alter gameplay difficulty levels to suit your ability. The harder the difficulty is set, the more likely you are to face legendary enemies and get correspondingly legendary loot. You can also utilise an ability to sneak, and doing so deals greater damage bonuses, adding to the greater depth of combat. There’s also a large variety of weapons and a huge amount of mods to spend more time fiddling with than you’d care to admit to. You really can play this game your own way.
And you’re not going through the Wasteland alone. Over the course of the game you pick up a rabble of companions who can accompany you. Some you can romance, others not so much, but they all have their own charm. While it’s great to have companions follow you around, they maybe lacked the depth and backstory that companions in games like Dragon Age: Inquisition. My experience of getting intimate with all possible companions was fun, don’t get me wrong,, but it felt inauthentic to romance them all at once, something you can’t do in Dragon Age. Additionally, you can’t really shape the attitudes of the characters who accompany you. You can’t educate Danse about his hateful views, or make MacCready a better person. Each of the companions do have their own personalities, strengths, and backstories but I just wanted to feel like our time together changed them even one tiny bit.

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Deacon was my favourite character, and an absolute riot to play with. Seriously, every time he told us to stop, in the middle of a firefight, because he’d gotten a splinter, or decided that me picking up that one plunger too many was the perfect time to throw his unabridged copy of War and Peace at me, I had to pause for a second to compose myself. Preston got annoying fast because there was always a settlement that needed help. Seriously buddy, good in the early game, not so much later on. Curie was delightful, while Hancock was edgy and dangerous (SWOON). There’s a lot to love about the people, or not-people, that you’re able to roam the wasteland with.

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As I found with romancing companions, juggling factions felt inauthentic. Playing off all the factions at once was like taking three dates to a dance: how could they be okay with it if they knew? They were all doing their own things and I felt like I had to go along with it, without any real ability to alter the path they took. While I could climb the ranks of the Brotherhood, free Synths with the Railroad, court the Institute and single-handedly run the Minutemen (I don’t see any of them ever helping out at settlements), I felt insincere. You’re encouraged to keep going with all of them until you are asked to do something reprehensible or they’re in direct conflict. The reality is this would never be possible.

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The factions become integral to the story as you get closer to the end and have to make game-changing choice. Serious spoilers here, but it seemed that for all the talk of the Institute, and for all the hunting for Shaun, getting there was a little anti-climatic. Stop reading for all the spoilers, but I felt the bait-and-switch was perfect, as was the revelation of Father as the architect of it all. Despite this, I never really got the Institute’s side of the story. Father had a vision, the Institute was going to reveal themselves and further humanity. Hell, they even had Gorilla synths. Aside from having created slaves capable of independent thought and life, they didn’t seem to want to help the Wastelanders, or to have anything to do with them. Was their vision to further their synths? Why would you deny them freedom and herald them as the future of humanity? Why now? What did they want with them besides to do their dirty work?

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The Brotherhood of Steel felt the most fully formed of the factions, as they had a more consistent vision and goals. Yet they still struggle with the same unchanging attitudes. Most of their quests were focused on chasing up their lost patrols, engaging with their personalities and rescuing (or not) Paladin Danse. To make the main story better is to provide more ability to shape each faction and those individuals in it, not just be the heavy hitter executing their plans. It would make so much sense if you were able to join with Paladin Danse in taking over the Brotherhood and removing the vile Elder Maxxon (just as long as you could keep his coat. Seriously, that thing was majestic!). A Brotherhood that recognised synths as allies in the fight against the feral ghouls and super mutants would be a much more palatable one. Similarly, why couldn’t I work with the Institute to give Synths their freedom. Surely as Director it could have been my first act? I could have brought together the Railroad and the Institute as a joint force for good, giving synths the ability to be a part of something special or to forget it all and start over. If I can think it, they can make it.

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In the end though, it was the short stories, the fleeting moments, and diverting side quests that Fallout 4 excelled at. There was just so much depth in every building and town you walked through, not just in terms of junky loot, but also enemies, allies, and weird little houses filled with nothing but cat posters. These little stories and funny tidbits couldn’t be spoiled. The fights between the raiders in the Beantown Brewery. The brave Wastelander who decided to civilise the Super Mutants and failed miserably. My favourite was the stolen Deathclaw egg in the Museum of Witchcraft, and the look it’s mother gives you as you return it. These are stories that capture the imagination. All the little positions that people were in when the bombs hit; heads in toilets at a restaurant or holding hands in wheelchairs overlooking the lake. Each have their own story to tell.

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Of course, there was also the twisted histories of each vault. Not just the freezing in Vault 111, but the curing of chem addictions in Vault 95, with the experiment to see what would happen if drugs were found after five years. Or the secret section in Vault 81, full of infected mole rats you have the misfortune of discovering. The depth of the Wasteland is astonishing and these asides to the main story truly make Fallout 4 one of the best releases in this current gaming generation. It’s a shame the main story didn’t quite reach these heights.

There was the odd bug, physics gone crazy and some longer loading times towards the end of the game. Sometimes you’d jump onto a counter to get stuck there, unable to escape without loading your last save. Other times you’d go for a quick dip in the rad filled water and find yourself unable to exit, just floating as you watch the radiation red slowly overwhelm your health bar. Some of the glitches were humorous: twerking raiders, dancing junk, corpses shooting into the air at great force. I even fell off the face of the earth at one stage, crashing down inside Cambridge Police Station (the door I’d just tried to open) and continuing on as if I hadn’t just fallen from heaven. Or would it be hell if I fell down? While occasionally frustrating, for the most part the gameplay and graphics were visually stunning and glitch free. When they occurred, bugs didn’t take away from the overwhelmingly positive feeling this game leaves you with. How could they? They’re so minor in the scope of this epic world.

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You’ll finish the story, but it’s never really done. You can’t leave it behind so easily. Whatever the conclusion to the main story you can jump right back in and keep playing, there’s always something more to capture you. With Fallout 3 included as a download, your time in the Wasteland may never end.
Fallout 4 was without a doubt my favourite game of 2015. It was a huge investment of time and energy, overwhelmingly repaid by the depth of the Wasteland and the characters and stories I found within it.

4.75/5

 

Review by Zahra Emily

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