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It was near the end of my journey through The Commonwealth, and I was deep underground. My companion and I were fully decked out in power armor stolen from the Brotherhood of Steel, firing gatling lasers at synthetic men who were mindlessly trying to take us down. One of them mutated after I shot him, his health returning as he charged us with a renewed sense of vigor. He was a legendary foe indeed, but nothing could stand in our way for long now that we were fully equipped, and he fell like any other. I went over to check his pockets, to see what awe-inspiring weapon he once wielded, what new power would be added to my arsenal. I pulled out a rolling pin that inflicted more damage to ghouls, no doubt inherited from a former member of Maud’s Muggers. Welcome to a new wasteland, where that old adage is as true as ever. Fallout. Fallout never changes.

Fallout 4 is the long awaited direct follow-up to Bethesda’s Fallout 3, taking advantage of all of the new Skyrim engine tricks to craft a wasteland that looks just as good as The Capital Wasteland felt in the past generation. It is a deep game, concerned with welcoming you into its world and letting you play around rather than focusing on a single narrative. You are the Sole Survivor, a vault dweller from before the bombs fell who finds themselves entering into the strange world of Ghouls, Super Mutants, and Deathclaws that we all know and love. You are on a mission to reclaim the past that will put you in contact with a number of factions, each warring over the technical marvel of synths and whether these robot doppelgangers can truly be gifted with humanity.

Fallout 4 1

Taking a page from New Vegas, each of these factions tie into the main quest in interesting ways, with your ties to one group affecting your standing in the other and guiding you towards one of a handful of endings. It’s certainly not as complicated as Vegas with that game’s multi-tiered reputation system, but it lends the plot a depth that Fallout 3‘s main quest lacked and allows you to define your role in the world in ways that the rest of the game doesn’t deliver on. I spent somewhere just shy of fifty hours with the game for this review, so I can’t say that I’ve seen every piece of side content that the game has to offer, but the unique quest options I had during my playthrough were few and far between. Instead of ten to fifteen well defined side quests with interesting stories to tell, Fallout 4 is littered with procedurally generated side operations that task you with clearing out encampments and killing mobs of enemies. It ensures that you’ll never lack things to do, but whether you’ll actually be interested enough to engage in this busy work depends on how invested you are in the game’s settlement building aspects.

Expanding on the Hearthfire expansion for Skyrim, and the countless building mods for many of Bethesda’s games, Fallout 4 features a robust city management mode that is introduced as a major facet of the game early on and then mostly abandoned by the game’s main missions after two or three brief reminders. If you do choose to engage, you’ll find a fun diversion where you can attract wastelanders to your cities, assign them to farming or defensive roles, and eventually build up an economy that will generate caps and resources for you and your people. The system is completely optional in theory, but loot drops feel tuned to encourage at least keeping upkeep on a few settlements so that you always have resources piling in.

Even if you’re not building settlements left and right, Fallout 4 will grab you with its weapon and armor crafting systems. Another trick taken from New Vegas (although admittedly better implemented here), every weapon you pick up in the wasteland can be taken back home and either stripped for parts or improved upon by strapping on scopes, bayonets, and muzzle breaks. Instead of picking up unique weapons from subway tunnels and caves, the game allows you to devise your own tools of destruction. The armor system is a lesser one, restricted to specific sets of limb armor and a few full body outfits. The vast majority of clothes you pick up from lockers on your travels are unable to be improved upon, which means that most players will stick to their vault suit and a random assortment of non-matching gauntlets and chest pieces that have the best abilities tied to them.

Fallout 4 2

There are a few great unique weapons to find out there, but most of the best loot comes from marked legendary opponents that randomly pop up in enemy groups every so often. Each one is almost guaranteed to have an armor piece or weapon with a unique ability, which sometimes makes just wandering into a pack of super mutants as rewarding as completing a side quest. I ended up with a few great drops, including a flaming shotgun that became one of my mainstays. However, much like the quest system, the procedural nature of the legendary weapons takes away some of the joy of finding a unique gun at the end of a meticulously designed dungeon. Especially when the game decides at two separate occasions that you need a missile launcher that specifically does more damage to Radroaches.

The focus on lovingly pouring over a crafting table with your firearms is well warranted, as Fallout 4‘s moment to moment gameplay is much improved over the previous two entries in the series. Each gun feels great to use, and shots generally go where you aim them instead of relying upon stats and dice rolls. This is balanced with a shrinking emphasis on the VATS system, which just seems less useful now that it doesn’t freeze time and your action points are generally at a premium. This will undoubtedly make the game more accessible to people looking for a story focused FPS game, and might leave some more traditional fans out in the cold, but it is the one place where I feel that the game has improved greatly on its predecessor.

The focus on crafting and improved gunplay both bring a lot to the formula, but these features are the exception that proves the rule in this case. I went back to play a couple of hours of Fallout 3 out of curiosity, and I was shocked at how similar my experiences in The Commonwealth felt to the Capital Wasteland. Their hacking and lockpicking minigames are identical, the same songs play on their radio stations, and the buttons you press for each action might as well be interchangeable. It is natural that there are some similarities in these worlds, as Fallout 3 and 4 take place in close to the same region and only about a decade apart from each other. However, from a real world perspective, Fallout 3 was taking the franchise in a completely new direction, and New Vegas was filled with experimental ideas and grand side stories that the Black Isle developers had been thinking about for years. Fallout 4 has neither of these things, settling in as an iterative game that seems content with its place as the next game you’ll mod for a thousand hours from the people who brought you Skyrim.

Fallout 4 3

This would generally all be pretty reasonable, as not every game that comes out has to innovate to be a success. However, there are also several steps back that Fallout 4 takes, steps that truly make it unable to stand up to what came before. I’ve already mentioned the flood of procedural content replacing at least some of the more unique side missions, but even the missions that do feel meaningful are hampered by the game’s new dialogue wheel. Gone are the menus filled with a dizzying array of responses and checks for specific Perks and abilities. This has been replaced by a wheel that always has four vague options on it, no matter the conversation. Sometimes there are Speech checks, but they are much less numerous than before and generally do little to up the variety. There are precious few conversations where you can spend a good chunk of time exhausting a dialogue tree, and most conversations ended before I was ready to move on. For someone who plays Fallout as a smooth talker with high Charisma like I do, it was a dampening on the entire experience.

There are other minor annoyances as well. Despite being able to see your weapon strapped to your back in every Bethesda RPG since Oblivion, that isn’t the case here, and the Sole Survivor instead pulls plasma rifles out of thin air. Since there is less meaningful side content, the man on the radio has less news stories to tell you about, and the interesting Silver Shroud vignettes are sectioned off on their own radio station instead of being integrated with the music, making both stations get stale more quickly. Stripping these features away hasn’t done anything to fix Bethesda’s specific brand of jank either, and some players will almost certainly run into game breaking bugs and situations where they will have to replay from a checkpoint that was made twenty minutes ago.

There is a lot to like about Fallout 4 , and no other franchise in gaming lets you do the things you can do out in the wasteland. However, by integrating a few systems from New Vegas, improving the gunplay, and calling it a day, Bethesda have created a lesser experience that may disappoint die-hard fans in the long run. The game ends with a generic cutscene depending on which faction you ally with, meaning that it is the first in the franchise to end without the slide show that tells you what each character’s future will bring. The Fallout games have always had a strong attention to detail and player choice, tying small events into a grand narrative that always felt handcrafted. By chipping away at these features, Fallout 4 has lost some of the magic that the franchise once possessed, and no amount of base building and mods can bring that back.

This game was reviewed on Steam with a copy purchased by the reviewer.

More About This Game

8.0
 

Great

Summary

A largely iterative game, Fallout 4 suffers from a limited dialogue system and procedurally generated content, but still excels at creating a world that is fun and rewarding to explore.


Alex Santa Maria

Reviews Editor

TechRaptor's Reviews Editor. Resident fan of pinball, Needlers, roguelikes, and anything with neon lighting. Owns an office chair once used by Billy Mays.



  • Scruffy, the Janitor

    A fair assessment. They watered down quite a bit like they did from Oblivion to Skyrim. I wasn’t too bothered with the dialogue system, but rather the simplicity of the story. New Vegas was a step forward in terms of moral ambiguity and freedom and it’s a shame they didn’t keep this in the writing. The settlement system and Power armor were a good addition, but they sacrificed too much. Overall, you sir hit the nail on the head. Good game, but it’s missing that “Epic” feel FO3 and NV had.

  • Mr. Snrub

    I’m having a good time with it. I would say the one thing I don’t like is the new dialogue system. While I haven’t gotten any major bugs or slowdowns, I do have this annoying glitch with the subtitles where if it’s a large piece of dialogue, it will stay on screen even though they are talking about something else.

  • I don’t think I’ve seen a video of the game that doesn’t have that bug, seems like something so widespread that they will have to fix it. Or mods will.

  • Thank you for the kind words! Always appreciated.

  • Azure

    I really dislike the ‘motivation’ of the story. I cannot just be my own character in this game, just forced into a default concerned parent role-play for the main story. Rather glad it gave me some options at the end of the game, even though it pull another terrible ‘heart-tug’ moment which was completely lost on me and served to further frustrate my experience with the story.

    If you do no side missions and just follow the main mission the game turns out to be very short while throwing in some filler fetch quests to build stuff.

  • Blank Generation

    Jesus this sounds horrible. There’s no procedurally generated anything that’s not terrible.

  • To be fair, if the procedural quests prioritized pointing you to the interesting side stuff more often instead of random settlements and buildings full of raiders, then the system would be fine.

  • BigJGoob

    Pretty much the only thing they managed to actually “improve” is the gunplay, which has gone from ‘pretty bad’ to ‘okay.’ meanwhile, they made everything else worse. I don’t fucking get how this game is getting so many high scores on review sites.

  • Blank Generation

    Not to me. There hasn’t been an interesting or compelling procedurally generated quest in the history of videogames. For something to be good a person has to actually spend time creating it and crafting a narrative, not run a bunch of presets through a random number generator and expect anyone to give a damn about what comes out the other end. If I wanted randomly generated crap I’d get Borderlands which sucks.

  • NorBdelta

    What i dislike most of all about F4 with the ultra-simplified dialogue options, they are not nearly detailed enough to let you make a decision during dialogue. Yes, No, Sarcastic and when you choose one you character does a 3 sentence reply. Seriously, someone is going to mod in the subtitles into the dialogue menus so that you can better make the decision.

  • Zepherdog

    Shilling, I’d say.

  • Anthony

    I’d say this game is at least an 8.5, without my Fallout Fanboying nonsense. I do love the settlement building, but I do believe it doesn’t feel as optional as Todd Howard wanted everyone to believe. I litterally spent 3/4 of my current playtime trying to get Sanctuary how I like it; I still haven’t work on the other settlements either, nor the Minutemen Funtime Castle quest. Still the only complaint I had was the fact that Travis Miles was such a dingus, but once you do his quest in Diamond City he gets tolerable.

  • Le Belge

    New Vegas has better writing because it was not made by Bethesda.

    And if i agree with you about the “sacrified too much” part of your post, i don’t think Bethesda view it that way…their target audience chnged.

  • Alex Santa Maria

    Definitely agree with that. The more I played this game and went back to the others over the course of the review, the more I appreciated New Vegas for giving me the love of the franchise that I have today. My only hope is that Obsidian gets the chance to put out another one.

  • Erik Jørgensen

    Oh wow, a genuinly honest review. Thank you!
    There’s no doubt about long-time fans not being pleased with this game. I played the originals as a teenager (and many times since then) and while New Vegas managed to cater to my love of the series, Fo3 and 4 have been two disctinctly sad experiences.
    At this time, I’ve put 118 hours into the newest installment and enjoyed it, but I’ve enjoyed it the same way I did Skyrim, just pissing around doing nothing in particular, nothing worthwhile. That includes almost all locations, by far most of the quests and two of the endings (I can’t be bothered doing Railroad and Minutemen endings).
    The dialogue is the biggest weakness of this game and I also made a charisma character in order to complete the game through speech. The preset endings make that impossible and while you can persuade a good deal of characters to do what you want, it all feels pointless and small.

    Long gone is the time of deep RPG’s with intelligent content and in its place we have a gimmicky sandbox shooter with endless and pointless looting.

    The worst thing is that there’s a huge audience that simply doesn’t care and are content with what Bethesda feeds them.

  • SevTheBear

    To be honest it sounds like the series has lost some of it’s magic. A good friend of mine has played 45 hours of this game and you would think with that many hours sunk into the game he would like it. Nope he hates it (he had nothing else play).He said it was like playing Fallout 3 again with mods (but the power armor was cool).

    I really hope they come up with a new game engine next time, because this game looks really dated in the graphics department especially after you have seen games like The Witcher 3, MGS5 and Mad Max. But I get it. No other games does what Fallout does.

    Thanks for the review by the way

  • SevTheBear

    You mean they went more causal?