We’ve all spent six months with Fallout 4. By now, we have scoured the wastelands of The Commonwealth, collecting scraps and guns and armor galore. We’ve seen the twists in the story, met every companion and hopefully had one hell of a time. With all the DLC finally released, Fallout 4 is more or less finished so it’s a perfect time to reflect.
When asked if Fallout 4 is good, I pause. It’s a tough question to answer. Have I had fun playing the game? Yes, lots of it. Yet, it’s a large game with enough space for good and bad…and plenty of both. There are many ways to judge a video game, so let’s break down Fallout 4 by four of its major components and decide just how impressive Bethesda’s behemoth post-apocalyptic game ended up being. What’s great? What’s good? What’s bad?
Bethesda always writes their games with character, comedy and a sense of exploration and possibility. That’s especially true for Fallout 4, which contains a particularly compelling story. In the opening moments, your newborn son is kidnapped and that causes you to rush into the wastelands looking for him. It’s a great catalyst for a game like this and adds an extra layer of humanity to what is sometimes an incredibly violent and cold experience.
The story isn’t perfect. Factions return, requiring you to eventually pick a side…and consequentially cut your ties with other large groups. It’s a bit constricting and you wish you could just be a lone wolf, belonging to no group and doing your own thing from beginning to end. On the plus side, the game adds The Institute, an organization that creates a race of robots (a.k.a. Synths) straight out a 60s and 70s sci-fi lore. It’s a welcome addition to the Fallout universe and really embraces the genre whole-heartedly. It’s a blast to see the game dive head-first into science fiction.
Back to the major task of the game: your lost son. While searching for your child is naturally a heavy and pressing issue, the game allows you to tackle it at your own pace. So you can start the game by searching for Sean but then just let it fall by the wayside until later. Dozens of hours and missions can go by until you eventually start to look for your son – you know, your only living child – again. That’s the choice of the player, of course, but it’s a bit odd that Bethesda would allow something so vital as searching for your kid to become so casual.
Bethesda games are known to have what we’ll call cute little quirks, also known as frustrating glitches and bugs. It’s hard to release a game this massive without some hiccups and that’s unfortunately no different for Fallout 4. They aren’t game-ending problems and they don’t appear too often but they certainly make themselves known when they emerge.
There are other issues with the gameplay. This is the first Fallout game on a new generation of consoles and many were expecting some major overhauls to the engine. Not so. For the most part, Fallout 4 plays just like Fallout 3 and New Vegas. That’s not a bad thing because those games gave us hundreds of hours of exhilarating content. Yet, one wants something new for this latest generation of the franchise. Sadly, the biggest evolution in gameplay comes with the ability to see items on a corpse or in a box before you press a button to loot. It’s a great feature but not big enough to knock your socks off.
There are mods to weapons and armor but they feel limited and often cumbersome to craft. Settlements, a major selling point of the game, are fun but feel like a side-game. They’re never necessary to the main story and can be ignored completely without a second thought.
Fighting in the game has become much smoother thankfully. As promised, first-person shooting is a lot more natural and accurate. However, most players will want to use the handy V.A.T.S. system because it’s reliable and shooting freehand is still an easy way to waste a whole lot of bullets. This isn’t Bioshock or Doom yet, but it’s much improved from Fallout 3.
We didn’t need a complete overhaul of the gameplay for Fallout 4 but a few more additions would be welcome. There’s nothing in the game that makes you say “Wow, what a brilliant, revelatory idea.” That’s too bad coming from a company that has given us that feeling many times before.
The Open World
Here’s one section where Bethesda nailed it, as they always do. No one makes open-world games like Bethesda. No one. Sure, their graphics and gameplay might not match the heights of, say, The Witcher 3,but when it comes to the sheer depth, life and fun of an open-world map, Bethesda consistently has everyone beat.
Say what you want about Fallout 4, but this feels like a big, real world. The details, the characters, the settings – it all comes together to craft a living, breathing map that begs you to explore every nook and cranny. You can, it’ll take so much time and it’ll all be worth it. You’ll find bandit hideouts, abandoned buildings full of heartbreaking stories of humanity and little signs of life returning to the world after nuclear armageddon.
This is a environment that Bethesda understands and takes great pride in crafting. It’s like a Disneyland ride, you’re constantly looking around at the little lived-in details peppered everywhere, wanting to soak it all in.
Finally, we must judge Fallout 4 on its graphical highs and lows. As some has said before, this isn’t a game that requires fantastic visual power. Yet it’s an important part of modern gaming, so let’s examine it fairly.
The graphics in Fallout 4 aren’t mind-blowing, but they are serviceable. Again, it’s like what I mentioned in the gameplay section before: nothing blew my hair back, and that’s a shame since it’s running on the powerful Playstation 4, Xbox One and, of course, PC. Many were awaiting a Fallout that was light years better than its predecessors. Instead, it looks like Fallout 3 with a bunch of shiny mods slapped on.
It’s awfully pretty to look at when it comes to scenery (those electrical storms! Gorgeous!), but a bit lacking when it comes to character design. Faces feel a bit off, animation is stiff and awkward at times. Honestly, it often pales in comparison to other next gen games. While the landscape is usually stunning, you’ll also stumble upon a pile of rubble that look straight out of the PS3 era — early PS3. When you look close enough, there is much lacking with the graphics of Fallout 4. Again, this isn’t a game people play for the graphics but it sure would have been nice if they wowed us more here.
When it’s all said and done, it’s hard to argue that Fallout 4 isn’t a good time. In fact, it’s a great time. It’s often an engrossing, enveloping, stop-what-you’re-doing-and-play-now experience. It has warts, it has bugs, it has missed potential but it’s still one hell of a way to spend a hundred (or two) hours. It wasn’t the wildly different, wildly inventive next generation masterpiece that many had hoped for, but it’s a worthy addition to the series.
Still, one wonders what Bethesda is making now and if it’ll shake things up more than Fallout 4 has. We’re ready to be blown away again.