A Disappointing Return To The Wasteland
In many ways Fallout 4 surpasses its predecessors in the series with its improved gunplay, slick visuals and a host of interesting innovations for the post apocalyptic role playing game series. Unfortunately, for every step forward developers Bethesda have taken with Fallout 4, subsequently they’ve taken two giant steps backward. The game is fundamentally flawed as a role playing experience and lacklustre as a shooter when compared to other games. What’s left is a tonally confused game that’s graphically impressive but also largely disappointing.
The world is beautiful with an impressive day/night cycle
Just like other games in the series, Fallout 4 begins with the process of creating your own character to explore the post apocalyptic wasteland. Gone are the days of silent protagonists in the Fallout universe and this time there’s a fully voiced female or male character with you for the long haul. The story begins before the initial nuclear blasts that destroy America in the alternate vision of 1950s. Here we see the residents of a town scrambling to dive into a nuclear shelter to avoid the blast as an explosion paints the horizon with an ominous mushroom cloud. Once there, you, the residents of the town and your baby son and wife are put into cryogenic freezing. Part way through the process, you awaken to see a mysterious group snatching the baby from the chamber opposite and taking flight. After a brief stint inside the underground vault, the world opens up in true fallout fashion and you’re free to explore and fight in different locations whilst the main mission of finding your son and the men responsible for his kidnapping wait patiently in your quest log.
The main crux of fallout games has always been the freedom to explore off the beaten track and if there’s one thing Fallout 4 excels in, it’s this. There are tons of interesting locations dotted around the map and with improved graphics and a great draw distance, aesthetically Fallout 4 is beautiful. The day/night cycle works well with beautiful sunrises and sunsets painting the sky in interesting and oftentimes gorgeous colours. The familiar ambient and 50s-themed music accompanies you at every turn and it’s during moments of peace and exploration that Fallout really exceeds. If there was any argument against Fallout losing its charm, the visual design is a solid argument against this narrative with every interface, location and character a natural fit in the Fallout universe.
The interfaces still feel like Fallout but the SPECIAL system is largely ineffective
On top of this, some of the new gameplay elements introduced are really interesting although they do feel like pleasant distractions rather than meaningful and revolutionary enhancements to the series. The ability to make your own settlements is certainly a time sink; collecting junk and destroying it in exchange for key structural items to use in settlements finally gives you a reason to collect everything when exploring empty houses. It’s a little disappointing that this doesn’t play a bigger role in the overarching story, considering how much time you could spend doing this, and in its infant stage it certainly feels a little basic but its a welcome addition to the series and fits perfectly with the themes of the game. The customisable weapons, including the ability to add modifications and scopes, also helps alleviate some of the tedium with using the same weapons throughout the game and encourages a more experimental way of playing which helps shake up the gameplay.
For all the innovation, Fallout 4 loses what made it so charming and different in the first place by gutting the series of any redeeming role playing features. In previous games, actions had real consequences and the ability to choose different factions complete with varying branches of conversation that would alter depending on your stats really made the game unique for each player. Fallout 4 obliterates this system in favour of one of the worst dialogue systems in any open world role playing game. Gone are the unique replies and quips and in its place, 3 variations of yes and a no, which ends the conversation until you instigate with that character again and progress the story. What’s worse is the game slyly tries to hide this through its four different choices to make it seem like there’s some control when there isn’t. Effectively this breaks any immersion or feeling you’re in control of the character and also breaks the SPECIAL system (the traits chosen at the start of the game to choose what sort of character you’ll be) It’s a real shame and although it could be argued that with fully voiced protagonists it’s not feasible to have so much dialogue in the game, it still feels inexcusable in a game that promises so much choice.
Settlement building is a nice addition but strictly superficial
Fallout 4 also introduces an awful radiant quest system this year with never-ending side quests and no warning to players. Much like in previous Fallout games, when you walk around the large, open world you have the ability to speak to various people, accepting and completing quests for them in exchange for experience points and bottlecaps (the currency used in-game). Only, some quests never end. These never-ending radiant quests task you with clearing out a location and then heading back for the reward then informing you that the same character has another job for you to do. The vicious cycle never ends and if, like me, you make the mistake of believing these might end and sink 6 or 7 hours or more into hiking across the wasteland completing these quests, you’ll feel cheated and annoyed by the time you realise these have been placed in to artificially extend game time. Once you do realize, the rest of the quests are greeted by an air of cautious scepticism; you’ll be unsure whether the quest you just accepted will move the plot along or end with another loop of meaningless side quests and it really detracts from the enjoyment to be had here.
All the other elements that are the staple of Fallout games return and thankfully are largely untouched, aside from an updated look. Lock-picking, hacking games on computers, the various different collectables and familiar creatures dotted around the wasteland all make Fallout 4 feel like a fully realized game and some of the quests are good although it is slightly disappointing not to see more creature variation beyond the standard monster designs from previous games.
Refined shooting makes it the most enjoyable part of the game
Fallout 4 certainly has a lot of problems and its hard to ignore how bad the role playing elements in the game are. The new mechanics introduced to the series are interesting, albeit largely superficial, and with a little more refinement could be a big part of future games in the franchise. With a stripped down role playing experience and better gunplay, Fallout 4 plays better as an open world shooter than it does an RPG. When you switch off, ignore the average story and horrible dialogue options there’s a lot of fun waiting in the wasteland but it never quite feels like the authentic Fallout experience of old. Fallout 4 feels bland, empty and disappointing which is made worse considering the graphics and gunplay are much improved from previous games. Fallout 4 is not a shooter though, nor is it marketed that way which makes the promise of a rich RPG experience all the more difficult to accept in a game that fails horribly in delivering its promise.