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Game Review: Fallout 4 (Xbox One)

I never experienced the first two Fallout games as my introduction to the series was with Bethesda’s Fallout 3. I thoroughly enjoyed the game, the rich characters, the musical choices, its story, both on disc and its collection of add on content. While I also played Fallout: New Vegas, I just never did get around to completing it. When Fallout 4 was announced, I wasn’t terribly excited, not sure why, but the Fallout bug that infected almost everyone closer and closer to release day just never bit me.

It’s not that Fallout 4 is bad in anyway, it’s just one of those games that takes a while to really get going. It wasn’t until I was about 10-12 hours in that I started to actually enjoy it. Had I followed the main story a bit quicker, my time with Fallout would have been more enjoyable, far sooner. Characters like Cait, Piper, Curie and Nick Valentine are some of the franchises best characters I have seen. You get a dog as well, but all the focus on him during the games initial reveal kind of burned him out on me, that and the dialogue you have between your companions thankfully goes beyond “good boy” and “who’s a good dog?”, although equipping him with the dog armor and the spiked helmet is quite hilarious.

The story in Fallout 4 is a simple one, and most of the time it is well told. As you first enter the vault, you are placed in a cryogenic chamber and frozen. You are partially unthawed just in time to see your child taken from you, and your spouse killed. After an unknown amount of time goes by, you fully awake from being frozen and start on your quest to find out what happened to your son. While at times the story is great, its conclusion in some ways just doesn’t emotionally pay off. The story should be an emotionally exhausting search across the wasteland for your child, but it can get put on the back burner because you need to plant crops at your settlement, help robot pirates in their flying ship, barter with merchants over the purchase of adhesive, or another random event you stumble across. For such a dire situation, Bethesda sure wants you to forget or even delay your purpose.

One major issue I have with this narrative setup is that you have no emotional connection to your killed spouse or your child. I wish there was more content before the bombs fell. Taking time to get to know these major characters would have made the death and kidnapping far more impactful. While the resolution of what happened to your child is made very clear and becomes a major focus much later on, I just really didn’t care about the emotional turmoil my character was going through.

Most of the missions that make up the main story are fun, expansive and enjoyable. The story does move along at a good pace; however; some are a bit lackluster. You will come across a few factions that are essential to the story as you cannot progress and complete the game without devoting yourself to at least one. The Brotherhood is an armor clad group of soldiers committed to wiping out all that isn’t human. The Railroad is a group seeking protection for humanoid creations called Synths. The Minutemen, which I found dreadfully boring are a group of men and women who look to lend a hand and protect those that require help across the wasteland. There is also the Institute, a group that seems focused on continuing humanity through creating synthetic humans.

As I said, you will need to pick a side to complete the game, and while you can join each group and nearly complete all of their quests, eventually bridges will be burned and loyalties will fade away. There is a complex way to beat the game without ruffling any feathers amongst the factions, but it requires some very intricate planning. I completed the game the first time as a member of the Railroad and while I enjoyed my time with them, near the end, I felt conflicted if I was doing the right thing. I’ll eventually see each ending as I have save files all lined up to wrap up the other factions storylines. Aside from a few missions at the very end, I never saw any conflict between my choices picking a faction. I could be doing the Railroad missions one minute and then helping the Brotherhood out the next, and until those missions at the very end, it never seemed to matter who I was helping.

Conversations go the same shallow way as well. The game will provide you with at least 4 options to each response you can make in the game, but eventually it all turns out to either be Yes or No. The conversation system is also a bit cryptic as your responses are labeled as the type of responses and not the direct text your character will vocally give. I’ve had to reload many conversations due to the response being not what I expected it to be. There are a few responses in the game that I tested out the NPC’s reply to my selected response and the answer was the same for all 4 options. Don’t get me wrong, you can have some very different outcomes in the way of what words are said, but the outcomes almost always turn out to be the same with regard to what moves the story forward. For a game that is about choice and customization on how you play, it doesn’t seem to be that way in the end.

The companion system is fun and allows a wide variety of partners to join you on your journey. You can outfit most of the companions with similar armor to what you wear, and equip them with equally menacing weaponry, or just use them as a pack mule. While I love the companions, especially Piper, Curie and Cait, the romance elements to them are usually just a simple “I love you.” and that is it. The only reason you know you are in a relationship is because you are told you are in one. The romance elements in Dragon Age and Mass Effect are far better ways to show off this type of system. It is possible to romance almost every companion that allows it in one playthrough and they will not conflict with each other, unlike say in The Witcher 3, which has a hilarious cutscene if you romance multiple women at once. A full romance entitles you to a perk that has you gain bonus experience after sleeping in a bed with your partner nearby. You also gain an exclusive perk based on which companion you have either romanced, or reached the max capacity of your friendship with.

While the companion system is enjoyable, it seems to have been something added on late in the development of the game. While there are conversations between your companions in regard to their distaste for one another, the Brotherhood of Steel which despise super mutants, will not even acknowledge the presence of Strong, your super mutant companion. You even bring this behemoth right into the heart of the Brotherhood and no one will bat an eye. There will be parts in side quests and the main story, however; where your companion will like or dislike a choice you will make.

Between the quests and the companions, you’ll create optional settlements that allow you to customize the towns around you. These spots are extremely specific in where you plant them and the space given to them. Some are vast and huge like Sanctuary, and then some are so¬†incredibly small that you wonder why they are even an option. I didn’t find the settlements terribly worthwhile and only kept Sanctuary alive. I can see the appeal in this system, but the crude and poorly designed building user interface just hurts the overall experience. Eventually I got the hang of it, but the camera angles and complete lack of a tutorial just gets in the way of the fun. It can take a ridiculous amount of time just to make sure a floor section is even with the cement foundation. I made a bar and a 3 story apartment and that was about it. I’ve seen some of the settlements that people have made in the game and it can get impressive. It’s just not a mode I found I wanted in a Fallout game.

The Settlements you make in the game are constructed from materials you find throughout the wasteland. Cans, gears, springs, wood and a variety of materials can be salvaged from things like desk fans, teddy bears and coffee cups. Each and every item you find on your journey is usable and thankfully doesn’t need to take up inventory space for long as you can dump it in a workbench. This use of junk really made exploring and checking every nook and cranny essential as these materials are also used to upgrade your weapons and armor. After about 60 hours in, I mostly stopped gathering as once you get the best quality armor and weapons in the game, there isn’t much drive to keep collecting all those bits and bops.

Graphically the game is not overly impressive. While some sections of the game can be nice to look at, the game is not jaw dropping in any real way. The vast amount of environments to explore are remarkable, but in some areas I just found too many boarded up houses that I wish I could explore. One small town had over 10 buildings, but most of them were boarded up with the others being copy and pastes of one another. In the future that was supposed to be next gen consoles I just expected more. Character models, regardless of them being your companions or just a generic NPC’s look anywhere from just ok to fairly decent. There is some fantastic detail in the game, but it eventually repeats so often that even new areas you explore feel just far too familiar. There is a nice change of pace later on in the game, but even then each room in that area just feels copied and pasted as well.

The audio in the game is superb, with some of the best voice acting I have heard this year. Your character, as well as the companions you recruit, are incredibly entertaining to talk with, get to know, and hear their back stories. The Silver Shroud radio plays are a joy to listen to, as is the classics radio station. The Silver Shroud mission, while staying mostly in-character, is one of the best voice acted sections in the game. The responses that Hancock makes in regard to you staying in character is hands down the best dialogue in the game.

Where Fallout 3 had one of the best gaming soundtracks in recent memory, Fallout 4 has a few gems worth listening to, but relies on much of the previous games song choices. Atom Bomb Baby is about the only new song that is on par with the quality of what came before it. The classics station has some fantastic music that will make almost any encounter truly epic. Diamond City radio does have a DJ, but sadly he’s nowhere near as good as Galaxy News Radio’s Three Dog from Fallout 3.

Combat in the game is almost identical to that of Fallout 3. While the targeting system called Vats slows down time to plan your shots, the real time shooting is far better here than ever before. Bethesda actually hired people who worked on Destiny to get the shooting right, and it paid off. The combat and weapon choices in the game are sublime. While most of the weapons in the game require modding at the workbenches to make them worthwhile, sometimes you will stumble upon legendary weapons that will remain constantly in your weapon slots. I came across an assault rifle that didn’t require the need to be reloaded and never looked back. The power armor you get in the game is really enjoyable to use, and you’ll find power cores to equip into them fairly often. By the end of my run with the game I had 6 different suits and over 80 power cores, with many more to collect and find in the game. You can also equip your followers in them, but found I needed to repair them quite often doing so.

While the main story quests will keep you busy on finding out what happened to your son, the side quests will keep you equally busy as you will stumble across some of the best told side quests in any open world game. The Cabot house story arc is one of my favorites, and you get a pretty nice reward from completing it a certain way. You’ll come across many vaults in the game that have radically different stories to tell. One of my favorite quests is one that spawns from investigating a haunted house. There just wasn’t enough side quests to complete this time around, given the sheer size of the map. There are fetch quests that pick random locations to gather a random object that repeat almost forever, but in respect to variety, there just isn’t a lot to do.

When you level up in the game you’ll be able to select a perk. Each tier of perk is based on the amount you have leveled up in one each the core stats: Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility and Luck. These perks do anything from increase the money or ammo you find in the game, or how much damage you do. There are a huge amount of perks that will require you to hit well over level 200 to unlock and upgrade all of them.

During my 70+ hours with the game I came across only a few bugs. Either I was locked out of a room for no reason, ran in place as I was stuck in a desk, or whatever the case was, I would simply reload and the bug was gone. I was surprised, being a Bethesda game, which are notorious for their glitches, that I did not come across more. A few glitches like bartering for unlimited caps, or using a garbage can to scale buildings were helpful to either get a stupid pricey gun into my inventory, or access a hard to reach room at the top of a building. I also found that should a lock door not open, I could easily glitch through the wall with said garbage can.

The rich action of Fallout 4’s combat and its wonderful take on its characters make this truly a fantastic game despite its glaring flaws. I wish the game had more of a build up emotionally with how it concludes its narrative as it just doesn’t have that pay off by the time the game ends. If you’ve braved the wasteland before with Fallout 3 and New Vegas, then you know what you are mostly in for. Fallout 4’s action focus may drive off fans of the RPG mechanics from the series past, but for me it struck a nice balance with systems I felt at ease with.

Now if you will excuse me, I have to power up my pip boy and head out on another adventure.. Let’s go Piper, we have exploring to do.

My playthrough was on the Xbox One. The PC version does contain modding that can drastically change the game in both visual and mechanical ways. While some mods will eventually make their way to the consoles, at this time I cannot review or comment on how these can affect the game as these are user based and not created by Bethesda.

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