Fallout 4, a game that everyone waited for so long since the release of the previous Fallout franchise installment (Fallout: New Vegas). A lot of rumors that grew about the game, including a leaked script back in 2013 that put the Fallout sphere on fire (I point to the Kotaku article from 2 years ago: http://kotaku.com/leaked-documents-reveal-that-fallout-4-is-real-set-in-1481322956).
Looking back to these leak, it is impressive that most of it was in fact kept in the final release of Fallout 4 including the location (Boston), the introduction (mostly the same narrative was kept), the first NPC encounter through Preston Garvey (that have kept most of the dialogues of the leak) and even the hoax website TheSurvivor2299 was not that far from the final iteration: the main character (Sole Survivor) and the year Fallout 4 is taking place (Year 2287, 10 years after Fallout 3).
Until the official presentation from Bethesda Software, no-one and nothing was a reliable source for rumors. Then Saint Todd Howard brought Fallout 4 to the E3 showcase in June, using a keynote to display what Bethesda had under the cover for Fallout 4. Many of us got their mind blown and started to count off the official launching date (11/10/2015).
It has been over a month, I have been playing for over 100 hours on normal difficulty settings and I think it is time to discuss about it and share my thoughts about it. Note: SPOILERS. I will spoil, a lot. Be warned!
If I have to give a score, I would give it an 85%, with Fallout 2 cultivating a 95%. It is a great game to play, but……
The storyline of Fallout 4 is fairly straightforward and follow the same canon that almost every Fallout games had done: starting from a Vault. The original Fallout was taking place in Vault 13, Fallout 3 vault was Vault 101 and this Fallout is Vault 111.
The game starts first indeed in the Pre-War area, just before the bombs fell on the United States, in Boston, Commonwealth (instead of Massachusetts). Again, Bethesda has done a great job to link the game to real-life geography and the story starts with the Sole Survivor and his wife Nora getting ready for a Veteran’s luncheon. The location of the starting game is taking place in a estate division named “Sanctuary Hills” that does not exist in real, but seems located on the western shore of the Concord River, juxtaposed to the town of Concord, MA. The time is October 22nd 2077, just a few days from Halloween and the first thing the game propose is to customize your face in front of the bathroom mirror and also choose your gender (you can play Nora if you want too). After this introduction, you can walk around the house and enjoy the Pre-War decoration. You quickly got someone knocking at the door and face the Vault-Tec rep telling you are (surprise, surprise) pre-approved for a slot in the nearby Vault. This phase acts the SPECIAL character building with 20 points to attributes to your SPECIAL attributes (all starting at 1).
This is a classical character build in the Fallout universe and previously attribution of these SPECIAL was very crucial as it was crafting your character and have very limited possibility to be altered later in the game (except using a character editor hack, bobbleheads or picking a SPECIAL perk). Once the SPECIAL were attributed, you were set and you were only capable to further craft your character by working on the skills (%) that was dictating how well your character will barter, influence dialog with charisma, repair broken terminals, hack computers using the science skills. In the original Fallouts, books around were giving a serious boost in a particular skill set (like the Big Book of Sciences read will give you +5 in Sciences skills).
Fallout 3 started to break loose the rules and made skills very easy to acquire (you could earn up to 20 points at each level if you have your Intelligence set at 10) and it was fairly easy for anyone to get crafty in almost everything by advanced level (level 50 being the maximum).
Fallout 4 completely revamped the system, throwing the skills in the dustbin and confusing old Fallout players as now everything was driven by perks, with one single perk per level. The SPECIAL is acting now as a ground basis for character build, by increasing the perks in one of them, you open access to skills that have several ranks in them.
Hacking and lock picking have their difficulty level replaced from quantitative to qualitative criteria, now you have “Novice, Advanced, Expert, Master” that are determined by your current overall level, your INTELLIGENCE and PERCEPTION levels as well as the rank of these attributes. Before, I could have been a midget in terms of strength but still be able to get the Pack-Rat attribute to allow me to transport more loot. Now, to unlock the Pack Rat attribute, I need a minimum strength and level to build up.
The SPECIAL had such a profound implication in the game mechanics that you had to sometimes start the game all over because you figured out that your character will not go far with a current profile. In Fallout 4, SPECIAL suddenly felt less special and you can play the game with almost any combination, you just adjust it accordingly every level, once you earn your perk.
Upon the visit of the salesman, you hear on the TV set the debut of the Great War and hear the sirens. Here starts the game frenetically as you run through the neighborhood, seeing the US military troops deployed with Vertibirds and Power Armors deployed. You run for your life, as well as your wife and son, Shaun. You reach on the checkpoint that check you are in the go-to list and allows you to enter the restricted area. This is the first time we experience entering a Vault from a vertical platform. As you stand, you can see the nuclear bomb and mushroom in the far landscape, in the ground zero area that is referred in the game as “the Glowing Sea”, that can be situated around Framingham, Wellesley and Sherborn triangle.
Vaults had always had a sort of social experiments underneath their altruistic mission. Indeed, you quickly learnt that the experiment of this vault is designed to see the effects of hibernation by cryogenic methods. Here we go, put yourself in a freezer, only to be awaken by seeing your loved one killed by a mercenary (that goes through the name of Kelloggs), a scientist and your son kidnapped. You are again put into cryostats for a number of years (60 years if I calculate correctly) to finally wake up in 2287. Here you start with rudimentary weapons (the good ol’ 10mm pistol, the faithful tire iron), your Vault 111 pajama and get your Pip-Boy from a dead Vault-Tec employee. Here you start your journey, 210 years after the bomb, with a dead wife, a missing son, a shattered Commonwealth and Codsworth, the same Mr. Handy that was taking care of the house and still running around vacating to its function (you should read the short story of Ray Bradbury “There Comes The Soft Rain” that was already used in Fallout 3, in a Georgetown house).
As you progress into the game (as Dodsworth recommends you to head to Concord to find any sign of life there), you get to meet your first human encounter in the presence of Preston Garvey, sieged by local raiders in the Museum of Freedom (that maybe referring to the real-life Concord Museum) and get hands on your first powerful weapon: a laser musket. Fallout 4 starts by flipping everything upside down: deathblows and power armors were only found late in the game, you indeed encounter them within the first hour of gaming. What was before a well-deserved prize is now as common as a Nuka-Cola bottle. Making it feel less special.
Yes, the Power Armors are nice, yes you can customize them with various parts. But hell no a Power Armor that requires fusion cores to remain active and that will just break easily as enemies blast on you, that peels off like a banana and will need you to go the armor workbench with all the junk (this I will talk about it later). No thanks!
The blessing and the cursing of Fallout 4 comes from the junk. Remember the junk in Fallout 3 and NV laying around (pens, pencils, cups, wonder glue……) that had little or no importance except gaining some caps from Moira or from Goodspring in your early hours of gaming? Rejoice because now this junk can be used as raw material such as steel, ceramic, concrete, wood….that are indeed essential parts for modding your weapons, your armor and foremost for building up a settlement.
Weapons mod are simply awesome because you can decide how you want to bring your weapon: do you want something more accurate? Or more firepower? Or lighter to transport? The good thing about is the riddance of the weapons condition (that was never an issue in Fallout 1 & 2 but was fairly annoying in Fallout 3 and NV), not even mentioning the legendary weapons that can be customized as well. Right now I have a reliable gauss rifle that peaks 200 points damage (but sparse 2mm EC) and a legendary laser rifle (Righteous Authority) that peaks on a 70 points damage with plenty of fusion cells around. This is where the curse is. As you liberate Preston and his band of broken arms squad from their siege in Concord, they will tell you to head them to Sanctuary Hills to help build a settlement.
Now this is something that can be a blessed curse or a fucking curse: settlements. Settlements brings what every player wanted: be able to build a safe house as we wanted to have it, furnish it and use it as a man’s cave (or a gal’s spot) for storing all your weapons you find in the wasteland and hoarding like nobody. If it was limited to one settlement, that would for me be something awesome. The first settlement in Sanctuary Hill is great because it has this up and fixing feeling, scavenging destroyed houses and scrapping down your neighbors houses and furniture to rebuild some decent habitat for settlers. What I wished though what the ability to use the same material to fix the houses that are still standing up. That would have been awesome to have kind of a rebuild of the neighborhood almost like the Pre-War and efficiently utilize it. You also learn you need to ensure food, water, electricity and defense are up to raise the attractiveness and happiness of your settlers. This is where comes one of the most bizarre aspect of the game: junk fences. Junk fences are basically wooden walls that serve very well as shield against marauders and intruders, forcing them to an only restricted access point in which you can send them to their death if your defense are well designed. However, the game engine is very bad in the alignment of these junk fences. Where walls would just know how to perfectly fit to each others, these junk fences give you a misery to align them, yet with blatant clefts between walls.
The next curse is Preston starting what a lot of people started to make fun with the Preston meme: “a settlement needs your help. Go there and liberate the hostages, or clean the ghouls coming from 5 miles but ignore the settlement that is 300 yards near their site). This fetching kind of quests can be fun at the beginning but becomes very boring when the other factions like the Railroad (go eliminate this Courser, plant this MILA there), the BoS (get me that pre-war tech piece, take this squire to shadow you) or the Institute (go capture this synth) comes in. On top of that asking you to visit the same building that you have been cleaning three-four times to only see raiders or gunners or super-mutants respawned there. Suddenly, it makes Fallout less fallout and just something like “fillout” the emptiness of the storyline.
The storyline is short and concise but I found it great and interesting and deeply inspired by Blade Runner. OMG this was something awesome to see unveiling as you reach Diamond City (that is indeed the main settlement built on Boston Red Sox’s Fenway Park that became Boston Green Diamond’s for the game) and have everyone paranoid of the synths from the Institute (that is the diminutive for the Commonwealth Institute of Technologies or CIT (MIT a la Fallout sauce:)) with even an execution of someone just because he is feared to be a synth in disguise. As you learn that the Institute maybe the one that have kidnapped Shaun, you get introduced to Nick Valentine Detective Agency.
To find Shaun is upon finding Nick and finding Nick brings you to find about Synths and human-robot relationship. I started the game with in mind “I will side by the BoS, wipe the Institute” and ended up wiping the BoS and stand by the Institute.
How my mindset changed? Why I side with the same institute from Dr. Zimmer that was chasing down Harkness in Rivet City in Fallout 3?
You have to encounter Nick (that is an old second generation Synth with the memory of a former detective implanted. A sort of Robocop with a more roman noir and polar atmosphere) and have to do his companion quest on the Winter tape. A very touching moment. You have to encounter Magnolia at the Third Rail bar and be like Blade Runner’s Deckert succumbing on Rachael’s charm. You have to encounter CURIE in Vault 81 (with her lovely French accent) and complete her quest to transfer her AI inside a brain-dead synth. You have to meet Edna at the Diamond City School, you have to meet with Shaun and think that maybe the Institute may not be wrong after all, especially when you are dispatched to take care of Gabrielus.
I also learnt that the BoS, the same that took over by the young Maxson is not the one anymore from Elder Lyons. This is the real assholes from Fallout Universe (remember they would only accept you to enter if you would dare to recover the holotypes from the Glow, an highly irradiated area?). They are impressive, they have Vertibirds and Power Armors galore. But they are jerks and they are here to wipe any competition and use the Commonwealth as their fiefdom like warlords from medieval times.
Although the main storyline is great, the amount of side quests are fairly minuscule if you trim all the fetching quests. This give you time to wander in the Commonwealth and brings the best of Fallout 3 and NV: the openness of NV with the urban areas of Fallout 3 (no more major rubbles blocking access to the main city to allow the machines to handle enough CPU power). It is a pleasure to wander around the post-nuke Boston and see major trademarks of Boston (like the Freedom trail, the USS constitution, Boston Commons……), have yet the most colorful wasteland I ever seeing (away from the concrete gray from D.C. and from the yellowness of the Mojave desert).
yet, this is not efficient to hide the fact Fallout 4 has taken a direction towards a Call of Duty and Sims blend, as dialogues option are very poor, you spend a lot of time in micromanaging your settlement, you spend more time shooting at things than accomplishing quests……That’s for a Fallout fan standpoint, it feels disappointing to see the game becoming like a Milelurk shell, carved out from its meat. This is where I wish Obsidian takes on a spin-off an brings the fun that made New Vegas way better than Fallout 3.