Bethesda have always made games that have two things – massive worlds to explore, filled with interesting characters, vibrant settlements and creepy dungeons, and bugs. Fallout 4 is no different in those regards, as the Commonwealth is a wonderful wasteland to explore and, along with the excellent places to explore, the game is crammed full of weird little bugs too.
Like many others, I couldn’t wait for this game to release. I had built up in my head what Fallout 4 was going to be, without reading too many press releases or articles about it to prevent any spoilers, but I think the image in my head was a balanced one, something definitely achievable for the titans of the genre. In most ways, Bethesda definitely delivered on the hype surrounding the game, and given the amount of attention everyone was giving it, they really had to.
There is plenty in the game that they can be proud of, and it’s difficult to really think of a place to start. I suppose it’s probably best to start with one of the many new additions to the game – the building of your own settlements. Initially, I’ll admit, I thought this was going to be a major ballache. I didn’t think I’d enjoy wandering around a small area trying to satisfy a bunch of no-name settlers, especially with not much in return, but I was wrong. As soon as I was able to start building things, I found myself scrapping everything in sight, and scavenging all the junk I could find, just so I could build more turrets and beds. Even though at the start I was building things just for me, I quickly ploughed through every Minutemen quest I could get my hands on just so I could build new settlements and reduce the population of raiders and super mutants. There’s a phenomenal amount of ways to build the perfect settlement, and even though I’ve probably built a dozen different villages in my image, I’m still unhappy with how they look. As new settlers waltz into the place, new things need to be built to accommodate them, even if it means trashing what was once a perfect settlement just to add a new room onto the six-storey trash mansion you built. It’s addictive, it’s fun, and more often than not, you’ll leave feeling satisfied.
What impressed me, possibly more than the settlements, is the way ghouls are now – not the rational ones, but the feral ones. Bethesda seem to have put a lot of effort into scaring the bollocks off people with the way ferals are now, because they’re unlike anything that they’ve thrown at us before. While some of them are quite easy to spot, standing up and wandering around like a doddering old man, some of them like to play possum, or even crawling through windows and vents, which, even sixty hours in, has me on edge. They move like you would expect the living dead to move, unaware of their surroundings other than the fact you’re there and they need to slaughter you. It’s a lot creepier than I’ve ever found a Bethesda game, especially in certain locations where things really start to increase the level of spookiness.
They’ve also vastly improved the weapon modifications as well, which is definitely a positive all around for me. I never really got too into the weapon modding in New Vegas, yet whenever I’m in Sanctuary, I always seem to be heading over to the various crafting stations to see how I can improve my weapons or armour, or even see if I can make some crazy concoctions at the chemistry station. It added another facet to the game that again, I never really thought I’d make much use out of. Being able to smack any modification on any weapon is a level of freedom that I certainly appreciate and, although my weapons are looking pretty ridiculous now, I can’t argue with the amount of mayhem I’m able to cause with them.
Keeping with the weapon and armour mods, power armour has changed significantly in Fallout 4, and it’s definitely changed for the better. Power armour is now more of a vehicle than a piece of armour that you equip. You climb into it to use it, and it offers you increased protection from everything, including large falls. It has a bunch of nifty features, including a well designed HUD which shows you all the key bits of information you require to use the armour, but what impressed me most was the level of realism they added into it. Instead of having a piece of armour that floats when you step into a river, you actually sink all the way to the bottom. This can be both a positive and a negative, as although you’re able to see the bottom of the seafloor, it can be something else entirely trying to get back to the top.
Companions are another aspect that have been improved in the game, with this instalment offering chattier and more lifelike companions. The previous two Fallouts have lacked giving the any real social skills – they’ll talk to you and follow you around, but fail to interact with everything else that’s going on around them. It’s not just unrealistic, but completely immersion breaking, and thankfully, Bethesda have gone to great lengths to rectify this. Each companion will now participate in conversations you’re having around them, comment on the environments you’re in and even go around and interact with the NPCs or environment. Something like this probably doesn’t sound like much, but it has really made a step up in adding a nice level of immersion to the game.
However, companions also let me see that Bethesda didn’t put much effort into fixing previous problems with your AI buddies. It is just a small complaint, but their lack of intelligence really grates on my last nerve. For several games now, companions will stand precisely where you need to go, or their chat-hit-box will be in the way of something you need to pick up. You are able to tell them to move elsewhere, but it’s always frustrating how they almost always seem to think a narrow doorway is the perfect place to stand and wait.
The voice acting in the game was surprisingly good, far and above anything that the Elder Scrolls series or Fallout have delivered in the past, but they also gave the main protagonist a voice, and converted our conversation options into the Mass Effect style chat-wheel. This entire thing really irritated me, as normally you’d have the full text of what you’re about to say present, just so you can be sure you’re not being a bellend by mistake, but in Fallout 4, all you get is a couple of words, and then you have to hope for the best. It’s so frustrating not knowing what your character is about to say, as on more than one occasion, I’ve been a complete arse to someone without really meaning to be, which, although it doesn’t have grave consequences (most of the time) in the game, it can get a little frustrating seeing someone get a little upset with you for telling them they would die after ten minutes in the wasteland, when your intention was just to warn them that it’s dangerous out there.
Staying on the topic of conversations, Bethesda removed something that really disappointed me – the ability to have a moron as a playable character. In previous instalments, you could set your intelligence to one and it would provide you with some hilarious lines. Now, if you set your character up to be a real dummy, you only get fewer experience points. They’ve also gone as far as to remove speech checks based on any skill other than charisma, meaning non-player characters will deride you for being a moron, or being a pansy, despite the levels of your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. skills. It’s another aspect that really ruined conversations for me.
Giving the player ultimate freedom has always been one of the main tenets of Bethesda’s games, allowing you to really form your own story, letting you live in the world and roleplay until your heart is content. Want to roam around exploring everything? Feel free! Want to stay in Sanctuary and never leave? That is entirely possible too! How about going on a murderous rampage and killing everyone in sight? Well, that’s not quite as possible. It seems impossible to kill anyone who is named, other than raiders, in the game. Which is dreadful, as right at the start, you’ll meet three detestable characters that move into Sanctuary and never leave. They’re mopey, annoying, rude and act so entitled. They may even rival the irritating Nazeem from Skyrim for the characters people would love to kill. And yet, because they’re named, they must remain in the game world forever, belittling your achievements or speaking in a monotonous tone while offering nothing to the settlement. It would give me, and I’m sure countless others, great joy to murder these people, but as Bethesda removed the freedom to be a mindless psychopath, they are given free rein to irritate you.
Now, I mentioned at the start, Bethesda are great at providing players with a seemingly endless supply of bugs to sift through while attempting to play the game, and Fallout 4 is no different. They added a hell of a lot to the game, so sometimes bugs are forgivable, but a lot of the bugs are ones that either appeared in previous games or could have been easily identified with some simple quality assurance. I have, unfortunately, become accustomed to having as many bugs in a Bethesda game as there are features, but some of the ones this time are incredibly frustrating. I’ve been flung hundreds of metres in the air just for looking through my scope, walked through buildings and even seen the AI teleport hundreds of metres away after walking into a car for a few minutes. Not only is it frustrating that these bugs will frequently plague your playthrough, but at times, and in the case of me being sent halfway to space, they can kill you, and any progress you’ve made since your last save.
When it comes down to it, Fallout 4 is still a good game, and although it lost out to the Witcher 3 for the Game of the Year, it will still top many people’s list for the greatest game of 2015. Personally, I wouldn’t rate it that highly as I just don’t think it’s everything it could have been. Perhaps that’s my own fault for building it up so highly in my head, but the amount of bugs and disappointing aspects really detract from all the positive ideas that went into the game. It is a game that really made me wonder about what Bethesda wanted – to create a great game that kept to the Fallout lore and retain all the key features, or just to build a game that will appeal to the broad spectrum of users who will be more than happy to hand over their cash for the latest smash hit. It, unfortunately for fans of the Fallout series, didn’t take long to come to a conclusion on that matter.