It’s a sick joke that, if the bombs were to go off and I was forced to live in an underground vault, I’d definitely bring a game about the end of the world with me to help pass the years of a nuclear winter.
More Fallout 4
Fallout 4 is everything you’ve come to expect from Bethesda. The new open-world role-playing adventure is due out tomorrow, and we’ve spent hours diving into the game on Xbox One and PC. Like Fallout 3 and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, it is sprawling. It rewards exploration. And it has a mess of unique … quirks. But most of all, Fallout 4 is the latest example that Bethesda is better than anyone else at building a living, dynamic world that you can just exist in.
At the same time, Fallout 4 doesn’t put many fresh twists on its formula, and since Fallout 3’s 2008 debut, the open-world concept has turned into gaming’s biggest cliché. Publisher Ubisoft churns out a new Assassin’s Creed every year and a new Far Cry every 18 months. Developer CD Projekt Red is blowing gamers away with its gorgeous open-world fantasy adventure The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. And Skyrim is still one of the most played games on Steam.
So, should you play a new Fallout that is more of the same? Yes. Without question.
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What you’ll like
The joy of being on your own
My favorite thing about the Fallout games is stumbling across a cave or a locked cabin or a military facility packed with super mutants. And it’s not just because I know it’ll have loot and other goodies. It’s actually difficult to put into words why I love this so much.
That’s because this element of Fallout isn’t a discreet mechanic or something Bethesda could even put on the back of its box as a bullet point. It is this intangible, vaporous coating that the developer layers on top of everything that makes it so much damn fun to have to survive on your own.
I think it’s that Fallout is a metaphor for existence. The intro is an analogy for birth. Every release in this series begins with your character as a blank slate. A non-interactive entity gestating in the womb. Or, in the case of these games, an apocalypse-proof vault. But, when you pick up the controller, it’s time for adversity. Your bunker, your protective shell, is no longer suited to keep you secure. So, you guide your character down the canal, toward the light, and into the big, scary, mean world.
You are now all on your own.
It’s at this point in Fallout 4 where you get your first glimpse of ruined Boston and its surrounding neighborhoods. And it hits you: I got this. This world is enormous, and I’ll probably never see all of it. But, if I just start putting one foot in front of the other, I’m going to accomplish all of my goals. And that’s one hell of a dopamine rush.
Fallout 4 is a series of challenges, obstacles, and enemies that stand in your way, but you know that, with enough time, you’ll overcome them all. That makes putting one foot in front of the other feel like its own reward. Yes, you’re alone. That’s scary, but few things make a person feel better than possessing competence and confidence in the face of a difficult situation.
And that’s it. That is why Fallout is special. It is problems made digital. They are broken down and compartmentalized, and that makes them exhilarating to encounter because they are possible to conquer.
That feeling you get — that wave of “oh, hell yes” when you find a house in the woods guarded by raiders — that’s Fallout giving you the chance to feel in control and capable in the big, harsh world. And that’s a rare sensation.
The Commonwealth is beautiful and atmospheric
Fallout 4 doesn’t always look great. It has moments of ugliness, but — for the most part — I love the way it looks. That’s mostly due to the astounding environments. Things like trees, buildings, signs, and roads all have a level of detail that make them look photorealistic. I’ve stopped over and over to take screenshots of the terrain because I’m continuously flabbergasted by how good the world looks.
And it’s not just the geometry and the textures. It’s the weather and lighting effects
A few hours into my game, I was wandering through the woods at night looking for some objective. The sunrise started to come in at the same time as a storm. But, this is the nuclear apocalypse, so it wasn’t a rain storm. It was a wind storm that had stirred up orange nuclear dust. As the sun rose, its beams shone through the clouds and around the branches of the trees. It blew me away. It was simultaneously mesmerizing and oppressive.
Fallout doesn’t really have the technical chops of a Grand Theft Auto V or Witcher 3, but that didn’t bother me because — in moments like the one above — the art is so impressive.
Memorable quests and characters will keep you glued
I’ve lost count of how many times I decided to refocus myself on finishing the main story quest only to get distracted over and over again. It’s just that so many of the characters and their stories are irresistible. This is the core of Fallout, and you’ll get plenty of it here.
You can, of course, just say yes to every mission and check them off your list one at a time. That is as satisfying as ever. But it’s also pleasant to just let your gut and heart lead the way.
For example, how can you say no to Nick Valentine, the Diamond City detective with his old-timey Chicago accent. Like you, he is tortured by his ancient past.
And then, once you finally make it to Fenway Park — naturally, the center of civilization in Fallout 4 — you can help the dorky, timid Travis. He is the hapless disc jockey for the biggest radio station in town, but he’s not very good at the job. This makes his hilarious Russian friends want to help him, but they often cause more problems than they solve.
And when you do finally get back onto the main quest, Bethesda’s writers don’t hold back at all. While I haven’t done all the side quests, I’ve found that Fallout 4 may have the best central storyline of any Bethesda game. The developer repeatedly finds ways to make you care about characters you previously hated and ways to make you despise the people you love. It’s like this developer has spent the last few decades building worlds and populating them with unforgettable personalities.
New settlement feature is addictive
You know all that junk that is lying around everywhere in a Fallout game like plungers and telephones? Well, now you finally have something to do with that garbage.
Workshop settlements are one of the big new features this time around. These are areas of the world where you can set up encampments to attract settlers in an effort to rebuild the Commonwealth, and it plays like a city-management game. It is, perhaps, most like a first-person version of the cities from Civilization V.
In these small towns, you’ll have to account for everyone’s needs. That means providing beds, food, water, defensive units, and more. As you fill up these buckets, they will all contribute to the happiness of your settlements. Having settlements gives you a few bonuses — including one of the most devastating attacks in the game — but it’s not really about that.
These settlements are an amazing way of breaking up the pace of the game. You can go out on a mission, pick up everything you see (weapons as well as useless crap), and then return to one of your installations to spend hours sprucing it up and organizing it. To craft items like beds, buildings, and power generators, you’ll need specific parts. If you run out of a certain material for a project, well, just head back out into the wasteland for a mission or two. You’ll almost certainly find what you need.
In this way, settlements feel like they finally complete Fallout 4’s gameplay loop. You have two very different base mechanics that both feed into and reward one another.
And, of course, if it’s not your thing — the settlements are optional.
The Commonwealth isn’t static. It’s a place that breathes and exists on its own.
Hoofing it across Boston to get from one mission to another is always exciting — not just because you might find a hidden safe or cool gun but also because other characters always have something going on.
I had moments where I was getting ready to sneak up on a bunch of powerful enemies only to have the Brotherhood of Steel swoop in with one of their aerial vehicles and wipe everyone out with little help from me. This wasn’t the start of some extra mission, it was just that organization completing objectives of their own.
These kinds of events make the setting feel larger than it really is, and that lends a credibility to the world that makes everything else you are doing seem more critical.
What you won’t like
Loading times suck on console
Fallout 4 has some serious frame-rate problems — especially on console. It often turns into a slide show in parts of downtown Boston on Xbox One, and it even caused my beefy PC system to drop from a solid 60 frames per second down to the 30s. The FPS also takes a hit any time a big A.I. controlled event happens outside of the city.
But I don’t think this should stop you from playing Fallout 4. It’s still a fun game even if it occasionally gets choppy.
I primarily played Fallout 4 on Xbox One. Although, I also tried it on PC, and the loading times on Microsoft’s console were often very rough. The worst instances took more than 30 seconds to load, but most loads are closer to 10 seconds. It’s enough to make you dread any mission that will take you to many indoor and outdoor environments because going between the two always triggers a lengthy pause to load.
These are not the worst load times I’ve ever experienced, but they are enough to disrupt the game’s momentum.
Character models and animations are still busted
Yes, I think Fallout 4 is, in general, a pretty game, but that does not extend to most of the characters and animations. Faces, like in all Bethesda titles, look straight up ugly. Humans looks like plastic beings with shiny skin and flat, stringy hair. And character movement is always stiff.
For example, if you walk up behind someone and start talking to them, they don’t turn around with a fluid motion. Instead, they do that weird two-step dancing-in-place number that makes you wonder if Bethesda’s animators have seen other people before.
Now, characters are not universally ugly. Most of your companions, especially the dog and the detective, look impressive. But, you can tell that Bethesda did not put the same kind of work into the rest of the people in the world.
As much open-world jankiness as ever
The faces and animations are probably the result of Bethesda making Fallout 4 with the same technology it used for Fallout 3 and Skyrim. That engine is what enables the studio to make its massive, dynamic world, but it also leads to some serious weirdness that always looks silly.
In my Bostonian travels, I came across inexplicably vibrating characters, momentary lapses in gravity, and camera angles that give you a real close look at the inside of someone’s arm pit. These are all things that happened to me during my many hours in the Commonwealth. And while I’m used to them and expect them from a Bethesda game, they repeatedly illustrate that Fallout 4’s engine is not really equipped to handle a lot of the things that the studio throws at it.
Honestly, these quirks don’t bother me all that much at this point. I’m willing to pay the price of a few silly moments to get everything else Bethesda delivers. But, I do still swear at my TV when an A.I. companion stands in a doorway like a giant idiot.
I probably can’t give a higher endorsement of Fallout 4 than this: I’ve spent around 50 hours playing between the console and PC versions, and I don’t feel like I’m anywhere near quitting.
And that’s what we want from Fallout, right? A world we can dive into completely and spend days exploring. Well, if that’s what you come to Bethesda products for, you’re going to get it here.
Sure, other publishers have made better-looking open-world games, but I’m starting to think that doesn’t really matter because Fallout 4 is the one I can’t stop playing.
Bethesda provided GamesBeat with a copy of Fallout for the purposes of this review. It is due out November 10 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.