Fall­out 4

PC, PS4, Xbox One


De­spite all the dev­as­ta­tion, Lex­ing­ton is a pic­turesque town. At least, it looks at­trac­tive when the light falls on it just right, the in­dus­trial chim­ney stacks back­lit by an or­ange glow. Turn away from the glare, how­ever, and it be­comes ap­par­ent that the ho­mo­gene­ity of muddy-coloured tex­tures that char­ac­terised Fall­out 3 is still very much a part of the se­ries; the de­tail­ing and fi­delity has im­proved, but this is just as grubby and rough-hewn a world as ever.

That sense of fa­mil­iar­ity per­vades the demo we see. Bethesda is tightly con­trol­ling the re­lease of in­for­ma­tion ahead of launch, but early ev­i­dence sug­gests all that ra­di­a­tion has re­tarded the se­ries’ me­chan­i­cal evo­lu­tion. At the most ba­sic level, un­der­pow­ered, cob­bled-to­gether weapons fling in­ef­fec­tual pro­jec­tiles at sturdy en­e­mies, a por­tion of whom al­ways seem to be upon you no mat­ter how thor­oughly you plan en­coun­ters. That messy sense of skin-of-your-teeth sur­vival is part of the se­ries’ scrappy charm, but the core Fall­out com­bat recipe doesn’t ap­pear to have been shaken up to any great ex­tent.

Things do feel more hec­tic, how­ever, the raiders dis­turbed while pok­ing around Lex­ing­ton at­tack­ing more ag­gres­sively and in greater num­bers than be­fore, the en­su­ing bat­tle ac­com­pa­nied by a joy­ful ex­cess of py­rotech­nics. Weapons on show in­clude the Power Fist, a nail-rid­dled base­ball bat, a hand­cranked laser mus­ket, and the ever­green Fat Man mini-nuke launcher. Ad­di­tional en­emy num­bers make VATS a more im­por­tant part of the com­bat equa­tion when it comes to crowd man­age­ment, and the sys­tem it­self has been tweaked to in­crease the skill and strat­egy re­quired to use it ef­fec­tively. Rather than paus­ing time, events now play out in slow mo­tion, and you can hit X to de­liver crit­i­cal hits rather than leave things solely to chance.

Un­der­neath all of this, the perks sys­tem has been up­dated. Whereas be­fore perks were ac­cessed as you lev­elled up, now they’re tied di­rectly to the SPE­CIAL sys­tem (the ti­tle of the seven-stat col­lec­tive that de­fines your char­ac­ter’s abil­i­ties). The switch is in­tended to give play­ers greater con­trol over their pro­gres­sion as well as pro­vid­ing more va­ri­ety. A high rat­ing in one of the seven SPE­CIAL stats will grant you ac­cess to pow­er­ful perks in that cat­e­gory. There are 70 base perks, each of which level up, cre­at­ing 275 po­ten­tial twists on your core abil­i­ties. And you’re en­tirely at lib­erty to plunge your ini­tial points into just one area when cre­at­ing a new char­ac­ter, then stroll into the word with an in­cred­i­bly pow­er­ful spe­cial­ism (fo­cus ev­ery­thing on Strength, for ex­am­ple, and you’ll be a Be­he­moth-ri­valling beast, but you have to for­feit pro­jec­tile weapon skill).

But even as a meat­head, the game’s lead re­mains charis­matic. Whereas Fall­out 3’ s star was mute, the Sole Sur­vivor wise­cracks and quips his way through ex­plo­ration and com­bat en­coun­ters, chat­ting to ca­nine com­pan­ion Dog­meat and ban­ish­ing the lonely vac­uum that would en­croach in Fall­out 3 when far from set­tle­ments. Whether there’s enough di­a­logue to keep it feel­ing fresh and welcome through­out the game is another mat­ter, but the lines we hear are de­liv­ered be­liev­ably.

For the most part, Fall­out 4 looks to be built on tweaks and it­er­a­tive ad­just­ments rather than tem­plate-bust­ing in­no­va­tion, and there’s lit­tle here that doesn’t feel firmly rooted in Fall­out 3’ s de­sign doc­u­ment. Even the base build­ing shown off at E3 sim­ply riffs on the home­mak­ing of the prior game. But that’s en­tirely the point: Bethesda would be un­wise to de­vi­ate too far from a for­mula that, for all its flaws, has en­rap­tured so many play­ers so com­pletely in the past.

Ad­di­tional en­emy num­bers make VATS a more im­por­tant part of the com­bat equa­tion

Pub­lisher/devel­oper Bethesda For­mat PC, PS4, Xbox One

Ori­gin US Re­lease Novem­ber 10

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