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