Fallout 4

DE­VEL­OPER Bethesda Game Stu­dios

Custom PC - - GAMES / REVIEW -

Bethesda Soft­works’ games are un­de­ni­ably mag­i­cal. The El­der Scrolls se­ries and re­booted Fallout se­quels em­brace the ‘go any­where, do any­thing’ motto of sand­box gam­ing like no other games, with as­ton­ish­ingly re­alised open worlds and the prom­ise of new sur­prises around ev­ery cor­ner, which makes it easy to dis­miss their short­com­ings. Fallout 4 re­tains that se­duc­tive power. Its world is vast, beau­ti­ful and abun­dant with ad­ven­ture.

In a slight twist on the usual for­mula, Fallout 4 be­gins min­utes be­fore the bombs fall. You cre­ate your char­ac­ter us­ing a bril­liantly de­signed set of sculpt­ing tools, and spend a pre­cious few min­utes en­joy­ing the peace­ful idyll of postscarcity Amer­i­cana. Within min­utes, how­ever, a ter­ri­fy­ing news bul­letin sends you and your fam­ily rac­ing to­wards the near­est Fallout shel­ter – Vault 111. Your char­ac­ter emerges years later into a rad­i­cally changed world, and be­gins the search for their son, Shaun, who was kid­napped when the Vault first re­opened.

As ever, Bethesda’s en­vi­ron­ment de­sign is stun­ning. Fallout 4’s waste­land is far more de­tailed and vi­brant than that seen in Fallout 3. The skies are bright blue rather than sickly sepia, and the patch­work sky­scrapers of post-nu­clear Bos­ton gleam a dozen dif­fer­ent shades in the mid­day sun. It’s eerily beau­ti­ful, but the wreck­age of hu­man­ity is a con­stant re­minder of this new world’s hos­til­ity too. Cen­turies- old skele­tons litter streets and build­ings, the roads are shat­tered shards of tar­mac play­ing home to rust­ing cars. Many of the build­ings you pass are lit­tle more than hol­lowed-out shells filled with de­bris, and those you can en­ter are clut­tered with pre-war junk that’s long since lost its pur­pose.

The cen­tral sto­ry­line takes you from the wood­land sub­urbs of the Mas­sachusetts Com­mon­wealth deep into the heart of ir­ra­di­ated Bos­ton, and re­volves around the search for the mys­te­ri­ous In­sti­tute, which ter­rorises the lo­cal pop­u­lace by in­fil­trat­ing hu­man-like Synth ro­bots into so­ci­ety, and is the prime sus­pect in your son’s dis­ap­pear­ance. As al­ways with Bethesda’s games, how­ever, Fallout 4 is really about ex­plor­ing freely and tak­ing on what­ever mis­sions suit you, be it help­ing out the Broth­er­hood of Steel fend off Feral Ghouls and bandit Raiders at the Cam­bridge po­lice sta­tion, tak­ing on miss­ing per­son cases at the Valen­tine De­tec­tive Agency, or in­ves­ti­gat­ing strange go­ings-on at the Salem Mu­seum of Witchcraft. There’s no short­age of ac­tiv­i­ties to oc­cupy your time.

The mis­sion struc­ture is buoyed by a more stream­lined di­a­logue sys­tem, with a fully voiced main char­ac­ter, and writ­ing that’s stronger than that of Bethesda’s pre­vi­ous ef­fort, Skyrim. It still doesn’t carry the emo­tional heft of BioWare’s games or The Witcher 3, which is a shame, given that the thrust of the plot is that you’re search­ing for your miss­ing baby boy. How­ever, it’s definitely more char­ac­ter­ful than be­fore – de­tec­tive Nick Valen­tine and dogged, fiery jour­nal­ist Piper are two par­tic­u­lar high­lights.

What­ever goals you pursue in Fallout 4, achiev­ing them will likely in­volve fight­ing at some point, and the em­pha­sis on com­bat is no­tice­ably greater than in pre­vi­ous Bethesda ti­tles. You’ll rarely go more than a few min­utes with­out some­thing try­ing to kill you. To a cer­tain de­gree, this fo­cus makes sense; Fallout 4’s Com­mon­wealth is in­hos­pitable by its very na­ture. How­ever, the com­bat sys­tem, al­beit im­proved through slicker an­i­ma­tions and an ex­tra in­jec­tion of pace, still be­comes repet­i­tive sim­ply due to how of­ten you need to use it.

The com­bat fo­cus also means many of the po­ten­tially more in­ter­est­ing ap­proaches to the game have to be ne­glected by ne­ces­sity. Stealth is ren­dered all but use­less – usu­ally, the only way around an enemy is through it, and re­solv­ing con­flict through di­a­logue is an op­tion that’s spar­ingly of­fered. More­over, the lev­el­ling sys­tem is fairly stingy in its re­wards, mean­ing that many of the more in­ter­est­ing perks have to be ig­nored in favour of im­prov­ing your com­bat prow­ess. This com­pro­mise be­tween a stats-based RPG and a twitch-based FPS means Fallout 4 fails to truly sat­isfy in ei­ther cat­e­gory.

This prob­lem of try­ing to in­clude fea­tures that lack strong foun­da­tions is present else­where too. Fallout 4 doesn’t want you to travel the wastes alone, and in­cludes a dozen pos­si­ble com­pan­ions to ac­com­pany you on your ad­ven­tures. The stan­dard com­pan­ion is Dog­meat, a friendly Ger­man shep­herd who can sniff out good­ies amid the wreck­age of the waste, and pin down en­e­mies dur­ing com­bat. He’s good com­pany, and use­ful when act­ing on his own ini­tia­tive. How­ever, ac­tu­ally in­ter­act­ing with him is a pain, as you can only is­sue com­mands when up close and stand­ing still. Com­pan­ions also have a ten­dency to get lost or stuck be­cause of the com­plex land­scape ge­om­e­try, and if you want to switch one for an­other, you have to seek them out in the world first, which quickly feels like un­nec­es­sary busy­work.

Lastly, Fallout 4 in­tro­duces an ex­ten­sive craft­ing sys­tem that lets you build work­sta­tions, houses and en­tire set­tle­ments in cer­tain ar­eas. Th­ese ram­shackle vil­lages at­tract set­tlers, and you can even es­tab­lish trade routes be­tween them. It’s a neat idea, but in prac­tice, it’s a bit like drop­ping a Lego set on a Dun­geons and Dragons game – the two don’t feel or­gan­i­cally con­nected. It doesn’t help that the in­ter­face is clunky and there’s a lot of in­for­ma­tion that the game sim­ply doesn’t com­mu­ni­cate, such as how to as­sign work de­tails to set­tlers.

Ul­ti­mately, the craft­ing sys­tems smacks of des­per­a­tion to in­tro­duce a new idea in a game that uses a for­mula largely un­changed since 2003’s Mor­rowind. The sad thing is that there’s ac­tu­ally noth­ing wrong with the Bethesda for­mula, ex­cept that its com­po­nents re­quire con­sid­er­able re­fine­ment. It needs ei­ther ex­cep­tional com­bat or the proper ac­com­mo­da­tion of al­ter­na­tive play styles, and a ded­i­cated sys­tem for man­ag­ing and com­mand­ing com­pan­ions. Fallout 4 re­mains broadly en­joy­able, with a stun­ning open world and en­vi­ron­ment, but it feels like Bethesda is rest­ing on its lau­rels.

Cen­turies-old skele­tons litter streets and

build­ings

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