Let me start by explaining my lateness here, I know Fallout 4 has been out for nearly two months as of this writing but I wanted to play the game at least one time to completion before I put my thoughts down.
I recently finished my first play-through, coming in just under a hundred hours. During this play-through I tried to experience as much as I could of what the game had to offer. Simply put I did not want to rush my experience in the name of getting the most out of the game I could. I pushed all the factions as far as I could before making a choice. I found as many of the locations as I could and explored a great many of them. I did many, many radiant quests and tried to establish as many settlements as I could (although I barely touched the building functions as I found them frustrating and time consuming beyond merit).
Now that I’ve finished and had about a week to let my thoughts solidify I can give my honest opinion of the game.
No surprises here, I love it.
Think about it. I don’t get paid to play and review games. I do this out of love of video games. Do you think I’d spend a hundred hours on a game I didn’t care for?
Don’t get me wrong it is not a perfect game, no matter how much I love it…well the game has flaws.
But the thing is I went into it expecting the flaws I received.
Nothing that went “wrong” was surprising to me.
When control of my character wasn’t returned to me during the opening sequence in the vault and I had to hard restart the console to get past the glitch I was far from shocked. When I suddenly froze in mid air while the Vertibird I was riding in moved along, circling around me before flying off to the horizon while the textures slowly disappeared and the game froze I wasn’t shocked. Nor was I surprised the three or so other times I had to restart the game do to a sudden freezing up of the game (something that has happened in fairly equal instances in other big triple A releases this year). What I was surprised by was that I did not experience the amount of frame rate drop reported by other outlets and game journalists that I respect that dinged the game for its supposedly horrid performance on consoles. I was still very early in the game when they started reporting these things so I braced myself for a rough road later on. Frankly, I did not experience the issues they apparently did. Most of my frame rate issues came during the moments I was running to and fro in my settlement, I did not see the reported rate drops while reloading or during the game’s major multi-faction battles with lots of bullets, laser fire and explosions all over the place.
Bethesda games, Fallout games in particular, have issues. Would it be amazing if they didn’t? Hell yeah it would. But I come into these expecting the odd bit of broken game and as such are not disappointed when they happen. If the day ever comes when a Bethesda game does not contain the odd game breaking bug I will do a back-flip with joy but until that day comes I know what I’m getting with their products. I’m not saying this to give Bethesda a pass on the amount of “broken” game they put out but rather in the understanding that no one else even comes close to the core Bethesda experience and I can understand that with so many moving parts within the game that bugs and jank are going to be a part of the package. Anyone who expects otherwise at this point is being rather naive.
Now that I’ve said my piece about Bethesda games in general let’s get back to the game at hand.
One of the main appeals of Fallout for me is the massive open world that you can get lost in. This is often to the detriment of the “main” story of the game as it is very easy to get distracted by the world and its inhabitants.
Fallout 4 is no exception.
(Spoiler warning ahead: while I strive to not spoil the overall game I am going to spoil the opening sequence here in order to set the scene for the game’s story. Beyond the following paragraphs you’ll find no plot spoiling.)
Story and Setting
For the first time outside of a DLC simulation in Fallout 3, we see prewar America as the game opens on a Boston suburb. One of the first things you see are either of the main protagonists, Nate and Nora by default until you rename them, standing in their bathroom looking in a mirror. This is where the game gives you the opportunity to chose which of the two you will be playing as and to customize their appearances if you choose. For my initial play-through I quickly toyed with it but when I came back to start a new game I spent over an hour toying with the controls to make a version of PolyNerdic contributor Chelcie.
Nate is a retired Army veteran and Nora has a law degree that can be found on the shelves in the living room. Together they have an infant named Shaun and live with a Mr. Handy unit named Codsworth (who has the much hyped ability to say over 1000 names but as he is the only one who can potentially recognize the character’s name it is a pointless addition). In the opening moments of the game you get the impression that Nate and Nora live a respectable life, as close to the American Dream as a life can be.
Being that the Fallout series is a post-apocalyptic one you know that the proverbial paradise will soon see its doom. the harbinger of which is the Vault-Tec salesman who arrives at your door. This sequence lets you name your chosen character and assign your “S.P.E.C.I.A.L.” attributes. A few minutes later a ominous news story plays on the television and air raid sirens blast throughout the neighborhood while Vertibirds overhead announce that all registered citizens need to report to their vault (good thing that salesman just left).
You make a mad dash for the nearby Vault 111, making your way through the unregistered masses being held off by power armor wearing, mini-gun wielding soldiers and arriving on the elevator platform in time for Hell to arrive on Earth.
Safely in the vault, you make your way through the initial processing and are told to enter a “decontamination pod” but if you’d taken a look around as you walked deeper into the vault (or if you know of Vault-Tec’s nefarious experiments) you should not be surprised in the least when you watch your spouse and child get frozen in the pod across from you as you freeze yourself.
An untold number of years pass before you suddenly begin to thaw. Still disoriented and trapped in your pod you watch as a rough looking man and a person in a lab suit open the pod across from you and try to take your son. Your spouse fights to keep a hold of Shaun but the man shoots him or her at point blank range before looking at you and muttering about a spare before you are refrozen.
Times passes as you sleep your frozen slumber until you are suddenly thawed again at which point you take control of your character. Mourning the loss of your spouse you promise to go find your son. You make your way through the empty vault, finding only giant roaches and skeletal corpses until you return to the surface. The reveal of the destroyed world is shocking having seen the world prior but still lacks the punch that Fallout 3 delivered upon exiting the vault.
This is also where the game’s plot and open world almost immediately diverge. Ostensibly your character would be on fire about finding your kidnapped son but due to the open world and distraction heavy nature of the game it is way too easy to get taken off course. In fact it took me over 80 hours before I actually accomplished the main goal of finding Shaun as I spent dozens of hours finding various locations, doing side-quests for the various factions and occasionally running for my life from Super Mutants and Deathclaws. The open world is a double edged sword here as it provides dozens if not a couple hundred hours of entertainment but it also detracts from the urgency of the main story. Even as I was thoroughly enjoying my exploration of the Commonwealth I couldn’t help but laugh at the absurdity of hunting for desk fans and coffee cups to convert to resources that could help fortify my settlements while my son was out there waiting to be rescued.
The problem, and I use that word very loosely, is that so many of the experiences waiting to be found in Commonwealth are more entertaining and intriguing than the main quest. Finding the secrets of the Pickman Gallery, exploring the Glowing Sea, working with the factions or just exploring the wasteland with various companions all are great distractions from the quest to find your son. There were so many great moments and sequences buried within the side content that you can easily forget the main goal. As you align with the various factions the game does a great job of utilizing their quests to get you back on track which gives you multiple ways to see the endgame unfold but the main quest itself really is underwhelming in my opinion, especially the way it plays out.
Friends, Foes and Factions
The world of Fallout is a dangerous place. Aside from the constant threat of radiation there are hordes of raiders scattered amongst the ruins of the old world, irradiated feral zombie-like Ghouls, mutated insects, monstrous Super Mutants and vicious Deathclaws all looking to end your life as violently as possible.
You will also find yourself dealing with Synths, synthetic humanoids or androids if you prefer, from the Institute. The Institute, largely treated as the boogeyman by the inhabitants of the Commonwealth, churns out various forms of these ranging from skeletal versions to ones that resemble animated mannequins to those that could and can pass as humans.
This last point serves as one of the major undercurrents for the game. While you are in search of your son you find out through various encounters and interactions that there is a widespread fear of the Institute and the Synths in the Commonwealth. While there are those who openly deny believing in the Institute, fear of it and the Synths is widespread in the Commonwealth. You see it play out in Diamond City as the Mayor makes a point of mentioning his humanity during a speech and various settlers bring fears that the rash of kidnappings and disappearances in the Commonwealth are tied to the Institute.
The Institute is one of the four main factions that you can (or rather have to) align with. The represent high minded scientific research and discovery with the stated intention of saving mankind. They are responsible for the Synths, which they view as property and/or tools to aid in their quest. The Brotherhood of Steel the quasi-religious and militaristic series stalwart is possibly the most diametrically opposed faction to the Institute. They continue to desire control of all technology in order to prevent its misuse and as such they feel the Institute is guilty of creating abominations with the Synths. Abominations that need to be eliminated completely. Opposing both the Brotherhood and the Institute is the Railroad, a faction that views the Synths as people who need to be saved from the “slavery” of the Institute and from the destruction the Brotherhood seeks for them. Finally there is the Minutemen faction which has honestly the purest intentions of any faction. They exist simply for the protection of the people of the Commonwealth and as such only really have a beef with the Institute because of the kidnappings and replacing of the people of Boston.
During my first play-through I pushed all the factions as far as I could before eventually siding with the Brotherhood of Steel. I took much joy in playing each of the factions off one another. Particularly when the Institute sent me to reclaim some escaped Synths and I alerted the Railroad and Brotherhood of what was happening just to see all three factions go at it in downtown Boston. Eventually I did have to pick a side and chose the Brotherhood. The final couple of missions with them were incredibly rewarding and capped of my first play-through brilliantly. Afterwards I was left asking myself questions about the nature of artificial “life” and whether or not the Synths were people or property, especially after seeing Synths that behave as mindless robots and those that exhibit real feelings and emotions (not to mention those who where unaware that they were Synths to begin with).
Outside of the factions are the various companions you can recruit to join you in your exploration. Beyond being simple pack-mules for your junk they assist in combat and add their own insight to your encounters. My personal favorites were Nick Valentine the Synth PI, Piper the brash and direct reporter, Cait the recovering junkie/fighter with the amazing Irish accent and Danse the Brotherhood Paladin. Rarely did I step out into the wasteland without one of these individuals at my side, feeling that they add immensely to the experience.
Fallout 4 is a slightly flawed yet amazing game. The shortcomings of the main story and the typical Bethesda bugs are completely made up for by the rewarding experiences to be found in the Boston Commonwealth. Having spent nearly a hundred hours with my first trip through the game I’m looking forward to diving back into the world of Fallout 4 again to see things from a different perspective.