Back on over to the east Coast. If you spent enough time in the Capital Wasteland’s Rivet City then you probably heard something about the Commonwealth and something about an escaped Android. A clever bit of foreshadowing as Fallout 4 brings us to the very same Commonwealth. You play as the Sole Survivor of Vault 111, a vault devoted to cryogenic freezing. Your frozen slumber is interrupted by someone kidnapping your infant son and killing your spouse in their pod. When systems fail and you fully come to then it’s time to find your son. But we’re dealing with a nuclear wasteland here, just getting from A to B can be a chore much less finding a kid. Thankfully, as the protagonist of a Bethesda game everyone needs your help and your destined to become the center of attention!
Fallout 4 was developed by Bethesda Game Studios and directed by Todd Howard. The big elements were the characters free form creation system. Eschewing the previous series’ physical attribute sliders the player could instead simply click and drag the face to alter its features. The player could also add marks to that face to add flavor. It also touts a fully voiced protagonist very much like those in the Mass Effect series.
Fallout 4 was released on November 10th, 2015. It’s competition was Call of Duty: Black Ops III (PC, PS3, PS4, XBox 360, and Xbox One), Starcraft II: Legacy of the Void (PC), and Mordheim: City of the Damned (PC).
This game is a tragedy of shifting priorities. When I came out of the Vault I was on a b-line to save my son but almost immediately ran into some settlers who needed rescuing. So, I took care of them and then they needed someone to build their home up. No problem, I built them a little town. Now I can start the search for my son in earnest. Oh? What? A settlement needs my help? Alright, I’ll take care of them and oh? You need me to retake your giant base? Hold on, I’ll take care of that right after I do a special quest for my companion. And so on and so on.
These would all be fine but MY INFANT SON needs my help! By the time I found him 8 in game months had passed. At that point I was an unstoppable killing machine but I felt like a terrible parent. I just wish that the fun parts of the game didn’t have a price tag of that misery attached. Either that or finding the son needs to be the most fun thing the game has to offer before it lets the player screw around.
Fallout 4 is special. Literally, say goodbye to skills Fallout 4 is all about those Special scores. Every special score is rated from 1-10 and they still confer passive bonuses like how Endurance gives the character more health and Intelligence gives the character a bonus to experience point gains. Whenever you level up you can put a point into one of your special attributes or take a point in a perk. For instance if you have 4 points in Luck you can take the perk Mysterious Stranger perk and occasionally the fedora-ed fiend will assist you in VATS — by blowing your opponent away with his 44. Magnum.
VATS is back and mostly the same. Now you can spend your Action Points to sprint — just don’t get caught dashing into a firefight. Every time you hit a target in VATS you store critical juice in your crit meter. When you’ve got a gallon of crit juice in the meter then you can invoke an extra damage dealing, automatically hitting critical hit — nothing like storing up a gallon and then hitting that ‘impossible’ shot from across the map.
The two big things that this game wanted you to know it had on launch was settlement building and weapon customization. With the right work table and perks you can take a weapon and tool it up. Putting in new parts to increase damage or accuracy. These upgrades require resources like oil and screws so keep your eyes open for relevant scrap and junk. You can also use these scrapped resources to build settlements…
Settlements require food, water, beds, and people. Certain areas will have access to fresh water and other areas will have access to different resources so creating trade routes can help your settlements shore up the weaknesses of others. Some towns may come under attack if their security score is not high enough. The more resources the town has then the more protection it needs. You can also put your citizens to work manning scrap salvage stations or shops to bring it more resources you can use — or pawn and pocket the profits.
One of my favorite Fallout 3 stories highlights its shoddy gunplay. I was ambushed by a feral ghoul and fired my hunting rifle randomly in panic — my gun wasn’t even pointed at the thing. I could see the bullet come out of it at an impossible angle and crit the ghoul in the head. It was at this point that I learned that the game’s gun physics didn’t operate on logic but were simply determined as hits or misses based on accuracy and skills. That’ll never happen in Fallout 4. Bullets, more or less, shoot straight and where you point them. This good shooting feelings also ties back into the weapon customization. You made that awesome gun, and it feels good to shoot it.
This game is a great example of a ‘colorful cast of characters’. You’ll meet the mayor of a drug riddled town who is a ghoul dressed like a founding father, named Hancock no less. Or you might run into the android detective Nick Valentine, a private dick with a literal heart of steel. And these guys are also companions! Not only can you interact with them but you can take them on the go.
I really liked the settlement system. As someone who loves anything with a territory control mechanic being able to customize that territory really popped my toast. I claimed every single settlement that there was to claim and I took care of them all as best as I could. I even went as far as making decisions in the game based on how my citizens might view my actions.
Fallout 4 deals with the radiation statistic like it never has before. No longer does it simply lower stats or apply ineffectual debuffs radiation simply lowers the character’s maximum health. This makes every source of radiation or enemy that deals radiation damage more important than the last. It’s a simple and brilliant innovative implementation of an old Fallout element.
Alright everyone, get your helmets on. Do you guys remember when I talked about the different factions in Fallout: New Vegas? If not, then go read that. The basic point is that all of the New Vegas factions form together into an analogous view of the world. All with creeds and agendas made to inspire. My college campus was filled with proud little patriots who devoted themselves to the New California Republic or those who thought the enigmatic Mr. House had a hold on things — not so much support for the Legion though. But, if none of them interested you then it was totally possible to strike out on your own and go your own way. Fallout 4 has none of this.
The four factions you have to choose from in the Commonwealth are the Minutemen, who will clearly fall to pieces and divide into a series of feuding tax lords someday. I only suggest this because THIS LITERALLY HAPPENED the last time the organization got too big for its britches. It might last until the protagonist dies but I’m trying to save the wasteland not just put a big band-aid on it.
Then we have the Institute, the boogey-men of the Commonwealth. Sending out their synthetic androids in the dead of night to kidnap people and do their bidding. They claim to want to heal the wasteland by purging it but there’s just no good way to put a spin on that. The story that cemented my view of the Institute is in a terminal in one of their labs. It’s a report about a plant seed experiment. They found a prospering farm in the wastes and immediately thought of how they could exploit it. So they took the patriach of the family, kidnapped in the night, and tortured him until they learned everything he knew. Learning this they killed him and put his consciousness into an android replica. They also sent this replica new seeds to see how they would grow in this wasteland soil. The report explained that once the Institute got the data they wanted they were going to burn the farm down so no one could learn what they had and they were going to kill everyone there so no one could figure out what happened. I’m not letting these crazy elitists command my wasteland.
The Brotherhood of Steel is back and they’re way more fascist then they used to be. Elder Lyons died of natural causes and Sarah Lyons died soon after in a routine combat exercise allowing Elder Maxson to rise to power — I’m certain that stink of assassination betrayal is coming from someplace else. Maxson is young, cocksure, and just a total dick. I know that’s what the Brotherhood on the West Coast stands for but this was the East Coast faction, this was Lyons’ Brotherhood. Elder Lyons turned them into a different beast, he was a man devoted to rehabilitating the wasteland and its denizens. Instead of jealously guarding technology he educated the people until they could be trusted with it. It was a bold new step for the organization. But Maxson’s return to form is a regression and makes no sense. Do you mean to tell me that the boy who was mentored by Elder Lyons and fell in love with Sarah heard a tale of his father’s glory and turned back on everything they taught him? OH WAIT! They could be doing a thing! What if the Institute replaced him with a synth and I have to save the Brotherhood from itself?! But that’s not what’s happening at all. Come on Bethesda! I’m coming up with gold here!
Alright, last faction, better be a good one. We’ve got The Railroad, a group of slave liberating, android rescuing, fascism fighting freedom fighters. I’ll be frank, I really love these guys. By any measurement they’re stand up people who are really trying to help the wasteland but there’s one giant problem with leaving it in their care. There’s not enough of them. They’re the smallest organization by far and their sphere of influence is quite small. Their ideals are admirable but backing them might mean society’s collapse as their unable to control the darker elements of the wastes.
Oh well… looks like I’ve got to take the lead again. OH WAIT! I can’t. That’s right, there’s no way to go into business for yourself. There’s no way to truly put yourself in charge. If the thesis of the game is that there is never a satisfying organization then that’s just not cool. Even if it were true that there’s no organization that will ever satisfy our needs it wouldn’t be wrong for the game to offer the fantasy to build one. New Vegas was able to create three factions that all had their downsides but people were still willing to look past, ignore, or remain unaware of them. There isn’t a single organization in Fallout 4 that anyone I know was behind without being totally unaware of what they truly stand for.
In short, they dun goofed. They created a world where the finale would never be satisfying because the finale always means putting someone lame on the throne. And I still don’t know why I can’t just put my rump down on the throne of the wastes.
Once we get past that gigantic glaring flaw highlighted in the rant and my other major emotional flaw highlighted in the Experience there’s still more griping to be had. Fallout 4 has a little too much action and a little too little RPG. Despite having the ability to freely mold my character’s face I found it incredibly difficult to create the character as a character. New Vegas offered me traits and incredibly flavorful perks that could make my character an anarchist, or a weirdness magnet, or someone who didn’t like resorting to violence. Fallout 4 has none of that and then further hobbles itself by creating one of the most unsatisfying dialogue systems in history. Mad ups for making the main character fully voiced but when they have so little to say and so little character it doesn’t matter. And I’m not irked at the voice actors, they do a great job, but their scripts are really lacking. In any given dialogue your character can respond like a goodie two-shoes, a jerk, a sarcastic quipper, or an average person. The game doesn’t even explain what you’re going to say. The sarcastic option is literally labled Sarcasm sometimes!
Every 3D Fallout game has been buggy but this one is on a whole other level. Settlements routinely forget that they have access to resources when I leave but suddenly remember them when I come to visit. I’ve fallen through the ground more times than I can count and other objects keep phasing through things! And to top it all off one of my settlers got into my only suit of power armor and turned into THIS!
Fallout 4 is fine. Fine but flawed. If you wanted to run around the wasteland and blow up Super Mutants you’re going to have a blast. But if you wanted to leave an impact on that wasteland that wasn’t tied to fiddly settlement management you’re going to be disappointed. Unfortunately Fallout 4 is an action-RPG that’s too heavy on the Action and not enough on the RPG. Is it worth 30 dollars? I dunno, maybe. But it’s certainly not worth that and whatever the DLC is charging.
Next Week: Fallout 2.