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Review: Fallout 4

War Never Changes.

Fallout 4 Box ArtFallout 4 (PC [Reviewed], PS4, Xbox One)
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Genre(s): Role playing, First Person Shooter
Release Date: November 10, 2015
ESRB Rating: M -Mature

 

It’s been a long time in coming…too long…but at last a new Fallout game is upon us and it’s very good. The good news is: A review like this is a mere formality since many of us have already broken the 100 hour figure on this.  What more need be said, right?

This game and its engine do show their age in some ways vs cutting edge benchmark titles like Metal Gear Phantom Pain and Witcher 3 but don’t let that dissuade you.  Fans of this series will be thrilled and lose an insane amount of free time hours to this game, guaranteed.

Fallout 4 Screenshot 01

GRAPHICS:

This is Skyrim’s Creation Engine which is a heavily modified Gamebryo Engine that goes back to at least Elder Scrolls IV Oblivion. We still have some of the same quirks and bugaboos to go along with it, too.

All of the graphics options that PC gamers want are available as well the .ini tweaks we all have been doing on Bethesda games for the past decade. There is already a steadily updated Fallout 4 configurator that makes this chore a lot easier and I highly recommend all Fallout 4 PC players get it right away.

It’s remarkable that they have been able to get as much out of this engine as they can and Skyrim wasn’t a game that you would confuse for something from the past and Fallout 4 isn’t a game you would confuse for being a 2008, title, either.

It goes without saying that, no, it’s hardly Witcher 3 or Metal Gear Phantom Pain in terms of graphics…not even close… but maxed out this game is still impressive in its own right and I see a lot of attention to detail and nice textures that I could have only dreamed about back on Fallout 3 and New Vegas so as a whole graphically this series has moved forward.

This game will scale up and down a wide variety of configurations although as always I recommend people having closer to recommended specs on any game vs minimum specs.

All the graphic configuration choices that PC gamers look for are here including the usual .ini tweaks past that to use at  your own caution.   I recommend forcing x16 AF in your GPU’s control center for a nice eye candy refinement boost at minimal performance loss.  I have been doing this in virtually every game I get now if I don’t see an AF option in the game.

There is debate about the merits of using TAA for the higher end anti-aliasing options. Be advised that even the pro TAA people concede that on its own it does way too much softening and that they are recommending people use another third party post processor to get the best out of it.

Fallout 4 Screenshot 02

GAMEPLAY:

If you have played Fallout 3 and New Vegas then you will know what to expect here.  If you have played a Bethesda game in the last ten years then frankly, you know what to expect here.

This game is essentially Skyrim with guns and tech instead of a fantasy setting and that’s not a bad thing at all. You can get lost exploring and racking up quests all over the place. It feels good, tight, refined, and responsive.

I will say that after playing games like Metal Gear Phantom Pain and Witcher 3 that I have been spoiled so far as rich game-world with diverse NPCs and diverse quests with an insane amount of attention to detail and I won’t lie: This is a come down from games like those but to be fair those two games are flukes and new standard setters that people will be looking back on for years to come most likely.

On its own merits this is still a compelling game world with much to do and lots to get involved in although some of Skyrim’s “barren world that needs more in it” problem does exist here. My biggest complaint with Skyrim was that it was the gorgeous, huge ecosystem that you could explore and get lost in but after a while it was evident there just wasn’t much in that gorgeous place.

This game definitely has some more substansive elements in the game world and I felt it was a return to form for Bethesda.

The good news is that the actual gunplay out of VATS has been considerably improved upon and it needed to be. Some outlets were favorably comparing it to Destiny’s surefire (pardon pun) tight, addictive, and satisfying gunplay. I agree that the gunplay is improved upon considerably to where I could consider playing without VATS whereas that was a complete non option in New Vegas and Fallout 3.

VATS is no longer essential, whereas in the earlier games it was. VATS is a nice convenience and can you get out of scrapes. It’s great to have the best of both worlds in this game.

I miss the Karma system and the faction system that Obsidian brought to New Vegas.  I hope they get another crack at this franchise. You can steal and do whatever you want and as long as you don’t get caught, who cares? It doesn’t matter. Kill someone? Same thing. Doesn’t matter.

Fallout 4 Screenshot 03

In 2015 I’m used to my RPGs making me face consequences of some kind or another and making “moral choices” more compelling and difficult and I feel Bethesda did well here on this title for the most part except for situations like what I described above.

There are definitely some situations, mostly in the main story, where I really had to deliberate on what I was going to do because I was seeing good arguments from all sides of a given situation with many shades of gray. That’s excellent.

The main character that you play does speak by default and I think it’s a welcome development that personalizes everything as opposed to you being this mute, nebulous force that never has any connection to the world. It needed to be done to tell this kind of story. I know some purists hate the change but I am not one of them.

Dialog is now handled in a close to Bioware fashion although the default dialog choices can be a bit vague and inaccurate at times. A mod was put out in short order that addressed that issue for those interested. Audio options exist to kill the voices if that’s how you want it to be. The choice is there and I’m always about giving players more choices to play how they want.

The crafting options are impressive but lack intuitiveness, especially as it relates to repairing and building up settlements. This is functional but quite cumbersome and I hope it seems some refinement via patches.

I will say they were wise to make a system where pack-ratting is absolutely rewarded. The most innocuous piece of junk in the game can be used towards improving weapons and ammo or towards settlements. Despite some of the clunkiness, all of this is very rewarding when you see the end results.

It’s hard to beat the satisfaction of taking a beat up gas station or your former neighborhood and rebuilding it, lighting it up,  and repopulating it. If they can just streamline and improve the intuitiveness for this it really can be something special.

Skyrim’s Radiant AI quests make a mixed bag return. For me the concept is largely an unwelcome one because they essentially send you on the same rinse and repeat into eternity fetch quests with no real purpose past some loot and XP gains. I just don’t think it’s needed.

Short term they can be useful to encourage the player to explore and get to some new places but in short order you will find yourself returning to the same places and that’s when it’s time to move on.  I just don’t care for the concept. It feels like an artificial bloat that doesn’t need to be there. I would rather those resources spent on other more important aspects of the game.

Fallout 4 Screenshot 04

AUDIO:  

I have to get this out of the way: I’m bummed Ron Perlman didn’t return for this game for certain key voiceovers and especially “war never changes.” That just isn’t right.

Many of the guns sound anemic. I am using a scoped .44 magnum right now and this thing sounds pitiful. I don’t want something that blows away my ear drum but this is a complaint that goes back to Fallout 3. This is nothing new for this series and thankfully PC gamers will be able to get mods before too long to give some of these guns the oomph they deserve.

Inon Zur’s music is more compelling this time around and some of the ambient tracks have a haunting and ethereal feel to them. I confess I’ve never been a big fan of Zur’s work but some of his music caught my attention on this. Regardless of that his music has always been a good fit that did its job for these games and that’s no exception. He did well enough here that I will be buying the soundtrack at some point when it’s not exclusive to just iTunes.

I recognize a lot of the Bethesda voice actors in addition to some new ones. Cait with her tough Irish brogue might be my favorite.

My favorite Bethesda voice actor makes a cameo appearance as the villain in the Silver Shroud segment. I won’t ruin it for you but in Fallout 3 he was the voice of the Tenpenny agent that wanted you to blow up Megaton. He’s been a Bethesda stalwart for years and my regret is that he wasn’t given more to do in this.

Ambient world effects are immersive. You will see the sounds of nature, or what’s left of it 200 years after a major nuclear attack, and the intermittent sounds of war and fighting in the distance.

What’s neat is if you follow your ears that gunfire isn’t just put in there for effect: Invariably you will come across a real source for the noise so sound design is critical for this game and as usual I will bang my “don’t shortchange the audio” drum here.

Fallout 4 Screenshot 05

STORY:  

You can start out as a male or female character before the nukes drop in a situation that mercifully does not echo Fallout 3’s painfully long and drawn out prologue and tutorial situation. You have a respectable degree of customization for character creation although I wouldn’t minded some choices on the voices.

As is, they are respectable and this is a nitpick on my part.  Some people hate the fact that the player character has a voice. I am not one of them. You always have the option to turn that audio off if you wish.

The story telling is strong in this title. I felt like Bethesda returned top form for the most part whereas on Skyrim I felt like they put out a gorgeous ecosystem with very little depth to it. It isn’t Shakespeare to be sure, but it isn’t supposed to be and I will say that when the main story ends it’s anti-climatic like Skyrim’s ending was, but of course I’m writing this pre any DLC.

Some characters from Fallout 3 do make appearances and many allusions are made to events that happened in the past in the Capitol Wasteland which I appreciated. I’m a stickler for continuity and I always appreciate when I see it.

Be prepared for curve balls and many difficult moral dilemmas. I also thought the intrigue level was compelling and I had to resist the urge to not keep doing the main story at a rapid pace.

To Bethesda’s credit I am happy with how companion characters are fleshed out as you earn their trust more and in some instances they even get their own personal mini quest of sorts. They lightly borrowed from New Vegas on this.

I wish they had borrowed from New Vegas some more and my biggest regret is the missing Karma system or some other aspect where your behavior and actions always matter even if someone isn’t directly watching you. If you steal or pick a lock and no one sees it it just doesn’t matter and this game deserves better than that. If you do get spotted you can expect varying degrees of hostility and consequence.

The storyline was engaging and compelling with a raw emotional hook that’s established early on that all but writes itself.

Fallout 4 Screenshot 06

Bethesda’s previous effort, Skyrim, had a very disappointing and bare bones storyline with very little in the area of meaningful characters and development so I was happy to see a return to form of sorts here on this title. I also feel that the story in this game is more compelling than Fallout 3’s with a little bit more of a personal touch.

It’s a toss up vs New Vegas from Obsidian although that game did not have the powerful emotional hook underlying its story like this game does.

The compelling main character story would be sufficient in and of itself but as things unfold it becomes clear that you have stumbled across the tip of a larger iceberg and that’s all I’m going to say to keep things spoiler free. I was pleased with how this developed and the conflicts of interest that also come about creating some difficult choices.

Once the player is cut loose into the game it’s off to the races with all that goes with Fallout. Factions, politics, fighting, craziness , and survival in the backdrop of what’s left of Boston.

I am relieved that some of Skyrim’s narrative foibles did not carry over into this game. We’re back to solid role playing here whereas in Skyrim your character was a harbinger of doom regardless of what you did and too many quests in that were doom with no return or choices to save or improve a given situation. Not so in this.

We’re back to having some choice and being able to either make a negative or a positive impact in the game world once again as it should be.

The aforementioned Silver Shroud segment is an example of where I felt Bethesda returned to their better form and even had a bit of fun in the narrative with a nice quest. This is my vote for the best sidequest in the game. Don’t cheat and look this up. Don’t ruin it for yourself. There are several instances in the game of compelling side quests like these.

It’s ironic that a game like a Fallout in a world like that is far more balanced and knows when to not take itself so seriously vs the way Skryim was handled. I’m relieved that Skyrim appears to be a one hit anomaly in terms of how narrative was handled and I hope this is the way things will be from here on out.

Fallout 4 Screenshot 07

GLITCHES:

It’s Bethesda. If you buy one of their games on day one you know what you are in for although I have to say that I’ve personally done very well here. I’ve had exactly two crash to desktops in dozens of hours of gameplay. That’s extraordinary considering to this day Fallout 3 is still a crashy nightmare no matter what I do.

http://www.wired.com/2015/11/fallout-4-bugs/

I’ve tempered a lot of my criticisms thanks to an articles like these. I honestly didn’t know about some of this.

The tweak guides are out there, ini tweaks that have worked since Oblivion for the most part are out there and work, and there is a neat little Fallout 4 configuration that helps that tedium out here.

As of this writing there is a known companion glitch. After you recruit a companion, if you decide to part ways with them for a time and choose a location for them to go to it doesn’t always work. They will either return to their original origin or simply disappear temporarily. PC gamers have the option of using the console codes and shortcutting that issue but console gamers do not.

Just be aware of it. At some point the companion will resurface. Dogmeat is the most finicky. The best advice I saw on this was to get rid of all but one of his dog houses in Sanctuary and that forces him to default to that and makes it easier to locate him.

If you are running on a 60Hz monitor I strongly recommend you run adaptive vsync if you that option because this game has some quirks directly related to if your FPS and frame rates go well past 60. The “getting stuck at a terminal” bug for example. If you are running on higher refresh rate monitors there are lots of tips out there to help get that set up properly.

As is typical the range of bugs and severity is broad and unpredictable. To this day a lot of us can’t get Fallout 3 to play without CTDing all over the place, for example. New Vegas was less finicky for me and I’m still not sure what the differences were. I’d love for Obsidian to get another shot at this series.

I was one of the fortunate ones who fared well on Skyrim from day one which shocked me. I understand that Bethesda is not some huge outfit like an EA or an Ubisoft and that’s good in a lot of ways but they are well aware that a  number of people in the gaming community and mod community would be more than happy to help them out to make these games better and less glitchy and do some heavy lifting in those regards.  Bethesda will patch and support this game and whatever issues it has will improve but will never be fully resolved.

CD Project out of Poland is no EA or Ubisoft in terms of power and size, either and I have to say this: They threw down the gauntlet on Bethesda with Witcher 3 so I can only excuse things so far.

The Gamebryo Engine… no matter how well modified… is over ten years old. I wasn’t happy to see it used on Skryim and in the year 2015 I’m not really happy to see it on Fallout 4, but to be fair it largely works. It just is showing its creaking age and its limits with quirks and bugs that have haunted these games to varying degrees for a decade.

No more excuses.

Fallout 4 needs to be the last game that ever uses this ancient engine.  Bethesda needs to pop the dollars for the Unreal 4 engine or something else along those lines or they can continue to watch a “small” outlet like a CDPR frankly hand then their shirts in a number of areas.

Witcher 3 isn’t a perfect game by any means but the comparisons on open world RPGs are inevitable and Witcher 3 is a 2015 game.

This is not although, the “this is a 2008 game” accusations are a bit harsh. Fallout 4 thankfully has it where it counts and unlike Skyrim has a lot more heart to it and that goes a long ways for me and obviously many other people. I don’t want to sound unduly harsh here.

Most years Fallout 4 would be in GOTY talks and it absolutely a very fun game to play.

MODS:

On the PC this is where the gaps get narrowed quickly and the mods deserve a special mention here.

This is a game that makes being a PC gamer a joy.  You owe it to yourselves to look up Fallout 4 mods and variants thereof because as I write this there are already some absolutely incredible mods out there and because the Fallout Script Extender (FOSE) is also out and being updated it guarantees that even more elaborate and expansive mods are forthcoming.

Look up a website called Fallout 4 Nexus. The Nexus is a home site I’ve used for years for mods for a lot of games most notably Bethesda titles and I’m happy to give them a shout out here.

Some of the best mods I’m using right now are:

Fallout 4 Configuration Tool – By Bilago
Darker Nights
True Storms – Wasteland Edition (Thunder-Rain-Weather Redone)
Remove Interior Fog
Cinematic Sounds – Discovery
Cinematic Sounds – Leveling
Wasteland Salon – Hair Texture Improvement Mod
Enhanced Blood Textures
Immersive Mouth and Teeth
Quieter Settlements
Eyewear and mask retexture
WET – Water Enhancement Textures
Faster Terminal Displays
Better Computer Terminals
Homemaker – Expanded Settlements
Settlement Supplies Expanded 2.5 – Safe SSEx
FO4 RAIN 13:49
Fallout Texture Overhaul Moons
Fallout Texture Overhaul Stars
SECRET WEAPON Harpoon Gun STANDALONE
Improved Map with Visible Roads
Towbie’s Realistic Weapon Sounds
Power Conduits and Pylons – Increased Power Radius
The Eyes Of Beauty Fallout Edition

With many more to come!  This is why so many of us can turn around  a year from now  and see 500 hours of gameplay on one of these.

Fallout 4 Screenshot 08

CONCLUSION:

The Fallout series enjoys a heavy sentimental bias with a lot of people including myself. They’re great games in their own right and this is a nice step forward for the series in several areas although I do miss the twists and nuances that were brought to New Vegas by Obsidian.

I was hoping Bethesda would have shamelessly ripped them off and put those ideas in Fallout 4 as well. The Karma system was brilliant and working over factions in a political fashion for or against you was more engaging in New Vegas than it is here. Everything felt like it mattered at all times in New Vegas.

2015 has been an amazing year for games and Fallout 4 is against stiff competition like Witcher 3, Metal Gear Phantom Pain, and Assassin’s Creed Syndicate.

The series has moved forward  as a whole and eye candy isn’t everything.

I’d rather have substance over eye candy and thankfully this game has it where it counts but when you have games that push the envelope in all levels then it’s time consider where things are at if you are a developer like Bethesda putting out titles like these. They don’t live in a glass bubble.

I really do think it’s time for Bethesda to move forward on the game engine and some of the fundamentals. This needs to be the end of Gamebryo and Creation Engine.

It really is impressive how much mileage they have gotten out of this engine over time but I truly believe they have hit the brick wall and it’s time to put out it to pasture.

Despite this, I am happy to say that Fallout 4 was certainly well worth the wait.

4 Stars

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