by Johnathan Irwin
reviewed on PC
War Never Changes
One of my fondest gaming memories from childhood was my exposure to the original two Fallout titles. I remember rummaging through the bargain bin at our local Walmart and finding both for $10. I wasn't sure if I'd like them but the box art caught my interest and the description on the back made it seem like it'd be a good way to kill a few hours. From that day forward, I became a devout Fallout fan.
For years I wondered if there would ever be another title before it dropped into the hands of Bethesda who made it undergo an evolution. The isometric turn-based RPG became an open world experience that - at the time - many would call a post-apocalyptic Elder Scrolls. While the comparisons were clear to see, that never sat right with me. I saw a series given a second chance at life after so long off the grid, and coming back with guns blazing. In some ways, it survived its own apocalypse. Two games down the line, after years of silence, we could never have anticipated just how much Fallout 4 would turn the tables yet again. While war never changes, the series has once again evolved into another form; and despite the mutations, I'm in love once again.
Welcome To The Commonwealth
This Fallout is a game of changes all around, except for the circumstances that have brought the player to the wasteland. You will find yourself stepping out of Vault 111, nestled somewhere in the north western suburban outskirts of Boston, Massachusetts. Now known simply as The Commonwealth, this bold new world brought back memories of the Capital Wasteland so many years ago. I was hooked from the start and each hour held new adventures.
I don’t want to reveal too many details about the main storyline but I can tell you that it is standard fare for the Fallout universe. A new villain has taken the place of past adversaries. No less intimidating, it is perhaps the largest threat to the post-apocalyptic survival of humanity yet. I say standard fare, but do keep in mind that “standard” for the Fallout universe is leaps and bounds above many other long running RPG series. Even if you only play through the main plot, you’re in for an engrossing experience. The main story is, of course, only part of the adventure. The bulk of the game lies in its side missions, the exploration, and the choices you make along the way. While the outcomes are set in a series of possibilities, the ways to reach them are nearly innumerable.
Everyone’s experience will be unique. A great example of this comes in the form of the overhauled crafting system and the addition of settlement building. The former we caught a small glimpse of in Fallout: New Vegas. We were able to make rather minor customizations to weapons, but that was the long and short of it. In Fallout 4, you can build your own wasteland trademark by taking the ordinary and making it something extraordinary.
I still carry a 10mm pistol that I obtained mere minutes into the game. More than sixty hours in, it is now modified with a longer barrel, muzzle compensator, dot sight, extended magazine and a sharpshooter’s grip. I call her the Commonwealth Peace. Another weapon, a .308 Hunting Rifle has been turned into the .308 Survivalist ready to pick enemies off with ease at medium and long ranges, and looking sleek while doing it. There are hundreds of different combinations for each of the weapons in the game, and while you may be tempted to opt for the ‘best’ there’s no harm in trying a little variety to make your weapon your own rather than just going on stats alone. Armor customization is also quite useful and especially Power Armor customization is in a league of its own, both visually and statistically, letting everyone build their own giant tin-can to suit their journey.
Settlement building is, in a way, like watching a phoenix rise from its ashes. While there are several settlements you can build, the first and perhaps most important is that of Sanctuary; the remnants of the player’s suburban vista before the war. Digging through the debris, the whispers of ghosts and shattered remains of old homes slowly faded as I rebuilt the town to a bustling splendor. Megaton what? Diamond City who? The Hub? Hah! While my town is far from an economic splendor such as New Vegas, it’s become quite a sight to behold.
Once I had my first few settlers in place, I began putting up suitable defenses. What started as a guard tower at the perimeter became a wall surrounding the settlement. It eventually became dotted with searchlights and turrets. Then came crop expansion, water purification, providing electricity, lighting, etc. etc. Several buildings and inhabitants later, I had a mini-sprawl filled with life as both unique and generic settlers found a safe place to build a life in the harsh wastes. While they certainly don’t call me mayor outright, I prefer the title of savior anyway. Lack of titles aside, I’ve earned the praise of the innocent and the hatred of those who would dare to attempt harm. The attempts to overthrow my little town have become less and less the stronger my defenses have become.
See The Sights, Hear The Sounds
Of course, nothing I mentioned would be worth it if the world wasn’t an enjoyable place to be, as post-apocalyptic worlds go of course. The Commonwealth has made itself not just a great setting for Fallout, it’s become the most memorable place in the series yet. Whether fighting super mutants in a high rise in downtown Boston, or watching the sunset from the remains of a dead forest, the Commonwealth manages to make even minor locales memorable.
One of my favorite moments came early on in the game, traversing through the war torn streets trying to make my way to Diamond City (formerly Fenway Park). With Dogmeat in tow, I’d managed to find a rare solace. No raiders, no mutants, no ghouls. It was just a peaceful, albeit eerie, walk down a street where life ceased hundreds of years before. Then I saw them. Two skeletons, one in a dress and one in a suit sitting side by side on a bench and they appeared to have been holding hands. A rattle by their feet suggested they had had a child as well. It gave me pause, even more so as Skeeter Davis’ The End Of The World began to play over the radio. This was one of many moments that gave me chills.
The graphics do trail slightly behind many recent titles on the market, but considering all the content and detail Bethesda have managed to cram in - along with excellent use of shadows and lighting - the game still manages to look fantastic. Combine that with great voice acting, excellent sounds from both creatures and ambient effects and you end up with a fantastic game. The icing on the cake comes in the form of the soundtrack which contains all new tracks along with most of the soundtrack from Fallout 3 and they are numerous enough that you don’t have to worry about a repeat of New Vegas’ horrifying Johnny Guitar purgatory.
They’ve Done It Again
I had extremely high expectations for Fallout 4. I was so concerned that Fallout 4 might not live up to them that I nearly ran back to Fallout 3 and forget about the whole thing. Fallout 4 does not just live up to the expectations, it surpasses it. The game claims its rightful place in the series and leaves its competition trailing. To say you - should - play Fallout 4 would be disservice to any fan of sandbox RPGs. You - need - to play it.
A worthy Fallout plot, best setting in the series to date, great audio and visual work, deep customization and settlement building.
Graphics trail slightly behind recent AAA titles.