Fallout 4 Review (Xbox One)
War never changes, but the console and gaming landscape has dramatically over the last seven years. In the time since Fallout 3's release, open-world games have evolved quite a bit in part due to that game's success. New platforms have also emerged, giving developers the resources to make larger, more detailed worlds for players to explore, while adding in the additional graphical benefits new hardware provides. While the rest of the world was moving on at an incredible pace, Bethesda was taking its time with Fallout 4. A proper fourth entry in the series needed to be bigger and better than before, but the wait was excruciating for fans. Though the franchise hasn't come quite as far in the last seven years as we'd hoped, Fallout 4 is still an impressive piece of work that's not to be missed.
The core of Fallout 4's journey centers on your character and his or her quest to find the truth about what happened in Vault 111. Though the last two Fallout games put you smack in the center of an involved narrative, it never felt as personal or invested as Fallout 4's story. That's largely due to Fallout 4's committal to giving the player character voiced dialogue. The typical silent protagonist is gone, and Bethesda's taken a bit of a Bioware approach to giving the player a meaningful connection to the in-game avatar. Your story will play out with dialogue choices you selected, and just by having an actor there to give some inflection to the words, Bethesda is able to make you more connected to this persona than ever before.
While conversational choice has been a part of the Fallout series, talking it out with computer characters face-to-face was always a bit disjointed. It never felt natural. With Fallout 4, there's a more cinematic approach to conversations. The camera always pulls out to find a more appealing angle to show the different sides of a conversation. There's a large emphasis on making your character more a part of this world by showing him or her from outside the default first-person perspective, and it makes a great deal of difference in connecting you to this person, this world and the conversations you'll have.
The camera movement isn't always on point however, as sometimes it gets stuck staring at a wall, or an NPC will wander into frame confusing the camera on where to focus. It's a small issue, but it's one that can pull you out of the illusion the more it happens. It's also just one of many instances of Fallout 4 not working exactly as intended. That Fallout 4 doesn't work the way it's supposed to 100% of the time should come as no surprise to Bethesda fans, but that it's still happening this far into the engine's life-cycle (yes, this is the same engine used on previous Bethesda games, albeit modified for current-gen) is a great disappointment. You might consider it part of the charm of Bethesda's library of games, but the longer you play, the more minor troubles add up, and the more annoying it becomes.
Conversations are equally as important to fleshing out your relationship with the numerous companions you'll meet on your adventure. Unlike previous entries in the series, these characters actually feel like companions. Whether it's Dogmeat, Piper, Codsworth, or any of the others you'll encounter and befriend, there's more to having these people around than just serving as another gun in battle or a walking storage unit. The longer you hang out with a single companion, the more your relationship with that person will grow. Characters will talk with you while on quests, and your decisions, no matter how minor, will impact how they perceive you. Though you'll still only ever be able to take one along with you at a given point, you can keep the rest of them around at the various bases you'll earn the more you play. They also don't die (though they can be downed in combat), which is a great new element to keep you from reloading saves to ensure everyone stays alive.
The companionship is nice for such a sprawling journey, and you'll become invested in these characters just as they become invested in you. There's a solid roster of personalities at your disposal, and it's quite impressive how much depth Bethesda has given each of the relationships in question. That's what makes it frustrating when things don't work as Bethesda intended. In our playthrough, almost all of the companions we encountered worked just fine, but poor Dogmeat hasn't been seen in days of in-game time. One minute he was with us on a mission, and the next, he was just gone. That's not yet happened with any of the other characters, all of which return to you at some point no matter how far you stray, but that it's happened at all is again a sign of this engine's inconsistency. Not that it's all that upsetting to lose Dogmeat, as his combat value is significantly lower than that of characters who can wield weapons. For how much emphasis Bethesda is putting on him in trailers and the lead-up to release, you'd at least have expected him to work properly is all.
Base-building and crafting is another area that Bethesda's put a focus on for Fallout 4, and while there are doubtless going to be a number of players that get incredibly invested in managing the handful of locations around the map, it's not all that necessary or fun to do beyond a few crucial locations. It's also not explained very well in-game, with regards to why it's important and how to do things properly. Hoarders of each and every thing you can pick up will be happy to know that all that minutiae finally serves a purpose, but more pragmatic wastelanders may become frustrated by the lack of incentive to carry around loads of junk just so they can build a bed or a fence.
It's a cumbersome task to manage your different locations to maintain the peace in the Commonwealth. The benefits don't particularly outweigh how much of a chore it can be to make sure there's enough food, water, power and defenses for the residents of these small camps across the map. Additionally, these little locations can fall under attack during the course of the game, and will request your help at the most inopportune of times. Fortunately, there's little negative side effect to not running to their aid or even choosing to not devote time and resources to smaller encampments.
As to the larger locations you can fortify, each has a specific group of people that call it home. You can also send your companions there when you want to switch to a new one. Most importantly though, they provide you with a place to stash and store all your stuff, including Power Armor. Fallout 4's crafting system is nice enough, and lets you modify weapons and armor as you see fit, such as including scopes or larger clips on guns, or adding pockets or armor plating to the pieces of protection you equip. The problem is, you'll hardly ever need to use it thanks to how many different kinds of weapons and armor you'll scavenge from enemies or elsewhere in the world. However, the Power Armor stations will become the most important asset as you progress.
There are multiple suits you can find scattered throughout the Boston area, all in various states of disrepair. Scavenging parts from these, or those you find on raiders encountered in the wild, to craft a single, solid suit of armor is a key component of becoming a force to be reckoned with in the wastes. You can even customize the armor a bit, adding extra reinforcement to ensure you've got the most protection you can get. Don't go thinking you'll be able to roam around with Power Armor the whole time though. These suits are battery operated, so to speak, and you'll need to keep a steady supply of these power cells on hand if you want the advantages Power Armor affords you at your beck and call.
While Power Armor does give you a bit of a leg up, you won't always need it for the dozens missions you'll take up. Whether you're searching for answers to your own personal quest, helping the Minutemen re-establish their reach in the Commonwealth, aiding the Brotherhood of Steel in maintaining order, or helping any of the countless denizens with their own problems, you'll never be at a lack for something to do in the greater Boston area. With so many people and factions vying for attention, it's hard to keep things straight sometimes, particularly with regards to your character's interactions with everyone. Fortunately, you can play however you want, and if you can't quite keep your mood the same, it won't affect much in the grand scheme of things.
As for the additional missions themselves, not much as changed since Fallout 3. You'll explore an area, come across a building or a person that needs your help, and set off to fix what needs fixing. It could be as simple as hunting down a piece of technology from a factory clear across the map or something more dangerous like taking out a nest of ghouls before they spread to close to civilized parts. There's not much special or different about the types of missions you'll undertake in Fallout 4, but there are a handful of new ways to execute your plans.
If you're feeling overwhelmed by a particularly nasty set of Super Mutants or raiders, you can call in reinforcements, provided your relationship with the Minutemen or Brotherhood is strong enough. Having a few extra soldiers or a Vertibird show up to dish out punishment might feel like overkill, but it definitely saved our bacon more than a few times. Having companions on hand almost constantly is also a boon, as a second offensive weapon in a fight is never a bad thing. They won't offer much in the way of aid when it comes to reviving you, but you can give them a little pick me up when necessary to keep them moving.
No matter how you go about your business, you'll earn experience and level up, earning new perks and abilities on the way. Doing things as simple as finding a new location or picking a lock gets you more experience, but it's completing missions and quests that will earn you the most towards leveling up. Adding in perks to the mix allows you to better craft a character that suits your specific play style, and there are a lot of choices in that regard. If you're really enjoying running your community, the Local Leader will help you expand your neighborhood-building capabilities, just like the Gun Nut will give you a better handle on weaponry, and so on. This isn't a new feature for a Bethesda game in the least, but it's an important part of giving players the flexibility to make their playthrough unique.
While Fallout 4 may not look like much of an upgrade over its predecessors, the world has much more depth to it than any previous entry. The modified engine does have some impressive detail when necessary, but there are still areas of muddled textures and faces still aren't the best. That said, there's so much nuance in this world it's quite breathtaking when you realize the size and scope of Bethesda's Boston area. The world-building is incredible, whether it's the modified take on landmarks in a post-apocalyptic world (including dynamic weather), or just the small things that make every home you visit feel as if it was lived in. Fallout 4 does so much right in this area, it's easy to look past the superficial and enjoy this universe for what it is. Truly though, it's the voice acting that gives Fallout 4 its heart. Every unique character you encounter feels fleshed out and real, and your ability to communicate with them with more than text responses just makes you that much more attached. Sure, the rest of the sound design, from the environmental queues to the score, is strong, too, but it all comes back to your character having meaningful interactions with others in this world.
As mentioned before, Fallout 4 isn't without its flaws. Bethesda just can't seem to find a way to squash every instance of bugginess its games hold, and that's just as true today as it was when Fallout 3 arrived seven years ago. Aside from the companion disappearances and the camera wonkiness, there were numerous instances of trouble along the way. Sometimes the game would just return to the dashboard mid-conversation. Sometimes dialogue trees wouldn't open and characters would just stand there staring at each other. NPCs might get stuck in a holding pattern when you need them to access a terminal to open a door. Quests might seemingly notify you of failure even though you never actually started it. The list could and will likely go on the more hours you put in. The advantages the engine provides in world creation may outweigh the troubles it causes, but until Bethesda moves on to a new engine, we'll likely be talking about these issues forever. If you can deal with these nagging issues, there's still plenty of enjoyment in this world.
There's quite a bit to love about Fallout 4, in spite of its flaws. The world is as involved as ever, and the characters make you more invested in this entry than any that's come before. The magnitude of the world is awe-inspiring, and even with the lukewarm additions of crafting and building, Fallout 4 manages to be as enthralling an experience as any open-world adventure to date. If only the time Bethesda had taken in development had been put towards eliminating those pesky legacy issues instead of throwing more features on top of the pile, Fallout 4 could have been a landmark game. Instead, it's just a really great experience that gives you all the fun of surviving in the post-apocalyptic world without any of the worries of real radiation poisoning.
This review was completed with a retail copy of Fallout 4 provided by the publisher for Xbox One.