Serving as more of a successor to Fallout 3 than New Vegas, Fallout 4 is traditional in every sense of the word. It sticks to what worked best, never truly trying to push into unfamiliar territories or beyond what works best. However, what helps it avoid the rut Assassin’s Creed has slowly sunk into is its willingness to tweak with old ideas. As such, when you’re stalking through the bleak, beautiful ruins of the old world, you’re likely to notice more than a few differences this time around.
Running off of the same engine as past outings, the core difference here stems from its visual presentation. Not so much the graphics themselves, as many rough textures will no doubt infuriate modders for years to come, but how the world flows about you. Weather can dynamically shift in moments, turning from a bright summer’s day to a raging irradiated storm seemingly without warning, and many NPCs refuse to stay in one place. Outside of sparse settlements, you can stumble upon the same ramshackle multiple times, only to find anything from a trader to a grinning band of super mutants awaiting your visit. Save for the odd spawn point, the world seems truly unchanging, save for the forgotten ruins of old.
As with any Bethesda open world game, its true strength stems from the attention to detail and the vast immersive landscape. This is something they utterly nail, and everything from the brief look into the pre-war world to the derelict scrap-metal structures of Diamond City has a history. Even without delving into the vast library of text documents and terminals, the very placement of certain items in old ruins helps to tell their own story. These can range from simple additions such as corpses in the street noting a battle, to a hippy slogan spewing robot hanging out in an abandoned warehouse. Suffice to say, there’s no shortage of surprises to be found within the Commonwealth wasteland.
Of course, more so than crumbling ruins and skeletal remains, it’s your foes which help make this world feel truly alive. Well, that and how often they and reduce you to bloody gibblets in a moment’s notice. For all its ghoulish beauty, the world here is nevertheless a vastly more deadly one, with many old foes undergoing substantial upgrades. Rather than the fodder from before, feral ghouls make for bullet resistant ambush predators who can quickly fell unsuspecting travellers, and even small bands of raiders can quickly put your head on a spike. This is helped as much by a visual overhaul and substantial damage buffs as a serious upgrade to their animations. No longer glued in place, ghouls will hurl themselves at you, bloatflies will weave about in the air, and you can often be pinned in place by larger foes as they attempt to crack open your cranium. There’s no moment when you truly feel safe and, unlike before, it’s rare to run into a threat you can’t take seriously.
Combat itself, while sadly still more than a little janky, has been substantially improved. Closer in many respects to Far Cry 3 than Fallout 3, you’re more reliant upon running and gunning to stay alive, and VATS is no longer an easy answer to all your problems. Along with no longer freezing the flow of battle, merely slowing it, it’s harder to get off nearly as many shots as before. As such, you’re left relying more upon your skills than whatever stats you have been grinding out.
Sadly, for all its immersion, things start to break down once you look into the story. Players of Fallout 3 will quickly start to have an accute sense of déjà vu as they progress, with many story elements, ideas and even characters being recycled as time goes by. It becomes so bad that the final mission becomes little more than a rehash of charging into Project Purity. This might have been forgiven to some degree, but even beyond the main quest there are more than a few issues. While a voiced protagonist might have helped improve the visual presentation, it rapidly erases any sense of immersion when interacting with NPCs. Why? Because once they’re given voice, it can seem as if you’re simply following someone else’s story rather than making your own. This might have worked for the Witcher’s Geralt, but he at least had a vast established history to work with. Here it just seems as if someone else’s plan is hijacking your game.
As a final note, both console and PC versions are another sad victim of the Bethesda curse of poor optimisation and buggy environments. The most frustrating of these is the game’s habit of chugging during intense combat, with some astounding drops in frame rate. Combined with issues such as NPCs getting stuck in walls and conversations failing to end, it’s clear little has been done to patch up old technical failings.
Still, for all its glaring flaws it’s hard not to recommend this one. With an enthralling world, vastly improved combat and a great new spin on older elements, it’s more than worth stomaching the bad for the best the game can offer.
FALLOUT 4 / DEVELOPER: BETHESDA GAME STUDIOS / PUBLISHER: BETHESDA SOFTWORKS / PLATFORM: PC, XBOX ONE, PLAYSTATION 4 / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW