Sunday, 3 January 2016

Fallout 4 - Frankenstein's Monster

Image created using Bethesda promotional media (
I have abandoned Skyrim for Fallout 4, perhaps only temporarily, but there is a chance I'll never go back. That's not to say I'll stick with Fallout 4 forever, just that the games are so similar in nature and Fallout 4 has a bit more fun to it, and so going back to the lesser of the two seems pointless.

Fallout 4 is the latest gargantuan open-world RPG from Bethesda. It's look and feel can be traced back to Oblivion, continued through Fallout 3 and Skyrim. They are related in terms of the engine (whatever you want to call it), the animations, the world creation, the quests, obnoxious UI... and so on. Each new game brings it's own improvements, changes, additions and subtractions, but to a certain extent I always feel like they're built upon the same foundations.

The Fallout universe is certainly the more anarchic and fun setting, or at least it is if you take almost exclusively from the more zany aspects of Fallout 2. With Fallout 3 though, Bethesda decided to retain large chunks of the older games and stitch them into or on top of their previous best-seller, Oblivion. A new location, packed to the gills with old familiarities for long-time fans and more action-packed gameplay to appeal to a wide audience.

Their next project, Skyrim, borrowed a few ideas from their experience with Fallout 3, most notably the perk system. In turn, Fallout 4 borrows a little from Skyrim, and no doubt this will continue in future games. For a Bethesda fan, they are doing everything right. For me, it's a little bit more complicated. The close relationship between the two series makes them far too similar in my eyes, and despite the quite different settings the actual gameplay feels so similar sometimes that I grow tired of it (although that does take many hours).

My last hiatus began after finishing Fallout: New Vegas, which while admittedly isn't a Bethesda game (Obsidian taking the reigns there), was using the same engine as Oblivion and Fallout 3. Before New Vegas had been Fallout 3, and before that Oblivion, and I really had felt like I'd had enough of it all.

This year I finally felt differently, and decided to jump in with Skyrim after it having been sat in my Steam account for quite a long time. However, all the buzz around Fallout 4 drew me in, and since it seemed like everyone was talking about it I just couldn't wait any longer (my original plan being to wait until long after finishing Skyrim, which is something I might not even do now).

Many, many hours later I come to write about it, and somehow I end up feeling much the same way as I do about most other Bethesda games that came before it. A patchwork quilt of locations, each with it's own little story, and a more ephemeral main plot that is meant to draw you in but merely becomes another set of markers in your quest log.

The world itself is a Thunderdome of violence, with a variety of enemies desperate to attack the player without provocation. The friendly settlements are an oasis of calm by comparison (with the odd exception for various reasons), and yet even some of those are prone to being attacked, thanks to the new settlement system.

Ah, the settlement system. A time sink that makes a hoarder out of all of us who play it. All those useless junk items that are strewn about the wasteland now have an actual value. That value is the homes, farms, defences, decorations and entertainments that you can provide for your cowardly, miserable and ungrateful settlers.

At first I enjoyed the system, but I quickly grew to resent the different locations that it places the available settlements (usually a stones throw from raiders or similar). They all require your attention, and yet you lack any useful capacity to create well-maintained, strong, safe buildings and instead can only gather junk to create shacks.

Thankfully this same junk can also be useful for upgrading your weapons and armour, which is far more important (because being selfish is the best way to get enjoyment out of this game). The weapon modifications are varied and often interesting, and supercharging your weapons in one way or another makes the endless combat more bearable.

The combat itself is probably the best Bethesda has ever done. Enemies will actually hide behind cover, throw grenades and in the early game they provide a real challenge. This somewhat goes out of the window if you get yourself some nice power armour, better guns and choose from a variety of perks. It's also diluted by the fact that you will face so many bad guys, so many red marks on your compass, that it can become quite dull, just routine.

The legendary enemies are a nice touch, much tougher and with special loot. I found a couple of nice guns which had an added explosive damage effect, which made them obscenely powerful compared to their normal versions. There are also certain giant enemies, which provide a sense of spectacle if nothing else. These include Mirelurk Queens and Super Mutant Behemoths, and are a nice change of pace from the rest of the game.

I mentioned the explosive effect in the previous paragraph, and I feel this needs special mention. Those grenades that raiders and others love to throw? The missiles and Fat Man launchers? Anything with an explosive effect seems to be massively overpowered. In the early game it means that a single grenade can end your game prematurely, despite being able to shrug off the vast majority of other attacks. Of course by the end I could laugh in the face of every enemy, but that's a slightly different (and less important) issue.

The early scavenging through wrecked buildings, hoarding junk for your first settlement, reading notes and computer logs and all the rest, is very rewarding and I was happy for that to take up my time. Unfortunately that's only one part of a much larger and disjointed experience. The main quest (to find your son) is pushed as a driving force for you, and yet of course you're also free to wander and do menial tasks for minor rewards as this sort of game allows.

I'll go into the plot and factions in another post because this is long enough already, but it will be familiar to anyone who's played other Bethesda games, where there's almost a segregation between the minor and miscellaneous quests and the main/faction ones.

I don't want to be overly harsh on the game, it provides entertainment and I played it for an unbelievable 97 hours according to Steam, and while I feel like I experienced everything it had to offer, there were still many hours of side-quests and other things I could have done. It is a behemoth of a game, and has vastly improved on Fallout 3, Skyrim and Oblivion.

However, when you spend so long with a game, the flaws, mistakes, bugs and everything else become so readily apparent. Bethesda's remarkable achievements only serve to highlight those parts which are so inexpertly stitched together.

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