It has been over a week since I have put Fallout 4 down, it is also a game that I have played for almost a week in game-time.
After finishing the main quest (story-line) I decided I didn’t see much value in playing on the radiant quest platform that Bethesda have ported from Skyrim and put the game down. Then I took time to think about the game before writing this review, because I wasn’t sure how I felt about it.
My conclusion simply for those that don’t want to read why, is that Fallout 4 is far from perfect but it has the clearest path to perfection ahead of it of any game I have played.
Why do I think that? Read on, oh and unfortunately, you can’t review a game like Fallout 4 properly without spoilers. If you haven’t played it I highly recommend you play it (make sure you prepare for the glitch on the molecular level quest) and then come back to this review and see if your thoughts can be surmised with my verdict.
From here on out, spoilers!
Context of Me Playing Fallout 4
This is important because Fallout 4 is the first Bethesda game that I have actually given the time of day to. Oblivion was a game that I am not ashamed to say I loathed because the graphics were so poor and the mechanics of the game were so poor. I have never experienced a real-time combat system quite as ropey as the one used in Oblivion and that is saying something because I have played the original weird axis/aim control system on the original Resident Evil. Like with Resident Evil, Oblivion has me doing things I didn’t want to do because there was no fluidity to the fighting mechanism.
Enough of my severe hate for Oblivion (which I understand could well have the best story and other features of any game ever, but if you can’t pick it up and enjoy playing something easily, then it is not for me), I put it down after my first fight and never picked it up again. I kind of wrote off all Bethesda games from that point because I saw no point in wasting money on a game where I would be perpetually annoyed by clumsy controls. And, compared to most other games, Bethesda is really lacking in the graphics and visual departments.
Fast forward and I pick up a copy of Fallout 4 for dirty cheap (£2) which I know means it must have been popular on release and heavily traded in for it to devalue so much. The same happens with every FIFA game. For £2, it is worth a punt right? Its worth opening my Bethesda box and giving them another chance.
And boy, I am glad I did…
First, the Controls and the Graphics…
It is probably best to start here as it is where I left off with Oblivion. I was initially alarmed to find myself in the same kind of game mechanism that I had been in with Oblivion. It all felt familiar, but it wasn’t the same. It was clearly developed from that starting point and then refined. I am not sure if Oblivion was designed first as a PC game that didn’t transfer well to console when it came to controls, because I can imagine the game would be much easier on a gaming PC… I digress. Fallout 4 was reminiscent of Oblivion but it was far more sophisticated and fluid. The movement wasn’t jerky, if I wanted to aim or look somewhere it was on point.
In fact, as a FPS or third person shooter, the aiming and gun system is exemplary. It easily rivals the big boy titles in the FPS category and in some cases especially with manual aiming I found it more accurate than some of the big FPS games. High praise indeed.
This FPS functionality has been lost on the diehard Fallout/Elder Scrolls fans though and there is a large group of the gaming public that are annoyed that Fallout 4 has progressed in this way. I couldn’t give a hoot about how they hate that Fallout feels like Far Cry, that is a vast improvement on the junk control system that went before and it is also fitting for the game. What’s more, having FPS fluid combat makes the game more immersive and adds to the RPG genre rather than detracting from it in my opinion.
Combat systems in RPGs are always a bit quirky. Fallout 4 has moved toward mainstream functionality to appeal to the masses and that is a very good move indeed. Niche games selling to niche audiences don’t generate the revenue to create better sequels. That’s a basic economics principle. I do feel like there is a time and place for the traditional turn-based RPG, but they are not as immersive as the games that put you literally at the heart of the battle in real time.
Despite the community criticism which for the most part is made up of people who wanted Fallout 3.1 not Fallout 4, in my opinion the controls are not only good, in some cases they are up there with the best. Great stuff Bethesda.
Okay, so the graphics on Fallout 4 are decent but not ground-breaking or even as good as many other games of its time. It seems that graphically, Bethesda have a real issue creating a well-rounded overall package. Sometimes the graphics are good and textures work, other times frame-rate drops and textures aren’t a thing anymore and it all seems a bit low-budget.
The annoying thing for me is I know that they were taking the graphics seriously. How do I know this? Because I have been to Chernobyl, I have walked right up to the blown reactor casing. I have wandered around Pripyat and I have seen nuclear fallout. I know that the visual team at Fallout will have made the same trip, why? Because everything in the game looked like Pripyat. The way that they had aged the derelict buildings, the way toys were left scattered around… everything was detailed in the way that I know they have studied the nuclear fallout zone at Chernobyl.
That is a clear statement that they were seeking to create a realistic and authentic environment. They failed miserably. The gameplay, story and characters made Fallout 4 immersive. The graphics were a constant reminder that it was just a video game. Fallout 4 has potential and graphically if the team stay on the course they are and invest more in how the game looks, then Fallout 5 could look incredible.
Fallout 4 looks okay, which isn’t really good enough nowadays.
Story and Characters
The story is actually decent and it is clear that the story team was not only talented but that they sat down and really worked through the narrative. There are things as a writer that you can cut corners on and be lazy with that other writers pick up on and that wasn’t present in the writing for Fallout 4. Although the story was quite simple, it didn’t feel like it had been told a million times which is rare. The writing team did have some shocks and twists along the way, but they weren’t the easy ones. They didn’t kill your companion for shock value etc. They didn’t Red Dead you and kill your player (read my review of Red Dead Redemption 2).
The storytelling was crafted with care and attention and the twists and turns along the way fit well enough to be believable. For those that know me and game stories… that is again high praise.
Fallout 4 has a decent storytelling department and they should look to keep them for subsequent instalments.
Characters of Fallout 4
The characters of Fallout 4 were also very good. Particular praise should be given to the creative minds behind Piper, Kellogg and Father. These characters stood out and I kept Piper with me for almost all my entire game time (although I had brief fling with Cait, because… why not?). In terms of player choices, Piper is probably one of the weaker companions if not the weakest – but she added to my gaming experience and as the story developed, and I found myself making increasingly difficult decisions, I found myself asking Piper for her thoughts on each decision. She became a soundboard for my own moral compass whether by design or just because I really injected myself into my role.
Which again was an important thing that Fallout did well. It felt smooth enough (especially with character interaction) that I could play entirely as I wanted, controlling the outcome as I wanted and I could take my role in the commonwealth as seriously as the sole survivor would have if it were really happening.
Father and Kellogg both added a layer of mystery that was well played out and I would have liked more varied and plentiful quests from the Valentine’s Detective Agency that would have again further enhanced the discovery and exploration aspect of the game. The characters and their actions all fit well within the world of Fallout 4 and they were all characteristics we see play out on big political stages in the real world which added a further layer of authenticity.
Some of the game mechanics, however, made you hate players that you shouldn’t really hate. I don’t think I have met a single person who likes Preston Garvey. A man that repeatedly tasks you with shitty quests that can (and do) go on forever and gives nothing back. By the end of the game although the Minutemen cause was one I was proud of, I couldn’t help but think that Preston Garvey was probably afforded a status that he shouldn’t be in the Minutemen and I actually found him to be a bit of a lazy half-assed leach. Forever riding the coat tails of my glory.
The Radiant Quest System Needs to Go!
Bethesda created this infinite quest system that means that certain characters like leachy Garvey will give you quest after quest to complete with little return and no ultimate outcome. You are simply given tasks for the sake of it and nothing else. This was introduced in Skyrim because Bethesda wrongfully interpreted the comments of players wishing previous titles would never end as a literal let’s make it so that someone can play forever.
NO Bethesda, NO! Pointless repetitive tasks are not the solution. It is lazy game making at the highest calibre which is completely at odds with much of the rest of Fallout 4 and it is actually a reason I decided not to play anymore. Having the knowledge that a game couldn’t be “completed” took away any incentive for me to play any further.
If you want your gamers experiences to go on longer then either create more in game content or provide meaningful DLC that adds additional and new story arcs. Currently the DLC adds minimal story and is woeful.
This is a big problem with open world games and I don’t really get why it is? For example, Red Dead Two ends where Red Dead One starts, the map and world and characters are fully created, why can’t Rockstar patch in the Red Dead One game and do a redux DLC?
If a game world has been fully realised, surely it can’t be too difficult to add additional content within the existing framework? Personally, I would have loved to have continued onto Red Dead One from Two in the new graphically superior world with new gameplay mechanisms.
In the case of Fallout 4, I would love to carry on the story of the Sole Survivor. I feel as though now he has taken over the commonwealth there will be unique challenges and even bigger governance decisions to make. I chose the institute ending (more on endings further down) and would have loved to explore the capability of being the leader of the institute as well as the progress I could make in the commonwealth. In that respect, I feel like the storytellers only told half the story and there is much that should have been done to wrap up the ending better or continue on the story as DLC.
The Ending of Fallout 4
From what I have read, there are 4 endings to Fallout 4. Although I only know three which are the Institute, Brotherhood and Railroad. I have read somewhere that there is a Minutemen Ending, but considering the Minutemen survive the Institute (and probably every ending because of the aforementioned shitty radiant quests) it seems a bit pointless to select the Minutemen as an exclusive ending.
For most of the game you’re primed to hate the Institute and throughout the game they are the most powerful enemy (apart from Assaultrons that seem unaffiliated and are insanely powerful) you will come across. As a quick aside, the Assualtrons are more difficult than the Institute Coarsers and this seems like a complete narrative oversight as the Institute is supposed to have created the Coarser as the ultimate weapon and the Institute is supposed to be the most tech advanced organisation in the Commonwealth.
So, why did I choose ultimately to side with the bad guys or the group that is supposed to be the bad guys?
Well simply, because they really weren’t the bad guys. First of all, if you do the optional Mama Murphy quest to completion she points you toward the institute ending. Mama Murphy who has been incredibly helpful throughout the game (including giving me a Coarser reset code which I will elaborate on further down) steers you toward choosing the institute as she says it is the only way humanity survives. And she is an oracle that can see the future…
Next, it was actually the lesser evil (except the Minutemen) of the three. If you pay attention to Father as some players may not because they have conditioned themselves until that point not to trust him, he explains that the Brotherhood are war-mongers after pre-war tech at the cost of human lives. Which you can see they clearly are.
The Railroad I hoped to save and I even played through the Railroad story and destroyed the Brotherhood with their help until I got to a point where Desdemona told me I needed to take down the Institute. In my mind, the Railroad had a point and these synths clearly seemed to want freedom which is the only real difference I had with Father’s outlook. I had told Father they were allies and I had hoped there would be an outcome that was sophisticated enough that if I showed Father through action they were allies, that he would trust my judgement.
Unfortunately, the game fell short and wasn’t as sophisticated as I had hoped it would be and Desdemona gave me an order to take down the Institute. After pausing, talking to Piper and getting her moral thoughts, I decided to go with my gut, that the Railroad would never build a human future and would actually risk human lives to save robots. That meant that with relative ease I walked up to Desdemona, shot her in the head and then killed the Railroad before returning to Father.
To my complete surprise, most other gamers hadn’t chosen the Institute which is a bit worrying if these events ever did unfold. I was in the 8% who chose the Institute ending. But I was glad I had, it rounded off the game and it took my father searching for his son arc to completion in a neat way. It also seemed most fitting.
Which is why I think most are unhappy with how the game ends. There is a lot of negativity about the story of Fallout 4 online, but I think in part that is because people found no comfort in the ending that they had chosen or the path they chose to follow. The story was well crafted and well written, free of obvious clichés and isn’t worthy of the criticism it faces.
The Levelling Up Mechanics and Other Gripes
Now on to some of the issues with the game that for me, detracted from my enjoyment. Firstly, the game has a quite complicated system that if you are new to the series isn’t very accessible because it is poorly explained. For the first part of the game I spent my time levelling up and adding to points on the top row of the 10-tiered level up system because I thought mistakenly that completing one tier unlocks the next. This was partly due to stupidity of me not trying lower tiers but it is also very poorly explained.
Furthermore, if you can level up along other tiers why have tiers at all? Just have a level up grid. So that part was annoying. It is the same for other mechanics that are poorly explained. I wandered around with Cait for a while before reading online that her character can pick more difficult locks… why wasn’t that made abundantly clear to me when she became my companion?
Next was the complicated crafting system which I understand has the potential to craft great weapons but by the time I needed great weapons, I had found weapons that were fit for purpose anyway, which kind of detracted from the need to craft. This crafting flaw was made even more obvious with armour because as you progress and kill some of the main characters, the armour they leave is exceptional without the need to spend ages tinkering away trying to achieve the same result.
My understanding is the camp development aspect of the game is new and building camps and kitting them out is effectively in stage one of development. I wish it had gone through proper beta testing though because it is buggy as hell and for the molecular quest it flat out doesn’t work for a lot of players. In fact, I have read that a lot of players simply turned off the game never to revisit it because they couldn’t complete that quest. That is a huge and gaping problem in a game where a mechanic doesn’t work and it ruins the entire game.
It almost ruined my game, and it took me 6 hours in game time to build a console using a work around method that should have taken me no more than hour including the time to collect the components. For this there is no excuse, it has been years now and a patch isn’t auto installed on download and Bethesda has done nothing to help players – as a gamer this is the worst kind of game-making. Wilfully ignoring glaring problems in a game and refusing to put them right.
The person that developed the base building practice and then incorporated it into the main story in a way that it prevents continuance but doesn’t actually work properly should be sacked. It is pure negligence and it has probably cost Bethesda a lot of lost fans which is a lot of lost future revenue. Gamers are fickle, if something seems unplayable (remember Oblivion and my journey here) we will not pay money in the future and take the risk. Its high time developers on boarded their critics, listened to them and then implemented progressive and productive changes otherwise you can kiss goodbye entirely to games industry which is already haemorrhaging money and being radically cut back.
My last really big issue is that throughout the game over countless hours there was always the promise of a big fight around the corner where I would be tested. Levels would be filled with supplies as you made your way deeper into them and you felt as though the next boss you faced would be truly difficult. Each time the boss came, it never lived up to the hype. This was really irritating.
Then came the promise of a Coarser. An enemy that in game was being built up to being incredibly hard to beat. Then came the level approaching the Coarser to get its chip and yet again the same rigmarole of lots and lots of preparatory aid and nukes and armour etc… then I get there and because I had completed my Mama Murphy quest I simply reset the Coarser on the spot.
But, that wasn’t too bad, I had surely deferred the battle, I would inevitably have to face these godlike Coarsers at a later point. And soon enough all my Christmases came at once and I was tasked with facing off against a Coarser in one of the faction missions. I stocked up, expecting the war of a lifetime because that is what I had been told both explicitly and through gameplay to expect. Then, I found the Coarser and killed him with ease. Not even a sweat break, it took like 4-5 shots and a bit of guess work because he turned “invisible” which he wasn’t fully invisible. Absolute let down.
Never fear I thought, there will be some big battles in the final war and it won’t be easy to annihilate any of the factions. The Railroad is bedded in all over the place and holed up ready for guerrilla warfare. The Brotherhood of Steel have a well-oiled and vast army including a gigantic mothership and the institute could strike at will by teleporting synths in at any point they chose. Yes, I was certain there would be some big fights and lots of attrition before I reached any resolution.
Yet again it never happened. It was all one big empty promise. The railroad was destroyed in the two shots I planted in Desdemona’s head effectively. The Brotherhood were woefully ineffective allowing me to simply run in, place explosives and get out (without dying or retrying once which was the same for my Coarser fight) and there were no subsequent battles. It all seemed far too easy especially as I am new to the series and you would expect that it would take me a while to get up to speed.
The only time I had any difficulty was when I took Cait to a vault and there were two Assaultrons outside that were absolute slags to attack because their attacks were so impactful and they were fast. I was expecting Coarsers to be like Assaultrons on steroids. I was expecting to be a sweating, dribbling, crying wreck by the time I had beaten one. And, I was expecting at the very least a modicum of difficulty.
As I progressed through the game the loading screen messages said “are you finding the game too easy? Switch on Survival Mode.” Or something along those lines. As a player that had no where near maxed out their grid or even played a Bethesda game before, I shouldn’t be wanting to turn on insane difficulty. In fact, I normally reserve insane difficulty for games like Gears of War which I have completed on all other difficulties and have mastered. I shouldn’t be needing to play through a game on an ordinary basis using insane difficulty for it to be a challenge.
Fallout 4 is Too Easy and it is Set Up to Be Easy
Fallout 4, I have concluded, is just not very well made when it comes to difficulty. The game seems to think it is more difficult than it is (I can assure you, although I have played through some games on insane difficulty, I am by no means an expert gamer) and there were far too many missed opportunities as a result. The ending regardless of the story was always going to be anti-climatic because the player hadn’t struggled to reach it. An ending should be one big final hard and embattled slog up the impossible mountain to reach the highest peak. It should not be the gentle, oftentimes relaxing stroll through the post nuclear woods.
There are many lessons for Bethesda to learn from Fallout 4. They need to refine a lot in order to get the perfect game, but they have at least got the blueprint of how to get there. There was a point about 20 hours in when I had just romanced Piper and was doing the detective missions looking for my son when I was completely in love with the game. It felt great to assume the role, take on the adventure, explore the world and I was the good end of the possibilities.
I am an imaginative person that is always able to develop something and I could see so much scope in those moments. I loved that Fallout 4 treated me like an adult and I felt as though I controlled my destiny. It was a purely wonderful gaming experience. But it was fleeting and soon the flaws bore out with complete obviousness and once that happens the illusion is ruined. The mask slipped quickly and by the end of it I feel the game is far from perfection, and riddled with flaws and missed opportunities. I also feel of all the games I have ever played, it is the one game that has the formula for the perfect game. Even if it is currently being woefully underutilised. Why not check it out for yourself?