Your faithful German Shepherd lets out a whine as a radioactive storm crackles on the skyline. The pulsing green flashes illuminate the cityscape of Boston as your Geiger counter tracks the incoming rads. Suddenly the ground swells as a massive radscorpion burrows out in an attempted ambush. ‘Ah, my old enemy’, you think, ‘you’ve learned a new trick – but your demise is imminent.’ Ten seconds later, you’re a punctured, poisoned heap – quite shocked, and very dead. Radscorpions, much like many aspects of the series, have been given an overhaul. Fallout 4 represents a fluid continuation of the post-apocalyptic RPG series and it is immediately compelling.
Opening with your character creation taking place in a pre-war suburbia, you’re given a brief window to explore your Nuclear family residence and interact with your spouse, child and robot butler before a knock at the door leads you racing with your family to the nearest protective vault, just in time to escape nuclear annihilation. Graphically, the game uses a modified version of Bethesda’s Creation engine, previously utilised for Skyrim. Whilst it doesn’t feel too far removed from the previous generation’s visuals, its subtleties are gradually revealed with every passing hour. It’s not an introduction that batters the psyche like The Last of Us’, but it certainly lingers in the mind as the main narrative unfolds. As has become commonplace in the series, once you escape the tight confines of your subterranean shelter, the true adventure begins as you gaze out onto the ruins of a world you last saw over two centuries ago.
The map may initially appear small, but the sheer density of the Commonwealth is soon revealed after only a few hours’ exploration. This density can throw up instances of dissonance – how are a peaceful settlement and a super mutant encampment peacefully co-existing a mere Molotov cocktail throw away from each other? This is a minor gripe, however, as it clearly shortens the length of time you spend striding through relative nothingness.
As opposed to the abundance in previous games, there’s fewer examples of Googie, Art Deco and Streamlined architecture here but the styles are still present in other design elements such as statues and sculptures. That’s not to say the Commonwealth is without stand-out architecture. The Red Rocket stations have been given a sleek redevelopment and some of the tech/industrial facilities are magnificent in their scale and boldness. Further to its man-made architecture, the Commonwealth is home to all manner of beautiful vistas derived from a multitude of environments.
As an impetus to explore the Commonwealth, the main narrative is expectedly bolstered with hundreds of additional quests and tasks. There’s the standard fetch and assassinate/clear area quests, but working for the morally upstanding Minutemen organisation opens up some notable ones including reclaiming an old coastal fortress and constructing artillery cannons that can then assist you in the heat of battle. As you progress, other factions are revealed and fully committing to one, as ever, will lead to conflict.
Fallout 4‘s gunplay is far better than its predecessors’, with hip-firing and on-the-fly scoping now feasible combat options, and this is no doubt due to the assistance of id software (Doom, RAGE) for this specific task. The V.A.T.S system of stopping time to aim at a specific part of an opponent at the cost of actions points has been altered slightly so that the enemy is still in actual motion whilst you aim and critical hits are now guaranteed once the required meter is charged. These changes improve the system – lending it a better functionality and making it more of a choice only in a high-risk combat situation.
The series’ animal enemies have finally been fully realised, with the deathclaws and aforementioned radscorpions as deservedly deadly (at least in hard mode) as they were in the original Fallout. Further to this, the enemies’ movements are now natural and fluid, more intelligent even, than that of their predecessor’s. Wild dogs will attempt to flank you, mutated insects will zigzag towards you in a buzzing frenzy, molerats and radscorpions will burrow under the turf and pursue you and mirelurks will charge you whilst ducking into their armoured shells. It’s a world away from the simple-minded bullet-sponging beeline charging of old.
Should you require a companion to assist in such encounters, Fallout 4 has a slew of willing participants, although there’s no capacity for multiple parties. Starting off with the lovable canine, Dogmeat, the game throws up a range of potential companions who’ll either approve/disapprove of your actions based upon their own outlook, in a new type of karma system. Should your companion grow to idolise you, they’ll engage you in dialogue (this is the first in the series to provide your character with voice acting), opening up their past history and possibly unlocking new unique quests. They’ll either prove to be of great assistance and get in your way, or prove to be a hindrance and get in your way. You’re afforded a degree of control over your companion’s actions and can command them to go to specific areas or even unlock/hack items should they have the requisite skill. Using them as a packhorse is absolutely essential as your wholly inadequate carryweight will quickly fill up with an assortment of scavenged weaponry, armour and wasteland junk.
There’s a mass of varying equipment but Fallout 4‘s crafting system allows you to heavily modify it. This mechanic requires a hefty slab of time and energy, first by carefully hoarding the required parts and second by levelling up enough to unlock the appropriate crafting perks. For instance, if you’re going the route of heavily modifying a laser rifle, you’d need to be levelled up in both the Gun Nut and Science perk trees. The inventory can be initially frustrating due to the multiple tabs and lack of search functions but the hot keys can help to alleviate this problem. The game features a base building mechanic that allows you to construct whole settlements and, as such, is a potentially massive aspect of the game to which an entire article could be dedicated. It opens up various new ways to engage with the game but is not without its frustrations.
Despite any minor gripes, the important thing is that all these systems, for the most part, function together better than ever before. Fallout 4 is a content rich, addictive and powerful game that does for the series what Skyrim did for The Elder Scrolls – streamlines and improves it greatly. The central narrative is gripping, with plenty of twists and turns, memorable characters and a worthy end-game. The original score is full of tender melancholy – reflective piano pieces contemplating a time and space in a perpetually forlorn state. As an open world title, Fallout 4 sets a lofty precedent and players could easily pour hundreds of hours into exploring the Commonwealth and still not uncover all of its treasures.