Fallout 4 launched in a sea of critical acclaim three weeks ago raking in perfect and near perfect scores from gaming publications and main stream news sites alike.
I have always admired Bethesda’s RPGs for their scope, but their reputation for building ambitious, gigantic games with only a rough polish has generally led me to abandon it early on. Fallout 4 is rough around the edges, ambitious and gigantic, but that’s okay.
Playing it as simulated alternate universe rather than a short diversion has made it the kind of game that stands out from the crowd. It has its frustrations, but it lives up to the hype that surrounds it.
Extras: Season passes, the first scheduled to arrive early in 2016
About Bethesda & ZeniMax Media
Bethesda Softworks is a video game publisher based in Maryland, United States. It was founded in 1986 and publishes a broad range of video games. Their in-house game studio, Bethesda Game Studio, was established in 2002 and is its developers have almost exclusively been working on The Elder Scrolls and the Fallout franchises. Bethesda is a subsidiary of ZeniMax Media.
“Headquartered just north of Washington, D.C., with offices in North America, Europe, Australia and Asia, ZeniMax Media is a video game publisher, managed by an experienced group of executives, which has assembled a strong creative team of world-class game developers, graphic artists and designers, sound engineers, producers and programmers to create and sell premium video game titles to a growing worldwide market.” Read more here (official site).
Need to know for beginners
The world is riddled with Fallout 4 how-to guides. It is a massively complex game with as much breadth as depth and what would normally be small extra touches in most video games could be a full-blown game on its own from Fallout’s Wasteland.
It is Big Story Game with quest lines linking into a plot and story line. It is an open-world adventure focused on scavenging and exploration. It is a straight up shooter with cool weapons and a huge armor suit system. It is a settler building game with magnificent scope to build, grow your own food and develop thriving colonies.
Once play time started to inch toward double digits, I realised with a sinking feeling that I had been thrown into the deep end with a shoddy UI and no tutorial or hints and if I was going to keep enjoying it, I needed some help.
I couldn’t figure out how to holster my weapon, how to run a powerline from a generator to a piece of equipment, how to assign settlers to certain duties and I lost my dog despite having built him a lovely kennel.
Too much help was forthcoming and reading help guides was not helpful. There were too many, focused on too many different aspects of the game, covered everything from beginning to end in a 60+ hour ‘campaign’ and I still couldn’t figure out whether I was playing the game well enough to not frustrating problems come up later in the game.
The basics: user interface and controls
Save often. Save all the time.
There is a quick save and manual save option, use it all the time. If the game glitches, the easiest fix is to just reload. Combat can be frustrating, particularly in the early stages and it only adds to the frustration when you have carefully seached every cabinet and picked off many enemies to reach nearly the end of your destination then die and realise you haven’t saved since before entering the building. Save. Save. Save.
Bullets: Ammo is a rare commodity. Pick up a selection of weapons that use different ammo early on and
Armor & suits: Armor suits are cool but clunky, useful but not vital. Keep it upgraded, maintain it well, park it somewhere safe and fetch it for more challenging encounters because the energy cores that power it run out and have to be scavenged and replaced regularly. Focus on your clothing, armor is vital.
Just say yes: Pick up all quests – there are many early on, but they dry up later and if you want to keep playing after the main story ends, they are harder to find. There is no limit on quests, picking them up has no negative impact and complete them when you feel like it.
Reholster your weapon: Hold the Reload button to holster your weapon.
XP is everywhere: Crafting and cooking also provide XP. Cook and make things as often as you can.
Shoot from cover: Take cover then right click to shoot from cover.
Build up a wardrobe: Have a combat outfit, but also have a +Charisma outfit to wear when trading with dealers to get a better deal.
Settlements, growing and building
Don’t jump the gun on building a settlement. Follow the Minutemen quest, it’ll lead you back to Sanctuary and do a little tutorial to introduce the basic aspects of growing your settlement(s). Loot everything along the way from the beginning to have enough materials for crafting when you get there.
To run a wire from a generator to equipment, open the workshop panel, move to the spot where you want to build, create the generator and place it, create the equipment and place it nearby and then a prompt will appear at the bottom of the building UI to press Y to connect the two with a wire.
Build Dogmeat a kennel straight away, then use it. You have to send/leave him at the kennel otherwise he will just go and nap wherever he wants and leave you wandering your settlement looking for him because he cannot be called or summoned.
Get the Gun Nut perk early on to open up better weapon mods. Strip outdated weapons of their mods by replacing your custom mods with a standard mod, otherwise when selling or scrapping a weapon, you just lose the mod. Some early weapons come with very cool mods you cannot make yourself, remove them from an old weapon and place them on your new weapon.
Workshop benches have infinite storage. When your bag gets full, dump your stuff at a workshop. Press “Y” to transfer all junk. The workshop will automatically use ingredients stored by disassembling them to their basic components.
Ammo is scarce and comes in many varieties. Use all ammo types and invest in Ammo related perks like “Science”.
Scroll down! There are many more perks, but no indication that you can scroll down. It is a huge perk tree, don’t miss out on the best stuff below the fold.
Intelligence: Invest heavily early on – it lets you gain more experience, allowing you to level up faster and gain access to more perks quicker.
Strength: Invest moderately in strength at the start (at least 3 points) as it affects your carry capacity and pick up the Armorer perk.
Scrapper: Pick up the Scrapper perk to gain early access to some of the rarer crafting materials early on. Scrap, don’t sell 99% of the time.
Hacker (Intelligence) is a vital skill, spend points on it.
Locksmith (Perception) is an even more vital skill – spend point on it.
Charisma is important – it is the only way to increase your odds with bartering and persuasion.
Luck is a useful thing to have. There are some very cool perks in the Luck tree – more stuff. Get lucky when you can.
Scrounger (Luck) – if you find yourself constantly low on ammo, put a point or two in here to increase the odds of finding ammo inside containers.
Local Leader (Charisma) – don’t pick it up too early, there is no point connecting your supply lines when you can’t establish any yet. But once you have multiple settlements, it is vital, get it.
Stealth: Putting points in stealth makes sneaking much easier. The more points, the easier it gets until at later levels, you don’t even have to crouch anymore to avoid enemies spotting you and it becomes possible to escape most combat situations easily.
The Ergohacks Evaluation
Fallout 4 isn’t for everyone. It is a deep, immersive game that asks for a lot of time and effort. It is complex with a less-than-optimal user interface and no hand-holding at all. There is no choice of difficulty settings, a significant amount of combat is unavoidable and so is managing a huge, ever growing inventory.
I still think it is a pretty versatile game because it doesn’t limit what players can do to what they should be doing.
Within the first 2 hours of the game it lets go of your hand and leaves you to your own devices. Go where you like, do what you like. Spend hours building your settlement. Spend hours exploring and completing side-quests. Follow the main quest line and plot. Do as you like, find what you enjoy.
It very much has the sense of throwing you into a wasteland alongside your character. It is a headache to figure out the menu system and what and cannot be done, but my sense of satisfaction outweighed my sense of frustration each time and kept me coming back to play more regularly.
It is possible to manually save any time and to quit the game at any point. It is possible to play in short bursts or in long marathon sessions. Give it your undivided attention or scavenge abandoned houses, tinker in the workshop whilst watching a movie on another screen.
Play when you want, how long you want, customize your character, including playing as a man or woman, but be aware that it is a marathon, not a sprint and it is not safe to play around children.
It doesn’t require previous experience in the Fallout universe or particular skills or expertise. It isn’t a game I would recommend as an introduction to gaming, but everything you need to know can be figured out by playing it.
Mods are possible but are not officially supported until next year. The currently available third party mods are legal to use but you run a small risk of corrupting your save files and future Bethesda patches might cause problems. There is also a ingame console thaat lets you alter almost anything about the game if you’re willing to break Bethesda’s vision.
The controls in Fallout 4 is fairly standard and it is easy to just pick up and play. Not all controls are clearly mapped, but most are. It can be played with a mouse and keyboard or a controller on PC, both are fully supported.
The control scheme is standard for an open-world shooter and have clearly been adapted for the more limited buttons of a controller. It will require a reasonable amount of dexterity and timing to play, but there are no quick-time events, repeated button mashing and some support modes are available through the V.A.T.S. system that both auto-targets and slows down time to a crawl.
I would recommend to players with dexterity issues to invest heavily in the V.A.T.S. system with their perk points.
The main heads-up display is not brilliant, but not too bad either. It is mostly a minimal interface with only navigation and a health bar at the bottom, which works well for me. In combat or when wearing an armor suit, more vital information is added in the standard positions and the colour and transparency can be adjusted by players.
This option is not inside the game menu, but in the Pause menu. Select “Display” when on pause and it is possible to change the colour of both the Pip-Boy interface and heads-up display.
The user interface for crafting is clumsy and frustrating to use. There is no indication that there may be more when you scroll up, down or sideways and there is no real tutorial that show players how to make use of it.
Environment & People
Fallout 4 is set in a post-nuclear apocalyptic wasteland and has a strong survivalist theme. It is not the most coherent of worlds – despite the fact that the world as we know it was annihilated over 200 years ago, much of the scenery paints a more immediate picture with corpses frozen at the moment of death, perfectly intact, often with many of their things still decaying around them. There is no green vegetation and rust-coloured plants are wild mutations – so are the animals that roam around.
It is possible to try and stretch the back-drop of this world to allow players the opportunity to think about universal issues that surround survival and living in an irradiated world with fractured or non-existing governments and oversight, but it doesn’t really work.
It is obvious that the aim of the game is superficial and stylistic. It’s a cool game, which is cool, but not particularly realistic.
It is available at the standard £40 retail price of a newly released game. It is a huge open world and although we value quality over quantity, it is also an impressive and immersive game despite being a little rough around the edges. If the price tag is still too steep, it should drop over time as it does for most titles.
Full-controller support on PC.
Languages: English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Polish, Portuguese-Brazil, Russian, Traditional Chinese (interface, full audio, subtitles).
Xbox One, Playstation 4 or PC that meets the system requirements.
Internet connection to download digital copies and patches.
System requirements (PC)
Operating system: Windows 7/8/10 (64-bit OS required)
Processor: Intel Core i5 2.8 GHz/AMD Phenom II X4 (minimum) – Intel Core i7 3.6 GHz/AMD FX 4.7 GHz (recommended)
Memory: 8 GB RAM
Graphics: NVIDIA GTX 550 Ti 2GB/AMD Radeon HD 7870 2GB (minimum) to NVIDIA GTX 780 3GB/AMD Radeon R9 290X 4GB
Storage: 30 GB available space
The opening of Fallout 4 tasked me with an urgent Very Important Thing To Do. It then released me into an open wasteland and very soon the urgency faded from my quest as I scoured empty houses for broken hot plates, bottle caps and coffee cups. I felt conflicted from the start because I want to follow the story and see where it leads me, but the game mechanics continuously pulls me in other directions.
Maybe it’s just an inherent flaw in a game who wants to be everything, but I felt as if, though clumsily done, it hits a point of likeness to real life that is almost uncomfortable. There is always a Very Important Thing that needs doing, but they are usually also bigger than life things with many steps and many of those steps are tedious.
Fallout 4 plays a little like life itself. Precious time is spent collecting, growing, networking, expanding, building up resources and it is impossible to tell how much is enough. There is no question that some of it is needed to complete the main quest line, but also that not all of it is needed. The choice is left in my hands to decide when it’s time to stop gathering resources and get going again.
It is memorable, engaging and magnificent despite its glitches, frustrations and chaotic craziness because it leaves so many things up to the player. It isn’t a thrill ride, but a slow journey through a broken world. Fallout 4 is an alternate world with its own never ending to-do lists and drama that just keeps going on. It isn’t a linear game and it is just too easy to get bogged down in the details and there are so many of them.
It has its flaws, its bugs, its inconsistencies, but it also has charm and a compelling magnetism. It is a game that asks for a lot and in return for half a dozen hours hands back a few points, a few perks, a handful of bottle caps, a few melons, a bit of dialogue and a gang or two of bad guys to eliminate, which really isn’t much. But in throwing everything at me, it has given me a whole new world and I want to experience it because it isn’t often that I am handed a whole world to shape, change, grow and enjoy.
Fallout 4 is immersive for all the right reasons. Don’t miss out on this one. Find the time to play it. Highly recommended.
Product: Fallout 4 | Developer: Bethesda Game Studio | Publisher: Bethesda Softworks | Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One | Genre: RPG | Language: English | Players: 1 | Version: Europe | Release Date: 10 November 2015 |Content Rating: PEGI 18, ESRB (mature)
The review is based on the PC (Steam download) version of the game kindly provided by Bethesda. This post contains affiliate links. First published on 4 December 2015.