My adopted canine companion and I carefully navigated through the rubble-strewn Boston suburb, scavenging for anything of value. I was role-playing Fallout 4’s main protagonist to the extent that I’d decided that ultimately, he wanted to grow a simple garden somewhere safe and enjoy as many years that he could in relative peace, along with his dog. A garden would help to restore not only a sense of nature in the barren, post-apocalyptic setting of Fallout 4, but also re-establish routine and normalcy (at least to an extent).
Planting seeds and producing a garden in the hellish new world also symbolized renewal. Metaphorically speaking, creating something beautiful and natural in these dire circumstances meant going through a rebirth of sorts—or so he hoped. My mind wandered as it played with the variables; what if I found some seeds and managed to plant them, and after a few weeks I heard some strange noises, only to come out to my burgeoning garden to find numerous, giant, uprooted, shambling Venus flytrap creatures with fang-rimmed maws? You could never tell what you’d get since much of the world was irradiated.
My trusty dog whimpered and ran ahead up to the next crumbling corner. He poked his head around it, sniffed the air, and then ran back toward me as I began to hear the sounds of weapon’s fire. After slinking up to the same corner, I dared a peek around it and saw that a gang of mutants was assailing a caravan of survivors.
What would I do? Should I avoid conflict entirely as was the character’s philosophy (I was role-playing, remember?) and turn around, or could I just tip-toe stealthily around the engagement and find a more suitable vantage point, in order to observe how things go? I studied the survivor’s gear; they had large backpacks full of equipment—maybe there were some seeds somewhere amongst them. I looked down at my rugged, side-clip mounted assault rifle and switched its firing mode to full auto. This was going to be quite a battle…
Bethesda Software’s Fallout 4 allows for these sorts of deep role-playing opportunities, hundreds of them in fact. Or perhaps thousands. I’m not entirely sure. I’m about thirty hours into the game and am just now realizing that I’m not even close to experiencing the full breadth of Fallout 4. This game is immense, and not in the same way that its predecessor Fallout 3 was.
Whereas Fallout 3 was similar in that your main character awoke and sallied forth from an old but sturdy nuclear fallout shelter (Fallout 3’s was in Washington D.C. instead of Boston), and prompts the player to explore its vast environs for survivors, loot, or what have you, Fallout 4 is different in several ways.
First of all, Fallout 4 is much larger than its forerunner, and whereas in Fallout 3 players had to traverse sprawling, blasted wastelands, or comb through dilapidated urban areas with vast networks of abandoned subways tunnels beneath them, nothing much happened for long periods of time. In Fallout 4 everything is much more fleshed out.
How are they different? Well, for instance, you might come across an immense irradiated wasteland filled with horrid creatures waiting to pounce on the weak, called the Glowing Sea. Or, you may discover a makeshift city, filled with all sorts of interesting characters, nestled in a huge sports stadium, near downtown Boston. The whole area seems much more busy and teeming with life (and half-life, unfortunately).
Fallout 4 even takes this further, allowing players to gather certain wayward folks that they come across and form grassroots communities out of the broken landscape. These hippy-like communes can grow into small towns, complete and self-sustaining with their own food, shops and homes, and defenses if need be. Chances are, they’ll definitely need to more often than not, as the world of Fallout 4 is stuffed to the gills with all sorts of hostile factions—harboring all manner of hostile intentions.
When it comes to combat, Fallout 4 stumbles slightly, nearly copying Fallout 3’s rather mundane gameplay mechanics almost to fault. There is still no cover system (something I rather enjoyed in another open-world extravaganza – Grand Theft Auto V) and the melee and gunplay aspects seem underdeveloped, as if they were an afterthought. I can understand that combat can be put on the backburner when it comes to deep, narrative-driven games like Fallout 4, but having a capable and enjoyable combat system in place for when violence does break out would have been nice to see. Especially after seven years.
The bullet-time (here called V.A.T.S.) popularized in other games such as the Max Payne series is back. However, instead of stopping time completely and allowing for cheap-shots as in Fallout 3, here times just slows down to a crawl, leaving you open to attack. This creates more fluid yet dangerous encounters which require more tactical planning and execution.
The visuals in Fallout 4 are simply stunning, and except for the odd texture and bug here and there (which I’m sure will be taken care of in upcoming patches) it really draws you in and makes you feel like you’re part of a living, breathing, meticulously hand-crafted world. Those lucky enough to have 4k gaming PCs will be awestruck at the level of detail. And the environments aren’t just set pieces; I experimented a little bit by approaching a skyscraper off in the distance (a common test I perform), and upon reaching it, was able to enter and fully explore every nook and cranny of it. That says a lot.
Fallout 4 didn’t stray far from its forebear in terms of design and style, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Rather, it improved on nearly every aspect of Fallout 3 and simultaneously created a vaster, richer, gaming experience. As mentioned, there are tons of elements in place that are conducive to heavy role-playing and immersive gaming in general, and while its combat mechanics may still be a little outdated, its deep, story-driven sensibilities greatly overshadow its few minute drawbacks. Fallout 4 is a game that I’ll be playing for many months to come—an instant classic that has sprouted up from the weeds.
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