Developers: Bethesda Games Studios
Publishers: Bethesda Softworks
Plot: A survivor of the nuclear apocalypse wakes out of a cryopod to find their spouse dead and son stolen by the nefarious Institute.
The problem Bethesda has with games like Fallout and Elder Scrolls is the fact that because the fan-base knows precisely what they want, there is the inherent struggle to update the structure of each game, without losing touch with the original charm we all want. Fallout works best when throwing the gamer into a harsh wasteland, a world blown to pieces by radiation, and the gamer does the rest of the work. All we really need from Bethesda is a few narrative pieces to add a flourish to the gaming landscape. Colonies we can either ally with or wage war on. Raider settlements guarding juicy loot. A terrifying large Radscorpion or Deathclaw waiting to jump out on us when we least expect it. However, that is a sure-fire way to quickly make your gaming series get stale. Besides if that is all we want, then why not return to Fallout 3 or New Vegas which are still great platforms to achieve those satisfying thrills, despite their age.
Therefore Bethesda tears up the rulebook and starts again, creating a far more three-dimensional and visceral gaming experience. Before, the games merely told us about the events of the apocalypse that tore apart the world in an early exposition scene. They were the history of the game, rather than the game itself. Fallout 4 instantly breaks routine and makes us play through the terrifying nuclear strike that has been the staple of this gaming series from the start. Suddenly we have a Fallout that questions the history and morality of the game, taking us deeper into the story than we ever had before. We play the head of a pleasant American family, living in a quiet village. The sequence is brief, the game getting to the apocalypse side of things before the experience get stale, but we hang around just long enough to get a sense of what happened. In a world with rapidly growing technological advances, perhaps we were not entirely blameless in the eventual nuclear fallout that transpired (interestingly, play the game in a certain direction and you end Fallout 4 in a poetic instance of deja vu). Before long, we have ticked off the usual ‘choose your traits’ tutorials in the game and have been rushed into a Vault for our own survival. This Vault specialises in cryogenics, freezing you, your spouse and son, Shaun. However, as you wake up years down the line, in a world eternally scarred by the war you slept through, you find your partner with a bullet in her head and your son abducted by a sinister corporation. Fallout 4 sees you break out of this vault, a fresh-faced relic from a time before the violence of the Commonwealth, and take on this terrifying new world in a bid to save your family.
In another game-changing move, the character we play is no longer faceless or speechless. While he is still able to mould into the character we want him to be, based on the dialogue options at hand (you are usually given a choice between a friendly, sarcastic, cynical or questioning response to every question), he is also a character worthy of following through the story. What this does is give Fallout a more story-based experience to its usual open world style. While a few cynics in the audience might frown at this change in style, as we venture into the game, it is surprising how little it affects the gameplay. You are still thrown into a story you may continue or ignore. Every mission has a handy gap, in case there is a side-quest you want to explore first, or perhaps you just want to pick a corner of the map and fight your way through the landscape, in a bid to discover what secrets are out there. Fallout 4 is the still the Fallout you always wanted it to be. But now you are given a voice, so as you get to grips with the Commonwealth, you can interact with the world around you. It adds a welcome layer of depth to everything. Even as early on as the assassination of your spouse, your character utters a breathless sob of despair. In Fallout 3, this event would be greeted with cold silence, as the gamer had to embrace the emotional side of the story themselves. It is not just the lead character you care for more, as a result, but the supporting cast. Every new character is now able to bounce off and develop chemistry with the player, something that couldn’t happen before. The potential villains of the story can now debate morals with you, rather than spouting off monologues in your vacant direction. As you team up with a member of an allied force, the witty banter flies between the pair of you, creating fun partnerships. When the end of the game crops up and it is possible for some of the characters to get killed off, this is endlessly important, as Fallout 4 stumbles across some heart-wrenching moments that we could argue the other instalments of Fallout were crucially lacking.
Another element of the game which has been injected with a much-needed jolt of life are the companion characters in the game. In a true Fallout staple, search the Commonwealth enough and you will find some lost souls who, when coaxed, are willing to trek out into the wild with you as a second pair of hands for both carrying loot and shooting enemies. They have always seemed a bit vacant in previous games though. New Vegas did a lot more work with their companions, such as a sniper with a tragic, mysterious past, but even then, they never felt crucial to the game. With Fallout 4, every companion comes complete with their own motivations, history and personalities (with the exception of the dog: the writers aren’t that good!) that add a richness to the game. While they are a bit too easy to find in this one (in Vegas, you had to hunt around and earn a friend; here, you trip over five in the first two hours of gameplay), they are much more three-dimensional. It is the little details that bring them to life. As they travel with you, their interactions are more than just cheering a good kill or acting surprised when an enemy begins its assault. Enter a new area important to the game, they will chip in with a comment. When you swap companions, the pair of them will exchange greetings. Sometimes, they are just so damn likeable from Nick Valentine’s grizzly Noir robot detective to the adorable French robot, who suggests calling the police whenever a horde of feral ghouls attack you. You also have to meet their expectations if you want them on your side. The synth detective Valentine, probably the one with the richest back story, has a strict moral code and if you break that by looting places you shouldn’t be looting or shooting an ally in the back for your own amusement, and he will threaten to leave. On the other hand, maybe if you are tagging along with a Super Mutant as a friend, perhaps he will respect your willingness to act selfishly. The more you build up a relationship with your chosen partner, the more of their story you unlock. The troubled Irish Raider will slowly reveal her traumatic life that led her to become as washed out as she is. Nick Valentine will confide his beliefs to you. Eventually, you might even find a quest buried in their origin stories. It is a great feeling, just when you thought you had conquered every angle of the game, your companion chips in with a request that you go and help them with something. As a result, you find yourself often in the middle of a growing chemistry even when you are doing little more than fighting Super Mutants in the Wasteland.
The other major addition to the game is the fact that when you are tired of the story for the time being, you can work on actually carving out a life for yourself and your friends in the Commonwealth. Early on, you find help with the Minutemen, a group of rag-tag fighters who try to help the down-on-their-luck, creating a sense of solidarity to combat the selfish isolation that inspires people to become raiders or criminals. This offers you the option to build communities across the Commonwealth where people can show up and live safely, as long as they work towards the betterment of the settlement. At first, it can be a jarring experience when the complicated crafting menus pop up, almost as though Bethesda is trying to cash in on the popularity of Minecraft. However, there is fun to be had in building growing farms that keep a small group of survivors happy, especially if you find enough material to defend it with turrets and armed guards. For the perfectionists, you can even build your own market routes, creating shops in the town, hiring villagers to work behind the counter and then select another villager to travel between your settlements, building a growing economy in your own village. Forget the scripted markets of Diamond City or Goodneighbour; you might find yourself restocking ammo and Stimpaks in a base of your own by the end of the game. It also suddenly puts a bigger emphasis on looting. Fallout has always given you the option to carry around utter junk that you found on your travels. It’s job was to be sold, although as you carried the burden of 29 staplers, you found yourself questioning the value of your stock. Here, any random piece of junk picked up in the game can be broken down to their component parts (steel, glass, circuitry), and used to craft more materials for your settlement. Suddenly, every random object in the game is worth picking up, which again, adds another layer of depth to the same, old gameplay we are used to. Also, if this new feature is just too complicated for you, or perhaps you think it is just something that takes away from the gaming experience, Bethesda have designed it, so gamers have the option of almost completely ignoring this side of the game, if you choose to do so. It acts as a fun side-feature, rather than one more laborious task.
Perhaps this is the real success of Fallout 4. Despite all of these new features and development of old ideas, Bethesda have still managed to give us the same, beloved gaming experience as before. At its heart, Fallout 4 knows what it needs to be. While the first few hours of the game are spent taking in the new feel of the new instalment, by the time you have settled, you are fighting through the game you are used to, muscle memory taking over. The story is a well-crafted narrative, the first half of the game designed to fuel the player with the mystery of who took their son. Like Fallout 3 and New Vegas, the one-minded pursuit of tracking down a missing person, keeps the narrative flowing, as you uncover the players in the story, namely the Institute, a mysterious Scientific organisation, who use robots that can double as humans to snatch people in the night. However, when you finally catch up with the Institute at the midway point of the game, a jaw-dropping twist is thrown into the mix and you find yourself in the typical Fallout dilemma of choosing a side. You end up being forced to shape the Commonwealth in the closing moments. Perhaps as ever with Fallout games, this open-ended style robs the game of a true villain, every potential bad guy coming across as a betrayed friend more than a evil figure. In fact, certain beats make out the real villain of the story to be yourself. However, it does give you a final act that forces you to think, question your earlier decisions and send the game out with a nuclear explosion, rather than a whimper.
Final Verdict: Fallout 4 updates the gameplay to the point where the predecessors are obsolete, but maintains that original charm that makes the series so well-received.