Fallout (4 ) Never Changes – First Impressions

I’ve put about 10 hours into Fallout 4 over this weekend. That’s a drop in the bucket compared to the time it will take to complete the game, but I think it’s enough to get a handle on the positives and negatives of this new iteration of Fallout. I’m not writing a full review – I haven’t finished yet, and writing a review of an open world game sounds terrible. However, I do have some assorted  thoughts on the game.

2877208-fallout4_upt2015_20150603_v2

  1. Character creation. For the first time in Fallout my character isn’t an ugly, blurry mess. Borrowing from DAI’s face sculpting tools, you can actually create a decent looking character in this game.
  2. Setup. For the first time, we get to see what things were like before the bombs fell. It’s brief, but we are introduced to our character and their partner and child just minutes before they’re ushered into a Vault and the nukes go off. It’s nice to have a minute to appreciate Fallout’s distinct aesthetic in its prime before the world becomes a Wasteland.
  3. Story. The game tries to give us a more urgent and personal story from the get-go, but it doesn’t succeed. As we wake up in the Vault we see our infant son get kidnapped, so we go out to find him. However once you leave the vault and get a glimpse of the wasteland, all thoughts of the creepy baby are quickly pushed aside, as exploration is much more appealing. Sure, you can tell people in conversation that you’re looking for your baby, but so far I’ve gone 10 hours without following that particular story thread. There’s no emotional attachment there and frankly it’s just not that interesting.
  4. Urgency. There really isn’t any. At least so far. However, this is a problem with pretty much all open world games, so I won’t hold it too much against Fallout 4.
  5. Voices. For the first time, the protagonist is voiced. This is a very welcome change, though the performance of the female protagonist so far is not particularly inspiring. It’s not bad, but she’s certainly no Commander Shepard. Partially this is due to the writing – the dialogue is sparse and to the point. Though there is usually a sarcastic response option.
  6. Storytelling. Where I’ve always thought the modern Fallout games excel is visual and environmental storytelling. It’s not the big arc, it’s the small ones. It’s stumbling upon a sidequest while you’re on another mission, seeing a skeleton in a car and piecing together what happened, hacking into terminals to find the real story behind a location. Fallout 4 continues to excel at this.
  7. Robots. This game is full of sassy robots, who are full of personality. Not just your companion Cogsworth, there are many robots to meet in the Wasteland.
  8. Combat. VATS is still great, the rest of combat is still kinda shit. Though I’ve been reading in other reviews that the FPS combat has improved, I’m not really seeing it. Especially at the beginning of the game when most enemies rush into melee range, I don’t find the shooting mechanics are very good.
  9. Companions. Companions are quite helpful in combat when it comes to killing things. However, they’re also in the way. Like, all the time. Going down a narrow corridor? There they are, blocking you. Trying to shoot something at a distance? They’ll become an obstacle. If anything, I think this problem may be worse here than in previous games.
  10. Explosions. One of my biggest frustrations in previous Fallout games was that I’d often get blown up in combat, and have no idea where the explosion came from. Though they have added a little icon to tell you when a grenade is near, I still get caught in mystery explosions way more than is necessary.
  11. Saving. You can quicksave your game anywhere, though autosaving doesn’t happen as often as I’d like.
  12. Crafting. Fallout 4 has introduced a rather robust crafting system where you can modify your weapons and armor. It’s an enjoyable addition so far, and it’s nice to customize things to suit your playstyle or visual preferences.
  13. Workshop. Your home in the Wasteland can be built up to our specifications through the Workshop. While initially I didn’t think this was something I’d like, I’ve actually spent quite a bit of time with it. You can build beds, new houses, plant crops, build water pumps – everything a growing Wasteland settlement needs. People you help through the game will join your settlements. It is fun to build, though the game’s engine isn’t ideal for it. Placing objects is awkward. Some kind of overhead or simplified view of things would be great. You can build electric systems to power your base, but it isn’t explained very well. The best part of this is that all the junk you find in the Wasteland – the clipboards, the old telephones – can be used to build things rather than just as vendor fodder.
    One thing I’m not liking as I go through the game is that every place where you help people can be turned into a base, with a workshop for you to build up. While making one wasteland sanctuary sounds fun, making a dozen sounds like a huge timesink. I haven’t figured out what, if anything, happens when you ignore these bases. Does it matter if they don’t have enough food or defence?
  14. Exploration. I’ve been pretty burnt out on open world games lately and I have to say, exploration in Fallout 4 is 100x more enticing than it was in games like Witcher 3 or Dragon Age: Inquisition. Part of this is due to the simplicity of the map. You see icons for major landmarks, but not every single place where you can gather a resource or fight a camp of raiders. So there’s mystery. There’s a reason to explore. It’s not just a matter of ticking off every box on the map. I’m sure there will be many little locations and items that I’ll never find. And that’s okay. The locations I do find are interesting, full of great visuals and stories that don’t need to be explicitly spelled out.
  15. Finding things. At the beginning of the game I found it really hard to locate items. So many games I’ve been playing recently help the player by highlighting objects of interest in some way, and Fallout doesn’t do this. Now that I’m a few hours in, I’ve gotten used to it, and it makes things feel less game-y.
  16. Text. Fallout has some of the best in-game text entries. RPGs are generally full of lore and codex entries, books and letters. I hate reading them. In Fallout most text is found on terminals, and I read every word. Text entries are put in the right places. It’s not just general knowledge or lore, these entries tell you about the places you are in  and the people who live (or have lived) there. They often tell a story from multiple points of view, they can contain hints of where to find item stashes, point you to other interesting locations. Log entries tend to be darkly humorous and the fact that you often have to hack into these terminals to find the information just makes it that much more intriguing. Reading information in Fallout feels like reading someone’s journal, not like reading a textbook.
  17. Overall. Fallout 4 feels like Fallout. The good parts of Fallout 3 are there – the exploration, environment, the storytelling within particular locations, the dark humour. And the bad parts are still there – the combat is mediocre, it doesn’t look as good as other current games, the story doesn’t have any urgency. Though some new mechanics have been added, I don’t find that the existing ones have been improved much. I wouldn’t want a ton to change, but it’s been five years since New Vegas, some refinements would be nice.

If you prefer videos, I’ve also done a mini video review. It covers some of the same stuff, and includes some gameplay footage.

8 responses to “Fallout (4 ) Never Changes – First Impressions

  1. This is the first even remotely spoiler-y thing I’ve read about F4, so this is pure speculation, but…

    What are the chances that there is a hidden timer in the main storyline? After all. the first Fallout gave you a ticking clock to get the water chip before you failed the game. Could they be doing something similar here? Maybe if you take too long to reach certain story points, the baby gets mutated, or hooked up to a machine and turned into a mindslave, or something else bad that changes the story arc and makes you feel like you failed. It’d be a damn sneaky thing to do, although I’m not sure whether you’d like it.

    Eh, you won’t know until you are much further in. 😛
    Dahakha recently posted..Steam Challenge – Dust: An Elysian Tail

    • I kind of feel like they wouldn’t do this, but who knows? That would be kind of cool, but also pretty punishing for people who like to explore.

  2. I agree with most of your assessments, but I have to disagree with your judgement of the combat. I have used VATS far less than I did in previous titles, and VATS was a system I never really cared for. In Fallout 4, it feels like a tool, and not a requirement. I’ve hand some rather difficult firefights against hordes of Super Mutants and still managed to kill them off without using VATS much if at all.

    It’s not COD smooth, but it’s far superior to any other Fallout game.
    Izlain recently posted..A Strong Candidate For GOTY

    • Ah, I always really liked VATS. I find the lack of cover makes things difficult in combat, along with all the enemies who seem to want to run up and hit you in the face (or, my least favourite, explode). I find they move much faster than my gun does.

  3. grumpymushroom

    I agree with some of what you say. I’m about 50 hours in (took the week off work, yay!) although not that far into the main story as I’m the eternal wanderer. The beginning did feel somewhat jarring. You have the pre-war bit which sort of locks you into a particular personality – the 50’s housewife type. Then the vault where your character is suitably panicing and unsure. Then the moment you are out of the vault, you are instantly comfortable in the environment. Exclaiming oooh! over finding duct tape and a gun. I would have liked a longer period of adjustment for my character in this completely changed world.

    You are also correct in there should be urgency in the story, and there isn’t. But I think a lot of RPGs are like this. Take the Witcher 3 (which I adored). You are there to save Ciri, but nope, you go a wandering off (or I did). Do some contracts, take a look around and so on. Ciri’s story is always there to pick up on, but theres no ‘timer’.

    I think one of the differences in open world games over something like Mass Effect, Dragonage, Witcher etc, is the world does not revolve around you. You exist in it, and have an important part to play, but there are other groups with their own motivations. Personally, I love this style and it helps with immersion, but its also why open world games don’t work for some people. There’s not enough direction in them. You aren’t central to everything. There are stories, but they are smaller and more visual.

    I find the combat fine. I use VATS more than in previous incarnations. My hoarder gene is well satiated with collecting crap to display (magazine racks!) or build stuff out of. I enjoy hunting for Bobbleheads. I’ve spent hours with 2 settlements – and by the way, nothing seems to happen if you ignore a place. I’ve no one at the Rocket shop, or the drive in and it makes no difference (afaik). Heavy armour is cool. The story is there. Its a slow burner if you do a lot of wandering. Its not the usual ‘quest hub’ kind of RPG (Diamond City is a slight exception).

    I haven’t come across to many bugs which for Bethesda is a downright miracle. A few times opening the Pip Boy has been problematic and theres been the occasional pause in conversations, but thats about it.

    All in all I am very satisfied with the game. Yes its mostly more of the same, but I think that’s no bad thing.

    And modders will have plenty to play with. So I look forward to their efforts as well!

    • I was very excited to hear that I’d be able to use mods even on console for this game, way back at E3. However, I thought that would be from release, not next year. I’ll be done by then 🙁

  4. grumpymushroom

    I wanted to mention something about cover in case you weren’t aware of it.

    If you stand behind a wall and ‘aim’ you will peek around the side of it. I didn’t realise this for ages.

    Going for the legs in VATS will really slow the beasties down. Ghouls though, dayum those things are fast! I found I used molotovs and grenades way more often in FO4 than in previous games to help thin the herd.

    • I didn’t realize this at all, thanks! I’ve mostly been ducking behind cars and things.

      A lot of my combat problems are from things just getting so close to me so fast, like ghouls or mutant dogs. Also, randomly getting blown up. Ugh.