(Disclaimer: The version of Fallout 4 reviewed was purchased for the site by SuperNerdLand contributor John Sweeney)
Today we are delving into the inevitable next installment of the Fallout franchise in Fallout 4. Bethesda hyped this game to the moon and back of course, showing off the new Settlement building system, weapons and armor crafting, and revamped Power Armor system off at this year’s E3 2015. Fans revolted a bit when the dialog system was also shown to be reworked into a Bioware-esqe dialog wheel that looked to limit conversation depth, despite Bethesda trying to reassure people by pointing out that there was more recorded lines (read: voice overs) than both Fallout 3 and Skyrimcombined.
How does the game stand up beyond the marketing hype? Delve into our thoughts down below!
Note: This review is coming from the viewpoints of three contributors to SuperNerdLand to help give a broader view of this title. With Fallout 4 attempting (and succeeding) to reach a bigger audience, I felt it would be insightful to get more than one point of view. It’s a pretty interesting blind study review format for me as we all wrote our pieces independently, and editing this piece together is my first time seeing the other views.
We will all have our remarks prefaced by our name in a certain color for ease of reading:
We are also going to list our system specs at the bottom of this piece, as to compare our (or lack of) performance claims to what our systems are.
War Never Changes (Except when it’s streamlined)
Josh Bray: For me, Fallout as a series has been taking a steady overall downturn since Bethseda picked it up. While it remained a series that was able to overcome its pitfalls to provide me dozens of hours of entertainment since Fallout 3, the rich meal that Interplay cooked up in the first two installments is getting watered down. The richly flavored Lobster Bisque that was the previous two Fallout games has turned into McDonald’s at this point. It’s built around attracting a mass audience now, and with that comes the usual dilution that mass market appeal brings. It also suffers from Bethesda’s pattern of making games that are very broad oceans of shallow depth.
So certainly bear in mind that my sections of this review are coming from a slightly cranky fan of the older series of games.
That said, Fallout 4 does enough right to come recommended with caveats. It has everything needed to be a Fallout™ branded game at this point, though streamlined to fit even farther into an explorative FPS rather than a full fledged RPG.
“It has everything needed to be a Fallout™ branded game, but is shallow as ever” – Josh Bray
Michael Campbell: As a Fallout game, Fallout 4 falls flat in some ways. As a game that allows you to build and customize the almost entirety of the game from the bottom to the top — from scenery, weapons, buildings, characters, and the NPCs that populate your myriad towns across a fictionalized Boston with music recycled from Fallout 3 — it does fairly well. It is a competent game that will offer new fans a glimpse into a universe most nostalgic players will find lacking in places with regards to the execution. Hundreds of hours of game play await those that can endure its flaws.
“The best Rust game since Rust” – Michael Campbell
Killer Tofu: Once again Bethesda attempts to rehash another IP they swiped from a body like hot loot. Only this time they gave it the Skyrim treatment. Overall, the gunplay is nice and solid here, and gives you a feeling of actually using a weapon that shoots bullets instead of a knife shooting cannon like in previous titles. I do feel as if this installment fell flat on it’s face, though. It tried so hard to be a Bioware RPG, just sans the RPG elements that made even Fallout 3 somewhat enjoyable.
“This is the most expansive Doom mod I ever played!” – Killer Tofu
Josh Bray: Oh Bethesda. You tried. Not to say the story is horrible. It’s just very bland in a lot of places. There are parts of the surrounding quests, companion quests, and some story bits leading up to the main threads that are engaging. But a lot of the major plot lines, reveals and “twists” a bit dead on arrival. Quest are given with no chance to accept or decline them a lot of the time as well. You can just be close enough to hear people talking, and trigger another errand on your list that you may not even have the time or interest in even taking on.
The story this time is delivered by a fully voiced cast, but despite the sheer amount of recorded dialog the story this time is as shallow as ever. There is no more exploring expanded universe lore or unearthing neatly tucked away content via talking to people. If you are not supposed to talk to someone, they just give you a canned response. If you are supposed to talk to someone you get the tired trope of the dialog wheel.
But even this is not implemented as well as the Bioware games this title is trying to emulate. (Sarcastic response here). This isn’t even considering that I missed some conversation bits completely because an NPC walked away from me in the middle of talking, only to talk about the other bit of their programmed quest giving AI without me ever getting to finish that first conversation. At least there is still a lot of universe building via computer terminals at various locations, with some really brutal finds in those texts still to help offset the PG-13ness of the main quests. The dialog system is just a janky mess here, and you’re going to pull some hair at the times you are not close enough to trigger a dialog wheel, or when NPCs just skip bits of the conversation as you press nothing, or when your character turns 180 degrees because you pressed the Up dialog wheel option.
There is also an increased focus on companions in Fallout 4 now. And it is done fairly well. For my review character I was mostly with the Synth P.I. Nick Valentine, and I really felt for the guy. Damn Bethesda for not letting my lady Lone Survivor bone the robot investigator. I have toyed with a couple other companions on other saves, Codsworth and Piper, and they seem perfectly well fleshed out as well. As it stands, I look forward more to exploring the other companion stories than playing the main storyline the first time around.
The very beginning of the game doesn’t leave the best taste in one’s mouth either. Let’s say this game certainly gets better as it is allowed room to breath, but that first sip is a bitter one. I think Bethesda pretty much wasted the pre-war bit of the game, and could have extended the tutorial farther in this area and era. I think spending a bit more time in your pre-war hometown would have let the loss of it all hit more as you were stuffed into Vault 111. This game is so anxious to get you out into the wasteland Bethesda built that they didn’t give much time for you to feel like you really lost anything before heading out on your grand adventure.
They also introduce you to Power Armor way too soon. You get a lower level set of Power Armor as part of the tutorial track, and this really kills how special these contraptions should be in this universe. You get it as just a defacto piece of equipment in your Fallout™ branded adventures.
I do have to give kudos where it is due. There are post-storyline completion quests given that give some logical clean up to bits, and tie other plot threads that are lying around. There is something to be learned here from other devs. I was a bit shocked at one bit I received at the end of the Railroad main quest. No spoilers, but… damn.
Michael Campbell: I’m going to be honest.
I’ve never play or beat Bethesda games for the story. This game is no different for me. But starting in the 2070s, and then waking up in the 2280s after waking up from cryosleep is semi-plausible as an injection into the wasteland. You play the Lone Survivor who is given a variety of names after waking up from cryosleep, and you are thrust into the wasteland to make your own story (within the confines built by Bethesda). You immediately meet a number of companions, and then engage upon the several dozen set-pieces in the Wasteland.
Killer Tofu: The story, while not horrible, is not the best story I’ve seen in a game either. It doesn’t hold a candle to the writing of Obsidian in New Vegas. The characters feel flat, and I felt no reason to care about finding my son. I spent the first 2 hours running around killing things rather than doing the story simply due to the fact that I had no motivation. I personally felt as if the entire transition from having everybody in the wasteland pretty much scared to death of The Institute to suddenly being fine was very harsh.
You are just thrust inside what has been built up to be a pretty bad organization. The only problem is that there’s no real build up regarding who they are and how horrible they are — just some hearsay. A lot of their lore isn’t touched on or developed. The disconnect is even greater when you decide to team up with them, as everything seems hunky dory until all of a sudden it isn’t.
Josh Bray: The majority of this game is really just fine, all in all. Despite there being issues with about each aspect of this game when looked at on it’s own, it does congeal together adequately well as a final product. There are parts that are improved, and (as you’ve read) parts that have taken a step back. It’s an extremely streamlined experience this time.
They have stuffed a large part of the RPG/numbers aspect of previous titles behind the game engine, this time providing a whole host of perks to select a level at a time. This really takes a lot of the nuance out of building your character. Your character starts off being able to use any weapon off the bat, with weapons perks increasing things from base stats like increased damage or accuracy. Locks and terminal hacking is just linked to simple tiered difficulty; if you want want to unlock a master lock then just get that level of lockpicking perk. There is no ambiguity, you either can touch it or you can’t. This just grinds me a little bit as I think this is a major step back. It is obvious they are streamlining this game to cater to a larger and more FPS oriented audience, but this feels like a hack job.
In my opinion, if they are going to distill the series down this much then they might as well take the route of classes and class trees for skills, with perks remaining as extras. You could at least implement weapons restrictions at that point, actually needing proper training to use some of those fancy ass weapons. A lot (not all, but a good amount) of the level building here is just tacking on extras to systems you have access to from the start.
On a better note, one of the improved aspects is the gun play. As Dick mentions below, it’s apparent the id Software folks helped smooth this out compared to Fallout 3 and New Vegas. Guns are differing and satisfying to use, and their SFX is done pretty well. Especially when you hear fights off in the distance.
The newly included crafting systems in Fallout 4 is fun to tinker with, but comes up against the same wall a lot of crafting systems have in that I never feel there isn’t anything inherently better that I could craft compared to what I can find all around the game world via dead bodies, loot finds, and vendors. Aside from the Power Armor (more on that in just a bit). Maybe I just haven’t explored the late level crafting system enough, but I haven’t been compelled to thus far.
The Settlements feel a lot more like busy work as the are currently implemented, too. A game like Fallout did not necessarily need fluff work to fill out it’s game play, and it’s not that I feel like the intended it to be filler. It’s just as they are currently executed, they create a bit of artificial depth.
The one change that I feel worked out really well is how Power Armor is treated in this game (introduction of it being too early notwithstanding). I think it works great as a “vehicle” style of gameplay, and the crafting system for this aspect is great. It’s Fallout: Pimp Your Power Armor Edition. Some of the upgrades you can get for yourself are a blast to play around with. Even if it is a little odd to need so much duct tape.
One aspect of the streamlining I do want to applaud is how you loot bodies and containers. In Fallout 4 you can just cursor over something with shines in it, and take them from there. You can access the old style listed loot screen with a key press, but this convenience saves so much time. I want to shake the hand/s of whoever thought that up.
Michael Campbell: For those who are familiar with Fallout 3, it is absolutely almost the same game here. However, in this case the skills are made simple and are hidden behind the engine. There are about 3 and a half dozen missions that aren’t recycled missions as well. Where the game does shine is the combat engine, and also what I will deem the “Rust” aspect of the game in the Settlement system. Recycling the junk found across the wasteland, and turning it into a useful stuff is one of the most satisfying things present in the Fallout 4.
Killer Tofu: You can really tell that Bethesda pulled the top people from id Software to tighten up the gunplay. It really shines as one of the best improvements so far to the 3D incarnations of Fallout. The amount of customization is great, and you have to love how powerful the character creator is. I really felt like I could shape my persona into who I wanted to wander around as, but no other voice options was very much a letdown. I felt they could have included a few different choices per gender.
That being said, it’s a welcome improvement to prefabbed faces and character proportions from previous titles. Something I find ambitious, but don’t find myself drawn to, is the Settlement system. It’s amazing how Bethesda managed to stuff something like Rust in a full game. It’s not as deep as Rust by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s solid and a nice mini-game to burn time.
Josh Bray: Let’s face it. Gamebryo is struggling here. A lot of the textures in Fallout 4 are detailed and high resolution (sometimes too high for their own good), but the Gamebryo engine is almost busting at the seams because of them. But bafflingly some of them are ultra low resolution. It is just kind of an unoptimized hodge podge that can tear your eyes when you look too close.
The wrinkles in this weighted down engine are showing, and it holds back this game from looking as truly amazing as it could. There are some nice looking views to be had at times, but the fancy wallpaper here really needs better walls and foundation at this point. As is the modus operandi of this installment everything looks adequate, but it doesn’t really shine and you see the cracks in the surface when you look close.
I was able to keep it mostly smooth (especially with the current beta patch) at med-high settings. But you can still feel the engine struggling at times.
Michael Campbell: Gamebryo hasn’t aged well. The game recycles damaged buildings and assets across the Wasteland. However on a high power machine, and with a decent amount of video memory available, you will be able to see the textures in their completely unoptimized but great looking form. I suggest this mod for lower end computers.
The art that does exist outside of textures, and the occasional graphical glitch, is something to behold. It captures the feel of the universe, with at least some of the substance.
Killer Tofu: The art style, while not half bad, does feel almost as if it’s what we expected from a new installment of Fallout. That is to say to there is nothing that surprises on display here. Besides the character creation engine being in full play, and NPCs do manage to stay believable in their proportions and facial structure because of it. The environments are — while still drab and dead (which makes little sense considering how long it’s been since the war) — well put together and nicely laid out. There’s little in environmental details that feel out of place, and the way things we’re presented is well done and looks really good. I found the technical issues with shadows and the overall slowness of indoor environments to be upsetting, though.
Music and Sound
Josh Bray: This isn’t an area I wouldn’t give awards, but one that I also cannot give bad marks too as well.
As I mentioned in the game play segment, the gun SFX are improved in this game (but not perfect), and distant gunfights sound surprisingly authentic. Other game SFX is standard fare from previous Bethesda delivered Fallout titles and works.
The voice acting that makes up all the dialog of this game is all done well. Everyone was distinct, emoted well, and most delivered their lines with enough detail to paint the scenes nicely. Courtenay Taylor does great as Fem-Lone Survivor, but it doesn’t reach the levels of Jennifer Hale’s FemShep — that is a high bar to reach though. I’ve only just started on a Male Lone Survivor, but Brian Delany’s performance is enjoyable so far. My choice for stand out performance in this game has to go to Stephen Russell’s acting with Nick Valentine. Stephen is the one that really made me feel for that lovable hunk of bolts.
The music is — again the motif — standard for a new age Fallout™ branded game. There were a handful of new tracks that are fitting and enjoyable on the main Diamond City Radio, with just a bit too many recycled tracks from other games. I can see why they would want to reuse some tracks (they are “iconic” to the series now, plus they already own the rights), but I feel this was kind of a bad move. The newer Fallout titles can feel kind of samey and repetitive already, and hearing some of the same music you already heard hours of again can makes me feel a little like a hamster on a wheel.
Oh, and I loathe DJ Travis. I want to punch him in the face. And now that I know he can be replaced, I may just go turn him into a pile of incinerated dust. Don’t judge me. Just wait til you hear him whine on air. You will be me, then.
Michael Campbell: Most of the best music from Fallout 3 makes a reappearance in this game, with only a few new songs for the Radio coming back to compliment them. One new song has stuck with me, however, and that is “Uranium Fever.” Other than that, the atmospheric music is actually rather well done, with guitars playing fevered melodies, and drawn out but quite sad anthems.
Killer Tofu: I actually never played with my radio on, so I cannot speak to the quality of the music much. But the bits I did hear when I switched my radio on for a few side quests was fitting and of the era. The one thing I will mention is that I loved playing with the radio on in New Vegas. The music was great there, and didn’t get fatiguing while adding that little touch that congealed the universe into something I wanted to be a part of. The music in Fallout 4 was of the era, but it didn’t compel me to listen to it. This kind of stripped away a layer of the world building I wish they had done better with.
Technicals and Settings
Josh Bray: Settings are what one should expect from previous Bethesda titles. You do have a good amount of granular graphics options via the game launcher, with some bits you can customize in-game once you have launched up. The noticeable missing option here are for mods straight from the launcher. You can still get these in (at the time of writing) with some INI tweaks, or 3rd party installs. But this has gotten harder as of the time of publishing this review, as the new patch available has seemingly tried to lock people out of modding. You can still mod the game at this point, but it requires some finessing and fixes and may not be long term solutions.
The game ran mostly fine at medium-high settings at 1920×1080. I say mostly, because there were enough areas, especially inside locations, that would drop my smooth 60 FPS to stutters as it was loading in more chunks filled with 2k textures. I played the game vanilla, with the exception of a mod to improve the texture loads without degrading quality much. As of the writing of this review, though, I opted in to the beta patch available, and it improved this aspect drastically. The few days I played on this patch were night and day to what I had played on at launch when it came to frame rates. After this performance improving patch, the only FPS drops I had would be exploring the areas of wasteland Boston more populated with buildings.
Something unexpected was the lack of game breaking bugs here for me after what I heard from others. I am used to Bethesda’s open world releases being plagued with them, but my play through was clean of anything game breaking. I didn’t even experience any crashes. This is not the standard experience from what I’ve heard from a few folks.
Michael Campbell: There is an excellent settings panel, hidden in the front and in the back of the game engine, ala Fallout 3. As for crashes, and bugs, however, there have been crashes now and again, usually in connection to the engine freaking out due to physics being attached to FPS count.
Killer Tofu: Even with a GeForce 980 Ti, this game limped along indoors at points and shadows were the culprit. I don’t have a screenshot of my settings, but it defaulted to Ultra with everything maxed and I had to lower those shadows. Despite the obvious problems that slowed the game, it has some impressive lighting and particles.
Josh Bray: Fallout 4 is the definition of satisfactory game. Not great, but good enough. It still scratches enough of my dystopian wasteland and exploration based itches to suck me into many hours of fun, but the ride is getting more and more bland as we get into this installment. And it’s not due to a lack of interest in the setting, but how it keeps becoming an increasingly average product as the series moves along. Everything for it to be a Fallout™ branded game is here, but this is becoming a ghost of what drew me into the series all those years ago.
Hell, strip away the crafting systems and Settlements, and this might as well just be Fallout 3.
This appears to be the way it is going to be too, if money speaks as loudly as people say it does. 12 million sales day one, with only 1.2 million being on Steam. Fallout is a mainstream console game now, and open world happens to be the current “default game.” While I am glad that more people than ever are fans of this universe, I can’t help but be a little wistful as I pour a 40 oz. for the fallen buddy that was Interplay’s Fallout. Fallout 4 is a fun time, but it leaves me wanting the old depth back.
The final verdict for me is that you should play it, but wait a few months to a year for it to not just be on sale, but to have the requisite patches and mods that really end up completing these newer Fallout experiences.
Michael Campbell: It almost seems like I want to place this game entirely in the negative. At times I want to throw this whole game into the sea and pretend it never existed.
I stop. Because the game is actually competent when all is said and done. It’s perhaps one of the better examples of a game that is just fun. Each element on its own makes me want to pull my hair out of my head, and scream to the heavens. But with the way that each interacts with each other, it ends up selling the experience despite each individual piece leaving me flabbergasted. The sound effects are top notch. The music feels appropriate. The textures give the whole world this feeling of grit. And the voice acting can be quite enthralling.
Do I think that the voice acting was worth it on its own? No. I really miss having more than four options at a time to talk to NPCs. The music feels recycled, and is in a lot of cases outside of the atmospheric pieces. And the textures are bloody unoptimized.
And despite all this, I am still playing the shit out of this. It’s an awesome and fun experience despite all the raw elements that leave a bitter old grognard fan of the Fallout universe just a little raw.
Killer Tofu: Overall, Fallout 4 is a slightly janky mess with redeeming qualities that makes you want to leave it cab fare on the dresser as it leaves for the night. But you don’t call it back afterwards. The whole thing feels like it was almost there, and then they rushed it out the door to pick up sales during the current open world game trend that’s taken over a lot of the video games market. I just wish they had given it more time in development, and had respected the roots of the IP more. It would have been better than just a decent enough Fallout game.
Buy this game at full price if:
Josh Bray: …you just absolutely must play the newest Fallout game NOW. If you have already played the other open world games that came out this year and need another dozen hours of your life sucked away ASAP.
Michael Campbell: …you must absolutely have the new game of the year a year before it gets announced as such by its own publisher.
Killer Tofu: …you like wasting your income
Buy this game on sale if:
Josh Bray: …you are most people. This game is just fine. It’s not a waste of money… if you pay the right price. I respect the hell out of the people who made this game, but there are technically better games out there to shell out money on. Especially technically better open world games.
Michael Campbell: …you are a fan of Fallout, but cannot justify the price. Or you are leery of everything you’ve heard about it.
Killer Tofu: …you want a customizable shooter experience with mediocre story, and is a giant playground of things to kill.
Don’t buy this game if:
Josh Bray: …what Bethesda has turned Fallout is blasphemy to you, or if you really want an RPG and not an open world shooter dressed up as one. Also if you don’t have above the minimum specs required for the game. I’m sure the game will “run” at those specs, but it’s not going to be smooth. And it’s not going to be pretty.
Michael Campbell: …you can wait the four or five months it will take to fully and completely remove the majority of all the game-stopping bugs.
Killer Tofu: …you loved Fallout 1 and 2, but hated Fallout 3 and New Vegas.
Intel i5 4670 @ 3.40 GHz
12GB DDR3 RAM
1TB WD Black HDD
Nvidia GeForce 660 w/ 2GB Video RAM
AMD FX-8350 @ 4.0 GHz
12GB DDR3 RAM
Nvidia GeForce 750 w/ 2GB Video RAM
Intel Xeon E5 @ 3.50 GHz
16 GB DDR4 RAM
250GB Samsung Evo SSD/2TB Hitachi HDD
Nvidia GeForce 980ti w/ 6GB Video RAM