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Fallout 4 /22nd of November 2015

Fallout 4 has the dubious honour of being the worst game I’ve given more than twenty hours of my life to this year, but look, we all knew it was coming, it’s a Bethesda game after all. It’s a buggy mess with loads of stuff that feels unfinished which has almost become acceptable as a hallmark of a great Bethesda game. As usual, it’s a good game, but it’s also absolutely dreadful at the same time. In fact, I’d wager that anybody who is even considering Fallout 4 as Game of the Year is an utter moron, but then, I’ve played ninety-five hours of it so it must be doing something right.

Look, there’s nothing wrong with a great Bethesda Softworks game, but in the age of The Witcher 3, Metal Gear Solid V and a second renaissance of Computer RPGs with games like Wasteland 2 and Pillars of Eternity, it just feels a bit rubbish, that’s why it’s the worst big game I’ve played this year. Now, on to my usual technical issues, well there’s one in particular, there’s no SLI support on day one! For a game pasted on the side of every conceivable object on earth, this is unacceptable, even if there are ways around this, and there are ways to improve the balls-awful performance. Right, I’ll stop bitching for a bit I suppose.
At the core of the game there’s a really damn interesting story, or rather a group of stories, it starts off dumb, I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say your baby gets stolen...all of ten minutes after establishing you own a baby. It worked in Fallout 3 because Liam Neeson was ace and you spent some time with him and he looked a bit like you despite everyone in that game looking like a potato; in New Vegas it was a story of revenge and the meteoric rise to power that came with it. But here, in Fallout 4 it’s simply a case of find your baby. I genuinely don’t care about a baby, but that’s your motivation here. Baby stolen, get out there and find him.

That’s the boring bit, but there are so many interesting aspects, including genuinely complex characters for one, twists and turns and side quests that are (partly) about some genuinely intriguing characters and their lives. Bethesda have definitely learned their lessons from what was terrible about their characterisation in Skyrim and Fallout 3 and made charming characters who I can actually find my way to care about. There were characters I hated at first whom I later came to understand. There were points where I turned the camera to do a double take of characters before I left the room. The main story and the interlocking side quests (and a lot of the NPC companion ones) are actually pretty damn awesome!
Unfortunately, Bethesda haven’t learned from CDProjekt’s The Witcher 3, while lots of side quests are intriguing, they often fall short at a point where it feels like the quest was meant to continue. There are, what I can only guess are procedurally generated side quests, and these are the closest thing to Geralt of Rivia’s Witcher contracts, but they’re not a damn patch on them. This is unfortunate because at first they seem like a clever way to direct you to particular ‘dungeons’, and this is a great idea to get you to discover some of the map, but it falls flat when it sends you to the same ‘dungeon’ full of respawned enemies for the same undertaking….or when the NPC settler you’re supposed to speak to has spawned in the middle of nowhere and gets killed by random enemies as soon as you get close enough for them to spawn in. There is a character who gives you these quests, and I found after handing one in I would attempt to run away from him just as the line of dialogue ended to avoid being given another one. I shouldn’t have to run away from the friendly gentleman because I don’t want another crap side quest thrown at me, now should I?

Arse, I’m complaining again aren’t I? For real this time, I’ll be nice. Look, those good quests are really good. I’ll leave it at that, I had a blast doing the interesting quests and learned to just not let the shite distract me and that was a lot of fun.

Visually it can be a pretty breath-taking game, generally the less human characters there are on screen the better the game looks, as the old Bethesda random assortment of facial features that react really weirdly to lighting is back, but the environments look goddamn fantastic in places. Standing atop of a building in the centre of Boston feels great and you can see pretty much as far as is humanly possible. This is also the first Fallout to feature a truly densely packed large city that’s full of nooks and crannies which are filled with smart storytelling and great use of emergent storytelling, frequently illustrated through the skeletal remains of pre-war folks who were caught in the middle of their final acts when the bombs dropped and obliterated them.
As for the actual game. It’s a hell of a lot better than Fallout 3. Trying to translate traditional Fallout’s wide array of skills into the semi-FPS that was fallout 3 always felt like a misstep (especially as it was possible to max nearly every single skill in a single playthrough). The new perk system lends itself much better to the style of gameplay and it goes hand-in-hand with the fancy new crafting system, have you specialised for single-shot rifles? Recraft your automatic rifle into a single shot one, or add a stock and long barrel to your pistol. Simple but effective and flexible. As a nice aside, Power armour is available very early on now, and it’s also customisable and requires fuel to operate at full capacity, this fuel is somewhat scarce early on so you won’t constantly be in your power armour. It makes it a nice little touch that makes your armour remain a treat to save for those tougher battles ahead.

I’ve seen a lot of grumbling about how this isn’t a proper RPG, it’s just a big dumb FPS, possibly because Bethsoft have had some of the id Software guys advising on the shooting, and this really shows in the fact the shooting is actually pretty good now, so those people can just sod right off. In all honesty, there’s greater flexibility in this than in trying to cram Fallout’s original 18 skills into a reduced 13 skills that you can get 10-11 of completely maxed by endgame. There’s a greater need to specialise, maybe they should have added a respec option given how upset the modern entitled RPG gamer gets if they can’t just strap on a melee weapon and dominate having been a rifleman the whole game so far. As a Mass Effect/Fallout 3 style ‘talking and shooting’ RPG, there’s a lot more depth of choice than there was in both of these combined.
Right, back to the bad for a bit. The catharsis of the building system (because Minecraft did it so well I guess?) can quickly turn to rage when you realise it’s a pile of crap. Objects snap together almost at random at times, and some objects just don’t snap together when you think they would, objects cannot be placed until you’ve stood perfectly still and rotated them 360 degrees a few times, at which point the game will decide that yes, you are trying to place this item that can only be placed on dirt on dirt. I spent an infuriating half hour trying to patch up a pre-existing irremovable house only to realise that you can’t place that board over that hole in the wall, unless you want the board to be a solid foot or so forward from the wall. It’s pretty damn fun to make yourself a nice little house with all the amenities, but it’s ultimately totally pointless, much like the settlement building system it facilitates.

I can’t express enough how much of a waste of time building settlements is. All it does is basically mean that every now and then when you’re trying to do something important you’ll get a note asking you to help defend the settlement. I’m fairly sure a settlement having a higher “Defence” stat than “Food” and “Water” stats combined is meant to prevent this. It doesn’t. Also, placed resources disappear from the stats upon fast travel, but this is likely a bug. Overall though, if you’re quite creative and can get past it feeling really wonky, this will probably be a really rewarding thing to you. If you prefer a visible gameplay impact apart from being harassed to do more of the same then you might just hate it as much as I do.
I genuinely think this might have worked better if you could just purchase buildings on pre-made maps, and maybe be allowed to designate one as your house and place objects within that domicile, at least then it would be less frustrating and probably prevent the irremovable scrubby weeds that cover most settlement areas from clipping through the floor of my bloody house! Oh, and the interface is garbage too, your inventory is totally unmanageable either on keyboard or mouse.

Thankfully the thing that makes a great Bethsoft game is the nigh instant community support, and so it was that within an hour or so on Fallout 4 Nexus I had the game running at a solid 50% better FPS with no visual degrade, the inventory works much better and is more visible, and items are tagged by type so I can easily see what’s what at a glance. Oh, and the dialogue options are number keys rather than four arrows (which is an interesting choice on the default UI as neither the cursor keys nor WASD selects a dialogue option here). I can’t wait till Steam workshop (at least I assume that will be a thing) and I hope a lot of the good mods make it to consoles as that’s a big selling point apparently. Yes, there are tits with visible nipples mods if you can’t concentrate on videogames without seeing pixelated nipples too. Knock yourself out, or jerk yourself off, whichever you prefer.
Right, I suppose the long and short of it, as a man who has the brotherhood of steel insignia tattooed on my chest, is that this is a great, yet undeniably shoddy game. I’ve been hooked on it and luckily I’d completely forgotten when it was coming out and had booked a week off from my real job for some R&R. Around eighty-five of those ninety-five hours I’ve played were since last Friday, I was ready for bed at 2AM this morning, but I finally finished the main quest at 7AM. So again, it must be doing something right. It’s definitely better than Fallout 3 - but looking back at it (and I’d like to point out I am such a dedicated Fallout fan that I got a symbol of it scratched into my flesh, again) I’d say that it was a solid 6 out of 10 game. Is it better than New Vegas? No, but it’s a close second and there are elements of it that are considerably better. It’s a very different beast compared to New Vegas, so I’d still love to see that ported wholesale over to this new engine/statistics system/set of mechanics, that could actually be close to being as good as Fallout 2, which – for me - is the holiest of holy grails. So, thanks Bethesda, for one of the worst games I’ve had such obsessive adoration for in a long time.

PS: If you haven’t got the game yet, don’t be bummed about missing out on the pip boy edition. It’s just a piece of cheap plastic, the app will chew through your phone battery in under an hour (the app is available without the pip boy shell if you want to have it propped up on a tablet though) and it’s basically impossible to play the game on keyboard while wearing it.
 
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