game of the year 2015

Bathing In Fallout 4’s Nearly Perfect Nuclear World

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Finally! THIS is the game I’ve been waiting to play on my next generation console. Also, with four years between Bethesda epics, and five years since the last Fallout game, I am proud to say that all the hype we have heard regarding Fallout 4 is true.

Before I write this review, I want to provide a disclaimer. At the time of writing, I have clocked in nearly 40 hours of gameplay, and although I wasn’t able to see the end of the main quest, I feel that I have done more than enough time on the game to provide my take on the final product. In fact, about 25 hours into the game I checked my stats and found I only did ONE MAIN QUEST. I mean, that in itself should show just how deep Fallout 4 truly is. But I’m just getting started.

Before the bombs drop, the world is actually really nice. If only we could stay here and ignore the knocking at the door.
Before the bombs drop, the world is actually really nice. If only we could stay here and ignore the knocking at the door.

We’ll begin with how the whole story begins. Never before did we see the world of Fallout before the bombs dropped. I was always curious to see the 50s style future the way it once was, an era where atomic power controlled everything despite fear of annihilation. The Fallout universe was always an interesting one to me, and the opening of Fallout 4 does not disappoint.

Even more, right from the first in game screen we are treated to what might be one of the best character creation screens ever. Your character and your spouse take turns in front of a mirror as you sculpt their facial features. Instead of using sliders to alter features they are grabbed and drug around, almost reminiscent of the opening Mario head in Super Mario 64. Even when changes are made, you or your spouse make comments about their appearance. It’s actually quite funny, and I’ve already seen memes posted about how the first five hours of the game can be spent here. I admit, I didn’t spend THAT much time, but I did take a while to just enjoy how impressive that is.

Honey, I've always loved your Roman nose, just stretch it out a little bit more to the right.
Honey, I’ve always loved your Roman nose, just stretch it out a little bit more to the right.

After that is done, you get a visit from a sales rep from Vault-Tec. It is here where you give your character a name (which you are actually addressed as by several NPCs, mostly your Mr. Handy robot, Codsworth,) as well as your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats. These stats will function differently from past Fallout games, as I will mention later. Afterwards you will go see your son, Shaun, but just shortly after you are alerted by Codsworth about a news report (voiced by, who else, Ron Perlman) about nuclear explosions in the New York area. Without hesitation, you and your family make a run to Vault 111, and are lowered underground just at the moment the bombs hit.

We don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but eventually you will find that you are the “Sole Survivor” of Vault 111. And then your adventure begins. You return to your home, located in what is now known simply as “Sanctuary,” where Codsworth, still active all this time, how his battery lasted so long I’ll don’t know, tells you that you have been away for over 200 years. From there you are suggested to travel southeast to the neighboring town of Concord, where you meet up with a stray dog named Dogmeat that you bring along as a partner (and who proves he can put up a darn good fight himself,) and eventually group of soldiers called the “Minutemen.” Upon helping them out, their leader, Preston Garvey mentions about how they are down to only five soldiers and are attacked by raiders everywhere they go. Eventually you allow Preston’s men to move to Sanctuary and help rebuild that town.

Building up towns into livable, safe areas is a key concept of the game now, but only if it's something you want to do.
Building up towns into livable, safe areas is a key concept of the game now, but only if it’s something you want to do.

And it’s there that we are introduced to one of the key elements of Fallout 4: the in-game creation system. As your progress in the game you will come across additional settlements, all of which can be built upon. Items can be built using items you acquire either on site or while out in the open. Remember all of that junk you picked up along the way in Fallout 3 and New Vegas, and how some items are actually needed to create new weapons? Well now in Fallout 4 these items can be stripped down into crafting parts. It is these parts that are used to build your settlements. Build a new home, furnish it with what you need, plant crops to give your settlers food. Set up guard posts and defense systems to keep raiders out, add special lighting controlled by terminals and even set up stores to earn income.

And yes that creation can go along with items you use while out on the open. Weapons and armor can also be upgraded with junk you come across. For most of my armor I favored adding pockets to each piece (two arm, two leg, and chest armor) to increase my carrying capacity. Usually these require cloth and adhesive from junk to build, provided I have a high enough armor rating, which will also be mentioned when I talk about perks. Same goes with weapons, where every element of a weapon can be modded for more stopping power, less recoil, or increased firing rate.

In addition, along your travels you will come across “legendary” items. These are marked with a star at the end of their name, and while they cannot be stripped down for parts, they provide some useful benefits of their own, be it more damage against a certain group of enemies, decreased AP usage or explosive rounds, they definitely help out, especially when modded.

Power Armor, its operation as well as modding out a custom suit is now almost a separate game. It certainly adds a new element that is unique and fun to Fallout 4.
Power Armor, its operation as well as modding out a custom suit is now almost a separate game. It certainly adds a new element that is unique and fun to Fallout 4.

And then there is the power armor…yes, the almighty Power Armor. Where before power armor was just a simple outfit that you put on, in Fallout 4 it is an element all to itself. All components of the armor (head, chest, and limbs) can be switched out and modded. Even further, armor runs on Fusion Cores which can be picked up or purchased. Finally, the armor truly feels like an extension of yourself, and though you get a taste of it early in the game, once you get a full suit of Power Armor and are thrust into battle, Fallout 4 takes the greatness to a whole new level.

I also need to mention another huge improvement on the gameplay that is a huge plus…scavenging for items. Before you had to activate an item to see what’s inside. Not anymore, as the available items are shown automatically, saving a lot of time for accidental button presses on something that is empty. Granted you won’t see the items in a locked container, but that’s understandable. It’s just streamlined and works out quite well.

I don't think he wants our picnic baskets!
I don’t think he wants our picnic baskets!

Now I’ve been mentioning the perks system for a while, and I need to go into detail of how it works. Before, your attributes were based on a numbering system (rated up to 100) and with each level you earned 15 attribute points to distribute on these elements, as well as special perks that were earned every other level. However in Fallout 4 they are fused together, so to speak. The Perks system is based on your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. ratings, with each element having up to ten levels. The perks in each ladder are highlighted to your highest rating. For instance, if you have a Strength rating of 6, you can only add perks of Strength Level 6 or below. However, the key S.P.E.C.I.A.L. attributes can also be upgraded by leveling up (so you can add a point to Strength and unlock Level 7, as well as increasing your carrying capacity and melee damage for instance.) But in addition, these perks will also add special features to your character. The character customization is almost endless, especially as there are NO LEVEL CAPS at all.

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The Pip-Boy, a staple to the Fallout series, also takes on a world of its own as it just feels more alive than ever. Whether it’s something as simple as seeing Vault Boy animations or being able to play game tapes right from the screen, or the fact that you can have your own real life Pip-Boy via your cell phone or tablet via second screen experience, the immersion is quite impressive, and when I tested it on my LG G3, the integration worked perfectly. My only wish is that there were more Pip Boy Editions of the game out in the open, as the only way to get them now seems to be dealing with resellers on eBay.

It's a beautiful world out there dog. Deadly, but also beautiful - in places.
It’s a beautiful world out there dog. Deadly, but also beautiful – in places.

The Creation Engine that makes up the world is impressive to look at, and is an improvement even since the days of Skyrim. Everything looks impressive from the character models to the overall environment. Grated I do see signs of pop up and facial animations are a little touchy, it is still quite a sight to behold. As for the sound, it is amazing. Everything sounds as good as it should, be it the weapons or the amazing voice acting (which I’m not surprised by with a Bethesda title.) But again, it is the 40s-50s style soundtrack that we are used to in a Fallout game that won me over. When I saw the trailer and heard The Wanderer by Dion I was wondering how this could possibly work in a Fallout game, but much to my surprise, it does. And even more to my surprise, a majority of the Galaxy News Radio songs from Fallout 3 have returned. Even perennial favorite Butcher Pete actually has a part two, which took me by surprise!

However, I will have to say that the game is not perfect. Granted no game, even one as amazing as Fallout 4 is, is actually going to be perfect. Bethesda is known for their glitches, and while thankfully none of them are game breaking, some are just funny to watch. For instance, Dogmeat seems to love getting stuck in a door at times, and somehow teleports out to join me. And there were some times that the game subtitles don’t change during a conversation. But as I said these are few and far between.

Lastly, though I obviously cannot test them yet, I am looking forward to how Xbox mod integration will take effect. Since moving to the PC to play Skyrim, I’ve seen these mods firsthand and they really do change the game a lot. I can’t wait to see it done on the console. In addition, Fallout 3 is included with the Xbox One via backwards compatibility, making an already amazing value even better.

Hello raider scum. Let me introduce you to my little (heavily modified with a recoil suppressor and a powerful receiver that doubles damage) little friend!
Hello raider scum. Let me introduce you to my little (heavily modified with a recoil suppressor and a powerful receiver that doubles damage) little friend!

What can I say? Fallout 4 won me over. I knew it was going to be great, but I didn’t think it was going to be THIS great! I’m 40 hours in and I only have experienced a very a small fraction of the main quest? How often can we say that about a game these days? Even with other big releases out now, including Halo 5 and Rise of the Tomb Raider, it’s going to be Fallout 4 that will be getting all of my play time. I shudder to think of what will happen when the mods and DLC are released. Bring it on Bethesda!

PROS: Where to begin? A massive campaign that could last in hundreds of hours of gameplay. We finally get the see the world before the war. Perk system based leveling up will please Skyrim fans. Dogmeat returns. Item creation and modding gets a vast overhaul. Power armor construction/modding! Junk in the game is actually useful. No level caps. Second screen experience works quite well, even without the Pip-Boy. Butcher Pete returns, along with a Part 2! Mods for Xbox players in 2016, as well as a free download of Fallout 3 via backwards compatibility!

CONS: Those classic Bethesda bugs are back. Karma system from Fallout 3/New Vegas is now gone. Overworld map is smaller compared to previous Bethesda games. Pip-Boy Editions now the target of resellers.

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