An A-Bomb for Effort

Fallout 4 Review Screenshot

HIGH Primary colors.

LOW The eleventh-hour plot twist that's supposed to tie all the threads together.

WTF An NPC calling my character "Mike" with full voice acting.

Fallout 4 is Bethesda doing their usual routine, for better or worse. It means that we're getting potentially hundreds of hours of content in a massive world with the level of depth and variance to justify that sort of playtime. It also means that we're getting a technical blunder. Plus, anyone who loved New Vegas for its sharp wit will find little of that here; since Obsidian is out of the picture, we're back to thin characterization and half-hearted stabs at "philosophical" science fiction punctuated by a super-serious tone.

Despite all of that, Fallout 4 is absorbing as hell, and some seemingly-small changes actually made it a more welcoming experience for me than the last two Fallouts were.

The most notable is the visual style. A particular bugbear of mine with the Fallout series is its drabness, and while I get that post-apocalyptic settings aren't meant to be opulent candylands, if I'm to spend dozens of hours in an immersive sandbox, I want to like what I'm looking that. This latest entry injects the franchise with a long-overdue dose of color; as soon as players step out of Vault 111 for the first time, they're greeted with an array of rich blues and reds. It makes a difference.

That's not to say Fallout 4 holds up to close visual scrutiny, though, as the textures, modeling and character animations are all pretty lacking. But in a game that's so much about the world, I spent less time picking at the details and more time marveling at the lovely fog effects or the god rays that pour in between buildings during early hours. A heavily-radiated region in the southwest corner of the map is home to thick hazes and harsh yellows, making the handful of mandatory trips there menacing and distinctive. Technical limitations be damned; this is a gorgeous game and it's all the better for it.

Beyond the visuals, I'd actually say that Fallout 4 is Bethesda's most cohesive sandbox design yet. Getting lost among Fallout 3's nightmarish labyrinth of repetitive metro stations and arbitrarily boxed-in outdoor areas was a huge red light for me, but their interpretation of a bomb-ravaged Boston here feels organic and unconfined. There are few (if any) regions that can't be explored from the outset, and it plays like an authentic examination of how two centuries' worth of anarchy would warp a civilized landscape, complete with low-altitude areas hosting hideous abominations and elevated sections of highway being transformed into bandit strongholds.

Unfortunately, while there are a plenty of delightful details tucked away for those who go looking for them (get a load of the government-fearing gun nut who accidentally kills himself with radiation poisoning from the nukes in his bunker) the plot falls disappointingly flat, which is a particular shame given the more ambitious approach that Bethesda took with this one. Fallout 4 actually begins before the war, with a young family being squirreled away into cryosleep prior to bombs falling. During stasis, the spouse is murdered and the infant son is kidnapped, prompting the protagonist to seek answers and revenge when they return to the world.

The abduction thread is resolved through an utterly ludicrous twist that's only made possible through some cheap misdirection, but it's ultimately beside the point in a narrative that's far more focused on asking the age-old Sci-Fi question of whether robots have souls.

A shadowy organization called "The Institute" is manufacturing synthetic beings, and there's a lot of debate whether these machines have lives, if they should have free will, or if their servitude can be considered slavery. Players are asked to make important alliances based on their moral outlook on these synths (as they're called) but the characters are so thinly-written, and our attachment to them so mercenary that I suspect most people will opt for the convenient route, even when Fallout 4 tries to guilt them into doing otherwise. The writers just don't give me a valid reason not to join the faction with airships and power armor.

Mechanically, Fallout 4 plays almost identically to its predecessors, with the usual slow-time-to-target-specific-parts VATS system molding something smart and tactical out of what would otherwise be a sub-par FPS engine. Equipment tinkering has been given a few tweaks for the better, though — weapon degradation is completely gone (an absolute godsend), and a new modification system allows players to break down useless items for more practical purpose. It's nice that there's finally merit in looting for junk since a random cake pan or ashtray may eventually become a new rifle muzzle or something.

A considerably less successful experiment is the new base management mechanic. Players can now occupy certain locations and – using the clunkiest interface imaginable – build structures, plant food, manage resources, and keep the inhabitants safe and happy. Thankfully, barring one late-game quest in which an important item must be constructed using this system, it's an easy mechanic to ignore, but it's so out-of-place and poorly implemented that I have to wonder why Bethesda sought to include it in the first place.

Apart from the new tweaks, Fallout 4's successes are predictable. The enjoyment, as always, is in building a character that suits one's play style and roaming the landscape looking for excuses to put that style to use. Skills and perks have been smoothly merged into a single tree, and it results in a terrific sense of ownership over one's version of the protagonist. There are so many individual quests and so many ways to go about solving problems and earning profits, that by the time I'd reached the end of Fallout 4's campaign, I felt as though I'd completed the journey on my own terms. That's a powerful feeling, but anyone who's played an open-world RPG of this scale will be familiar with it.

In fact, this familiarity is a bit problematic since it makes Fallout 4 the safest, least surprising Bethesda game in ages. The comfort-food factor would be more than good enough if they'd finally gotten their technical act together, but as usual, Fallout 4 is overrun with bugs ranging from the hilarious to some which were damn near game-breaking.

My favorite was when my dog appeared to be locked into a swimming animation while on land. Less endearing was a recurring glitch wherein my Pip-Boy became invisible, effectively making the game's menus impossible to navigate. On a smaller scale, pathfinding issues and lip-sync hiccups abound – all in all, it's got the expected quirks for a Bethesda release.  Mercifully, I never encountered anything that a simple reload didn't fix, but the game's rampant instability alone makes me hesitant to recommend it.

In a year when games like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt have redefined what open-world RPGs are capable of, I suspect that a lot of Fallout fans will be forced to question whether the usual Bethesda shtick of providing vast amounts of unpolished content with no emotional investment is still enough. I had a pretty good time, but despite its many strong points, Fallout 4 feels like one of Bethesda's minor works. Rating: 7 out of 10


Disclosures: This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 40 hours were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains blood and gore, intense violence, strong language and use of drugs. For those unfamiliar with the Fallout games, the combat involves watching thousands of enemies get their heads and limbs blown off in slow motion.  Combined with the harsh profanity, drug use and general grimness of the post-apocalyptic setting, this is absolutely not a game for children.

Deaf and Hard of Hearing Gamers: There's enough visual feedback that actually playing the game shouldn't be an issue, but I've noticed quite a bit of infidelity in regards to the subtitles. Some are outright missing, while other times, dialog overlaps and the game has trouble picking out what's most important. Those relying on the subtitles to follow the story will have a tough time.

Mike Suskie

Mike Suskie

Mike's first exposure to video games was when his parents bought him a Game Boy and a copy of Kirby's Dream Land. Completing it gave him the boost of confidence that launched a lifelong enthusiasm for the medium. Later in his life, he went back and discovered that Kirby's Dream Land is actually a laughably easy game that can be finished in about 20 minutes, but no matter.

He was born and raised in Amish country and has yet to escape, despite a brief stint in Philadelphia, where he attended Temple University. He took a one-credit course there called "Career Opportunities for English Majors," which painted a bleak picture for prospective writers. Mike remains steadfast in his ongoing role as a video game critic, however, and has recently written for GamesRadar. Most of his work can be found on HonestGamers, where he has contributed over 200 reviews to date.

When not playing games or writing about them, Mike is a rabid indie music fan and ardent concertgoer. He doesn't read as much as he probably should, but his current favorite author is Alastair Reynolds.
Mike Suskie

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Anonymous
Anonymous
4 years ago

NV is not from Bethesda, tho. That is why is so better.

Anonymous
Anonymous
4 years ago

Yes, Fallout will be moddable, but reviewers should not review/rate games based on how moddable they are. Especially a game that’s multiplatform and won’t be moddable on all platforms. A review that boiled down to “hey this game is mediocre but there might be some cool mods for it some day! 10/10” would be pretty dumb.

Smitty
Smitty
4 years ago

[quote=Anonymous]I was reading through your review when I got to “Cryo-sleep, wife gets murdered…” and immediately stopped reading the review. Holy cripes man! That deserved a *spoilers ahead* warning. I thought your review up to then as far as the colors and open game world was good to hear but I didn’t want to take a chance the rest of the article would contain more spoilers.[/quote] Same thing man, though I think I got one more sentence in. Holy freakin’ crap reviewer-dude, how about considering maybe some people like to “keep it fresh” and want to experience what happens in-game,… Read more »

Anonymous
Anonymous
4 years ago

Good review. Hype was way too high considering Bethesda’s last games (I guess it was great advertisement).
I feel like it’s really time for Bethesda to work on a new engine, so their games can offer something else. They just fail to surprise now.

Anonymous
Anonymous
4 years ago

The only thing Witcher 3 redefined is how you can completely ruin a game by having the worst control/physic system in existence.

Jellytussle
Jellytussle
4 years ago

That’s right, you WILL forget the games problems and focus only on the hype! Look deep into my eyes. You are feeling sleepy. When I snap my fingers you will listen to the hype. You will believe the game is fantastic no matter what. You will fail to see any problems. Now when I snap my fingers again you will wake and feel refreshed and so happy about how great the game is. Snap!

Jellytussle
Jellytussle
4 years ago

“I hated the Witcher 3 movement, combat, and the old timy dialogue.” Surely you had to know about Witcher’s “old timy dialogue” before you played it? Like so many (fanboys?) you take offense at any criticism of a game that you like, or KNOW you will like, even if you haven’t even played it yet. It’s no wonder we have to put up with so much crap from game developers when there are so many gamers who commit to games even before they are released. Yet again we have had some major game releases where “professional” reviewers have given the… Read more »

Not to Mention Bugs Galore
Not to Mention Bugs Galore
4 years ago

So true, Bethesda is all about quantity over quality. Paper thin stories with one dimensional characters, which negates the reason to care about decisions.

Anonymous
Anonymous
4 years ago

He’s telling you what happens in the first hour of gameplay and what the marketing already made clear.

Anonymous
Anonymous
4 years ago

Did you even read the review? It has some positive and some negative things to say and is very specific about them. Keep in mind that review scores of video games are massively inflated in general owing to the precarious relationship between journalists and publishers.

It always amazes me that people become so personally offended by less-than-glowing reviews of games that are otherwise critically acclaimed.

Anonymous
Anonymous
4 years ago

That happens in the first 5 minutes of playing when everything is scripted anyway. It’s not really a spoiler and there are no other spoilers in the article, you can read safely.

crawlkill
crawlkill
4 years ago

that there’s no comment backlash, but I dunno the culture of this site. personally, I looove it when people point out that Bethesda has instantly forgettable characters and nothings of plots, which for me are just…game-negators. “In a year when games like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt have redefined what open-world RPGs are capable of, I suspect that a lot of Fallout fans will be forced to question whether the usual Bethesda shtick of providing vast amounts of unpolished content with no emotional investment is still enough.” I wanna say PREACH, but the fact is RPGs had been doing that… Read more »

Joe
Joe
4 years ago

Finally a good review, all of the reviews i watched so far were sounding like excuses for bethesdas poor programing and ancient engine.
“But this is a bethesda game, the bugs are to be expected”..soon its 2016 but here comes bethesda refusing to give a shit and get a new engine.
From all the marketing and pr half of that money could have get the a new engine, but why would they, when everyone just apologizes them.
Thanks for this solid review Mike.

Anonymous
Anonymous
4 years ago

He isn’t reviewing how modifiable the game is. He is reviewing the overall quality of the game, how it runs, how it feels etc. He can only review what has been given on face value, aka what bethesda have released. Modding means absolutely nothing in terms of a review. I also don’t agree that the sole reason skyrim has done well is due to modding. Skyrim has a replay-ability that the fallout games don’t have. Fallout you either shoot or you hit something to death. Skyrim you can 2h, 1h, 1h+shield, destruction mage, conjuration mage, alteration mage, archer, stealth, hell… Read more »

Dranlord
Dranlord
4 years ago

Witcher 3 didnt redifine nothing just give a game nice graphics, the story is the same old story about the Hero that save all.
Isnt a open world and if u look it like one the game have ALOT OF NOTHING on the maps making exploring a waste of time.
Armor and crafting are irrelevant bc u will stuck with 1 set that benefit u the most. I wish reviews do a better job this days.

Anonymous
Anonymous
4 years ago

I was reading through your review when I got to “Cryo-sleep, wife gets murdered…” and immediately stopped reading the review. Holy cripes man! That deserved a *spoilers ahead* warning. I thought your review up to then as far as the colors and open game world was good to hear but I didn’t want to take a chance the rest of the article would contain more spoilers.

FidgetyAcolyte
FidgetyAcolyte
4 years ago

Nice, unbiased review from someone who seems to appreciate Fallout for what it is rather than what others make it to be.

Good work!

Anonymous
Anonymous
4 years ago

I played Witcher 3, at 60FPS, Max settings, 1080p, and I still preferred my playthrough of Fallout 3 on my PS3. Make of that what you will, not everyone needs shiny graphicsto enjoy a game, I hated the Witcher 3 movement, combat, and the old timy dialogue. It’s not for me. I know I will enjoy this game more than anything else this year, more of the same is what I wanted. A expansive world waiting to be explored, no two playthroughs the same, and endless possibilities for modding, there is nothing like these Bethesda games, which is why they… Read more »

crawlkill
crawlkill
4 years ago

movement and combat are what they are, but the vast majority of The Witcher’s dialogue has always been modern in style–sometimes almost fourth wall-breakingly so, ’cause the biological sciences are wayyy ahead of where they should be from the medieval look, so you get doctors talking about mutations and evolution and stuff. there are no thous or thines to be found here, and no dated vocabulary. trying to think of the beginning of the game…maybe you talk to some weirdos off the bat? there are dudes with vaguely northern European accents, but they’re actually foreigners. locals talk like the English,… Read more »

crawlkill
crawlkill
4 years ago

aw, I quite liked New Vegas. I mean, the gameplay was still terrible, but it had that extraordinary sense of place that was what made F1 and F2 so important, and in terms of world reactivity I think it may even have outdone them. that’s not to excuse the terrible bugs it launched with, but they have been solved, yknow?

Nick
Nick
4 years ago

And now I was just perusing the comments and happened to read your spoiler of his spoiler. Oh well…

Jay
Jay
4 years ago

Very good review Mike.

Anonymous
Anonymous
4 years ago

so you haven’t seen the trailers? they pretty much cover this subject as well, so chill a bit.

Anonymous
Anonymous
4 years ago

This game is so over-hyped. If you liked Skyrim you will probably like Fallout 4. I didn’t care that much for either games which makes me a super rare unicorn if you believe the internet. The retro looking guns and world remind me too much of bioshock which was also a good game but why would I want to play the same thing again? Only in sandbox mode.

Straif
Straif
4 years ago

I was a bit skeptical upon seeing the metacritic score so low, but after reading your review, I found it well written and honest. So I just wanted to let you know that I thought you did a good job with it. 🙂

Jellytussle
Jellytussle
4 years ago

I wish there were more gamers like you.

Anonymous
Anonymous
4 years ago

Nah, there’s plenty of people like us just not bothered enough to care and in general any voice questioning game’s quality gets crushed by hype machine fuelled by fanboy rage. All the while they play a shoddy open world full of meaningless trash strawn togeather with stolen “fallout” brand nailed into it. They turned this genere into mind numbing generic open world shooter and yet at launch PC version has unpatched bug which makes your gun and character ( whole user interface with it…) disappear in midst of combat. Not to mention frequent CTDs and corrupted saves prevalent in previous… Read more »

Anonymous
Anonymous
4 years ago

Too true. There comes a time when I have to throw out other review sites because it’s obvious they ignore problems with the games they review and give a high score based on hype, marketing dollars, and fanboyism. I like seeing a review that is honest about the game.

I find it funny when people think a 70/100 is considered a bad score and because such and such site gave it a 95/100 that the low score is clickbait. It’s not, they just won’t admit it.

crawlkill
crawlkill
4 years ago

if I were gonna single out the greatest accomplishments of TW3 over similar recent games, it’d be >a lot of effort put into conversational animation, not just endless stock pointing and arm-folding like y’get in ME games >some really incredible character/monster design, with some great reveal moments (Bioware would’ve reused models for the Ladies, y’know they would’ve) >a certain real effort put into side-tasks; I always felt like what I was doing was making a difference in the area, just because of the helplessness of the people I was usually working for (as compared to Inquisition, which never made me… Read more »

Horriday
Horriday
4 years ago

There are already tons of mods out for the witcher 3, hell there’s a random monster mod floating around some where on the Nexus. The witcher is not that linear, just like in a fallout game any quest can be done at nearly any time although i do see where your coming from and i will give you the fact that it is very much a premade characters story. And you CAN compare W3 with FO4 they are: both large open world RPG’s Both deal with fairly dark subject matter Both have crafting e.c.t the list goes on Im sure… Read more »

Anonymous
Anonymous
4 years ago

Fallout has several different builds too. Big guns, normal guns, energy weapons, melee, unarmed or explosive. Generally you focus on one of these and pick a secondary one along with it. Each of these builds can be further customized by allocating your S.P.E.I.C.A.L points, skills and perks how you please. For example you could be a complete stealth character, a character that thrives off taking damage, a super powered V.A.T.S build or a character that benefits massively from using chems (stat boosts etc) often. Then there are all the different non combat options that are in the game. Charisma, intelligence… Read more »

Anonymous
Anonymous
4 years ago

Sure, let’s follow the hype and forget about all the games problems.

Anonymous
Anonymous
4 years ago

Yeah at least the fallout combat is dull, uninspiring and static

Anonymous
Anonymous
4 years ago

As much as I appreciate people taking the time reviewing games like this I recommend they don’t unless they know what they’re talking about. Comparing The Witcher which is by far one of the best games for it’s genre to Fallout is like comparing Skyrim to GTA. However you bring it up so lets compare. Skyrim is still one of the top played games on the PC, why? Because of the engine. Witcher is very linear, and can’t be modded because of the complexity of their engine and method for their story telling. You can’t have a Fallout game with… Read more »

Harvizzle
Harvizzle
4 years ago

In what way did the Witcher 3 redefine anything other than, as the commenter above said, the poisonous influence of bad controls & gameplay? What did it meaningfully improve on from the Witcher 2 besides just being prettier, bigger and longer? In what ways is it better and different than say Mass Effect 3 or Dragon Age: Inquisition? Show your working.