November 9, 2015
'Fallout 4' Impressions: How Does Boston's Wasteland Stack Up?

A game like Fallout 4 has a certain amount of pressure on it to perform. Players of the franchise expect the next evolution of Bethesda's series, while newcomers expect to see the 1950s-esque wasteland charm they've come to expect from Fallout's promotional materials and player impressions. In these areas, Fallout 4 doesn't disappoint.

Perfectly capturing the charm of 1950s Americana, as well as its vices, Fallout 4 is a snapshot into a life when America was climbing to its height in terms of economic and technological advancement on the world stage. However, this is perfectly contrasted in Fallout 4 by the frightened visage in which people lived when it came to the Russians, Communists in general, and anyone who wasn't toeing the American line. As a result, the bomb-scarred wasteland of The Commonwealth doesn't do much to alleviate those fears, they simply replace them with new demons.

Raiders, Opportunists, Synths, The Institute: all issues you as the lone survivor of Vault 111 are made to deal with as a result of awaking after 200 years frozen in stasis within Boston's main vault. It's all perfectly manicured, down to the smallest detail, just as we've come to expect from a Bethesda-crafted world.

It's a shame that Fallout 4 can be a pain in the rear to play sometimes.

From a pure game mechanics standpoint, Fallout 4 is an evolution of game design, to a degree. The inclusion of modular crafting, the ability to create who settlements out of the materials you find scattered in the world, is a prime example of, well, building upon the past. The sound design is impeccable, from the rustling of the wind making me believe I am truly walking through this desolate land, down to the soundtrack that Fallout 4 boasts -- both ambient music and radio selections. However, these details are overshadowed by the fact that, in some instances, Fallout 4 can suffer massive performance drops, causing any enjoyment you're finding in The Commonwealth to be squandered by trudging through sub-30fps gameplay, even on a powerful PC.

Fallout 4 Boston Bethesda Softworks
Boston looks great inside Fallout 4. [Image credit: Bethesda Softworks]The most glaring issue that stands out, however, are Fallout 4's visuals. When comparing Bethesda's game to other open-world RPGs released this year, Fallout is easily on the short end of the visual spectrum. Going from the exquisite character models of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt to Fallout 4's semi-expressive characters is very jarring, indeed. Which is a shame because Fallout 4's voice talent makes each character sound especially compelling when telling their personal stories in the Commonwealth. However, the comparison is valid: Fallout 4's de-emphasis on making the game as beautiful as it could be with a whole new engine is clearly seen when comparing it to another 2015 open world game in The Witcher 3, who valued amazing visuals while also emphasizing exquisite gameplay.

In addition, while Fallout 4 brings many things to the table in terms of additions to the game, most notably it's iterations on crafting, what's already there doesn't seem to be improved upon as much as it could. In the majority of my 25-30 hours in the game, I have not exactly felt compelled to go into "Boston" proper, instead feeling content to roam the countryside. The map feels considerably smaller than Skyrim, and while it may not actually be, it does feel more constrained than the last Bethesda game. That may simply be due to the fact that Skyrim spanned a province and Fallout 4 a city and its outskirts, but again, when compared to other games released this year as well as the studio's last effort, it's something that feels confined comparatively.

It's especially disappointing because Fallout 4 has some of the most fascinating gameplay I've experienced in an open-world RPG to date. The story's premise touches home as well, and the characters you meet drip with personality. Each one has their own story, and you truly want to know more about them. The quality of Fallout 4's voice acting is extremely compelling, willing you to explore every dialogue option. However, the beauty of Fallout 4's gameplay is your ability to choose and not be penalized for playing your way. Sure, you're going to aggravate a few residents of the Commonwealth if you decide to play the "bad guy," but the game itself doesn't hinder you if you decide to "shoot first and ask questions later."

And that's the beauty: your ability to choose. There have been a few moments in my playthrough where I have found myself questioning a decision I have made within Fallout 4's Commonwealth. Few games have caused me to agonize over something I've decided like Fallout 4, making me play through each scenario in my head to figure out what I could have done differently. Only The Banner Saga and Telltale's Game of Thrones have done that, and those games are exquisite company for Fallout 4 to keep.

Fallout 4 Crafting Is Exquisitr
Every aspect of your weapon is moddable in Fallout 4, from the grip to the muzzle. [Image credit: Bethesda Softworks]The crafting is truly where the new additions shine. When people cried foul at Fallout 4's visuals after its initial reveal, Bethesda said that it was in exchange for them to be able to be as ambitious as possible with the gameplay systems they incorporated into Fallout 4. Crafting is the culmination of Fallout 4's quest for game system excellence, giving each item you find in The Commonwealth actual meaning. Before in other Bethesda games, the ancillary items you'd come across were nothing more than world filler. Plates, forks, cups, bowls -- they were all interactable, but didn't add anything to your game. Now, each item can be broken down to its base components: plates provide ceramics, silver forks a source of, well, silver. Guns can even be scrapped for parts, either to mod another gun or to use on your next building. You can completely build new settlements from the foundations up, scrapping old buildings and rising them anew. As your settlements grow and flourish in Fallout 4, they can become the target of enemies, so a "tower-defense" style meta breaks out, with you planning your settlements out with gauntlet-like precision, funneling would be attackers into rows of turrets. This adds a whole new dimension to an otherwise stellar game.

Having only spent about 25-30 total hours in The Commonwealth, that is far too little time to fully judge the overall quality of a game of this magnitude. But, from early impressions, Fallout 4 is a place where I can see myself spending a lot of time within. Fallout 4 is rough, that's for sure, but the quality of the story is one that will keep players coming back, and the individual stories being told are compelling all on their own, making the game worth exploring. The moral dilemmas Fallout 4 thrusts upon you will cause you to question what you believe, even within the confines of a game, and it's that fact that makes Fallout 4 a solid addition to your game library.

[Images via Bethesda Softworks]