Fallout 4

F4_Wiki_BannerI really enjoyed Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas. I played both of them to death, despite the bugs. It was therefore, no surprise to me that I was super excited about Fallout 4 when I heard it was being released.  The only issue really, was Bethesda, they’re not well known for releasing bug free stuff, and on top of that, I’d found Skyrim to be lacking any soul.  I feared that perhaps Fallout would be gutted, ripped of its sense of being and left cold and emotionless on the floor.

I needn’t have worried.  I’ve read reviews and comments from people who find Fallout 4 lacking; they say it’s just a big tower defence game, or there’s little purpose beyond travel to point A, shoot the enemy to death, and then return to point B.  I’d argue that’s no different to Fallout 3 certainly, although Fallout: New Vegas was a little richer than that.  However, the key with all three games is that the main quest line, and in fact, most of the side quests, aren’t where Fallout games get their humanity, their soul, or their poignant introspective.  They get those from the little letters, terminal messages, holotapes, non-main-quest NPC dialogue and other sources of background information.  Seeking those out, reading everything is what gives me the sense of enjoyment from the world, and Fallout 4 delivers on that level as well as the others.

Power Armour Army

Power Armour Army – about half the suits I eventually collected. There they’re displayed on top of the three story house I built for myself.

There are tales spread throughout the whole of the Boston, Massachusetts (the location for Fallout 4) of people living, dying and being reborn in the aftermath of the nuclear war.  Yes, there’s a main quest (mirroring that of Fallout 3 in many ways), and yes there are factions (bringing something from New Vegas more formally into Fallout 4).  Yes, the Brotherhood of Steel turn up (of course), and there are raiders and supermutants and ghouls.  There are vaults and mercenary groups, and bars and shops and blasted wasteland.  All of these things are there.  They’re all to be explored, and shot up.  But the soul, the jam in the centre of this delicious doughnut is the treasure trove of hidden history that you only get by digging through the bodies of those you have vanquished.

Knee deep in ghoul remains, trying to find a vacuum tube, you discover a hastily scrawled note.  A husband, telling his wife where he has gone, and that he will be back.  You know he never made it.  Half dead from a deathclaw attack, you open a cabin door and find the remains of a young woman, running away from home to be with her lost love.  She never found him.  Resplendent in your new power armour, you find an abandoned room in a sewer, and huddled in the corner is a skeleton, grasping the last Salisbury steak box a 10mm pistol and 5 rounds of ammo on the ground.  You know they made a last stand, defending the boxed meat product from all-comers.

This is Fallout 4, this is why it still has a soul, and this is why I played it for over a hundred hours.

Power Armour - Back View

Here are the suits from the back

The main quest is clearly signposted as always, but you’ll struggle to simply follow that and do nothing else.  As with Fallout 3 the second location you need to reach is a fair hike across the map and unless you have excellent luck and incredible tunnel vision, by the time you get there you’ll be knee deep in side quests.  F4 has companions and factions which affect which quests you get offered, which ones you can complete and how the game ends.  Having to repair weapons and armour has gone, and the crafting system from New Vegas has been boosted with weapons and armour being highly customisable.  The two key new features are settlement building and the way power armour is handled.  I won’t talk about how those features work (the web is covered in that) except to say, I really enjoyed the settlements, and while the new power armour has advantages and disadvantages, I enjoyed it, and found it less game breaking in some ways than the power armour in F3.

The all new voiced dialogue was interesting, and although I don’t think the game needed it I think it benefited from it.  Dialogue wasn’t quite as witty as Fallout: New Vegas, but it was still engaging and at least on my first play-through of a quest (i.e. assuming I didn’t die and have to do it again) I didn’t skip any dialogue (which I’m notorious for, even when it’s unheard).

The locations are interesting, with some new approaches and some old classics.  I did find some of the z-axis layouts very hard to understand and deal with – both inside buildings (their own discrete areas) and in the open world setting.  There are some very high places you can reach through some very convoluted routes, which frustrated me several times.  I’m sure other people love them, and I learned to deal with them, but as with F3 and F:NV, it’s not always obvious how to navigate around key locations.

NPC companions are varied and interesting, and their dialogue is all spectacularly different, which was enjoyable.

Power Armour - Side View

Dramatic shot of power armour!

Some of the faction quests were very repetitive (especially the Minutemen), and they didn’t always feel joined up.  I often completed a Minutemen quest for a settlement which had already joined the cause, only to be told it was great to get another settlement on-board.  I didn’t personally suffer any significant bugs, certainly nothing quest related.  I did get stuck in the scenery once and had to reload a save (Greté played on the PC, and the one time she got stuck she used a console command to get out, I was very jealous).  There were times when my character just stood still after dialogue, both he and the NPC kind of playing chicken to see who would walk away first.  It always resolved itself eventually but I’ve read some people getting stuck like that and having to reload.

Faction-breaking quests (where you cause one faction to hate you) are clearly telegraphed, and for the most part I knew if my actions were going to upset someone.  However, as with F3 and F:NV it is possible to do the quests in such an order that you confuse the NPC’s who won’t let you hand a quest in because they’re eager to talk about something else.  Also, as with all Bethesda games, I found NPC’s would assume I had knowledge of an event long before I actually triggered it.

Even with those flaws though, Fallout 4 was absorbing, engaging and fun.  A worthy successor to Fallout 3 and although some might argue it doesn’t make enough of a step change, I always prefer evolution rather than revolution in my game sequels.

Play Fallout 4, it has a heart, and it wants to be your friend.  If you’ve played Fallout 3, take time to look for all the connections that Fallout 4 has to that game.  NPC’s, locations, events, and even the main storyline.

Note: The screenshots are from my Xbox One play through.  It’s ridiculously complicated to get screenshots out of a game on the Xbox.  In the end I had to sign up to One Drive, save them to that, and then get them on the PC via the One Drive web interface.

Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas – why I love them

I read a review yesterday for the new DLC pack for Fallout: New Vegas called Honest Hearts.  To be fair, I didn’t read the whole review, I read a summary which basically suggested Honest Hearts wasn’t that great and that the quests were mostly fetch and collect stuff.  Compared to Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, that seemed out of place since the developers do a good job of disguising the quests so they don’t feel like ‘go here, fetch that’.

It got me thinking though.  What was it that I enjoyed most in the two Fallout games I’ve played (I never really played 1 and 2)?  After thinking about it, I believe the reviewer of Honest Hearts missed the point.  The quests aren’t what make Fallout 3 and New Vegas the games they are, it’s the side stories.

When I first played Fallout 3 on the PS3 I was blown away by the depth and richness of the world.  I came from an MMO background really, in terms of computer RPG’s, so I was expecting lots of little quests tied together, but the main one in Fallout 3 is actually quite simple.  Essentially it’s, ‘go to a small number of locations, find evidence of your father, piece together the story, and then make a decision at the end which finishes the game’.  But doing that took ages, because I was constantly dragged into the side quests.  The side quests are great, but even they aren’t what make the game essentially unforgettable, it’s the non-quest driven side stories.

Finding a vault, searching it, and finding journal entries, or computer logs, or snippets of information and putting together what happened in the war, or just after, or what happened in that vault to one or two people, or the entire population.  Finding a house in the middle of nowhere with some tiny piece of information about the owner, often sad, poignant, a reflection on what the Fallout world had become before the war, or the struggle that followed.  That was what made the game great.  Learning about the world, learning about the history.  Not having it given to you on a plate or purely in voice overs, but honest discovery.  If you just did the main quest, you’d miss it.  You had to go looking, had to go digging, open every box, check every terminal.  Find out of the way locations, en route to nowhere, and delve into their history.

Slowly, the sinister truth about the vaults became clear, and the heartache of a world destroyed came into focus.

I was initially disappointed with Fallout: New Vegas, it felt a little too civilised for me, I wanted more of the blasted world of Fallout 3.  Despite myself, I found it growing on me though, and eventually I bought into the story.  Sadly, constant crashes on the PS3 version meant I stuck to the main quest, did as little as necessary to complete the story and got through it more as a chore than a game.  But I recently re-bought it on the 360 (still in pocket after purchase, re-sale, and cheap re-purchase), and thanks to fewer crashes (3 in 80 hours, plus 2 almost-game-breaking bugs) I’m taking the time to go everywhere, search everything, do every quest, explore every vault.

The stories are still there.  The vault where people were basically driven insane so they could be researched, the vault in which people had to sacrifice one person every year to stay alive, the vault with too many people and an unlocked armoury.  In those locations you learn the back story by piecing it together, yourself, from journals and terminals.  You don’t need to, nothing in the main quests requires it.  You may need to go to the vault, but you can find what you need by just following the arrow – if you’re interested, if you want to find out, it’s there for you to find.

The writing is superb – I feel like I was there during the last moments of the lives of those vault dwellers, because the game authors take so much time to craft the words.

I picked up Honest Hearts and played through it in a weekend.  It’s a new location, rocky and hard to navigate, there aren’t many different enemies, and the story feels a tiny bit contrived.  But there’s an underlying story of loss, heartache, suffering and then optimism if you want to go looking for it.  Not only that, but there are little teasers of connection to the Mojave wasteland and vaults you’ve already been to.  While I was running around doing the collection quests, I was also searching every inch of caves for some sign of an old hunter who lived in the region and who documented his story on his computer terminals.  That story takes us from the war through his survival, and the slow regeneration of the land, including the first signs of new creatures that Fallout 3 players will know well.

It was fascinating, sad and heart wrenching, and as well written as anything else in the Fallout universe, but if you didn’t go looking for it, you might never find it.

None of this needs to be there.  The developers could just stick the same vault design in the ground, fill it with ghouls and leave it at that.  They don’t have to write these stories, they don’t have to populate the vaults or the buildings or the caves with history and sadness.  Quite a few gamers wouldn’t even notice, certainly not the people who brag about completing Fallout: New Vegas in 7 hours.  I’ve been playing it for 80 hours and I’ve only scratched the surface of the main quest.  I’m pleased they take the time to include this content, I’m grateful the development team get the time from their management and the people funding the game, it’s what makes them worth buying.

You can make me collect as many broken radios as you want, as long as when I get to the building they’re in, I can spend time learning about the world, the people who are or used to be in it, and hearing their stories.

(Oh, it would be nice if it didn’t crash too)