Like all Bethesda games, Fallout 4 is a deep and immersive blend of first/third-person shooter and western RPG, set in a remarkably huge sandbox world. A branching narrative reactive to the player’s choices, more side-quests than the average footballer has tattoos and the best representation of a dystopian 50’s America in the medium; 2015’s Fallout 4 marks the pinnacle of the series for many.
This time around, the story follows a fully customisable protagonist immediately prior to the nuclear catastrophe that would end civilisation. As he/she enjoys an idyllic suburban afternoon with the family, sirens begin to blare warning of the impending chaos; fortunately, the protagonist has just enough time to retreat to one of the secure shelters known as vaults, thus avoiding the deadly blasts. However, shortly after arriving in vault 111, the protagonist and their family are cryogenically frozen by the overseers of their new home, against their will. Two hundred years later, the protagonist awakes to discover their spouse has been murdered and their child kidnapped by an unknown assailant. From here the narrative follows the player’s character as they doggedly search the commonwealth of Massachusetts for their missing son Sean whilst being dragged into a bitter struggle for control of the desolation that was once Boston by the numerous factions inhabiting the land, with the ultimate fate of the commonwealth very much in the player’s hands.
The story itself is as interesting as any in the series to date, though certain features of the plot are noticeably similar to previous titles in the franchise; most notably Fallout 3. However, what gives Fallout 4 the edge in terms of narrative depth are the numerous and comprehensive side-stories which focus primarily on the motives and goals of the various factions. These branching narratives, whilst separate, nonetheless adhere to the overarching plot of the story, ensuring the tale continues to develop fluently, even should the player decide to temporarily eschew the main quest in order to explore or complete side-objectives.
Importantly the gameplay will feel familiar to veterans of the series, with only minor alterations made to improve the experience. Once again the player has the option of choosing either a first or third person perspective during exploration and combat, though as with previous Fallout games, the action is more satisfying if played in first person mode. Unique and divisive, the V.A.T.S mechanic (Vault-tec Assisted Targeting System) has undergone the most notable change. In earlier instalments, V.A.T.S allowed players to stop time completely in the midst of battle and choose specific areas of an opponent’s body to attack, with a percentage score used to measure the likelihood of successfully damaging the chosen target. In Fallout 4 however, triggering V.A.T.S simply slows time instead of stopping it altogether. Though subtle, this modification has a significant impact on combat, restricting the amount of time available to players to plan their engagements, making fights feel more tactical, not to mention the surprising amount of damage your character can receive from foes whilst the system is engaged. Dialogue trees appear once again in Fallout 4, though conversation options now look more akin to Mass Effect in terms of style. Notwithstanding this superficial adjustment, the story continues to develop in response to the player’s choices in much the same way as any of Bethesda’s older projects, ensuring this aspect of the gameplay is as enjoyable and intuitive as ever.
Of course, an ample company of NPC’s are present, providing practical and moral support for the protagonist throughout their adventure, though this feature has also undergone minor changes; where previously companions were mortal (though they could take an excruciating amount of punishment before succumbing) they’re now invincible. In reality, this doesn’t make them as all-powerful as you’d think since allies can be still be ‘stunned’ should they take sufficient damage during combat, removing them from the fray until all opponents in the player’s vicinity have been defeated. Therefore, despite the complaints accompanying this change, the general challenge of the game is affected very slightly, especially as the protagonist’s companions are only as strong as the weapons you give them. At the end of the day, gamers can always choose one of the punishingly hard difficulty levels if they’re looking for a challenge. Additionally, human characters can now be romanced as well, which is becoming an increasingly common feature of western RPG’s. Aside from strengthening the bond between the player and the supporting characters this does have practical benefits too, in the form of unique perks specific to each character you manage to seduce, which can’t be unlocked any other way. Speaking of perks, the skill tree is now larger than ever, with die-hard players able to reach levels in excess of two hundred, if they’re willing to put in the effort. Essentially this gives player’s more freedom to tailor their character to suit their preferred play-style, as well as expanding the available exploratory options. Meanwhile, weapon customisation is equally in-depth and rewarding, exponentially increasing the numbers of ways to maim foes, whilst the base building feature is a nice if somewhat restricted and repetitive distraction.
As you’d expect for the first game in the series on a new generation of consoles, the graphics are the most impressive in the series so far. The 50’s aesthetic looks more authentic than in previous Fallout titles, helping to produce the feeling of a once inhabited, thriving society brought low. Complementing the impressive art design is the use of a more natural, less dreary colour scheme that gives the landscapes a more authentic appearance of desolation and decay. Fallout 4 is also the first game in the series to feature fully voiced protagonists, performed by Brian T. Delaney and Courtenay Taylor (depending on the gender of your character). Both deserve praise for excellent performances, though the quality of the voice acting, in general, is exceptional.
With a blend of traditional features and new innovations, Fallout 4 is without a doubt my favourite in a series of genre-defining games. An in-depth story combined with exciting yet challenging gameplay, gorgeous art design and a map brimming with adventure, this excellent game is a testament to Bethesda’s skill and determination to create timeless games. 9/10