Saturday, 21 November 2015

Fallout 4

Anyone who knows me in real life knows just how much I love Bethesda games. Something about their open worlds have shaped how much I enjoy open world games. I first started playing them when Oblivion was released, clocking up well over 600 hours on my XBox 360 (so completely unmodded Oblivion too!). I’m not too ashamed to say I’m a Bethesda fanboy, so take my recommendation with a grain of salt: Fallout 4 is a really fun game, wrapped up in a package with the usual Bethesda flaws.

For some reason, people like me are able to ignore the flaws that every single Bethesda game has and just get immersed in the giant worlds that they create. Fallout 4 is no exception. Exploring the irradiated wastelands of Boston with your trusty dog by your side is some of the most engaging gameplay I have had since The Witcher 3. Sure, the game’s physics are tied into the frame rate, and you have to edit an .ini file to turn off mouse smoothing, but I don’t care because I got to shoot a super mutant camp with long range artillery.

Gushing aside, F4’s core gameplay is much of the same from New Vegas and Fallout 3. You explore ancient buildings, scavenging what you can, fighting off the bandits and creatures of the wastelands that attack you. The biggest change to the base Fallout gameplay is the addition of Settlements. I can only assume the people at Bethesda were looking at all of the multiplayer survival games that allow base building when this system was thought up, and I think it really changes the whole feel of the game. Where previously you felt like a drifter, running from place to place but never making any part of the wasteland yours, now you can create settlements all across the map, making buildings and defences. You can use radio towers to attract settlers to join the settlements, commanding them to man towers, farm crops, or even run shops to make caps for you.

The settlement system also impacts the scavenging side of the gameplay. Previously I would only collect guns, ammo, stimpacks, and caps. Now, almost everything is useful, as junk items are broken down into their parts, and even unwanted weapons and armour can be scrapped for additional components. These components are used for crafting the parts used in settlements, or even upgrading your items to be better. Gone are the days of needing to repair weapons and armour after every fight (a change I welcome completely), instead replaced with upgrades to allow you to play the way you want. If you prefer long range then you can give your weapons scopes and long barrels to increase the range of them. Or for close encounters you have the option for reflex sights and silencers.

Combat is improved from New Vegas, and vastly improved from Fallout 3. All of the guns have functioning iron sights, and the developers have included a couple of different types of sights for those who prefer a particular type (reflex sights have a dot or circle option to give one example). The guns feel different enough, and even the look of the early game “pipe” weapons suit the scavenged style. As an example of how different weapons feel, the laser musket, a gun you get very early in the game, requires you to charge the weapon manually before you can even fire, but does massive damage. As I mentioned previously Bethesda have done a great job of trying to allow for different play styles with the different weapons, providing options via the modding system. Some people have criticised the game for becoming more of an FPS than an RPG, but I personally have enjoyed all aspects of the combat.

Armour now has individual parts, allowing you to mix and match pieces for maximum protection. If there is one complaint about armour in the game, it’s that the best armour in the game looks the worst, and the complete sets that look great have some of the worst stats. If you are playing in first person it’s not that big a deal, but you do see yourself more in Fallout 4 than any of the previous games. However, this isn’t the biggest change to the armour system in F4. Power armour is now a separate suit, treated almost like a vehicle that you get into and use until it’s out of power. 

You get your first set of power armour very early in the game, and can customise and upgrade it however you see fit. Customisation includes paintjobs, built in stealth boys and even a jetpack. The limiting factor to the power armour is the fusion cores they use for power. You will find these out in the wasteland scattered about, but at least in my travels I’ve only found 18 in about 35 hours of play. This gives the power armour a feeling of escalation. Were you just murdered by a deathclaw? Go back with your power armour and show him who’s boss! I personally like this system, as I never liked wearing power armour constantly in the older Fallout games. Along with that, going back to base to get your best weapons is something I appreciate. Power armour is also more common on enemies in higher level zones, and you can obtain many different versions of it that can all be individually customised and even given to followers to wear.

The world itself is always an interesting topic for open world games. I’ve never really liked the map size comparisons that occur whenever a new open world game is announced or released. My metric for how good the world in an open world game is has always been how much fun it is to explore and ‘live’ in that world, and Fallout 4 impresses me in that respect. Even 35 hours into the game I’m still seeing something new, and more importantly, interesting to explore. The settlements help a lot with that, as you can even just get lost into the act of building this base up for your fellow settlers, and then exploring the world for more materials to continue building that base. Along with this, the world also feels very alive. While exploring, you will often hear gunshots in the distance and if you head toward them, you’ll find some bandits harassing settlers, or super mutants attacking some soldiers. It’s little details like this that go a long way to making the world feel alive without you.

Graphically, the game has improved a lot from New Vegas. Gone is the green and brown tint they put over everything in the two previous games, in favour of bright colours, blue skies and god rays. Weather effects look fantastic, especially the thick fog that occasionally rolls in, making it hard to see what that shape in the distance is. The wasteland has never looked better. However, if there is one thing the game doesn’t do well, it’s run above 60 FPS. I personally have not had any issues, as I decided to keep vsync on after reading the reviews, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. There have been reports of any framerate higher than 60 causing issues with the physics of the game, including not being able to exit terminals or the lockpicking screen not coming up. Bethesda tying physics to framerate is not new, and was a big criticism of Skyrim as well.

Speaking of standard Bethesda game issues, there are also bugs aplenty. The game has never hard crashed for me, but I have had several cases where the gun models stopped rendering entirely, leaving my character standing there with his hands awkwardly outstretched. The menus occasionally bug out and won’t display, with the only way to fix that being to quit to desktop and return. Sure the bugs will eventually be fixed, if not by Bethesda, then by a modder. For some reason, gamers in general like to give Bethesda a pass on those bugs, but it’s a source of constant frustration that one of my favorite game companies continues to rely on modders to fix their games for free. If this was a Ubisoft or EA title, there would be riots. Along with the bugs, there are also reported performance issues with the aforementioned god rays on AMD graphics cards due to their tesselation issues (tip: turn them down to low. The difference in looks during gameplay is tiny and you get an immediate performance boost even on nVidia cards).

Now to the elephants in the room: skill trees and dialogue systems. If you’ve read anything about Fallout 4, you’ve probably read about the new skill tree and dialogue system, and maybe not in a positive light. Personally, I like the new skill system, and I am indifferent to the dialogue system. 

Let’s focus on skills for now. In previous fallout games, there were individual skills for every part of the game, and if you never improved that skill, you would never get better with that part of the game. So when you picked up a laser rifle, and had never improved Energy Weapons, your damage was reduced. At level up, you would get a number of skill points you could distribute into the different skills, as well as being able to select a perk every level in Fallout 3, or every 2 levels in New Vegas. In Fallout 4, they have scrapped skills entirely, in favour of using perks to progress your character. When you level up, you gain a single point that gain be used to either increase a special stat, or improve a specialized part of your character, such as improving damage with pistols by 20% or being able to pick better locks. I like the change, as it streamlines character progression, and allows you to immediately improve an aspect of your character without needing to be hyper focused on one particular thing. On the other hand, purists of the RPG side of Fallout may find the system too streamlined, causing them to consider it dumbed down. It’s a massive change to the way Fallout plays, but one I feel Bethesda have done correctly.

As for the dialogue tree, the biggest immediate change is that your character is fully voice acted now. While some people prefer the silent protagonist, I have always loved voiced characters, as I feel more like I am playing a character, rather than a camera with a gun. The other big change is the addition of a dialogue wheel instead of the selection screen previous Fallout games have used. On this change I am torn. On the one hand, the wheel uses a simple up for question, down for yes, left for calm, right for aggressive, meaning you can always play your character in a particular way. On the other, they never actually tell you that, and I only figured it out after about 20 hours of play. It’s very vague as to how your character might respond until you work that out. A simple change of colours for the buttons would have solved all those problems (green for yes, red for aggressive, blue for calm, yellow for question if we use the Xbox button colours for example). I can certainly see how people dislike the voiced protagonist and wheel, however it’s a very small bump to an otherwise solid game.

Fallout 4 is a massive game, and what I have typed here hasn't even touched on the main story at all, because in 35 hours, I've not progressed past the introductory quests for the story quest. I may look at writing a review of the story if I ever get around to completing it. I mentioned in the outset of this that I am a Bethesda fanboy. I want to say it again here, because I know I get blind to some of the more glaring issues with Bethesda games until the honeymoon period is over (like the menus in Skyrim until SkyUi came out). If there was some advice I might give, it’s this: if you haven’t already picked up Fallout 4, consider waiting until it’s on sale. I love the game, and I have no hesitation shouting that from the hilltops. However, I think time is still needed for this game to become truly amazing due to the bugs. If you are likely to want to push the game above 60 FPS, wait until a fix is found for the physics issues the game has (if a fix is even possible with how they have tied in the physics).

However, if that warning doesn’t stop you from wanting to play Fallout 4, then I highly recommend it! Come and live in the wasteland.

As always,


No comments:

Post a Comment