Fallout 4: First Impressions
This first impressions article is based on approximately 8 hours of gameplay and is spoiler free
Fallout 4, the latest entry in the post-nuclear-apocalypse RPG series is easily one of the most highly anticipated titles of the last few years. Expectations were at an all-time high following Bethesda’s impressive showing at E3 this year, meaning that the final product was going to have to be extremely high class to live up to the hype. Thankfully, for the most part, it does. But it also falls painfully short in some areas.
Where it excels is in its atmosphere and style, writing and story-telling. This is unmistakeably a Fallout title. Even with its noticeably broadened and more vibrant colour palette (Fallout 3 and New Vegas broke the record for how many shades of brown you can put into a video game), the visual style of the game is still firmly grounded in the series’ aesthetic. Broken down cars and trashed houses litter the landscape, NPCs wear the kinds of clothes you’d expect people who are reduced to scavenging would wear, trees are stripped bare of their leaves and a weird, heavy glow sits in the air.
The soundtrack adds to this feeling of hopelessness and desolation, with carefully understated piano twinkles, chords and ambient soundscapes providing a haunting backdrop to explore the wasteland to, and combat music being frenetic and tense. In fact, this is by far the most immersive and beautifully realised post-apocalyptic universe in any game.
The writing, voice acting and general pace has improved greatly over the previous titles as well. Without spoiling the introduction, something happens which gives you, the player a really strong motivation to go out into the wasteland and start the story, whereas in previous Fallout games you were given a quest, but you didn’t immediately feel connected with the protagonist and their plight: it was more just doing what you were told.
The cast of characters so far are varied, well-written and genuinely entertaining to interact with. And of course the big change is that the player character is voiced. And what a welcome change it is. Conversations actually feel natural and engaging now, because both sides of them are voiced. There was always a strange disconnect in the earlier Fallout games between the fully voiced NPCs who engaged in conversation with you, while you just silently clicked pieces of text.
Where Fallout 4 really struggles however is on the technical side of things and how in a lot of ways it kind of feels somewhat “been there, done that”. Bugs are rampant in the game, including even game-breaking ones such as being unable to move after accessing computer terminals. The enemy AI is occasionally hilariously stupid, getting stuck on objects or just randomly deciding they no longer want to attack you in the middle of a firefight.
There are visual and audio glitches, and although the environments are beautiful, character animations (both facial and body) are stiff and awkward, and there are some decidedly low-res textures, even on Ultra settings on PC. It’s not ugly per se, but it does certainly look dated compared to other RPGs released this year such as The Witcher 3.
And even with its plethora of new, mostly well-implemented gameplay elements (crafting, modding weapons, and cooking are a breeze to get into, but base building feels clunky and overwhelmingly complicated), large parts of the game just feel exactly like Fallout 3 and New Vegas. Sure, the familiarity definitely feels nice and comforting, and veterans of the previous games will have no trouble settling into the game, but it also means that you’ll often find yourself falling into old habits pretty quickly, rather than truly appreciating the game on its own merits.
Overall however, it’s easy enough to ignore the downsides because the things Fallout 4 gets right, it really gets right. 8 hours into the game I’m already hooked on the story and eager to find out where it goes, still marvelling at the amazingly detailed world, and feeling a strange compulsion to play it as much as possible.