Sunday, December 6, 2015

Video Game Review: Fallout 4

Let me start by saying I've never much cared for the Scavenger World setting. I know it's really popular but it just never worked for me. To me, it just seems unrealistic - this idea that after the bombs fell everyone just forgot that they could build buildings and run factories and stuff, or for that matter create basic things like soap which for those not in the know was invented roughly 5,000 years ago. It's ridiculous.

That said, I never hated Fallout. In fact, I loved it. I spent so much time with Fallout 3 because it was fun and the ridiculousness of the setting never really bothered me because, again, it was fun. This also is part of why I was excited for Fallout 4; the outpost mechanic addresses my major gripe about the setting, even though I still don't know why stuff that you build brand new looks so busted and shitty... but then, I guess that's just the aesthetic so whatever.

Well, onto the review. I'll start with what the game did right.

The level of customization is pretty cool. You can equip armor in seven parts now - underclothing, helmet, torso, right arm, right leg, left arm, left leg. It's still not quite as deep as it was in, say, Morrowind, but it's still nice.

You can also customize your weapons and armor at workbenches throughout the game. That said, the customization here isn't particularly deep and honestly feels less like customizing and more like simply upgrading; it would be nice if I could tinker and find a setup that works for my play style, but most of the options are just straight upgrades rather than changes, and it seems like the coolest weapons in the game are also the ones with the fewest upgrade options.

The outpost system is also pretty cool and does do a lot to answer the issues I have with the setting, like I said. Getting to set up your own dwelling is pretty cool, although I do still wish it had a few more features to it, like maybe the ability to add color.

I do also really like what they did with power armor. Unlike in other Fallout games where power armor was pretty much just like any other armor option, albeit with much better stats, power armor in this game really changes the way you play, turning you into an epic tank. You get a sense for how powerful it is when you get your first (assuming you're following the story) suit in Concord, then proceed to rip the minigun off a helicopter, jump off a three story building, and wipe out an entire squad of raiders AND a deathclaw. Best. Mission. EVER.

There's also a decent story, I guess, but I just can't bring myself to care about it. Normally story is a selling point for a game to me, but in this case I just don't feel like it fits with the style of the game. I liked Fallout 3 because it had a deep story but there wasn't a lot of characterization for my own guy so I could play them however I wanted. Fallout 4 knocked me out of the plot right off the bat by telling me I was middle aged, married, and had a kid. So much for all of my character ideas. Basically, at no point did I feel like I was playing my own character. No, I was playing Nate, husband of Nera and father of Shaun, and the game is never going to let me forget that.

Combine that with the dialog system which has been reduced significantly. You only have four options, all of them described with three or four word long phrases so you never know what you're going to say before you say it. Hell, most dialog options leave one of your choices as just "Sarcastic" which is so damn vague it isn't even funny, which is appropriate since the spoken line usually isn't particularly funny either.

It's honestly kind of sad to me. Bethesda spent so much time building this backstory and characterization only for it to end up as one of the game's flaws. Oh well, moving on.

Speaking of flaws, the game is sparse. The world is tiny and doesn't have much interesting in it. I know I shouldn't be surprised by this, being as Bethesda games have been getting smaller and smaller with every new game, but what about Skyrim? That game was smaller, but they did it so they could put more effort into what they did have. That does not apply to Fallout 4. Most of my time was spent wandering across vast tracts of open, empty land, looking for something to explore and when i did finally find something it was usually one building with three rooms and five enemies and barely anything to loot.

As with the power armor, you also get a sense for this when you arrive in Concord, a city of 17,000 people covering 26 square miles which in this game is pared down to maybe 30 or so buildings, only about 4 or 5 of which can even be explored, and only one of which is actually even instanced. You'd expect to be coming back to this town to scavenge for junk and supplies constantly but no, you'll be totally done with it after the first mission.

To be fair, there are some locations that are bigger, for example the City of Boston which is actually worth visiting. Still, locations like that seem to be the exception.

Also not surprising, the game is a buggy mess. I spent my first half hour or so with this game just trying to make it work, because I committed the cardinal sin of not owning a widescreen monitor. I use a 1280x1024 resolution, which according to Bethesda apparently means I'm not worthy to play their game. I had to manually set the screen size to 1280x1024, which had the result of erasing most of my HUD and somehow rendering the lockpicking GUI invisible. I had to download a mod to fix it but it still didn't work because, I don't know, the universe hates me I guess.

Lastly, I feel like they've done something to combat. The smooth and workable combat of Fallout 3 is gone. I'm not sure if it's how fast and twitchy enemies are or if the guns are less accurate (probably both) but I can never seem to hit anything. I feel like they're responding to the people who criticized the V.A.T.S. auto-targetting system in 3 by making it so that it's mandatory in this game. Whatever's going on it totally wrecked the fun of the game for me.

I guess in the end Fallout 4 is pretty much exactly what you'd expect from a Bethesda game. There are some things they did with the game that I really liked, like the customization, the outposts, and the revamped power armor system. There are also some things I really didn't like, like the story, the sparseness of the environment, and the combat.

That said, I kind of feel like it's all been done better in other games already. I know I'm going to catch Hell from a whole lot of fanboys for saying this, but I really don't feel like Fallout 4 is anything special. In fact, I'll go a step further - I don't like it at all.

I'd like to say that "if you like Bethesda games you'll probably like this one too" but I don't really agree with that statement either. Bethesda has been showing cracks in their armor for a while now, but this is the first one of their games that has actually gotten me to ask for my money back. The changes to combat and the sparse exploration just aren't fun to me, and in the end this game is just Exhibit A in the case of why I'm beginning to hate Bethesda.

KR Rating: [3] MEDIOCRE

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