In 2008, Bethesda's took the reigns after the shuttering of Black Isle Studios, releasing the first main series Fallout title in a span of ten years. Ultimately Fallout 3 forever changed the post-apocalyptic landscape of the series, which Bethesda looks to build upon with the release of Fallout 4.
A post-apocalyptic treat, Fallout 4 thrusts players into a character of their creation; male or female. After escaping from Vault 111 and breathing fresh air (debatable) a mere 200 years after nuclear annihilation, you must align yourself with other survivors to find your lost family in this new, bizarre world. Fallout 4 moves the landscape from the capital wasteland of former Washington D.C. to historic Boston and surrounding areas.
Gone are the days of the halcyon 2070's where the American people were content with portable computers, fusion cars, and robot housekeepers, as peace became a distant memory thanks to the growing threat of nuclear war and civil unrest. Now, the stresses of life are gone, and you're free to live out your days fighting against super mutants, vicious raiders, robots, and whatever other unimaginable horrors have developed in the intervening 200 years.
Fallout 4's new location and setting, while still the hazardous wasteland we know, opens up an entirely new set of possibilities. Boston's historical significance is well-known in American history, full of many stories and events that helped form this great nation. Minutemen, a crucial group of a well-prepared militia during the American Revolution make a return, helping protect settlers across Commonwealth. Baseball and Fenway Park? Sure, it's there, only now it serves as the home location of many survivors. What about our intellectual heritage? Sure thing! The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (or The Institute) still exists, only now its history and actions are shrouded in mystery.
Unlike the permanently green-tinted world of Fallout 3, Boston in Fallout 4 is vibrant and colorful with a dynamic weather system. Clouds can roll across the sky as you venture across Commonwealth; rain may start to fall, and nuclear radiation may envelope the sky. Character models are more refined, helping to bring the world alive, and the voice acting is top notch. It should be noted that the PlayStation 4 version of the game does have significant framerate issues that are not prevalent in the PC version. This extends to both interior and exterior locations, some worse than others. The Xbox One build sees slight stuttering that doesn't exist on the other platforms.
Settlements have been notable locations in the Fallout franchise for years, but Fallout 4 marks a first for the series. Upon the completion of specific quests, you'll be able to guide the future of each settlement. Using workshop benches, all manner of items can be crafted, including buildings, furniture, defenses, and more.
Resources and happiness play a major role in settlement management, so expect to spend ample time keeping settlers happy with fresh food and clean water. If you want to fancy up your town, generators, lights, and more are available for construction. It may be 250 years into the future in a horrible desolate wasteland, but damn if you can't make "home" feel a bit more comfortable. If you're looking to expand your settlement, recruitment beacons will help new survivors slowly trickle in over time.
Crafting in Fallout 3 and New Vegas was barebones at best, relying on locating schematics. Weapon and armor modifications in Fallout 4 are easy to construct and add to hundreds of different weapons or armor pieces. Medications can be crafted if you have the right components. Stimpaks can heal, RadAway relieves the risk of radiation, and buffs such as Psycho can give you the edge in combat.
Crafting components are easily scavenged from everyday items, such as toasters, duct tape, typewriters, desk lamps, etc. For weapons and armor, these modifications not only affect the stats but also change appearances as well. Plus, if you want to name your sawed-off shotgun "Boom Stick" to make it identifiable in your inventory, go right ahead. Sadly, item management has yet to be improved, making it nigh impossible to sort items by the proper type or quickly compare stats of looted and equipped items.
The S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system returns from the previous games for core attributes, such as strength, charisma, luck and perception. Instead of using points to focus on unique specializations, such as explosives, heavy weapons, Fallout 4 unlocks new skills of your choice under each core attribute. Adding additional points to the core attributes unlocks additional unique skills, for example having a high charisma allows for the building of trading posts within settlements.
It took me a few days playing the game before I initially realized some of the minor changes to the series, such as the absence of item decay. I always felt this mechanic added to the survival aspect of the game, but I do enjoy having one less thing to worry about. One of the more noticeable changes, which is already a point of contention amongst fans is the dialogue system. Bethesda has narrowed down possible options, limiting every conversation to only four possible answers. Sometimes responses are nondescript, displaying single words such as "sarcastic", but you won't know the exact response until you make your choice. Things like persuasion show up in different colors, indicating the overall difficulty of the attempt, based on your charisma stat.
Fallout 4 is arguably Bethesda's crowning achievement in its storied history. It feels like a return to a game people know and love, but with all of the new doodads and gizmos attached that make it feel like an entirely brand new game simultaneously. I've put many, many hours into Fallout 3 and went into expecting much the same with a new coat of paint, but I was more than pleasantly surprised to see just how much was changed and upgraded in the seven-year gap. It's engrossing and engaging, and for once I don't feel like I'm just wasting time talking to NPCs or just wandering around Commonwealth. There's so much to see and do, and I expect this game to receive the same treatment from players as any other Bethesda game - serious amounts of lost time as players delve into the post-apocalyptic future that was once the world.
Note: The Fallout 4 review is based on a digital PC copy of the game, provided for review. We playtested both the PS4 and Xbox One versions of the game. The PS4 build of Fallout 4 (with the 1.01 patch) has significant framerate issues, and the Xbox One build has slight stuttering issues.