As South Africa enters its 21-day lockdown in order to combat the spread of the coronavirus, it has left many civilians in the isolation of their homes. Many see this as a great opportunity to spend quality time with some family and loved ones, while others cherish diving into forms of entertainment to occupy their time and pass the weeks (when not working remotely, in that case). To cushion some of the tedium, Nexus has decided to create a daily feature in which we recommend games of varying lengths and content that could pass the time. Our third recommendation in Lockdown Gaming ships us off to Boston in Fallout 4.
To say the hype for Fallout 4 before release was off the charts would be an understatement. Quite possibly the most anticipated game of 2015, Fallout 4 boosted itself to the front luxury cart of the hype train following an incredible E3 2015 demonstration that many fondly remember as one of the best in the event's history - and when Bethesda more or less still had their heads screwed on right. Fallout 4 had years of legacy behind it, with Obsidian Entertainment stepping back to allow Bethesda Game Studios, the teams behind Skyrim (yeah, it was kind of a big deal) to return to the Fallout universe. What we got was... something alright.
Now that's not to say I dislike Fallout 4. In fact, I think a good majority of it is great. However, I can't help but feel just a tad bit underwhelmed in certain aspects of the game that we'll dive into later. For all its strengths, though, this is easily the most accessible and, dare I say, most action-packed Fallout game. It's the kind of blockbuster rejuvenation that the series really deserved but didn't know it needed. With a stronger emphasis on action and big set pieces, it felt more epic in scale and overall bolder than Fallout 3. The problem there then comes with the subtleties of the RPG system taking a few hits.
Fallout 4 significantly dials back its RPG mechanics - a problem that most Fallout 4 naysayers bring up as one of their primary arguments and weaknesses of the game, and deservedly so. While a skill tree is still present, it streamlines its various upgrading paths so that it seems more straight-forward and simplified. Personally, I didn't mind this particular skill tree. It allowed me to still be completely flexible with whatever kind of build I wanted, while honing in on the RPG character building that I love to experiment with in Fallout games.
To get some of the biggest praises out of the way before we bring out our dissection toolkit, Fallout 4 has incredible world building. This is something that Bethesda continuously excels at. Even in Fallout 76, the flaming rotting carcass that it is, presents a great and immersive open world in West Virginia. Here, Boston is no exception. Moving away from the bizarrely green Matrix-like landscapes of Washington and the dark sickly browns of the Nevada desert in previous entries, Boston's setting is a little more vibrant and densely packed. And when I say densely packed, I really mean it. You can't walk fifteen feet without running into something to do or see.
A problem a lot of fans seemed to have had to do with the greater emphasis on the shooting mechanics. Fallout 4 had shied away from RPG elements and leaned into becoming a traditional first-person shooter with action/adventure elements, is what a lot of fans argued. Personally, I loved that the focus was now on shooting because the shooting feels fantastic and better than ever before, albeit a bit floaty at times (I guess that's just a Fallout curse).
Finally, touching on the beginning of the game: this is the best opening hours of gaming you'll ever likely play in an RPG. Remember how Deathclaws were intimidating, tough-as-nails beasts meant to be encountered mid-game in previous Fallout titles, or how Power Armor was something you had to work your way towards for the end portions of the game? Yeah, Fallout 4 says "screw that" and, within the first big mission, throws you in a suit of Power Armor, hands you a gattling gun, and tosses you into the streets to stand off with a Deathclaw. And it's so f***ing awesome. I loved that Power Armor maintenance became a standard for most of the game, as it also became your trump card during particularly tough missions.
However, now we must touch on the not-so-awesome points. Fallout 4's story is, well, not that interesting. We actually see how a lesser emphasis on RPG elements affects the story above all else. In Fallout: New Vegas, for example, your one defining character motivation is to just put a bullet in some guy's head. Other than that, the world is your oyster and you have so much agency to just do what you please and pave your own path. Your ultimate goal then becomes a byproduct of how you establish yourself in a role-playing setting. This formula is completely backwards in Fallout 4. Yes, it's fantastic to see a world before the bombs fell and having a spouse is nice, but it felt like the game had already created a character for you - complete with their own ulterior goals and even personality (voice acting is a huge point of contention) - before you could. Isn't that the complete opposite of a role-playing game's purpose?
For the most part, your ultimate goal is to find your kidnapped son after you've awakened from cryosleep. This isn't too dissimilar from finding your father in Fallout 3, but the problem here is that, well, it's your baby. The clock is ticking in terms of survival rates. For your father, he could understandably still survive, but here, there's no telling how each passing hour could adversely affect your child. So that's why it's all too jarring when the main story keeps pushing you into finding your son with a great sense of urgency, but the moment you step away from the designated main path to do, you know, role-playing stuff, it creates an oddly disjointed narrative and suddenly strips away that sense of urgency. If you're just rushing through the story without doing any side quests, you won't feel this as much, but that's unfortunate because some of Fallout 4's best quest lines are elsewhere in the game.
It may seem like I'm really digging the knife deep in Fallout 4's gut here, but I actually enjoy most of the game. When taken as its own experience, there's a lot to love about Fallout 4, in fact. The combat feels great, the world-building and exploration is top class, and you're always having fun regardless of what you run into. Sadly, the problems persist when you start making comparisons to its predecessors - especially what Obsidian did with New Vegas - and seeing how they've almost perfected that role-playing experience while Fallout 4 noticeably dilutes its own RPG elements in favour of a more blockbuster open world shooter.
Then the difficult question comes, why should you play Fallout 4 during lockdown? There's two sides to this recommendation. One, if you're looking for an in-depth RPG experience that will fulfill you on that genre's front, I'd much rather point you to either Skyrim or Fallout: New Vegas instead, while saving Fallout 4 for the time-passer open world shooter not too different from what we see today. However, I can wholeheartedly recommend Fallout 4 to the fans. Yes, it sounds strange since you've probably already played Fallout 4 (and plenty of times), but revisiting it now, five years later, and especially in light of Fallout 76 (shivers), you can really just appreciate the last great Fallout game. Also, "Atom Bomb Baby" by The Five Stars is the banger of the decade.
Writer. Enthusiast of all things geek. Legend has it he completed Final Fantasy VII without a memory card.
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