Sunday, November 29

Fallout 4 Review (XB1): The revolution will be safe

Fallout 4 is safe. For a game about traversing a post-apocalyptic wasteland, it is so fucking safe.

Fallout 4 is also an ugly game. It doesn't look exactly like (or 'as bad as') Fallout 3, despite what the social media cesspit may have you believing, but the improvement is slight enough to be dismissed as "incremental." That being said, post-bombing Boston isn't a technical marvel, but in terms of concept, it's consistent and effective.

Fallout 4 looks dreadful, but it's supposed to. Dogs aren't supposed to clip up and down through closed elevator doors, but this is the price we pay for Bethesda's janky brand of open world adventuring. To be able to wander through an expanse rarely-rivalled in terms of sheer width and possibility, we need to expect the frequent stuttering of frame rates and V.A.T.S-engaged combatants.

The possibilities aren't quite endless, but they are worth enduring technical difficulties for. How many other games allow you to create a strong, sarcastic woman warrior who brings violent peace to scorched earth? How many other games allow players to work with a diverse cast, including people of colour and women; in leadership positions, no less? Very. Fucking. Few.

But this is what New Vegas did. This is what, to my fallible memory's recollection, Fallout 3 did to a lesser extent.

This is iteration, not innovation.

The attempts at innovation fall flat for anyone rocking anything other than a strength and intelligence-tuned S.P.E.C.I.A.L build. My luck and charisma build made difficult conversations a cinch, but it also barred me from engaging in weapon and armour modding (in any sort of meaningful way) for more than a day's worth of play.

The settlement building is just as poorly explained, and is obtuse as all get out. I purposefully abstained from completing the tutorial mission on the hunch that any friendly territories I acquired before that point would not be subject to invasion.

For more than 40 hours, and the duration of the main questline, this hypothesis proved true. Funnily enough, the second I fast travelled away from the setting for the ultimate action, I received notice that an outpost was under attack. I don't want to say this new system is unusable, as some creative (if not, puerile) players have already published some impressive creations; it's just a little too indecipherable for my tastes.

Another reason I'm failing to engage with these new features is that the barriers to entry in terms of raw resource requirements are set too high for characters who can't carry an abundance of junk that has no application outside of combat. If I want to have access to weapons that will (eventually) kill an array of deadly enemies, I can't carry 10 pounds of paint thinner, 50 fuses, and my entire arsenal.

Yes, inventory management is still a pain after nearly 20 years of Fallout games. I'd love to offer a solution (like, for instance, being able to send companions to nearby settlements a la Torchlight), but I'm sure the internet as a collective would not deem it worthy. For now, at least, I must continue to return to my home settlement and stuff a fabric suitcase with miniguns and power armour pieces. Don't y'all get between gamers and their fucked up notions of realism now.

The main quest line is home to one too many pointless twists, with inconsistent pacing and some choices that left me feeling indifferent. I don't want to go too far into it for fear of spoiling anything, but the choice of faction for me was obvious, as the two alternatives that I had (could've been three, but I didn't pursue the Minutemen quest chain) had some moustache-twirling, vaudevillian creeds by which I couldn't abide. That being said, my choice didn't result in the satisfying, life-affirming conclusion I was expecting. It wasn't abjectly apocalyptic, but it didn't give me the warm feeling I was hoping for.

As was the case with Fallout 3 and New Vegas, the best meat is in the off-cuts. A short sojourn to collect baseball collectibles for a fan who had no idea how the old game worked was far more enjoyable than the central revenge plot. The guy who wanted to experience every drug-induced high available was far more relatable than any of the Brotherhood of Steel lackeys I came across.

I could continue complaining, like say about the conversation system that leads to seemingly-random outcomes based on vague prompts, the transmisgonyst robot gag that is KL-E-0, or the near non-existent changes to V.A.T.S (or the the combat system as a whole, for that matter); but I'd be missing the point. Fallout 4 is a time sink, and for the most part, it's a sink that I and most other nerds are happy to piss into. War never changes, but Fallout does ever so slowly.

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