Fallout 4 is a rare, rare thing. It’s one of those games that sucks you into such a complex world with a smorgasbord of quests and interesting characters that you can’t help but think “How did they ever manage to put all of this into one game?!” wandering around a post-apocalyptic wasteland has never been more fun.
And yes, I’m looking at you too, Borderlands. Fallout 4’s world is intricate and morally ambiguous, much like the one we live in ourselves. Except there’s a lot more mystery, adventure and shooting in Fallout 4. Featuring gritty, brutal combat and a ton of great stories and plotlines, the game’s version of Boston comes alive and becomes a character itself. When you’re not defending yourself from all kinds of monstrosities, you’ll have to navigate the warring factions who want control over the town.
But you’re not a badass nomad from Day 1. Your journey to becoming the hero of the tale starts, as many great stories do, with a terrible tragedy. You’re enjoying a blissful day of family time sometime in the 1950s when suddenly, your reverie is interrupted by a TV broadcast which talks about terrible things. Soon after, you and your family are rushed to an underground facility where you’ll be fated to remain in cryogenic sleep for the next two centuries. When you regain consciousness, it’s the year 2277 and the world that you knew and loved is long gone. In its place, you find, is a world still crippled by nuclear war two centuries later. To make matters worse, your son has been abducted. Boston is a ruined, pale shell of its former self with mutations and weird things mulling about everywhere you look. You don’t have much time to adjust. You need to get to your son, and if you have to navigate the political and moral minefield that this world has to offer, so be it.
Fallout 4 doesn’t make things easy for you. This is a world that can no longer trod along complacently in a period of relative peace. The bombs have upended all that. People are desperate, and even though they need to work together to survive, no one is really in a hurry to trust their neighbors. The ones that have fallen prey to the radiation have turned into monstrous creatures who roam the wasteland looking for plunder and prey.
In this chaotic universe, there exists a beacon of light – The Institute. The Institute is a homage to the great educational institutions of our time, and is responsible for the game’s version of Synths – androids who are increasingly indistinguishable from real humans. Fallout 4 will ask you the classic sci-fi question “What does it mean to be alive?” Synths are sentient, and have their own way of looking at things. Understandably, people in the world are growing increasingly paranoid.
Fallout 4 puts you in the middle of a massive narrative where the butterfly effect is alive and well. Small decisions you make ripple through the plot to create major events. Every battle, every victory is hard-earned, but ultimately bittersweet. The game makes you choose between what works and what’s right, and you’ll often have to stop and think about the moral and philosophical impact of your actions. Picking sides might be easy at first, but you’ll find your loyalties strained as you discover the fundamental flaws that pervade each of the different factions in Fallout 4’s world.
There’s always something interesting to do in Fallout 4. While you’re on your way to a new location for a mission, you can stop and indulge yourself in several secondary quests. Most of these will have you fighting monsters or finding relics, and this is where the game gets to showcase its excellent combat engine. You’ll alternate between selecting your targets in a slowed-down mode where you choose which parts of the body to shoot and all out firefighting. The slowed down mode, called V.A.T.S., requires you to be strategic about choosing targets and impact points. Unlike the previous games where this mechanism was implemented, the action isn’t paused completely, just greatly slowed down. V.A.T.S. also gives you the opportunity to execute some cool bullet-time kills. And let’s be honest, everyone loves slow-motion killing.
Leveling up allows you to improve one of seven different characteristics – Luck, Intelligence, Charisma, Endurance, Perception and Strength. All of these attributes play a role in determining how your interactions (verbal or during combat) within the game will play out. Each of the attributes offers you corresponding skills and perks. If you choose to, you can go through the game investing in your charm and talking your way out of firefights. If you’re of a different leaning, you can improve your physical characteristics and turn into a killing machine with little to no subtlety. Or, like most people, you can choose a mix of the two.
Wandering around a post-apocalyptic wasteland would be a lot less fun without loot. Loot is a necessity and a luxury. Everything is the world is made up of something else, so the search for constituent elements is a perennial one. Everything you pick up, even scrap, can be used to either trade for better goods or improve upon your existing ones. If you’re lucky, one of the bosses or legendary foes you strike down will drop some truly elite gear which makes it much easier to mow down future enemies.
You’ll be accompanied on your journey by several different companions. One of them is Dogmeat, an adorable German Shepherd. Dogmeat is spiffy, almost always seems to be in good spirits and is a good partner to have around when you’re trudging through barren stretches of land. Controlling your companions is slightly cumbersome, and you’ll occasionally find that one of your companions have wandered into a part of the game’s world that they can’t get out of.
Fallout 4 does a lot of things right. But with a game of this size, some flaws are also to be expected. For example, even though Fallout 4 makes travelling between different locations easy, navigating the world map is arduous because the map is so rudimentary. You’ll have a simple compass that points to your next location, but it’s only when you zoom out that you get a sense of how far you need to go. Inventory management is also less efficient than you’d like when you’re picking up so much loot. The categorization of loot is basic, and you’ll have to do a lot of scrolling and reading when you’re looking for the right parts. Dialogues too, will inexplicably stop mid-sentence sometimes. It’s a Bethesda game, after all and you can expect the “moders” will be diligent and fix the bugs that are found.
Minor annoyances notwithstanding, Fallout 4 is a triumph of open-world exploration and combat. You’ll think about the story, the characters, and what you need to do next for hours between play sessions. You’ll feel the despair of the human condition in a world affected by nuclear war. You’ll have to make tough decisions to survive. People will die. Friends will turn into foes. It’s all fantastic. If you’re a fan of great gameplay, fantastic combat, intricate plotlines and looting (who isn’t?), do yourself a favor and get Fallout 4.