Trying to decide if Fallout 4 lives up to the hype is tricky. There have been a lot of high-profile releases this year, plenty with a reasonable amount of excitement behind them too, but none have taken over the airwaves in quite the same way as Fallout has.
While the title of ‘Game of the Year’ is thrown around casually, the first thing to make clear is that this is not Game of the Year material amongst such quality company - we’d argue The Witcher III: Wild Hunt is technically a better game, and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain has better gameplay - but what Fallout 4 is is the ‘Experience of the Year’.
‘What on Earth does that mean?’ You may ask, bewildered. Well, if you stop muttering on for a minute we’ll tell you. While this iteration of Fallout might not stray far from the groundwork laid in Fallout 3 to set the series on a new direction, it very much builds on it. It also takes leaves out of the books of both stablemate The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, with its approach to sneaking in particular feeling familiar, and the Mass Effect series, as conversations this time around have more of a radial, conversation wheel-y feel.
There’s no getting away from the fact that this game also looks a lot like Skyrim, apart from the HUD’s bright green everywhere (or blue, in the case of our playthrough), since it’s built on the same engine, which has made the jump to current gen relatively unscathed, albeit with a few very Bethesda issues.
Bugs are a big deal for some, less so for others. We fall into the school of thought and feel that so long as it isn’t a game-breaking problem, and it’s not constant, then it’s not the end of the world. The Xbox version of Fallout 4 has been slated as having the most framerate issues, but in our experience there have been just a few moments of slowdown, the occasional one second pause during an autosave or quicksave for example. These sit amongst the issues native to no specific platform, like dead enemies glitching into walls, or the camera sometimes getting a bit confused, but nothing which completely destroys the immersion.
Immersion is key here in fact, as what makes Fallout an experience rather than just a game, is that it offers up an extremely well thought out and realised world and then lets you figure it out for yourself.
The main storyline and quests, which are more compelling than they were in Fallout 3, are all there in your Pip Boy (a handy smartwatch-like device which helps you keep track of almost everything). The beauty of the game though, lies in picking a direction and simply going off to explore it.
The beauty of the game lies in picking a direction and simply going off to explore it.
This is where the game can get punishing, since you can find yourself innocently straying into a higher level area without realising, and quickly finding ‘Legendary’ enemies ready to grind your bones to make their bread. This experience in itself is an important step in the journey as well though, teaching you to save frequently, since you never know what could be behind the next door.
While the world is technically larger than both Fallout 3 and Skyrim, the key difference is that it feels positively stuffed with things to do. While the outskirts where you begin will see you wandering a little while before discovering a new location to explore, in some parts of the main city area (which was once Boston), there are locations every few feet - many of them even expanding substantially underground.
Everything is drenched in an impressive detail. While exploring one underground station, we found a makeshift boxing arena, complete with a gambling area on the balcony and ready rooms for fighters. Sights like this are woven into the game at every turn, as you discover stories independently whilst bumbling about.
If you aren’t the solitary type, then there are numerous companions to keep you company. These are introduced in a far more overt fashion than before and, of course, you are more than free to turn them away at any time. The AI leaves something to be desired and there’s a perk that requires rolling solo, so you’ll most likely find yourself doing this on occasion. When followers aren’t… following you about, you’ll find them back at one of the many settlements throughout the world.
Depending on your choices, you may find yourself in charge of a number of different groups of settlers, in areas which can be built upon by using the game’s much-lauded crafting system. What’s a nice touch here is the parallel between how these areas behave and the base management of Fallout Shelter, making the latter a sort of mobile training simulator for the full game.
Despite proving ourselves in Shelter, building up a settlement is still a lot of work, with not only food, water and power to worry about, but also the occasional raider, ghoul or supermutant attack. Cultivating food (with a tinge of radiation poisoning, naturally) is the hardest of these tasks, as you must assign settlers to watch over the crops, but the interface makes it extremely awkward to make sure everything is accounted for.
To defend your base you can build a multitude of turrets and guard posts, but you’ll quickly find certain materials far more scarce than others. Copper, screws and oil, for example, aren’t found in as many places as you might expect, forcing you to do further exploring.
Among your discoveries in the early missions are both a set of power armour and a minigun. The latter serves as a trusty companion of its own when you suddenly find yourself faced with a terrifying as ever Deathclaw, while the armour is much more customisable and readily available than it has been in the past. Getting cores to power it might prove expensive, but the defensive capabilities (and other boons) are a must for tackling some of the more brutish enemy encounters.
Customisation in general is an addictive past time - constructing and naming your first pistol or shotgun will give you a warm feeling, but you’ll quickly need to think about which sorts of weapons your character will specialise in to make the most of their skills.
While the points-based skill system of Fallout 3 is absent, it’s been simplified by directly relating skills to one of the S.P.E.C.I.A.L attributes which all characters are made up of. Don’t have enough Intelligence? Sorry, you won’t be able to hack robots or get enhancements for nuclear weapons.
if you’re looking for a fun way to kill potentially hundreds of hours by crafting an incredibly individual experience, then it’s most definitely worth your time.
While it takes a while to absorb where different skills you know you want fall on the tree, the system is a lot more streamlined and means there’s less time spent deliberating where to place points every time you level up and more time spent immersed in play. With no level cap and consciously working toward one upgrade also bringing you closer to others, players are never far from their next amazing upgrade.
Playing Fallout 4 only has one constant - time. You’re going to want to invest many hours into this experience and even if you don’t, you’ll just find they slip away regardless, one quick sitting becoming a marathon session. Plenty of people still play Skyrim four years after release and there’s high demand to see it made backwards compatible, so the addictive quality shouldn’t come as a surprise.
There’s the future and first-time-ever promise of mods coming to consoles at some point, which may extend Fallout‘s lifespan even further, but it’s difficult to say without some sort of crystal ball. Perhaps we should ask Mama Murphy.
There’s an awful lot to see and do here, and we aren’t going to pretend to have done it all, but from everything we have experienced we can say this is the most accomplished Fallout game to date. Whether you enjoy sneaking about or going in guns blazing, playing it straight or screwing people over left, right and centre, the game won’t judge or punish you for it (your companions might not take too kindly to it, though).
So does Fallout 4 meet expectations? It really depends on what you’re looking for, but if you’re looking for a fun way to kill potentially hundreds of hours by crafting an incredibly individual experience, then it’s most definitely worth your time.