The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
My lone wanderer from Vault 111 is as much a stranger in a strange land as he is a person returning to the familiarity of his own home. His crisis of identifying with the world echoes my journey through Fallout 4, a game that is as new and exciting as it is old and familiar.Roughly seven years have passed since Bethesda Game Studios ventured into Fallout’s wasteland, but you’d think the development team never left it, as Fallout 4 feels like a well-worn Pip-Boy. The studio clings to many of the great (and not-so-great) gameplay trappings and overarching designs that made Fallout 3 such a captivating release. This wealth of identifiable content is used as the backbone of this sequel – sometimes to a fault – but all in support of making the act of wandering the Commonwealth Wasteland one of the most rewarding (and time-consuming) experiences in gaming. Despite the image of a large, hulking character on the box art, Fallout 4 doesn’t roar out of the gate with guns blazing. As much as I enjoyed seeing the world prior to the bombs falling in the game's opening moments, Bethesda rushes through this event. The player is given barely enough time to take a snapshot of it, let alone develop a meaningful connection with the family members – whom are supposed to be the central hook of the narrative. The subsequent descent into the vault doesn’t fare much better, and is used mostly to establish an antagonist in the brief minutes the player spends there. The studio clearly wanted to get the player into the wasteland as quickly as possible, but the rapid pace hurts the story in the process. As a result, I didn’t understand who my character was; I just knew what he lost.
The wanderer (who can be male or female) comes into his own when he becomes a conduit for your choices, and ends up being more than a blank slate this time around. The new spoken dialogue fleshes this protagonist out, much like Mass Effect’s Commander Shepard. I connected with his actions, but was fascinated by his choice of words and tone, which are not spelled out in the streamlined (and improved) dialogue tree. The protagonist’s lines are well-written and believable, no matter what approach was used in conversation. If you enjoy role-playing as a cannibalistic madman, however, the voice work doesn’t mesh with that fantasy, or any other that detours from a normal mannered person. Interesting, I didn’t rush through one line of dialogue, and never turned on the subtitles. I watched it all unfold in real time, and was only forced to read stories on computers spread across the Commonwealth. I consider the new voice work a giant success for the series, even if it does remove a bit of the player's personality from the experience.The main story arc for the wanderer offers some surprising twists and turns relating to his family, but a lot of the surrounding story lines mirror events from Fallout 3, and end up falling flat despite the huge world-changing events they bring. The real points of interest come from how you can toy with and poke at the different factions that preside in the wasteland. I reached a point in one faction line that would have completely shut down any involvement I could have in working with the Brotherhood of Steel, and it came early in my playthrough. Player choice pops up everywhere, but it’s rarely as black and white as “save this city or nuke it.” I was forced to make a handful of difficult choices along the way, and can’t wait to see how they play out from other perspectives. The spider-web of choice that Bethesda intertwined is impressive, and it's fascinating to see the inhabitants of the world keeping tabs on your involvements.I didn’t think Boston would be a great fit for an open world (especially after soaking up the iconic sights of Washington, D.C.), but it proves to be a treasure trove of unexpected discoveries, gorgeous vistas, and (most importantly) valuable loot and resources. Even after getting hit with nukes, the Commonwealth Wasteland is surprisingly colorful and inviting. Diamond City, the central hub, almost has a cartoonish look in its color scheme and architecture. Bethesda clearly establishes the vision of a world repairing itself, and seeing inhabitants work to achieve this goal is fascinating. I enjoyed watching them go about their lives – whether they were hanging out in a bar listening to music, or working in the field. At first glance, the map may look small, but it offers more vertical spaces, and is densely packed with doors leading to sprawling interiors. In other words, there isn't a shortage of content here.
One of the new gameplay wrinkles in Fallout 4 ties into the healing of the land. An early mission pushes the player to help revitalize a settlement, but this task is handled poorly since the building tools are not clearly communicated. I’ve always been in favor of less hand-holding in games, but Bethesda clearly needed more here. I had to figure out how to create electricity, mine the world for resources, order people to harvest crops, and set up convoy lines on my own. These tasks are easy once you understand what the game wants from you, but figuring that out takes more time than it should. The settlement aspect is purely optional, but has a nice hook to it, giving you a satisfying sense of developing a society (much like Bethesda’s mobile Fallout Shelter title). I wanted to grow the settlements as big as I could. Combing the world for resources is the best means of achieving this goal – and that’s one of the most enjoyable aspects in Fallout 4, as it pushes you to explore more.This next statement holds true for any Bethesda game: The central story plays second fiddle to picking a direction and wandering until you are forced to put the controller down. Unearthing the secrets of this dangerous land is far more enticing than making progress in the main story threads (of which there are many). The side content is where Fallout 4 is at its strongest. I won’t detail any of this material for the sake of avoiding spoilers, but some of it is surprisingly deep, moving, hilarious, and can even include unexpected wrinkles like new radio stations appearing solely in support of that singular mission. If you like strange mysteries like Fallout 3's Gary, you're going to love a lot of this stuff.
I enjoyed nearly every mission I came across, even though a good number of them follow the simple composition of enter an area, clear it of enemies, grab an item, head back to the mission giver. The variety of enemy types and environments is nice, but long loads occur when entering enclosed spaces, and the map for these areas is a nearly unusable relic from the previous generation of games. Several missions lasted longer than they should have, just because I had to figure out how to reach the objective point.
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