I've been playing Fallout 4 for over 50 hours now and I'm still nowhere near finished with it, so if its value for your money that you're looking for its definitely there.

Bear in mind that Fallout 4 is a big game with a lot of things to cower so this review is going to be a long, detailed and spoiler-free one. Make sure you strap in and let's start at the very beginning.

Welcome to the Commonwealth

While the tutorial section doesn't explain many of the more complex mechanics it serves as an excellent introduction to the world of Fallout 4.

The first few minutes of Fallout 4 take place in a well-off suburban home before any of the bombs fell. It is a nice and easy way for players to get acclimate to the controls while they explore a completely safe environment. Its second function is to get the player used to the level of technology present in the game as the first character you interact with is your robotic helper Codsworth. He has one really amazing feature that might just have you do a double take, he will call you by your character's name! The first time he yelled "Mister Ash!" actually startled me but it turned out to be a great little detail that helped make all future conversations with him much more personal.

Not the color scheme I would've gone with

As you would imagine the bombs do eventually come and the idyllic life your character had is almost instantly replaced with the cold grey walls of Vault 111. I won't spoil what happens next but sufficed to say it sets up one hell of a motivation for your character and displays great skill on part of the voice actors.

After the vault doors finally open, many years later, you are forced down the same road you arrived by, except instead of it being an orderly path filled with people scrambling to get in to the vault it is now completely silent and reclaimed by nature. 

The same goes for your suburb as well as your house, the years have not been kind and what once was well maintained is now nothing more than a bunch of rubble with some walls and a roof over it. A somber reminder that the world you briefly saw is now completely gone. Or at least it would be if all of the furniture didn't look like its slightly dirty while the roof is basically nonexistent.

The furniture has barely a scratch on it

Luckily your robotic pal Codsworth survived the whole ordeal and through conversation with him you'll get your first of many clues that will take you on a trip through the Commonwealth, or rather the remnants of what once was the state of Massachusetts.

Among the first thing you'll notice with Fallout 4's wasteland compared to Fallout 3 is the colors. Gone are the days of brown, gunmetal grey and radioactive green. Although I still think Fallout 4 could've added more greenery (look at Chernobyl today, its practically a forest) it is a huge step up from Fallout 3's bland landscapes.

The graphics on the other hand aren't a huge step up. Don't get me wrong, they are clearly better than those found in Fallout 3 or Skyrim but after playing the Witcher 3 the graphical quality of Fallout 4 looks a bit dated. The textures on some of the ground objects and shrubs are probably the worst offenders. There are rubble heaps that look like they're lifted straight out of a PS2 game. 

This is even a flattering angle for it since you can discern individual pieces

However I've never been one to care too much about graphics, as long as the game is not an obvious eye sore and Fallout 4 is definitely not one. It might not be the prettiest game out there based on raw fidelity but its 1950s "futuristic" style is still fairly unique and fun to explore.

If you're on the PC keep an eye out for graphical upgrade mods, I've heard rumors of a few being in development before I even sat down to write this review so it wouldn't surprise me if one released shortly following this. But even if you're playing on a console there's no need to despair because mods are planned for those versions of Fallout 4 as well, its just unknown how quickly or how exactly it will all be done but they are most certainly coming.

Meeting the friendly natives

Once you're done chatting up Codsworth and leave through the only available path you will meet your first companion, the much advertised Dogmeat who will instantly become BFFs with you, something I find incredibly disappointing. I would've preferred to earn his trust slowly rather than him blindly obeying me from the moment he met me but I guess Bethesda wanted to give people their pooch as soon as possible hence why he's just standing in the middle of nowhere waiting for you. But lets leave followers to the side for now and continue.

After a bit of exploring, looting and getting irradiated you will come up on your first main story mission, a couple of people under attack by raiders. This is going to be the very first taste of actual combat for many players and I'm happy to say its damn good. Unlike Fallout 3 and New Vegas your accuracy is no longer determined by dice rolls in the background. Its all about you, your weapon choices and the way you want to approach the situation.

As usual with the Fallout series there are quite a few viable gameplay styles. You can do it like me and go in stealthy, picking off the enemy one by one or you can just throw caution to the wind and run in there with power fists swinging or perhaps just play it like a normal FPS stick to cower for protection. 

There is also a new addition, the old and bulky T-45 Power Armor. It will offer you great protection as well as the ability to go underwater or through heavily irradiated areas though at a cost. The amount of time you can spend in your suit is limited by Fusion Cores, of which there are only a limited number in the world so you can't spend all day in your suit.

While I never really used it due to how loud and cumbersome it is I can see the appeal in cosplaying as a post-apocalyptic Space Marine. If that's the sort of thing you're in to make sure to take a couple of points in to the Scrounger perk (Luck side of the tree), it will give you a small chance to find fully charged Fusion Cores in random ammo boxes which will greatly extend your service to the Emperor the lifetime of your suit.

Despite not liking the Power Armor I can't deny it looks pretty cool

You can also get creative and start mixing any of those up. I had good success role-playing as a Monk, going around with only a robe for armor, stealthily taking out enemies with my bare fists. You haven't truly lived life until you've beaten down an assault robot through sheer manliness.

On the topic of stealth, if you've ever played a modern Fallout or Elder Scrolls game you already know how the system works. Your chance of detection depends on the enemy's line of sight, light level and finally your weight and stats such as agility or ranks in your stealth perk. Its not a complex system by any stretch, actually its quite dumb with enemies often forgetting you're there despite having a hole where their nose use to be, but since you can't sneak forever it serves its purpose as a tool for preemptive strikes before the actual battle begins.

Though I wish the detection system didn't seem so arbitrary. Sometimes I could walk up behind an enemy and give them a death hug with ease but other times the same enemy type will spot me from a kilometer away and enter the [cautious] state even though there was no way he could've seen me.

Who needs to sneak when you have a silenced sniper rifle with a night vision display

The melee combat style is definitely not for beginners. Enemies in Fallout 4 hit hard and they aren't afraid to throw molotovs at their allies if it means getting ride of you. So to successfully be a melee character you will need to invest a lot of perk points in to strength, armor building, endurance and anything else that might help you survive longer.

And even with all of that protection you will still sometimes die quickly so you'll have to play it smart, go from cower to cower and fight enemies on your terms rather than in the open. Once you finally do manage to get to them with your sword or whatever weapon of your choice, well, let's just say there won't be much left of them. Quite literally if you use a sledgehammer.

Another route you might take with a melee character is that of a chem junkie. Frequent use of Med-Ex (damage reduction) can help you shrug off bullets as you charge directly for the enemy and although addiction to chems is a serious issue its a small price to pay for being the equivalent of a roided up wasteland Conan the barbarian. If you go this route there are perks that will help out with your addiction issues so make sure to grab those as well as anything that might help you create more chems.

Five Nights at Freddy's has nothing on this teddy bear

The most common way of dispatching your enemies will be, of course, guns, lots and lots of guns. As in previous games they are divided in to heavy weapons (rocket launchers an the like), ballistic weapons (standard guns) and energy weapons (laser rifles). I've mentioned this before but the gunplay feels great, especially when you use laser weapons which can set enemies on fire or in the case of the plasma weapons completely goo-ify them.

The fact that you are free to aim your own weapons and don't depend on dice rolls is by far the biggest contributor towards the overall feel of the combat. Designers were seemingly aware of this fact given that the game feels a lot tougher than previous installments, even on normal.

Enemy AI, while not great by general FPS standards, is much improved from older Fallout games. Your opponents will now utilize a combination of cower, flanking and grenades in order to dislodge you from your hidey hole. And most importantly, riflemen will no longer throw their brains away and run towards your gun for no apparent reason. While the human AI is merely improved its the behavior of more feral enemies that is by far the most dangerous.

Feral ghouls, enemies that were the epitome of easy foes in previous games with their only strategy being to run towards you in a straight line, are now unpredictable, twitchy and very bitey.

A pack of feral ghouls charging at you in Fallout 4 is a very scary thing, especially if you're like me and use weapons with slow reloads. They quickly shift from being slow and shambling in to a manic sprint when they get sight of you and if they get anywhere near you they will start leaping in for the kill. One ghoul you can deal with but if you don't properly manage your positioning its quite easy to find yourself overrun and clawed to death.

They won't win any beauty pageants but they are quite talented when it comes to tearing faces off

There is also one more reason why the game is harder than previous Bethesda games and that would be the presence of Legendary enemies. They were around in older games as well but they were pre-set and scarce so most people don't even remember them. In Fallout 4 however they have a chance to spawn instead of any standard enemy. So you could be fighting the above mentioned pack of ghouls only to realize too late one of them is a Legendary and as such is far stronger than his little henchmen.

They aren't there to just make your life miserable however. Every single one you kill will drop a decent/good piece of equipment so you're incentivized to bring them down instead of running away but be warned, outside of a lucky crit they were always a hard fight, especially for melee characters.

When you combine all of the stuff I mentioned above: smoother aiming, better combat mechanics, smarter and more difficult enemies you get some really fun gameplay. Its not polished to to the same degree a fully fledged FPS might be but its close enough that I didn't have many complaints with it other than perhaps the enemy variety being lower than what I imagined it would be.

But my main gripe with the combat system is instead an issue with Bethesda's ignorance of PC mechanics. For some reason they thought it was a great idea to add mouse acceleration and smoothing without even have the decency to put a menu option to change it. I’ll write down where the files are located and what you need to do in order to change it but its frankly insulting that you even need to go through this much effort to make a massive AAA game that cost €60 control properly.

How to remove mouse smoothing and acceleration:

Go in to your My Games folder and find Fallout4.ini. Once there you want to make sure that bMouseAcceleration=1 is instead of bMouseAcceleration=0.

The exact same thing needs to be repeated for mouse smoothing though you'll need to do it in both Fallout4.ini as well as in Fallout4Perfs.ini which is in your Steam folder (\steamapps\common\Fallout 4\Fallout4).

Once you do that the gameplay should feel a whole heck of a lot smoother.

The art of speech

Now that we've been over combat I'd like to discuss a completely different spectrum of gameplay, how you interact with the world and your companions.

Before I got sidelined talking about combat I mentioned how you have to save a couple of people from raiders. Once you've cleared out all the hostiles and made your way to the trapped settlers you'll come upon my biggest problem with Fallout 4, the way the dialogue system works.

In a completely arbitrary shift from old standards, Fallout 4's dialogue system replaced the actual text of your responses with short "gestures". So instead of having 4 chat options you can carefully consider before choosing the majority boil down to "More info? Maybe. No! Yes.". The writing may change on the abbreviations but the actual meaning rarely does. 

Its stunning to me that in a ROLE PLAYING GAME its almost impossible for you to role-play because you can never really tell what your character will do. There are far too many occasions where choosing the "more information" type of question ends the dialogue with you essentially saying yes. It just makes the whole dialogue system pointless, they might as well have made it a cutscene, it would've at least had better pacing. 

You have no choices, you have no effect on conversations, all you'll end up doing in the end is selecting the most generic "good guy" response every time because that's the only one that truthfully represents what you will say most of the time.

Allow me to give you an example. If you're having a chat with someone who is friendly with you in-game and a "Sarcastic" option comes up, what do you think the character will say? Will it be a funny quip, or perhaps you will talk about the absurdity of the situation or will you just straight up insult the other person for no bloody reason. You can never know without actually clicking first and then having to reload your save if you managed to piss someone off.

Sarcastic.

There is one more issue with the dialogue system, none of your stats besides Charisma matter at all and Charisma is a complete dice roll whether you will succeed or not. So it doesn't matter if you're a maxed out explosives expert with a home made rocket launcher on your back, if a quest comes up and it involves blowing up some robots you will have no special dialogue like you would in New Vegas. The same goes for other stats and perks as well. In my 50 hours of play I’ve only found one single quest that got easier on account of my character’s Intelligence.

Charisma has equally severe issues but in a different area. Speech options in Fallout 4 are divided in to green/yellow/red difficulties and the higher your Charisma the better the chance you have to convince someone, sounds ok so far? 

Well the issue is that even if you have 11 Charisma (which is 1 over the actual cap) you can still fail persuasions simply because your invisible die rolled too low. Also, no matter how good of a talker you are the persuasion options will always stay colored as if you had 0 skill which adds even more randomness to the whole thing as you can never tell how likely you are to succeed.

"Luckily" you can save in the middle of the conversation so if you're like me and you built your character as Charismatic as possible you're going to be spending a lot of time save-scumming in order to feel like you haven't wasted 15 points stat points. What baffles me is that these issues don't affect the other skills. As long as you have enough skill to attempt a hack or pick a lock its all up to you whether you succeed or not, so why does Speech get stuck with a dice roll?

I might sound really angry about this, and that's because I am. The simplification of the entire dialogue system is what keeps Fallout 4 from being a truly excellent game in my eyes, and its a change they had no reason to really do. If the dialogue options were better implemented sarcasm and other such special dialogue choices would’ve been great ways to add flavor to your playthrough, but as it stands all they add is annoyance.

However, where the dialogue system has regressed the companions have become a lot more interesting compared to the Fallout 3 ones. Which to be honest isn't a hard thing to do since the only follower from Fallout 3 that I remember is the douchebag super mutant that let me die in the end because he couldn't be bothered to press a few buttons.

There are still a few followers whose personalities could be boiled down to a single trope but the majority of them are really unique and offer a lot of interesting comments both in dialogues and in random observations while traveling with you. These random observations might be my favorite thing about the new companion system.

I spent most of the game with Piper, a spunky reporter with a talent for getting in trouble and despite being around her for 30 or so hours she still had something new to exclaim as we explored the wasteland. All of those good follower traits are then further amplified by some really solid voice acting. I can confidently say that a few of the followers had better voice actors than the main characters. Piper certainly displayed more emotion and shock during the main story than my fairly monotone male protagonist.

MVP of my playthrough

Personalities aside their role in combat is a bit odd. They actually can not die, it doesn't matter if a Deathclaw just cleaved them in to two or if they ate a mini-nuke face first, they will simply kneel down and either take a break for a few minutes or until you stimpack them up. I understand why Bethesda did this but the end result of this system is that for most players their followers will be meat-walls which doesn't really go well with the "its a hard life here in the wasteland" atmosphere they're trying to build.

Despite that minor quip the followers are much smarter, easier to control and a lot more interesting to be around than in previous Bethesda games and I'm quite happy how that turned out given how many hours you will spend in their presence.

A farmer's life for me

Once you finally free the trapped people from the raider assault you will gain access to your very first settlement, a feature that is simultaneously the coolest and most aggravating part of Fallout 4.

For starters you have to make sure your settlers have enough food, water, beds, security and so on. Its a simple system but for some reason I find it incredibly compelling. At time time of writing this review I probably have around 12 or so settlements all fully built up and well defended. My bastions of hope in the wasteland.

And if you put in some points in to Local Leader, a Charisma tree perk, you will also be able to send caravans between the various settlements as well as open shops which generate profit for you while being an easy way to vendor off your junk and restock on ammo. 

Once I got my settlements nice and well, settled, I felt like I was really making a positive change in the wasteland. My numerous traders and their escorts were criss-crossing the entirety of the Commonwealth clearing it of bandits and other nasties while the various small farms have grown to become villages in their own right. It feels oddly satisfying despite how simple it is.

So how do you build up your settlement anyway? The most important ingredients come from random junk you find while exploring. Things like Office Fans or Typewriters are great sources of gears, springs and other materials you might not simply find by scrapping a random turned-over car so you have extra incentive to rummage through every nook and cranny in search of not only weapons and ammo but also office furniture.

Once you have enough materials, and are inside your settlement's build zone, you can hold V and go in to the build menu. From here you can build new houses for your settlers to live, sow plants they will harvest, set up water sources for them as well as various defenses such as laser turrets or tesla mines.

The furthest the attackers ever got is when someone's head rolled over to my side of the bridge

There are plenty of opportunities to get creative with the design of your settlements and I've spent far too much time fiddling with them but I can't say it wasn't fun. But, those paying attention will remember that I mentioned that the settlements are also one of the most aggravating parts of Fallout 4, allow me to explain why.

First of all, nothing is explained to you. You either need to catch the 3 second long tutorial screen on the top left of your monitor or go in to the game's manual to see how certain things work because the game itself won't tell you. For example, in order for your crops to actually produce any food you need to go in to the build menu, find a settler, select him and then run back to the field an select the plants. Sounds super obvious now but when you're doing this 30 minutes after installing Fallout 4 for the first time its a bit overwhelming.

The settler will then harvest only 6 plants worth of food so you will most likely need to send more people in to the field, and this is where the problems start. The game does not tell you which settler is working where so if you have a lot of people (highest I've had so far is 20) it becomes nigh impossible to tell which settler is free or if he's simply taking a break from his work by roaming around.

There is a way around this, collect bandannas from bandits and equip them on your followers transforming your nice settlement in to something that looks more like a slave labor camp. But even this workaround is tedious and doing this for many, many settlements gets old very fast.

The build system has issues as well. It does allow you a great deal of freedom and when it works fine I think its really great but when it doesn't work fine you just might feel like punching the screen. Objects you place will try to glue themselves to other similar objects which makes perfect sense for walls, roofs and other such elements. But the problem here is that it sometimes just doesn't feel like working. I have 3 holes in my house where my walls and roof covers simply wouldn't connect no matter how much I tried, fiddled with or screamed at them.

In the end I took the only reasonable option and completely leveled the house

Also, why is everything I build pre-ruined? This has been bothering me throughout of Fallout 4. Somehow 200 years after the bombs fell the whole place looks like humanity has long forgotten the secret art of house keeping. There are rubble piles everywhere and homes are made out of garbage rather than high quality wood that is plentiful and easily available.

Same with the settlements, my roof has pre-built holes in it for no reason at all. If I am to look at this from an in-universe perspective I am taking logs of wood and scraps of steel only to combine them in such a way that there's half-meter wide gap between them. And this is a character that can make fully automatic turrets that have a friend or foe detection system...

Its a small complaint I know but as someone that likes to get really invested in to a world it kept pulling me out of it.

While I'm talking about issues its probably a good time to talk about the inevitable with every Bethesda game, the bugs. Or I would but I've actually experienced very few. I've read the various comments and reviews blasting the game for performance issues and bugs but I must've been extremely lucky since I experienced only a few pathfinding bugs and performance drops only in Diamond city.

I don't know if I'm blessed by the stars or what but compared to previous Bethesda releases this one has been by far and wide the smoothest, I've never even crashed once.

The jewel of the Commonwealth

Exploring for the story

The main story is one of the biggest points of contention between fans discussing Fallout 4. Some feel it was a great improvement over the previous games and that the addition of voice acting as well as powerful character motivation makes it one of Bethesda’s best. Others feel that the forced linearity and sheer convenience of all events going constantly in to your favor ruins both your immersion and any weight the story might have had.

Honestly? They’re both probably right. There is no easy way for me to discuss the story in detail without spoiling too much so I’ll just this: It is far better than Fallout 3’s main storyline but I’d still rate it lower than New Vegas’s.

But the main story isn’t everything. Fallout was always about exploration and the unique places you could find. Places that have their own history which you can only discover by being thorough and observant in your search.

It is in these areas that Fallout 4’s storytelling excels, not in the main quest. Here's an example of one of my favorite places: In my random meandering across the wasteland I came upon a University in Boston with signs everywhere saying “Traders Welcome!”. With my first instinct being that its a trap I decided to take a sneaky approach and enter it from the waterfront. As it so turned out it was a trap but not from raiders who I expected but another foe I won’t talk about due to spoilers.

Nothing suspicious here

So once you deal with all the enemies and take a look around it becomes quickly apparent that this place hasn’t been lively for a very long time. Corpses of the previous inhabitants lay strewn about, mostly near doors or hiding in houses indicating they were probably trying to flee rather than fight.

At this point the location still looks like any other generic enemy hideout you might come upon, dime a dozen. It isn’t until you start going through the various terminals that you start piecing what exactly went wrong. Suffice to say, someone messed up, and they messed up bad but what exactly they did is still unknown and requires further exploration.

Naturally you might decide to head in to the University itself, which after some more hard fought battles will reveal further clues and rumors of a secret research lab that did experiments for the military without the knowledge of other senior staff. Again due to spoilers I won’t go further in to specifics but this completely ordinary looking place has enough interesting story bits in it to keep you busy for hours with an amazing payout in the end if you successfully figure out where and what the lab was doing.

It is because of these “quests” that I still continue playing Fallout 4 despite basically finishing the game dozens of hours ago.

Verdict

Fallout 4 is definitely rough around the edges and has some issues that annoy me greatly but at the end of the day, when I turn off the PC and think back at how I felt while exploring the Commonwealth I realize that despite its flaws its a really good game.

But just good isn’t something Fallout 4 should contend itself with. It has potential to be truly excellent if Bethesda hears out player complaints and dedicates a couple of patches solely to issues with the dialogue system, the settlements and other such areas that suffer from a lack of polish.

Yet even when completely disregarding any future patches I still think Fallout 4 offers great value for your money and most importantly a great deal of fun as well. It might not live up to the vision the hype machine created before launch but its still a damn solid game and I feel I can recommend it to anyone that finds joy in exploration.

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