Somewhere well past the first 50 hours of playing Fallout 4, I felt it was time to sit on an abandoned bench in one of Boston’s rubble-strewn streets and contemplate life. My character, a dapper young man who goes by the name Barney, obediently sat down as I looked up and down the streets and gazed at the sky. It didn’t bother Barney that he was knee-deep in bits and pieces that used to constitute a group of raiders. Barney had the sun, the sky and his pockets full of wonderglue. Life was good. After a few minutes’ respite Barney got up, dusted off his suit and reloaded his heavily-modified shotgun. Things were about to get legendary.

Fallout 4 is a game you can easily get lost in. The Commonwealth is a huge playground, filled with more things to discover and more places to explore than you can shake a grenade bouquet at. It’s filled with factions, random encounters and even just regular settlers that try to scrape together some sort of existence out of the radioactive wastes. The sheer size gets even bigger once you realize how thought-out¬†everything really is – especially inside Boston itself. Buildings have evolved beyond Fallout 3’s little unimpressive hovels to actual sky-scrapers with elevators, rooftops and fire escapes.

Of course, investment in details isn’t the only thing Fallout 4 does better than its predecessors. The writing has advanced in leaps and bounds, and the presence of a voiced protagonist only reinforces the immersion. One of the heights of Fallout 4’s writing is the way you explore the origins and motives of the first real villain you encounter – without spoiling it, I’ll just say that even though you put a bullet (or 50) through him, you are still running the risk of sympathizing with the poor sod once you have a peek into his life. The game never forces it on you, and you can still hate his guts, but it gets somewhat harder.

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The story itself is like any other good tale, as it begins with a simple quest that grows to be so much more. As you set out to find your son, kidnapped while you were in cryogenic sleep, the breadth of events slowly unfolds before you. Like all Fallout games, you will meet exciting characters ranging from the relatively sane and down-to-earth all the way to the quirky and bizarre (never try teaching Shakespeare to Super Mutants). Your companions likewise have their own personalities, with their own likes and dislikes but they all play a role, as well as having their own little side-mission or two.

The depth of writing goes beyond the main story line – it permeates the world and people’s attitudes and reactions. With 2015 already filled with consequence-driven games like The Witcher 3, Fallout 4 has a high bar to reach and it does so admirably. In a single, simple-looking, quest to rob a certain mayor I counted no less than 5 possible outcomes ranging from the diplomatic “Can’t we all just get along” to the more practical “I can’t hear you over the sound of my minigun grinding you all into pulp”. Certain outcomes are of course only available through charisma challenges, and for the first time ever, charisma is actually important. Actually, all the SPECIAL attributes play a much bigger role this time around.

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“Charisma is important”. Not “Speech is important” because “Speech” has gone the way of the Rad-Dodo. In fact, all the skills from previous installments are gone and forgotten, to be replaced by a simpler “SPECIAL” system. Standing for Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility and Luck, the SPECIAL system is somewhat reminiscent of Skyrim’s “Perk” system but without the skill points to go with it. Meaning that if you want to be a better shot, you raise your Perception or Agility and take the relevant +Damage perks in your weapon type of choice. Likewise, Charisma is now the go-to upgrade of the smooth talker with perks improving your trading abilities or companions.

Of course, if they won’t join you, you can always beat them. Fallout 4 has made some changes and improvements to its combat system, finally bringing it up to par with your typical FPS. You can now shoot from cover, for example, or toss a grenade out with a single keypress. The familiar VATS system has also been slightly changed – it doesn’t pause the world entirely but rather slows it down to a crawl, so you can still place your shots to specific body parts but the feel is more tense and urgent as the enemy is still closing in on you. Thanks to all these improvements, ranged combat has become quite fun all of the sudden – I actually found myself dealing with most encounters without using VATS as much anymore, just because it feels much more alive and much more fun to do it the “normal” way. Unfortunately, melee combat is still unimpressive – while the perks and weapons are there, it just doesn’t feel as smooth and satisfying as the gunplay.

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Do you remember the way the crafting system evolved from Fallout 3 to New Vegas? Well, Fallout 4 builds up on that and pushes it even further with one of the deepest and friendliest crafting systems I’ve seen. If in previous installments you had to find the right gewgaw to craft your Doom Smacker 5000, Fallout 4 takes the much more practical approach of materials. A fancy laser rifle upgrade needs some electronic circuitry? Not a problem. Blow up a turret, a robot or steal someone’s telephone. You want to add a scope to your fancy new rifle? The glass can come from a bottle, sure, but a microscope will do in a pinch. Put it all together with duct tape or some wonderglue and you’re all set to reach out and touch someone. With lasers.

Not only is the crafting system material-friendly, it’s also expansive like never before. Apart from the aforementioned weapon modification, you can now build, modify and fortify entire settlements, and then settle them with actual people attracted to the promise of safety. Of course, building a settlement is no easy task and you’ll need to provide your people with beds to sleep in, food to eat, clean water to drink and defenses in case some raiders come a’ calling. Despite the obvious time went into creating it, the settlement construction mechanic is entirely optional, although a few parts of the main quest require you to do some light construction. It’s also something you can easily get lost in, building and expanding your little slice of post-apocalypse Massachusetts from a single cul-de-sac to a beacon of hope for all mankind.

With Fallout 4, Bethesda has taken every lesson learned from their previous games and incorporated it all into a single, cohesive package. With all the new features, modern graphics, a large and living world to roam around in, multiple endings and loads of Mirelurks, I can say without a doubt that you’ll enjoy playing (and re-playing) this game for a very long time.


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