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Fallout 4: First Impressions

Fallout 4: First Impressions

Fallout 4: First Impressions

12 hours into the game on my PS4, here are my first impressions.


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I got my picture taken with Pip-Boy at E3. I played the free mobile game Fallout Shelter on my phone for weeks. In anticipation of the game’s November 10 release, I have re-themed my phone à la Fallout.

So, yeah, I’m a fan.

I’ve long admired the Fallout series, and I’m a huge Bethesda fan. The series was already legendary when Bethesda acquired the license in the early 2000s. Their 2008 hit Fallout 3 had to contend with ridiculous expectations from the legions of fans the series had accumulated, and they managed to hit it out of the park. They even got fans to accept a fundamental shift in the way the game was presented (first person, fully rendered 3D instead of 2D third person).

I played Fallout 3 and its many expansions for almost a full calendar year.

So, again, big fan here.

So…as the eighth game in the series, and the fifth in the main series, Fallout 4 has LOTS to live up to. There’s the high bar set by the original games, not to mention the stellar work done in Fallout 3 and its spin-off, Fallout: New Vegas.

And the game is finally here!!

As I waited for the large patch to download (Bethesda games are always buggy, ALWAYS), I pondered on the challenge that was facing Fallout 4.

The way I see it, Fallout 4 has two challenges in order to get the big thumbs-up from series veterans like me:

(a) It’s got to be worthy of the franchise and, perhaps even more challenging:
(b) The game also needs to be distinguished on its own.

It’s the same problem main-numbered Final Fantasy games have. There’s a group of features almost all Final Fantasy games have: chocobos, an airship, a character named Cid, crazy emo Japanese hair, a complicated battle system, and other things.

Fallout is no different. There’s usually at least one Ink Spots song, you have to fight radiation-mutated cockroaches, the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system, and you always play a character who’s coming out of a vault into a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

I’ll dispense with (a) first: YES, a few hours into it, the game definitely seems worthy of the series. It’s definitely a Fallout game, and I feel right at home.

Let’s get to (b). I’m only about a dozen hours in, but I’m going to go with a provisional YES. The game does mix it up a bit, in ways that I am enjoying.

There are three big changes I’m seeing right off the bat:

1. Due to a clever cryogenics plot wrinkle, your character is more connected to the pre-Apocalyptic world than in any other Fallout game. I’m not sure yet how significant this gimmick will be, but it’s a good gimmick, and it gives the entry into the Wasteland a fresh spin. I just explained to someone that I’ve been asleep for 200 years, and to my delight… he believed me.

2. Voiced main character! This was a big risk for Bethesda to take, but they are not known for being faint of heart. You can play a male or female character in the game, and whichever you pick, all of your dialog is fully voiced by either Courtenay Taylor or Brian T. Delaney. I’m really enjoying this feature a lot. Delaney is doing a great job and I find the effect more immersive.

3. Streamlined Character system. This is probably the most controversial change. In previous Fallout games, you developed your character with a system that used perks, traits, skills and stat points. I’m a simple creature, and I always found it a bit confusing.

The new game just flattens all that out. You start with the traditional S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system, that is, statistics for Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility and Luck. But this time around everything else is handled by Perks, which are all tied to S.P.E.C.I.A.L. levels. I really, really like this change. It makes it much simpler to plan a character and get a vision of what you want him to become early on. Whenever you level up, you get a Perk point to spend. Each point is tied to a level of a S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stat. If you want a Perk that you don’t have a high enough stat to reach, you can instead spend your level-up point increasing that stat.

This new system makes a ton of sense. It’s easy to understand and fun to use. I feel like I have a great handle on what I need to plan to spend points on as I progress through the game.

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Figure 1 My wanderer is a handsome devil named Ray.

I also love the game’s opening. It’s just an ordinary day for an attractive young couple getting ready for work, sharing the bathroom mirror. In a very organic way, you can choose whether to play as the man or the woman, and while they look into the mirror, you can comprehensively design the way they look. I spent a pretty long time designing my character. The only thing the game doesn’t seem to let you do is change the character height.

Right after you’re done in the bathroom, all hell breaks loose and everything changes. This IS a Fallout game, after all.

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Figure 2 That’s my wife and baby in the next Cryo Pod. Hope they’re okay.

And so the real game begins!

I’m only about 12 hours into the game so far, and now that I’ve told you what I really like, I’ll mention a couple of things I don’t like so much.

Charisma. I really compromised my Sniper build when assigning points in my S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats, because I really love having extra dialog options in a game, and a high Charisma score is the way to do that. So far, though, there have been very few opportunities for me to use this ability. Makes me a bit sorry I sunk so many points into Charisma.

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Figure 3 Oh hai! Say hello to my little friends, Sully Mathis.

Inventory Full of Junk. A new feature in the game is building settlements. It’s a huge minigame that’s fun and intriguing. But it means that nothing, NOTHING, you come across in the Wasteland is useless. It means you have to pick up EVERYTHING. It means you have to scour every room in every broken down building you creep through and pick up EVRYTHING. And if you don’t have a high Strength stat, then your inventory gets full really, really quickly. True, if you have a companion, he or she can shoulder some of the load. But not that much.

I agree with some others out there who are saying that if Bethesda wanted us to pick up everything, they shouldn’t have given us such a limited encumbrance rating. I don’t want to give up on the idea of building settlements. It’s fun! But I also don’t want every visit out into the Wasteland to be hampered by feeling like I have to run back to civilization every ten minutes to dump some junk.

fallout 4

Figure 4 This fetching house dress gives my Charisma stat a boost when I need to charm someone.

To be fair, it’s possible I’m just being lazy. I’ve been reading articles about this very issue and it seems there are techniques I can put into place which will make the harvesting of loot in the wilderness a little more deliberate and a little less cumbersome. I plan on trying to put some of those techniques into place. (For instance, the game allows you to tag resources you are particularly looking for.)

I also have to say I’m really enjoying the look of the game. It’s got a richer palette than Fallout 3, which is a good thing. There’s no getting around the fact that a post-nuclear wasteland is not exactly ever going to look like Disneyworld on opening day. But the warmer and more diverse colors are a nice touch. It’s good design strategy too, because of one of the oldest tenets in the Designer’s Rulebook. I refer, of course, to the “Create a Game World the Player Wants to Spend Time In” rule. It’s one of the reasons I enjoyed Dragon Age: Inquisition and The Witcher 3 so much. The worlds I explored in those games were ravishingly beautiful. And as much as I loved Fallout 3, the bleakness of the setting wore me down after a while.

I’ll be curious to see if the jazzier color scheme in the new game helps me stay fresh for the several dozen hours I expect to be playing it.

So that’s where I am so far! I’ll report back when I’ve had the chance to dive deeper into the game. I’m taking all of Thanksgiving week off of work so I’ll hopefully have time (between cooking and cleaning) to dig far deeper into the game than I have so far.

So. Have YOU started playing Fallout 4? Let us know what your experiences are like!

Ray Ivey

Ray Ivey

A gaming freakazoid, Ray enjoys games on all platforms. Also loves board games, mind games, and all puzzles. Co-wrote the Entertainment Tonight trivia game and designed puzzles for two Law & Order PC games. Also a movie freak, bookworm, and travel bug. Thinks games of all kinds are a highly underappreciated force for social good, not to mention mental and psychological health.   Ray's favorite adventures include the "Broken Sword" and "Journeyman Project" franchises, "The Dark Eye," "The Feeble Files," "Sanitarium," "Limbo," "Machinarium," "Riven," "The Neverhood," and "Azrael's Tear." His favorite non-adventures include the "Thief," "Uncharted," and "Ratchet & Clank" franchises, all of the Bioware RPGs, Skyrim, and Final Fantasy XII.   Ray writes about the movies for the Bryan/College Station Daily Eagle, which is the old-fashioned thing called a "newspaper." He's been on eight game shows. He's taught in seven countries and has visited twenty-one. His favorite classic movie star is Barbara Stanwyck and his favorite novel is "The Hotel New Hampshire" by John Irving.

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