It’s hard to believe it’s already been 5 years since Fallout: New Vegas and over 7 years since Fallout 3 was released. They’re some of our favorite games from the last console generation and still a benchmark in terms of open world games, especially those dealing with post-apocalyptic settings. It’s easy to see why Fallout 4 is one of this holiday season’s most-anticipated releases – leaving the old generation of consoles behind and delivering a brand new story experience in the Fallout universe.
The central premise of Fallout 4 is absolutely great and opens up a vast range of story opportunities. Alive in 2077, your character lives through the apocalyptic event of nuclear bombs dropping. You survive by heading to the Vault, where you spend the next 200 years cryogenically frozen. When you wake up, the one thought on your mind is to find out what happened to your son. As you set out on your quest – to complicate matters further – you soon find out that not everyone spent the last 200 years frozen in time. This creates a challenge within a challenge, as you have to adapt to a new time and place if you are to survive and fulfill your main quest.
The potential for narrative greatness is clearly there, though Fallout 4 never quite fulfills that potential. It’s by no means wasted, but the main storyline does feel like it could have benefitted from additional layers of depth. Perhaps it’s because of the massive scope of the game, which offers tons of interesting side quests that help flesh out the post-apocalyptic world around you. These give color and character to the world, although they do little to elevate the main story arc. Although we had an whole lot of fun with Fallout 4, we’re already hoping for additional content later on that will explore some of the character in more detail – a bit like Naughty Dog did with they The Last of Us DLC content.
As things are – the real star of the show is Fallout 4’s apocalyptic world. It’s massive, it gives you plenty of opportunity to explore everything and play side missions (and even mini games) as you go along. Our first playthrough clocked in at about 50 hours of gameplay time, although we did make time to explore non-essential areas and missions. The main story – ignoring the wealth of content that’s also available, can probably be completed in 15 to 20 hours. Fallout 4 is a game best enjoyed when you stray off the main path here and there though, and we would recommend taking the time to do so. If you don’t, you’ll miss out on of part of how vast and rich the open world around you is – and the lack of depth in the main story might become more apparent than it needs to be. Instead, make sure you turn the world around you into a character of its own, enriching the overall experience (and no doubt your enjoyment and appreciation of future DLC content). Playing things this way will also give you more incentive to reach the different endings you can get and explore the implications of the choices you make.
The gameplay mechanics in Fallout 4 are – perhaps not surprisingly – quite similar to Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas. Why fix what ain’t broken, right? Though a lot of trailers for the game emphasize the FPS elements of the game, the ‘pause mechanic’ (V.A.T.S.) is still very much central to combat – something to remind us of the turn-based strategy roots of the franchise. The main differences are therefore more optimizations than they are radical changes. This includes more control over the companions who travel with you and a greater diversity when it comes to crafting a home for yourself to allow you to recover in a place that feels a bit more like your own. Leveling up your abilities plays a greater role than it did in the previous two games, and because upgrades feel more impactful there is also more incentive to explore and gain experience.
Fallout 4 is an excellent new entry into a beloved franchise. It evolves the formula rather than innovate it, and while it may be the audiovisual leap forward we had hoped for and we encountered a few technical (framerate) issues along the way – it’s still Fallout. We’re already hoping for more content down the road, but while we wait, we’re happy that we’re able to dive back in and explore lots more out of what’s already in there. That can only be a good thing.