Fallout 4 Review

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Bethesda Softworks
Developer:Bethesda Softworks
Release Date:2015-11-10
Genre:
  • Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • First-Person,Third-Person
Buy this Game: Amazon ebay

I enjoyed the crafting system in Fallout 4.  It's easy to use (the game breaks down items for you once you've stored them at a workbench), it allows you to become more powerful as you gain levels (since the crafting perks have level requirements), and it gives you a reason to keep your eyes open and loot strange objects (like antique globes for cork and desk fans for gears).  Crafting is the one addition to the game that both works well and has a clean interface.

Outside of combat, you spend a lot of time exploring.  The world map isn't all of Massachusetts.  It's just the area around Boston, and it includes places like Fenway Park, Bunker Hill, and MIT (although it's called CIT in the game).  During my first game, I discovered about 250 locations on the map, and I know that I missed some.  I also know that there are numerous locations not marked on the map, including apartment buildings, banks, and even a downed UFO where you can pick up the ever popular alien blaster.  So there is plenty of content to work your way through.  I spent over 100 hours playing my first game, and I didn't see everything.

Unfortunately, the locations in Fallout 4 aren't as recognizable as the locations from Fallout 3, and they're not as fun as the locations from Fallout: New Vegas.  The only Boston site that I really know anything about is Fenway Park, and luckily it makes a major appearance in the game, since it's the home of Diamond City, one of the region's major hubs.  For the rest of the locations, Bethesda could have created everything out of whole cloth (and maybe they did), and I wouldn't have known the difference.  And so while technically the game takes place around Boston, for me it could have been located at any major city anywhere.  If Bethesda continues with the franchise, I hope they think a little more globally in the future and try out something like London next.

Interestingly, the world map only includes four towns of any significance, and one of them can get destroyed depending on how you complete a quest.  The reason for this is no doubt because one of the major additions to the game is the settlement interface, which allows you to create your own towns.

There are a dozen or so sites on the world map where you can build a settlement, including town of Sanctuary Hills where you start the game.  Each settlement requires covered beds, power, defenses, food, and water, and you can construct these things using a workbench and the crafting system.  Then once you've got at least the basic elements of your settlement set up, you can build a radio beacon to attract settlers to it.  Settlements can have at most 18 people in residence, which is more than enough to fill the jobs necessary to run them (such as farming and guard duty).

Settlements are sort of a fun idea.  I like them better than some of the fortresses other RPGs have inflicted on me recently.  Given the right perks, you can build shops, workbenches, houses, and storage containers in your settlements, and you can link settlements together so they can share components.  This means you can build your character a house with a bed and a place to store your excess gear, and you can place shops right next door, so your settlement is much more convenient than any of the default towns.  You can even set where you want the fast travel marker to be (fast travel allows you to teleport to any location that you've discovered) to reduce excess walking even further.

Unfortunately, Fallout 4's engine doesn't support settlements very well.  You're not allowed to zoom out far enough to see what you're doing.  You can build structures piece by piece, but the pieces don't always fit together very well, giving you an ugly result.  You're only allowed to build structures that look like they've survived a nuclear war rather than something brand new. There isn't an easy way to see what your settlers are doing, what you're producing, or what components you have.  There isn't an undo command.  And currently there's a bug where your settlers keep losing happiness when you're not around.  I had fun enough putting one settlement together, but I have no idea why you'd want several of them.

To help you out during your explorations, you can take a companion with you, including the faithful canine Dogmeat.  There are about a dozen companions in all, and they've seen an upgrade since Fallout 3.  Now they care about what you do, and they'll approve or disapprove of some of your activities, like when you steal items, pick locks, or demand money to accept a quest.  If you gain enough approval from a companion, then you'll receive a quest and a perk from them.  For certain companions, gaining enough approval will also allow you to romance them (and Bethesda took a page from BioWare here as you're allowed to romance companions of either gender), but this doesn't really lead to anything.

The companions are well constructed.  They have recognizable personalities, they comment on the locations you visit, and they're useful in combat, especially since they can't be killed (if they take too much damage, then they just sit down for a while).  But unfortunately, Bethesda just loves creating cluttered, narrow locations, and your companion will get in your way all the time.  In my first game, I gained max approval from three companions before giving up on them, and I had a much better time when I was playing solo.  In my second game, I didn't bother with companions at all except for Dogmeat early on.  You can't beat Dogmeat, but even he got irritating after a while.

Campaign

The campaign for Fallout 4 works well enough, but it has some ups and downs.  After a strong start, where you're given all sorts of motivation to rescue your son and find the killer of your spouse, the main questline goes into neutral.  Almost no emphasis is placed on the search for your son, and you're allowed to flirt with all sorts of people, showing just how much you care about your dead spouse.

This obliviousness pervades the entire game.  Sometimes after completing a quest, a random person will comment on it as you're walking by, but for the most part the denizens of the Commonwealth have no idea about anything.  For example, there are three factions in the game that basically hate each other, but you can join all three, complete quests for all three, kill agents of all three, and nobody will comment and care -- until the end of the game when they randomly decide to kill each other, and you're forced to pick one.

Luckily, the side quests work better.  There are several where all you have to do is go somewhere and kill something (or several somethings), but there are also a bunch that are unique and a lot of fun.  For example, in one town you meet a fan of a radio hero called the Silver Shroud, and he convinces you to take on the role and clean up the criminal element in the area.  So you have to track down the costume of the superhero, and then if you wear it while completing the rest of the quest objectives, you get thematic dialogue options, which are great.  There are also memorable quests where you can help a robot crew launch a boat, tunnel your way to a fortified vault, rescue a thespian from super mutants, and build up the confidence of a meandering radio host.

In other words, the main questline isn't really the focus of the game.  Bethesda isn't great at storytelling, and every one of their design decisions points to them wanting you to just wander around exploring and completing quests rather than focusing on what should be important to your character.  Plus, the main questline doesn't have a great ending -- I actually thought it was kind of creepy -- so you might be better off ignoring it for the majority of the game.  But at least when you do eventually get around to it and complete the final quest, you won't get kicked out of the game.  You'll be allowed to return to the Commonwealth and continue your adventures.