The Fallout series has been at the top of my list of favorite franchises for a number of years. I put 200+ hours into both Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas and I’ve played the original games through multiple times. You could say that it was predetermined that I would champion Fallout 4 as the must have game of 2015. And you wouldn’t be far off.
I came into The Commonwealth expecting to love every second of my time there. After all, the gunplay is vastly improved, the setting is interesting to me (loved seeing what they did with Fenway), and I was more than intrigued by the new crafting system seen in both your equipment and your settlements. Heck, I put 200+ hours into this game (platinumed it even) and couldn’t help but ask myself, “is that it?”
You see, in a lot of ways, my time with Fallout 4 is perfectly summed up by looking at one of the main antagonists in story, the Synths. Synths are faster, stronger, smarter, and less likely to die from radiation poisoning than their human counterparts. However, as machines, they don’t have the soul that makes human beings human. In almost every sense of the word, they’re perfect, but, even then, they can’t hold a candle to the real thing.
And that’s how I feel about Fallout 4. For all intents and purposes, Fallout 4 is “better” than Fallout 3 or New Vegas. The “gamey” segments of the game take a massive step forward. Playing without V.A.T.S. is finally possible because the guns actually control decently well. The crafting system is deep, if clunky, and gives adventurers something to do when they get bored of exploring The Commonwealth. Speaking of The Commonwealth, it’s absolutely chock full of things to do. The density and scale of Boston are well represented here and put the relatively sparse Capital Wasteland and New Vegas to shame. There aren’t any boring subway tunnels or desolate deserts to explore here.
But, even with all of those buildings and environments to explore, Fallout 4 feels empty. At first, exploration feels great because there’s so much of it. But then you’ll hit your 20th named area, walk inside, look around, and realize that there’s nothing interesting here. The modern Fallout series has always struggled to tell a compelling main narrative; it’s the side stories and little moments out in the wastes that bring the game to life and give it character. And, in Fallout 4, there’s almost none of that.
There’s an image floating around that compares the quests offered in Fallout 4 to those in Skyrim that I’ll link here: https://imgur.com/a/Mvc3i. As you can see, the number of quests has gone down significantly and, as someone who’s done most of them, quite a few of those are repeatable and offer little to no story development. The most interesting quests in Fallout 4 are, undoubtedly, the companion quests. Unlike the majority of the game, your companions are actual characters with backstories and more than three lines of dialogue. Unfortunately, there are only four of those, which means the nine other companions are largely left out to dry. That doesn’t necessarily mean those companions aren’t worth picking up, it just means their impact is minimal.
Even putting the actual quests and narrative aside, the world feels like a barren wasteland, and not in a good way. In past Fallout games, the world felt lived in, there were people in the most random locations that made the wastes feel like a real place. This isn’t the case in Fallout 4. There are no memorable locations that aren’t included in the main storyline. You won’t find a Republic of Dave or a Gang of Granies. Those kind of fun, one-off experiences are no longer present in this world and that takes the magic out of what made Fallout such a popular series for me.
Even still, it’s hard to find much else to fault in this game (aside from the many bugs that are synonymous with Bethesda open-world games). In many ways, it is the best video game in the modern line of Fallout titles. However, it goes so far away from the essence of what Fallout is, that it’s hard for me to recommend even after spending 200 hours mostly enjoying myself. That’s why this isn’t a real review of the game. That would be me praising the game for the vast majority of the post and then mentioning in a few paragraphs how badly it fails at capturing the Fallout spirit. Instead, I think it’s important to simply focus on why this game isn’t what Fallout fans like myself are looking.
Should you play this game? NO, NOT REALLY
Scoring this game would be near impossible for me. It’s difficult to separate my expectations for a Fallout game from what I look for when trying to critically look at a video game. Maybe that makes me a poor reviewer; however, I think it’s important for a franchise as big as this one to, at least somewhat, cater to their fans. This entry goes against the main thing I would consider crucial to a modern day Fallout game; a wasteland filled with interesting characters who all have stories to tell.
Fallout 4 is bigger, stronger, faster, and possibly better than the games that came before it. But, much like a synth replacing a loved family member, it lacks the soul that made the series special and, no matter how polished and seemingly perfect the replication is, it will never have the same impact of the thing it replaced.