Fallout 4 review: radioactive fun

As it stands at this very moment, I have put the best part of 61-hours of my life into Fallout 4. During this time, two things have become very clear to me: Firstly, I haven’t even come close to unearthing the mid-boggling vastness this monolithic game has to offer and; secondly, nobody does a RPG quite like Bethesda.

Almost every aspect of this game, from the very first soundtrack playing in the start menu to the very last cutscene, makes you feel like this is the game you’ve been waiting for. And in many ways it is.

So strap on your Pip-Boy and climb into your Power Armour. It’s time for our journey into the post-apocalyptic wasteland to begin.

Story Time

The single most significant event in all the Fallout titles is something known as “The Great War of 2077”, a devastating nuclear battle that broke out between the world’s super powers and turned Earth into a planet of post-apocalyptic rubble. This is what makes Fallout 4 such a significant title. Not only is it the furthest we have been taken into the future of the Falloutverse — the year 2287 to be exact — but it is the first title that gives us a glimpse into the time before the bombs fell.

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Unfortunately, it is only a very brief look and I feel that it was simply added for the sake of hype than treated as the major event it actually is. Luckily, the rest of the story is the immersive, complex and conspiracy ridden affair that we could only expect from any Fallout title.

So it is the year 2077 in Boston, Massachusetts, and the threat of a nuclear attack on US soil looms larger every day. Fortunately, you and your family get notified that you’ve approved for admittance into Vault 111 in the event of a nuclear attack. You casually thank the Vault-Tec representative for the good news but don’t give it much thought after that. No one would dare bomb the US, would they? Wrong. Moments later a distraught news anchor announces on television that a nuclear attack on the US is imminent and that everyone should seek shelter immediately. Everything turns into chaos. People start sprinting down the street with their screaming children and crying babies, all while a distressing bomb alarm is sounding off in the background. The world as we know it is ending.

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Luckily, Vault 111 is there to protect you seconds before the rest of the country is disintegrated by the atomic blast. Unfortunately, you’re tricked into climbing into a “decontamination pod” and you get frozen for the next 210 years. Then, just to add a little extra stress to your life, the next time you wake up you witness your baby getting stolen and your spouse getting shot in the face by unknown individuals while you’re still trapped inside the cryopod. Tragic.

The world as we know it is ending

This serves as the catalyst that will push your character through the rest of the game, the desire to find and rescue your son, Shaun, from whatever fate is in store for him. But, as you’ve probably guessed, that is easier said than done. The world you find yourself in is far from the world you knew and much has changed while you were busy taking a nap for the last two centuries.

The nuclear blast has reshaped the landscape and radiation has given birth to a multitude of creatures and races. You also learn of The Institute, a mysterious group of highly intellectual scientists who have given birth to a race of intelligent robots known as Synths. Synths play a big role in Fallout 4, specifically “Gen 3 Synths”, robots that are indistinguishable from humans in both intelligence and appearance. Humans have still not decided if they wish to accept or banish these Gen 3’s from society and this tension is a theme that will be prevalent throughout the game.

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Now I don’t want to give away more of the actual story but let me take some time to explain my experience of the story thus far.

As far as “cutscene” storytelling goes, Fallout 4 won’t provide much after the initial introduction. But this is something that I’ve always loved about the Fallout games. They strike an amazing balance between leading you through the story and letting you lose to discover your own, with the emphasis on the latter. In the end it is your choices that will shape the outcome of every situation and the overall game.

There were times I felt like my character was just a bit too nonchalant about his missing son and murdered wife

Main missions, admittedly but also not surprisingly, have more cinematic elements than side quests for the most part. But that being said, every mission in Fallout 4 feels like it has its place and, in most circumstances, offer the same rewarding feeling than the main story line.

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Through the duration of the game, Fallout 4 will introduce you to a colossal array of vivid personalities. From the noble-hearted synth detective, Nick Valentine, to the balls-to-the-wall investigative reporter, Piper Wright, every character will ooze with believability and add a very natural and immersive substance to your experience. The only thing I didn’t like about Fallout 4, in terms of believability, is your character’s response to its situation. There were times I felt like my character was just a bit too nonchalant about his missing son and murdered wife.

Find your inner Explorer

In Fallout 4, life seems to have taken on more of a bustling nature and doesn’t feel totally as deprived as its rather desolate and austere predecessors. It looks like the wasteland has had some time to adjust to the new world.

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Wherever you go there’s something happening, people to talk to, or some abomination to exterminate, be it human or not. It truly feels like you’ve entered a world that exists beyond you and isn’t centred around your presence.

You would be casually winding your way through the remnants of some pre-war city and then suddenly a massive flying craft would appear overhead and enter a battle with a group of super mutants just a few blocks away. Won’t be going that way then.

If there is one thing that I can’t stress enough it is that you should never stop exploring the wasteland. Discovery is at the very heart of Fallout 4. No matter how filled up your Pip-Boy map becomes with markers, use fast travel as little as you possibly can.

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Practising this patience will unravel the true splendour of Fallout 4. Around every corner, nook and cranny there is something new to be discovered and just when you think you’ve seen it all, just remember, the wasteland always has another card up its sleeve.

Discovery is at the very heart of Fallout 4

There was one point where I was making my way towards an undiscovered location and I happened upon a large abandoned mine, or so I thought. Just as I was peering over the pile of rubble surrounding the area I received a warm welcome. By warm welcome I mean an army of high-level raiders tossing grenades and blasting a storm of bullets my way. As I was severely outnumbered, naturally I ran the other way.

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I had barely made it a few hundred meters when I suddenly ran into Duke, a guy dressed in Power Armour carelessly strolling through the post-apocalyptic wilderness. He casually greets me and tells me that he specializes in customizing Power Armour and I can swing by his shop anytime.

Fallout 4 is littered with these random and coincidental meetings and it’s something that really turns the wasteland into a living, breathing place.

Surviving The Wasteland

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At first glance Fallout 4 essentially seems the same as any Fallout before it, just taking place within a different setting and sporting slightly updated graphics. You still run around talking to people, killing those who oppose you (or run away) and looting every box, safe or desk you manage to run into. To me, this wasn’t much of a problem as I am a religious fan of the previous titles and I view them all with great respect. But the more time I spent with Fallout 4 the more I realised that there was much hidden beneath that first glance.

At first glance Fallout 4 essentially seems the same as any Fallout before it

For starters, the developers have really taken customization to the next level. From gun mods to armour mods to power armour mods, you can tailor your approach to exactly your style of gameplay.

Just to give you a sense of what you can do, there are over fifty base weapons at your disposal and each of these have around 700 modifications. That means that there are about 35000 different weapon variations for you to indulge your fiendish fantasies. But the greatest addition by far is the opportunity to build your own settlements, an aspect that I feel adds tremendous substance to the game. I can’t believe it took any RPG this long to implement such a wonderful feature.

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Through your journey in the wasteland you will come across many settlements that require your help. Once you’ve lent a helping hand you will be given access to the settlement’s workshop, which will allow you to gather all the scrap lying around the area and use it to build up your settlement.

Here, once again, the options seem endless. From houses to fences to gun turrets to crops, you will be able to turn a modest settlement into a large bustling metropolis. As you gain access to more settlements you will also be able to set up trade routes between them and open up various shops, meaning that resources can also be shared between settlements.

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But it will take a while to really get this ball rolling. To attract more people to your settlement you will have to set up radio beacons and generators to power these beacons. Once your settles start arriving you will need to provide them with food, water and shelter, all of which will use up valuable resources.

I can’t believe it took any RPG this long to implement such a wonderful feature

There were often times I ended up using all my resources on one settlement just to realise that another might have needed it more. To get this process running smoothly will take some patience and planning. But once you start pulling it off, there are few things as rewarding in the game.

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Settlement building was one of the most addictive elements of Fallout 4 and is probably the sole reason I haven’t finished the game ages ago.

Game Information

Release Date: 10 November 2015
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC (Review Platform)
Price: R799

Verdict: Fallout 4 is one of the most immersive and in-depth titles I’ve played this entire year. Being back in the wasteland has reminded me what a unique experience the Fallout games have always offered. It’s a fresh breath of (radiated) air compared to the fantasy and sci-fi worlds of most other RPGs and this time around its bigger and badder than ever. It might take some patience to really see the splendour this game has to offer but once you get the ball rolling, it just becomes abundantly clear that nobody does RPGs like Bethesda.

Score: 9/10

Wiehahn Diederichs


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