In a year that’s already seen such great open world games as Batman: Arkham Knight, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, and The Witcher III: Wild Hunt, the idea of wandering around another vast landscape might seem like a bit much. But Fallout 4 (Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC) is such an engaging, addictive, sprawling adventure that it not only trumps them all, it’s easily one of the best games of the year.
When Fallout 4 begins, it’s 2077, and you’re a suburban mom or dad living with your better half and baby outside Boston. You even own a timeshare, albeit an underground, bomb-resistant one called a Vault. Which ends up being a good investment when the bombs start dropping. Or so you think. Because once you get your family inside, and into the decontamination chambers as requested by the scientists running the place, you realize it’s actually a cryogenic chamber. When you finally wake up, you learn that it’s two hundred and ten years later, society has collapsed, the world is now infested with mutants and marauders, and someone killed your spouse and took your kid. So you set out on a quest, not just for survival, but to find your child…if they’re even still alive.
For those unfamiliar with Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, Fallout 4 is an epic, action-packed adventure game in the vein of the Mass Effect series and the Borderlands games. Not only do you have dozens and dozens of quests, which you get from talking to people, but you also have to scavenge for supplies and ammo, while dealing with random encounters, environmental hazards, and all the goodies you expect from a role-playing game set in a wide open space.
As for its combat, while you can smack people with bats and brass knuckles, Fallout 4 is really a shooter, one that’s played from your choice of first- or third-person perspective. But while you can play this like it’s a third- or first-person shooter, the game augments your trigger finger with an aiming system called V.A.T.S. [Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System] that momentarily slows the action and allows you to target specific parts of an enemy’s body. You can even target multiple body parts at the same time, or multiple enemies, if you have enough points. Points, by the way, which recharge over time. Fallout 4 even adds a new option where, if you hit a button when a meter has filled, you can cause a critical hit on your enemy.
All of this happens in an evocative post-apocalyptic world, one that’s on par with the ones in such movies as the Mad Max series, such games as Rage, and such novels as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Except that Fallout 4, like its predecessors, distinguishes itself by having a decidedly ’50s sci-fi movie vibe. Not only does it inform the look of its cars, appliances, and robots, but it’s also why, as you wander around, you’ll be attacked by giant bugs and other normally small animals.
As for how Fallout 4 improves upon the already rock solid tenets of its forerunners, well, in this regard, it doesn’t really change things as much as it refines them. For instance, this has a much deeper crafting system that not only lets you cook food, mix medicines, improve your weapons and armor, and even build homes. You can even build a small community with other non-player characters, though if you do, you run the risk of attracting marauders.
You also have access to power armor this time around. Specifically, a fully functional version of the Brotherhood Of Steel armor like the broken ones you might’ve used in Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas. Which isn’t like getting an advanced mech in Titanfall, mind you, more like the clunky suit Tony Stark built at the beginning of the first Iron Man movie. Still, if you’ve got the batteries for it, you can kick a ton of mutant butt.
Fallout 4 also avoids one of the biggest frustrations of Fallout 3 by making it easier to get around the city. In Fallout 3, you’d often find yourself trying to get to the other side of a building, only to end up going so far out of your way because buildings collapsed into piles of impassable rubble. But the world of Fallout 4 has a lot more alleys and pathways, which means you never have to walk six miles when you just want to go six blocks.
But the most substantial changes Fallout 4 makes to the Fallout formula are to the combat. In Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, manual shooting was so inaccurate that you had to use the V.A.T.S. all the time. But while it works the same as it did before, save for the new critical attack option I mentioned earlier, the regular shooting controls are tighter and more accurate, which makes manual targeting feel as good as it does in such dedicated first-person shooters as Call Of Duty: Black Ops III and Destiny. Similarly, using a melee attack when you’re holding a gun is also way more effective, especially if it has a bayonet.
While Fallout 4 is rock solid, it does have some minor issues. Some of which, oddly, have to do with the parts of the game they’ve improved.
Take, for instance, the mechanic used to build structures and thus a community. While I understand why they added it, it’s not fun to do, nor is it necessary, since you can just as easily store stuff wherever you want. Especially since every storage space in this game, be it a dresser or a file cabinet or whatever, can hold more stuff than a Bag Of Holding from Dungeons & Dragons. It also encourages a sense of community, which is more practical, but that just ruins the game’s wonderful lone wolf vibe.
Using grenades and Molotov cocktails is also different in Fallout 4. Instead of using V.A.T.S. to throw them, you just hit a button to toss them like you would in any other shooter. Which is good because it means you can use them in conjunction with another weapon, but it’s also bad because it means you can’t use them to target a specific body part, such as the stinger of a giant scorpion.
Not surprisingly, Fallout 4 also has some of the technical issues that always befall Bethesda’s games. Though most of the ones I saw were superficial, such as people’s lips not lining up with their dialog, or water splashing when it should’ve been still. That said, none of these glitches had any impact on the gameplay.
Oh, and it’s also tiresome how, if it’s dark outside and you’re using the Pip Boy’s light, and you go inside a building, you have to turn the light back.
Ultimately, though, most of these irritants are really just minor annoyances or matters of personal taste, and nothing that should stop you from playing this otherwise excellent game. Because, like Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas — and, for that matter, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the Mass Effect series, and the Borderland games — Fallout 4 is ultimately an immensely addictive and effortlessly fun adventure through an evocative and colorful world. It really is one of those games where you sit down to play for an hour, end up doing the “just one more quest” promise to yourself, and the next thing you know, it’s 3:00 AM, and where the hell are my pants? Ah, whatever; I’ll just do one more quest. Or maybe two. Guess I’m still wandering.