Monday, July 10, 2017

Review: Fallout 4

Over the July 4 "celebration period," Steam, the video game engine that most of the video games are now played through, at least on PC, had a big game sale.

Fallout 4 had been on my wishlist for a while. The game, by Bethesda, had received more good reviews than bad and I am a fan of their Elder Scrolls series, having played Morrowind, Oblivion and Skyrim. I have over 1,300 hours of game time in Skyrim alone. (That's over a period of 6 years, and some of it is time I am not even playing it: I've set a pack of dimes on a key to make my character stay in stealth mode to build up that skill and walked away.) These are open-world games and enormously playable. The Elder Scrolls series are set on another planet, where you have humanoids but also characters that function as humans but which have different capabilities; lizards, cat-like creatures, orcs, and so forth. The Elder Scrolls also deals with magic and doesn't use guns.

Bethesda generally does not have great main story lines, but their multiple side quests can keep me engrossed for hours and are in and of themselves long games. I also like to explore and do not barrel through each quest. I take my time and search every nook and cranny of a cave or whatever. I appreciate the detail in the game.

Anyway, given my track record with Bethesda games, I thought I'd give Fallout 4 a try since it was on sale for a very low price, like, paperback book-level price. Given that, if I only spent 5 hours with it, I would consider it ok. Generally speaking, with Bethesda games one does not necessarily need to have played the earlier games in a series for it to make sense.

So far I have spent 6 hours with the game, and I confess I find it wanting. It is set in a dystopian world, the year 2285, more or less, in Boston, MA after nuclear war created by over-consumerism and an ignorant population (the beginning was so like today that it made me shiver) make everyone angry and riotous. It is our world though not quite, as it is initially set in 2075; however, the differences aren't enough to shake the queasy feeling that this might actually be our tomorrows.

I'm going to talk about the story line as well as game controls, so if you don't want to know any of that, stop reading here.


Fallout 4 uses the same game engine as Skyrim, so I thought my learning curve on the PC controls would be quick. Wrong. The menu system on Fallout 4 is terrible. After six hours of play I still haven't figured out how to favorite a weapon, use armor, or anything else useful. I can use a security baton and beat up roaches and that's about it. I found a pistol and either I am a really bad shot, taking nearly a full clip to kill a radiated cockroach, or the aiming mechanism is off. This kind of thing should be intuitive, and a somewhat seasoned Bethesda game player, playing on novice no less, should not be left still wondering how to figure out the menu after six hours of game play. If I decide to play anymore on this game, an iffy adventure at the moment, I am going to first find a walkthrough with control directions and something that explains this weird menu.

In Skyrim, the player interacts with the AI world using text. Fallout 4 gives the player voice options, but they are terribly limited and frequently are not the questions you'd want to ask. Whereas in Skyrim you might hear the player grunt occasionally, in Fallout 4 the character makes comments about the scenery around her (I was playing as a female). The story line begins with a husband and wife in the bathroom. The player sets up the character, facial characteristics, hair, eye color, all of that stuff, and the husband comments on it. "New hair style?"  "Shaun (their child) has your eyes."

Once the character is created and named, you go into the kitchen where you meet a robot helper, who cooks, cleans, and cares for the baby. He goes off to feed the child. During this time, a salesman comes to the door to force you to purchase space in Vault 111, a safe space where your family can go and stay for a year or something in the event of a nuclear event. You agree to the purchase. The robot comes back to say Shaun needs his mother. You visit the baby, spin a mobile above him, and then the robot tells you to come and look at the TV.

Oddly a lot of the things in the detailed surroundings (they are very good, graphically speaking) are more like 1950s style than futuristic. It is an odd mix of old and new. Anyway, there is nuclear war starting, the TV announcer says, and then the screen goes blank. A Vault 111 van pulls up and someone on a loud speaker tells everyone to get up the hill to the vault. Your husband grabs Shaun, and you both run. You go onto a little circle thing - other people are being beaten back by Vault 111 security, which is kind of not nice - and you go down. You are hustled into a room, handed a suit, and told to go into a decontamination unit to change.

Everything goes white for a while. Then you wake up, and you see through a glass in your decontamination chamber, which is really a cryogenic pod, a man grab your child from your husband and then shoot your husband in the head. Then you go back into stasis or whatever you call it.

Then you wake up. This is when you finally really get to take over the character. Previously all you could do was walk around. (Fortunately I knew that was "w" on the keyboard from Skyrim, because nothing else told you.) You go to your husband's pod, open it, and all you say is "I will avenge you, sweetheart, and I'll find Shaun," and you take his ring. No weeping, nothing. At this point you don't know how long you've been "asleep." As you wander through the underground enclosure, you come across computer terminals that, if you read them, explain that you were put in deep freeze and that the crew that was supposed to watch over you mutinied after about 180 days of being locked underground. No one else is alive in their pods and you can't open them.

After you kill cockroaches and pick up coffee cups and various other pieces of junk (which I did only because I had pre-read that you should pick up everything), you finally make your way out. You go to your house and your robot is still there, tending to a fallen-in house (made of wood, it really wouldn't be standing, still). He tells you that you have been gone for 210 years. So it is now 2285 or so.

Everything is very dismal, with your little subdivision in shambles. Somehow couches still have some stuffing and you wander around the neighborhood picking up more junk. Across the street from your house you find a couple of workstation for creating things. Apparently crafting is an integral part of Fallout 4.

In Skyrim, crafting is an option. You don't have to improve a thing to move forward in the game. But in Fallout 4, you are ultimately creating new settlements, so you actually have to use all of that junk you pick up to make beds, electricity, radios, etc. Also, if the weather turns weird, you take radiation hits, which you have to cure somehow or another.

Anyway, the gist of this is you go from town to town and you're still searching for your son. Now, you have no idea when he was taken from his father's pod. So you don't know if that was 200 years ago or 10 minutes before you woke up. Odds are, though, given the shape of the world, that it was a very long time ago, and probably about the time the crew watching over your units mutinied, which would make it a very long time ago indeed. This really makes no sense as a main quest. I mean, I understand wanting to find your son but I would think you'd be wondering if you're actually looking for your great-great-grandchildren.

There are side quests, from what I read - you do this or that for people, and you create a settlement in your little subdivision. The things you have to fight off are killers and looters, roaches and other assorted oversized bugs, some bigger creepier things that are very hard to kill, and ghouls, which are irradiated people who are like zombies. There are normal people wandering around but they are not very helpful, or at least, not the few I met in the six hours of game time I have played.

Jumping forward, because I went and read the storyline to see if I even cared about it, in the end you find your Shaun and he's an old man, overseeing some section that was running Vault 111 and which is now trying to control the world or something by creating synthetic people.

It is not a story line I particularly care about.

It is unusual for me to feel this much distaste for a video game, but I am not keen on this one at all. It has a balance of good and bad reviews and I wish I had paid more attention to the bad reviews, but it is hard to judge those things, just as it is with book reviews. It is all subjective.

Part of the problem is I dislike using guns for multiple reasons, and part of it is the dreariness of this world is such a start contrast to Skyrim - which is full of color, northern lights, brilliant moons, etc. - that it is almost shocking. The other part is it is not a fantasy world, it's reality of sorts, and not a very nice one. It is one thing to watch Waterworld for two hours, and then return to your life, but quite another to want to invest 100+ hours in this kind of landscape.

I suppose I shall have to wait until the next version of The Elder Scrolls comes out before I purchase another open-world video game.


  1. I haven't heard of this game before, don't think it'd be for me. I usually play games on my iPhone or iPad.

  2. I've been avoiding the gun things just because I get bored with them. I'm more of a Final Fantasy player.


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