Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Fallout 4 - First Impressions

War... War never changes. And neither, ultimately, does the Fallout series.

Okay, there ARE a lot of changes and most of them will please console gamers and shoot-em-up fans and aggravate the role-players and series purists. But underneath the surface, this is still a Fallout game with all that entails. And that means the series purists complaining about how much has been dumbed down in the name of making things easier on the console gamers. It's tradition.

The grand irony of Fallout 4 is how much customization has been added to the game on a cosmetic level while simultaneously stripping down the mechanics. For instance, you've never had more options for customizing your appearance and it's possible to make a character that is morbidly obese for the first time. You also get to customize the appearance of your spouse. Yes, you start the game married and with an infant son and you get to decide how the man/woman of your dreams looks.

Well, unless you want to have a same-sex relationship in which case you're out of luck. Ditto if you'd hoped to give your male protagonist fantastic make-up. Though the unmodded game will apparently let you crossdress if you are so inclined to wander the wasteland in a ballgown and heels.

By contrast, the Skills system has been completely scrapped in favor of a new Perks system that unlocks new talents based on your SPECIAL statistics. (That's Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility and Luck, if you didn't know!) This means that everyone working on the Perception Perk chain has to take Pickpocketing at Level 2 to access the higher-level feats... even if you're intent on playing the straight-and-narrow sort of character who would never steal someone's wallet.

Another major selling point of Fallout 4 is the revised crafting system. Not only can you modify and construct new weapons based on what you can scavenge (the system will seem familiar to anyone who played Skyrim), you can even modify buildings and construct your own wasteland bunker. No doubt these options will please some gamers but if I wanted to build a house, I'd have bought The Sims.

Me? I play Fallout games for the story. And Fallout 4 has what is easily the strongest opening of any game in the series. At the very least, it is the most cinematic opening yet.

The story is that you are a Veteran retired to civilian life. Your service has bought your family a ticket into Vault 111 - an underground environment meant to keep select members of humanity safe in the event of nuclear war. You confirm your appointment just in time for the mushroom cloud to rise over the horizon as you hurriedly sprint through your peaceful town toward The Vault.

This ends with you being cryogenically frozen, awakening just long enough to see your child taken by sinister figures and your spouse seemingly killed. From there, you have to fight you way through the wreckage of the Vault, discovering in the process that it's over 200 years in the future. Also, that giant roaches suck to fight bare-handed.

It's fortunate that the game's opening is so engaging because you'll feel like you're on the plot railroad almost immediately. Admittedly, I didn't try to go off the reservation beyond accidentally running down the wrong road before entering the vault and getting nuked for my trouble but it's clear Bethesda has listened to complaints about the world being too open-ended and about how hard it was to find companions. You can't help but find a trusty dog to help you in your travels shortly after leaving The Vault, after your robot butler points the way for you to go.

As to be expected, there's a lot of bugs in this initial release. I myself have fallen prey to a fairly common one for PC gamers that renders it impossible to resize the screen past a window half the size of my screen or play in full-screen mode. On the bright side, this does enable me to keep an eye on my chat windows in Facebook while continuing to explore the ruins of Concorde, but it would be nice to use my whole screen for the fire-fights.

Bottom Line: It's different and it's buggy... but it's still engaging when it works and it's still Fallout.

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