Fallout 3 wasn't just a massive game or another open-world Bethesda title - it was one of the most successful gaming reboots ever. After years of sitting on the sidelines, Fallout made a huge comeback - and it ended up being one of the best games of the previous console generation.
That being said, it wasn't perfect: the main storyline was a bit flat, and the gameplay always felt a few steps behind its contemporaries. It's still an amazing game, there's no denying that - but Fallout 3 definitely had its fair share of issues.
Now, nearly a decade later, Fallout 4 is finally here, and from what fans have seen, it looks like Bethesda has tried to make Fallout feel like a modern shooter without sacrificing its extensive RPG mechanics. It's no secret that there are a lot of changes headed to the wasteland - so, is Fallout 4 the same post-apocalyptic adventure that fans have been craving, or has the series simply fallen in line with the rest of the first-person shooters?
First things first: the story of Fallout 4 is absolutely huge, and due to our relatively limited playtime prior to review, we weren't able to finish it. As a result, there's no way we can talk about the finale or how the main story wraps up.
Even so, it's safe to say that the story of Fallout 4 is a step up from its predecessor. Everything starts before the bombs fell: players begin the story as part of a loving family, complete with robotic butler and newborn son. It's a side of Fallout that fans have never gotten a chance to see, and it does a great job of fleshing out the game's world.
Of course, it's not long before things start going downhill. After a quick sprint to the nearby Vault 111, it's time for a 200-year-long nap...and, after watching as mercenaries tear your family apart, it's time to break out of the Vault and start exploring. Once players are back on the surface, the game - and the hunt for those who stole your family away - truly begins.
To be frank, Fallout 4 starts throwing its story at players extremely quickly. Fallout 3 took its time when introducing its world, and it took a few hours just to leave the game's first town - Fallout 4, on the other hand, introduces the pre-war era, the Vault, the villains, the post-apocalypse and several different factions all within the first hour. It's a lot to take in, and it can feel a bit rushed at times.
The game's attempts at emotional moments can also feel a bit flat. The idea of getting revenge after losing one's family is a well-known storytelling trope, but it begins to fall apart if the main character decides to spend three hours fighting Super Mutants instead. It's admirable that Bethesda tried to do something more character-driven with the game's story, but unfortunately, it doesn't always work. At the very least, the individual story quests are stronger than ever. The game's main missions are all extremely fun, featuring unique locations and some of the best characters in the series' long history.
Listing and describing all of the tweaks that Bethesda has made to the Fallout formula would be impossible - make no mistake, Fallout 4 plays very different from its predecessor. That being said, the overall structure remains the same: players explore a massive world full of characters and quests, all while building up their character's unique skills and weaponry. It's a fantastic system, and it's just as addictive as it ever was - and the changes that Bethesda have made only add to the experience.
The S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system, Perks and leveling up have all been completely reworked, while conversation trees introduce better, more believable characters and interactions into the world. Combat is smoother and easier-to-use than ever before, and modding gear such as armor and weapons brings a new level of customization to the franchise. Even building and maintaining a small settlement - a new feature that could have felt completely out-of-place from the rest of the game - feels like an integral part of the Fallout sandbox.
Granted, not all of the new systems are perfect, and some of the new mechanics are a bit too convoluted for their own good, but any minor missteps that Bethesda has made are easy to overlook when the rest of the overall experience is so much fun to play. All in all, Fallout 4 is easily the most playable and accessible game in the series' history - if not Bethesda's entire library.
Then again, Fallout 4 is still rather clunky in some ways. As with all of Bethesda's games, Fallout 4 has more than its fair share of glitches: objects will clip through the environment, the camera will lock up, enemies and NPCs can get stuck, the menus may stop working and the controls may stop responding. Thankfully, the wide variety of glitches never really hinder the game in any meaningful way. Truth be told, Fallout 4 did crash during our review, and a glitched conversation forced an in-game reset - but two occurrences over the course of 30+ hours isn't going to ruin the game.
Sadly, Fallout 4′s performance issues don't stop at the glitches: the game's frame rate tends to drop rather frequently, especially in the middle of combat. As with most games released on the platform, PC players will have different experiences based on their hardware - however, frame rate drops were relatively common on both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions.
From a technical standpoint, Fallout 4 doesn't seem to push the envelope all that much either. Compared to other recent releases, the game's graphics are relatively tame - there are some great lighting and particle effects to be found, but a lot of the textures are a bit muddy and most of the character models are relatively simple.
All that may sound like a deal-breaker...but, to be perfectly honest, none of Fallout 4′s graphical shortcomings actually matter in the long run.
Fallout 4 is, without a doubt, a work of art. Everything about the game's art design - the characters, the enemies, the wildlife, the environments - all of it looks fantastic. The game creates atmosphere like nothing else on the market today: the game can go from somewhat peaceful to chaotic to horrifying in the span of a few minutes. Even the returning elements from the rest of the franchise have received a brand-new coat of paint.
The same praise can be given to the sound design as well: everything from the voice acting to the ambient tracks to the sound effects to the licensed music works beautifully within Fallout 4's post-apocalyptic world. On top of all that, the vast majority of the game takes place in a huge, seamless open world. True, there are towns and locations that are behind loading screens, but for the most part, players won't have to worry about obnoxious pauses interrupting the exploration.
Fallout 4 doesn't necessarily sound all that impressive on paper, especially from a technical standpoint...but looking at tech specs doesn't come close to doing the game justice. Watching a gameplay clip or looking at screenshots can't compare to actually walking through Fallout 4's massive world - the game has to be played to fully appreciate what Bethesda has created. Yes, it's a shame that glitches and performance issues are so common, but again, they don't really matter all that much in the long run.
Is Fallout 4 a perfect game? To put it bluntly, no - it suffers from numerous technical issues and doesn't do much to revolutionize the formula that Bethesda has been tweaking for more than a decade.
...but that doesn't matter.
Fallout 4 is an absolute beast of a game, and a true work of art. Bethesda has created one of the best RPG experiences in recent memory (again), and the game is arguably the best in the entire franchise. Fallout 4 is on an entirely different level than most other games on the market - any imperfections are quickly forgotten when you're taking out a tribe of Raiders with a handheld nuclear missile or picking the pockets of an irradiated zombie.
If you're checking out the series for the first time, or a weathered traveler of the wastes, here's some advice: go out and buy Fallout 4. You won't be disappointed.