There’s a sad beauty to the desolate wastelands of the Fallout games. Despite the world’s drab colour palette, its tales of survival, salvaged settlements and shenanigans are fascinating – from the missions and side quests to the way stories are woven into the world itself, the very fabric of this post-apocalyptic realm is mesmerising to explore. In Fallout 4, this is better than ever.
After a brief stay in pre-apocalypse Boston, you’re frozen by Vault-Tec and awaken hundreds of years later, emerging from Vault 111 with a dead spouse and an abducted child to find. The Commonwealth is a harsh and unforgiving place, but it’s not long before you meet a few friendly faces in Lexington, who are intent on making your old home of Sanctuary Hills a new community.
The first of many settlements, in Sanctuary you’re thrown into the new base-building system. This sees you clear out ruins and build up new homes and infrastructure, planting crops and assigning settlers, as you craft defences and housing out of the junk you find while exploring – what was once vendor trash now can be broken down into resources. It’s a brilliant idea, completely let down by how optional it is, the atrocious interface, and the way Bethesda leaves you to figure it all out for yourself.
It’s a huge shame that such an intriguing new feature is so badly laid out, but thankfully many other systems have been overhauled and improved. The V.A.T.S. auto-targeting system now no longer pauses the action, making combat more immediate, and fits with the much improved shooting controls. Followers you meet can be sent back to specific settlements and will happily hold some loot for you, and certain characters will occasionally provide some insight into the situations you end up in. Looting’s now simpler, there’s a Perk that will give you routes to follow on missions, and many missions now fall under Miscellaneous, clearing up which are the more important tasks.
There are also smart changes to weaponry and armour, with degradation no longer a factor. Instead, there’s an elaborate upgrading system, as you use the scrap you collect to mod weapons and armour, customising them to your tastes and even allowing you to swap around modules you no longer use. Even Legendary items you find can be modded, keeping their special bonuses.
Fallout 4 feels comfortingly familiar for fans, and is relatively welcoming to newcomers, but there are so many predictable problems that tarnish what should be one of the best games of 2015. For a start, the performance on consoles occasionally borders on unacceptable, with huge framerate drops, regular freezes while loading in new overworld sections, and lengthy load times. It wouldn’t be so bad if the game at least looked nicer: there’s no avoiding it, Fallout 4 is not a particularly pretty game, and the amount of crazy glitches and jank dent the enjoyment.
Ultimately, these technical issues can’t undo just how incredible Fallout 4 truly is. It may seem like just more of the same, but there’s no beating that feeling of emerging from a vault and exploring every last spot on the map, and squeezing every last story from this magnificently crafted world.