Fallout 4 Review: Bethesda’s Post-Apocalyptic Opus

Fallout 4 canine companion Dogmeat

Fallout 4 Review: Bethesda’s Post-Apocalyptic Opus

Bethesda’s reveal that next-gen consoles are getting an updated version of Fallout 4 makes it worthwhile for a revisit. It wasn’t until recently that I gave the game a fair shake. Since its inclusion in the PS Plus Collection for PS5 owners, I’ve picked the game up bit by bit. Before I knew it, I had invested over 100 hours in The Commonwealth.

Fallout 4 eschews much of what fans have come to expect from the franchise in favor of a streamlined experience. The end result is one of the most polished and rich open-worlds Bethesda have ever created.

As someone who continues to invest in Bethesda’s open-world formula since Oblivion, Fallout 4 feels like a refined experience. Truthfully, some might decry the game’s streamlining since it comes at the loss of several RPG elements.

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Fallout 4 main character and dog looking at skyline
The post-apocalypse never looked so good.

To classify Fallout 4 as a simple looter-shooter would be a misnomer. The deep RPG systems and sequence breaking from Fallout: New Vegas is gone. In its place is a supremely addictive base-building mechanic. In the years since Fallout 4‘s initial release, survial games have had a bit of a heydey. It’s hard not to see some of that newfound popularity having its genesis in Fallout 4.

Crafting a Hero for the Endtimes

Fallout 4 character creation
One of the best character creation suites in gaming.

Fallout 4, much like Fallout 3 before it, begins with a faceless hero in first-person POV. Not long after a brief opening, players get their hands on an insanely robust character creation tool. Cleverly, Bethesda supplants a generic character creator with a heartfelt scene in the main character’s home. Whether playing as a male or female character, Fallout 4‘s protagonists are husband and wife. For reasons that become clear after the game’s opening segments, it will be up to one to track down the other. Before that though, it’s time to put your best amatuer plastic surgery to the test in shaping the face and body of your hero.

Whether players want to build out a giga-Chad or a repulsive ogre is completely up to them. The freedom that Fallout 4 allows in its character creation tools is impressive. Nearly every square inch of the main character’s appearance can be manipulated and suited to the player’s preference. While I often just select the default appearance so I can hop right into the game, I went a different direction with Fallout 4. My own personal creation is a character that looks like a cross between Hulk Hogan and Tevor from Grand Theft Auto V. Despite his hysterical appearance, The Commonwealth has its hero.

Fallout 4 Presents a Compelling Mystery

Fallout 4 city at nighttime
At the expense of some freedom, Fallout 4 has a series-peak narrative.

©Screenshot from Fallout 4. – Original

In Fallout 4, players assume the role of either the husband or wife of a small, three-person family on the eve of the apocalypse. Once the game’s opening moments are over, you emerge as the sole survivor of Vault 111. While the player and their family enter the Vault in time to avoid destruction, you awake to both of their pods being empty. What starts as a simple search for missing partners and children eventually snowballs into the complex interwoven narrative the series is known for.

Similar to Fallout: New Vegas, several factions are vying for control of the area known as The Commonwealth. A loose conglomeration of the city of Boston and surrounding areas, The Commonwealth presents a warped vision of the New England region of the United States. How players choose to help or hinder the various factions ultimately helps shape the game’s main narrative.

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As is typically the case with titles from Bethesda, some of the best moments in the game come from the side quests. NPCs and ancillary characters have depth that isn’t present in some games’ main characters. These side quests are a welcome distraction from the game’s main narrative, adding context to every choice made.

Streamlining the Fallout Experience, With Some Caveats

Fallout 4 iconic pip boy
Is it even Fallout without the Pip-Boy?

Still, the shepherding of players through scripted moments comes at a cost. Fallout 4 does strip away some of the freedom from Fallout: New Vegas in favor of crafting a refined experience. Not only are players incapable of skipping the larger narrative beats, sequence jumping is out of the question. Keep in mind this series is built on the hopes that crafty players will find ways to “break” the game. The lack of options for creativity in how to approach the main story is disappointing.

The shock of Fallout 4‘s early moments comes twofold. First, players are given access to a jaw-dropping suite of tools for crafting their hero. Immediately after, it’ll be time to alott skill points. Only, there are no skill points. Fallout 4 controversially does away with the series’ skill points and traits in favor of Perks. Yes, the Perk system from Fallout 3 makes a return here, only now it is the defining force behind character progression. On the one hand, having to think critically about where to spend points from each level gained adds some tension to what is otherwise a logistical choice. On the other, the eschewing of skill points and traits gives players much less control over their characters. I can’t help but feel there should be a middle ground.

Similarly, the tighter narrative focus and new efficiency to character progression result in the game’s pacing struggling. Exploring The Commonwealth is arguably the best part of Fallout 4, but there are times players come up against progression blocks. These blocks are impassible without furthering the main narrative, meaning it’s impossible to become overpowered early on. This comes as a contrast to my Fallout 3 experience, where I was a god of the wasteland before I ever set foot in D.C..

The Best the Apocalypse Has Ever Looked

Fallout 4 environment
Fallout 4 brings players geographic diversity, and looks great doing it.

©Screenshot from Fallout 4. – Original

Exploring Fallout 4‘s wasteland is a treat. Gone are the muddy greens and browns of both Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas. In their place are some of the best looking environments that Bethesda has crafted. Truly, Fallout 4‘s Commonwealth is one of the most diverse and beautiful sandboxes available in a Bethesda game. It also helps that tucked into much of the world are opportunities to get lost. Or, if you feel up to spending several hours on it, crafting a base.

The base-building component in Fallout 4 initially seems very daunting. Full disclosure, I am not typically the kind of person that plays survival or crafting games. But, the game gave me a quest for building a base, so I figure “why not?”. Several failed attempts and a few hours later, I was starting to see something come together. Venturing around the wasteland serves as a reminder that players have a Home Sweet Home to call their own. Next thing you know, you’re spending just as much time refining your fortress as you are tearing it up in The Commonwealth.

Fallout 3 and New Vegas were both known to have tons of items for players to pick up. The same can be said of Fallout 4, only now you have even more of a reason to pick up every item you come across. Whether it can be used in crafting or base building, almost every inventory item has utility. A lot of games have you scavenge, but Fallout 4 gives reason to become a scavenger.

Still Crazy After All These Years

Bethesda’s accomplishments as a studio are still impressive in today’s gaming landscape. Sure, they’ve had some missteps, after all — who hasn’t? While Fallout 76‘s live-service pivot still struggles to find a solid community of players, several fans have multiple 1000+ hour playthroughs of Fallout 4. There is an intangible quality to Bethesda’s open-worlds that makes them perfect for getting lost in. With Fallout 4 the last of them created by the developer, it’s safe to say fans are going to be ready for Starfield and Elder Scrolls VI.

As a way to perhaps tide fans over for Starfield‘s release this September, Bethesda’s next-gen port of Fallout 4 might be the perfect game to play as a reminder of what drew us into these worlds to begin with. Sure, it lacks some of the freedom of Fallout 3 and New Vegas, but it makes up for it in its crafting and graphical fidelity.

Rating: 8 out of 10

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