"War never changes" has been the mantra of the modern Fallout games, and obviously it carries onto Fallout 4. The latest title from Bethesda Game Studios sets a new story in the New England Wasteland, aka The Commonwealth, and for veterans of the series, most of the gameplay is similar to past Fallout titles, at least on the surface. However, what separates Fallout 4 from its predecessors is the vast improvements in its details, from crafting items to maintaining settlements throughout the area. Most of these are an optional part of the game, but neglecting them would mean missing out on what makes Fallout 4 one of the most enjoyable games to date.
Fresh Out Of The Vault
A portion of the game's beginning was revealed at E3, showing life before the drop of nuclear bombs. It's here where you will likely spend your first hour of gameplay, mainly due to character creation. After a few minutes of playing through the story, you finally get your first glimpse of the Commonwealth Wasteland.
Unlike the green and orange color palettes that dominated the landscapes of Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, respectively, the world of Fallout 4 is a mixture of colors. The sky is a pleasant shade of blue, and the bright, yellow-like rays of the sun peek through the tall trees as you walk through forested areas. Cars riddled throughout the area, as well as a few decrepit homes, still have a hint of their bright, original colors hidden under the layers of rust and mold. In short, the Commonwealth has the usual traits of a city after the devastation of nuclear fallout, but at the same time the crumbling, decaying environment is beautiful in its own right.
Another area of improvement is in the terrifying mutations that live underground, in crumbling structures, or that simply wander from victim to victim. Some of these creatures are staples in the series, like the miniscule Radroach or the terrifying Deathclaw, but there are some new entries as well.
The monsters that do make a return all look more menacing and terrifying compared to their Fallout 3 models, thanks to new graphics technology. Mirelurks were redesigned and look more like large-helmeted figures bathed in the green ooze of seaweed; mole rats look larger, and their large, intimidating teeth make the weak creature slightly scarier; and the Deathclaw, which we've seen many times in trailers, towers over you, looking less like the skinny, deformed being in past games to a full-fledged monster that could fit the description of a demonic figure.
Fallout 4 isn't exactly a horror-based game, but these mutations are only a taste of the terrors that fill the unknown terrain, giving the Wasteland an atmosphere of both wonder and intimidation.
As always, various factions are vying for their slice of the pie in the area. This ranges from the local and dwindling militia (called the Minutemen), the highly-skilled Gunner mercenaries, and the residents of Diamond City, which is a small conglomerate of houses that fill the interior of Fenway Park. In true RPG style, you'll encounter each group at some point in your adventures, adding to the long-list of quests, and enriching the lore of Boston's various inhabitants.
Exploring, Shooting, Crafting, And Questing
If you're a Fallout veteran, it's very easy to fall back into the tactics that helped you survive the D.C. and Las Vegas Wastelands, but doing the same in Fallout 4 means that you're missing out on some extraordinary features that are guaranteed to leach a significant portion of your game time.
Crafting was one of the highlighted segments during E3, and after many hours of gameplay, I'm convinced it's the most impressive feature of the game, because it gives purpose to every single piece of junk lying on a street or stuck inside of a half-destroyed desk.
In terms of weapons and armor, you can find the basic variations of both groups all over the place, but if you want better performance on both offense and defense, modifications are a must, and there are plenty of options available. Armor can include extra plating for defense or some form of "pockets" to increase your weight limit, or how many items you can carry at one time. Weapons can have increased damage, a new stock to lessen the recoil, or a better scope to scout enemies from afar. There's a long list of modifications on both ends of the spectrum, which offers some degree of uniqueness with each build.
However, each improvement comes with a price of materials. You might need to gather steel, screws, adhesives, and even small traces of nuclear material for the modification. Here's where the fun starts, because the game makes the process easier by tagging the needed items with a magnifying glass icon next to its name.
As you explore buildings, bunkers, and nests, these items might litter the once-habitable areas. Coffee mugs and toilets are broken down into ceramics; alarm clocks are scavenged for their screws; and Wonderglue and duct tape are both used for their adhesive properties. Sooner or later, you find yourself bogged down in inventory, not because of extra weapons or unique items, but because of the amount of junk you find -- but it's all integral to the creation of these modifications.
With all the crafting mechanics in place, weapons no longer have to be repaired. This means you don't have to pick up duplicates of the same weapon. If you do, they can be scrapped down to its bare materials to craft or even repair armor parts, most notably, your Power Armor builds.
The junk is also used to improve your settlements. These various areas are home to allies, and you can improve their lifestyle through construction. A long list of parts including wood, steel, and copper can be mixed to create a small generator that powers a water purifier -- another item that can be crafted.
In certain settlements, you can even use the same materials to build yourself a new home out of wood or steel as well as the extra amenities such as crafting areas, a bed, and an automated defense system to instantly take out would-be attackers. Thanks to the large amount of materials that eventually pile up, it's very easy to start a project, yet you'll find yourself, like me, spending a lot of time building the post-apocalyptic house of your dreams.
At some point, all of these modified materials have to be tested in the field through quests or simply wandering the wasteland. For guns, you can finally properly aim down the sights in first-person. Even if the gun has a measly sight, it's good to know that you're not relying on the in-game crosshairs to make an accurate shot. The popular VATS targeting system returns, and for the most part, it's the same mechanic as before.
However, there are two new changes: The target moves, but in slow motion, which means the percentage of hitting a certain body part might change over time, and you also have to fill up a meter before executing a critical shot. The additions don't necessarily detract from the experience, but being able to take a critical shot on command is handy, especially with tougher enemies.
At some point, you will inevitably get injured. In the past, injury to certain parts of your body such as the eyes or legs meant a temporary decrease in movement or accuracy. It still occurs in Fallout 4, but you won't have to apply Stimpaks in the damaged limb, like in previous games. Instead, you just inject yourself with a few doses, and you're back to normal.
Radiation also works differently this time, with each rad point taking up a portion of your overall health. However, taking RadAway to remove the radiation can restore those lost health points. It's a good way of keeping the player grounded in the game's nuclear fallout background instead of just focusing on maintaining their full health. Later on, an unchecked rise in radiation exposure could mean a quick death with the reduced health, making health an even more important priority.
We'll See You Later
Bethesda's worlds, be it in Fallout or The Elder Scrolls series, have a tendency to be not only large, but also include many locations and quests to keep you addicted for months, and Fallout 4 is no exception. The world of post-apocalyptic Boston is both unique in its setting and familiar for its method of quests and exploration. Its most significant improvement comes in the form of its crafting mechanics, bringing about another layer of customization for the player.
With its changes and familiarity, Fallout 4 isn't exactly Bethesda's way of reinventing its RPG wheel. Instead, it's the result of years of testing earlier versions of the included features in past games. Fans adored both Fallout 3 and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim when they were released, and both games are still being widely played to this day. By picking various elements from both games, Bethesda was able to create a game that's worthy of the Fallout name.
Players joke that games of this magnitude require many days and months of gameplay to get the most out of it. Their eyes are glued to the screen to soak in every inch of detail that it has to offer. That time has come again. Welcome back to the wasteland.
(Ed. note: Our Tom's Hardware Community bought three copies of Fallout 4 and are giving them away. Head here to try and snag one.)
Rexly Peñaflorida II is a Contributor at Tom’s Hardware. He writes news on tech and hardware, but mostly focuses on gaming news. As a Chicagoan, he believes that deep dish pizza is real pizza and ketchup should never be on hot dogs. Ever. Also, Portillo’s is amazing.