It took two years, but the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 finally have their first generation-defining release in Bethesda Game Studios’ “Fallout 4.”
“Fallout 4” brings everything we loved about what I consider to be the golden age of single-player role-playing games – that decade or so between “Final Fantasy X” and “Mass Effect 3” that saw the rise of the “Elder Scrolls,” “Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic,” “BioShock,” “Dragon Age” and “Witcher” franchises. Every year between 2001 and 2012 brought us a massive blockbuster of an RPG with a rich storyline, beautiful imagery and compelling gameplay.
The popularity and profitability of Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games crippled this. “Elder Scrolls” and “Knights of the Old Republic” dropped out completely. “Final Fantasy” shifted its primary focus. Stellar “Dragon Age” and “Witcher” releases in the last year came close to capturing that old magic, but “Fallout 4” edged them out.
The post-apocalyptic titan edges out its remaining competitors with a hard-hitting beginning.
Players have to download a massive file in order to fire up the game, but Bethesda Game Studios ensures the time isn’t wasted by showing hilarious but informative videos explaining what each character attribute effects – endurance gives you more health, strength allows you to hit harder and carry more, and so on.
The opening cinematic then punches players in the jaw with the best opening line in gaming: “War – War never changes.” Fans of the “Fallout” franchise or its spiritual predecessor “Wasteland” are instantly locked in and focused. We know the five-year wait is over.
The story begins with a sunny, picturesque 1950s scene that we know will be shattered. Within 15 minutes, the main conflict is revealed. “Dragon Age: Inquisition” and “The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt” made us wait for a purpose, but the objective is immediately clear in “Fallout 4.”
I emerged from the sterile, familiar vaults to find a bleak but beautiful world. The title’s true genius is the imagining of what Massachusetts would look like 300 years after nuclear war. This plot design allowed developers to mix WWII-era weapons, buildings, music and characters with futuristic elements. The resulting cocktail of nostalgia and science fiction creates a distinct feel perhaps only mirrored by “BioShock: Infinite” – one of the finest games ever made.
The first real settlement I encountered floored me. Diamond City is an unbelievably creative vision of what Boston’s Fenway Park would look like as a fortified town. The clubhouse is now a hotel. The Green Monster – Fenway’s massive left field fence – is part of the city’s wall. Diamond City’s mayor resides in a sky box.
This experience continued throughout my travels in The Commonwealth – the game’s version of Massachusetts. This setting also allowed the creators to place with the rich American history – specifically many great Revolutionary War events and locations – in addition to its weird sci-fi 50s era feel.
A beautiful world needs a beautiful cast of characters to populate it, and “Fallout 4” delivers. Each of my many options for a traveling companion has unique personalities that lend to diverse interactions throughout the lengthy game. There are plenty of mutants, creatures, good guys, evildoers and robots to vaporize along the way. The bosses of the major quests could benefit from a bit more originality, but the game is almost never stale.
All the other requisite features are present and accounted for.
The gunplay is smooth and textbook “Fallout.” The dozens of destructive options and modifications don’t quite reach the “Borderlands” level of over-the-top gunsmithing, but there’s enough here to vary your killing options. The progression system is a little overwhelming at first, but it comes together nicely and makes sense across the board. The soundtrack is fantastic, and the voice acting – though a little stale during the title’s dramatic opening – rounds out by the end of the campaign.
Its loading times are a little long, but that’s not a big deal. I use this time to remember that I have a life. I need to eat, drink and bathe. I have text messages to respond to. I even occasionally glance out the window and remember that a horrible real world exists and I am a part of it, but I don’t recommend that.
The only real knock against “Fallout 4” is the graphics. It clearly falls short to titles like “The Witcher 3” and the last two “Call of Duty” games. In this case, I’ll take the overwhelming substance over lifelike visuals. The graphics aren’t bad in their own right, and the wonderful art direction and style overshadow any specific deformities – like the main character’s hideous baby.
A few minor flaws aren’t enough to downgrade its pristine status. “Fallout 4” is the closest stab at perfection the gaming world has seen in at least the last two years. It is a must-own practically every mature gamer in existence.
Video Game Review
▪ Rated M for mature for blood and gore, intense violence, strong language and drug use
▪ Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
▪ Publisher: Bethesda
▪ Out now for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC