Fallout 4 – a half-review

I’ve pretty much been living in a cave the last month due to Fallout 4, and I think I’m “done” with the game for now, despite not “finishing” it per se.

I don’t have a strong history with the series. I think I played the original Fallout for like 15 minutes, got stuck somehow and never went back. And I don’t have a strong affinity for Bethesda titles – I played Skyrim for perhaps 5-10 hours and moved on because I found the first-person melee combat to be wholly unsatisfying (personal opinion).

If anything, I got into Fallout 4 thanks to some really strong word-of-mouth. The Chinese gaming site g-cores.com (which I can’t sing enough praise about) produced a series of podcasts that deep dive into the Fallout universe, and I was instantly hooked. It wasn’t just the content that gripped me – it was also the sheer enthusiasm in the podcasters’ voices as they discussed one of their favorite games. That right there is the power of speaking the player’s language.

I played the game on the PS4, and generally speaking I enjoyed my time spent. Bethesda could certainly upgrade their systems onboarding (I had to google a lot of “how do I…”) and the overall UX, because it is a pain to navigate the pip-boy menus and breaks the immersion, but that problem has been well analyzed by various gaming sites so I won’t dwell on it too much.

Then of course there’s the various bugs and the perceived lack of “polish”. It certainly is a by-product of the way the studio chose to work (e.g. it wants to keep the studio small for culture reasons but it tackles big open-world projects), but to say it’s not polished is over-simplifying: to paraphrase a co-worker’s comments, Fallout 4 has a lot of polish where it chooses to (for example: in the terminals scattered around each location, there usually are tons of emails and other details you can dig into that will portray an interesting story, and serve to remind you of the pre-apocalypse world that had flourished). 1

What I felt Fallout 4 did really well is the mini-reward loops that keep the player busy. The big plot is pretty thin (and I found all the faction endings to be pretty unsatisfactory, which is why I didn’t go for an ending), but the game excels at giving you things to do as you are wandering the wasteland. It’s not uncommon for you to start off wanting to pursue a quest somewhere, path across a location or two that houses a few other quests you have saved up (or just have some raiders stationed and you know there’s some loot around), and end up spending a couple of hours cleaning up these locations. And this free exploration feels satisfying partly because the experience needed to level up scales fairly linearly 2 so it often feels like the next level is always just around the corner, and the perks system is deep enough (and offers enough variety of play-styles) that you do care about these extra points earned.

  1. It has to be said though, The Witcher 3 is certainly showing every other game up this year, in terms of delivering on a big open-world and a really high level of polish.
  2. Each level requires 75 more XP than the previous level required, e.g. level 1 is 200, level 2 is 275, etc.

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