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A 30-Hour Impression of Fallout 4

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Fallout. Fallout never changes. From the below than your average AAA game graphics, to the janky-ness of its game engine filling the beautiful world with bugs and glitches galore, Bethesda’s latest work, 4 years since Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has been released to the masses (12 million copies have been shipped, and broke the Steam record for most concurrent players playing for a non-Valve game). But the same problems still arise. For passionate fans of the franchise, or any Bethesda works of open world RPG, this is have become the norm.

After getting roughly 30 hours of play, here’s some impressions of what HAS changed that makes Fallout 4 a totally different experience compared to its predecessors.

No major spoilers. You have my word.

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Aim Down Sights is now a viable strategy

A More Competent Shooter, A Less Compelling RPG

This is a bold statement to start with, and this can mean both bad or good, depending how you play Bethesda’s RPGs. Gunplay has seen a dramatic improvement, spotting new animations, like the gun wobbling slightly when moving, and lowered when faced to a wall. It looks the part, but the shooting aspect may feel lacking compared to more competent shooters today, that is many. But consider this a big upgrade from Fallout 3 and New Vegas as it is now more feasible to ignore V.A.T.S. (which now slows down time instead of stopping it) and use ADS (aim down sights) to get headshots.

However, the focus on making it a better shooter has compromised some elements of its old-school RPG vibe. Some quests are designed so that you directly engage in combat. Previous games allow more leeway on how to approach a quest, but right from the start you are thrown into a situation where you must fight, as to put your mindset to play this game more like a shooter.

A PC Gamer article about playing the game with only Charisma and Luck, and trying to avoid combat proved to be a struggle, so pacifist runs will be challenging, if not impossible to do now.

Items you usually encounter after long hours of play like energy weapons, big guns, and power armour are introduced very early on this time around. There are not hard to earn like they usually do, but what you get early on is just a taste of the more exotic items.

Some enemies only pop out and reveal themselves when you are close though. To some it may feel like random battles. There’s also Legendary enemies. Think Badass enemies in Borderlands, or just tougher enemies that have a second health bar. They will drop rare items with unique properties.

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All the Vault Boy icons now have quirky animations

No More Skill Points, Stats Tied to Perks Directly

As stated, this is one of the more interesting changes. By tying perks directly to your S.P.E.C.I.A.L., it made the game emphasised more on it. My past Fallout experiences have made me care about S.P.E.C.I.A.L. only on character creation, as most of the game only involves using the skill points for most actions, like skill checks in conversations, and increasing the effectiveness of weapons.

Now that skill points are out, the first level of perks can be unlocked if you have enough points invested. Say, if you rollout with a Luck 10 character, the level 10 Luck perk can be unlocked on the get go. Several ranks of each perk (some may have none, some 2, some can have 5, etc.) have level requirements, like any normal perk. Several favourites make a return, like canabalism, while others are rolled into other perks as a next rank for it.

Magazines that used to be tied to skill points, have also changed, now providing a range of different benefits.

This change also affects items. You don’t have a pre-requisite to wield any weapon or to wear any clothes. Clothes can be either give damage protection or stat boosts. But these boosts won’t affect the unlocking of perks though, this just boost the stat, and give you the passive abilities, like more carry weight for Strength.

Skill points in 3 and New Vegas isn’t as interestingly implemented as the classic Fallouts were. For instance, Science and Lockpicking has no benefit of spending just 1 or 2 points per level up, as their main usage, hacking terminals, and lockpicking, are all gated at skill level 50,75, and 100 respectively, aside from unlocking perks. To see them removed completely is bold move, as despite its faults, it ties a lot with other systems too, like the skill check for more conversation options, and pre-requisites for perks.

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My guy is expressing the same disdain I have with the new conversation system

The Acting, Companions, and the New Conversation System

Bethesda always used the old school pick-a-line-out-of-the-many-choices style of conversation system. This time around, they took inspiration from Bioware and made their own take of a dialogue wheel.

Only 4 options at a time, all written vaguely.

My gripe with this change is how limiting conversation feels. There’s no extra options for skill checks and even perk checks. The only way your stats can influence conversation is via the Charisma stat.

Basically there’s always an inquisitive route (top selection), a sarcastic remark (left), positive or agreeing (down) and aggressive or negative (right). But it’s not always like that. Sure, the idea is to make conversations flow like real conversations, instead of asking a set of questions like it is a questionaire. Plus, they invested on having the playable character fully voiced now, which is done well, but nothing noteworthy.

But the good side on this change to Bioware’s style is companions sometimes make remarks and join in your conversation as well. There’s no consequence of their response though, but a neat touch.

Companions this time are now being fleshed out even more.

Replacing karma and faction respect is companion approval. Certain actions you do will have their approval (or disapproval). The best part about this is it’s not just “be good” or “be bad”. Companions are well written and have nuance. One in particular likes you lockpicking (the truth shouldn’t be hidden, it’s worth going against the law) but don’t like you haggling (spreading the truth is not about the money).

This is not something to be just remembered, because these companions express their characters through dialogue with you, and sometimes with other people. Hang around long enough without doing anything and your companions would go chatting up with the NPCs around there.

There’s also good moments too when the characters talk to each other with full-on animations, but most of my experience with this was hampered with bugs, characters talking way early before the other stops, subtitle not displaying correctly, and such. Voice acting has improved in quality (some even has Bostonian accents), but the lip-syncing is something to loathe about.

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Craft to your hearts content!

Looting and Crafting

If you were a fan of how Skyrim has made crafting more interesting, this is on a whole new level of depth. Weapons and armour can now be modded (but not repaired) to enhance or change its effective. It is deep enough to give room to plenty of customisation.

But Bethesda is really paying attention to the modders, who had figured to make customisable buildings (which makes sense on why the Hearthstone DLC for Skyrim is all about building a home). Now you can build buildings and furnitures in selected settlements. Its depth is comparable to Minecraft, but the clunky UI is going to be something to be getting used to.

This is entirely optional, but is deep enough to be its own little game. The settlements do tie in to a specific questline though, but the quests aren’t that interesting. If mobile games Fallout Shelter and the popular Clash of Clans are your dig, then this is definitely worth your time to get into.

Yes, there are frequent attacks of the settlements, so you can play it as a tower defence game.

Which leads to looting. All those junk items that have no purpose but to sell for caps, or ammo for a certain weapon, are now very precious. Each junk item consists of a combination of parts used to make all the mods and buildings. Your looting strategy may change from selling some junk for caps or just ignore them completely to carrying as much junk as you can, especially those with rare parts you are searching for.

And all the extra armour and weapons you picked up for repair purposes? Since that isn’t a problem any more, you can give it to the settlers for more defensive firepower.

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A screenshot on how the Pip-Boy companion app works. Just like the in-game Pip-Boy

What Else?

Th Pip-Boy companion app works well as intended, even without the Collector’s Edition Pip-Boy. Give it a go.

Aside from that, most of the other elements of Fallout 4 still carries the legacy of past Bethesda games. So expect bugs and glitches (especially when two or more characters are interacting with you), performance hiccups (especially in the urban areas), and the below average quality graphics, for a AAA game in 2015.

Despite the big changes, the main spectacle of exploring a huge open-world and discover interesting things are still in tact. The huge changes, for better or worse, make Fallout 4 a different enough experience from any previous entries.

If you don’t like the series’ technical problems and terrible graphics, you can safely move along and skip this. You will be just as frustrated as before. Looking for another open world RPG? Try out The Witcher 3. I heard it’s great. Looks better, too.

For Fallout fans and fans of Bethesda games, this is the game we have been waiting for. Approach it in the right way, and surely 30 hours of playtime will roll ever so quickly.

I stopped writing for a week because of Fallout 4. It’s that fun for me, despite its glaring flaws.

[This article originally appeared on the author’s personal site, meckronos.wordpress.com]