The Fallout That Isn't Fallout

A Review of Fallout 4 & Far Harbor

  • Jun 11, 2018
  • by TwelvePointFive

A Quick Summary
Right off the bat, I’m going to admit it: I love Fallout 4. Despite all its problems, the game was still enjoyable and worth the purchase now that the price has gone down. That being said, I’m no expert on Fallout games or Fallout 4 specifically. I own Fallout 1 and 3, played some of New Vegas, but did not complete any of them. I’m also one of the 10 people who have not played Skyrim, so Fallout really is my only view of the Bethesda style. I only have about 150 hours on Fallout 4 as of this recording, and in that I’ve done 2 playthroughs while currently working on a third. However I’ve really only scratched the surface of what this game offers; my first two goes at the game probably barely explored half of the world combined. This review will also cover the Far Harbor DLC, mainly because it has a lot of interesting parallels to the base game (and also because I haven’t completed Nuka-World and don’t care as much about the other DLC).

All of this footage you’re seeing is from my third runthrough of the game. With that said, a spoiler warning before we get into the rest of this video: I will likely be spoiling major plot points and endings of the base game and the Far Harbor DLC. You’ve been warned.

The Fallout Game That Isn’t a Fallout Game
While I said earlier that I loved the game, just because I love it doesn’t mean it’s a good game. It’s really more of a guilty pleasure to be honest. What I’m about to say is something I hear a lot, but it rings true: regardless of how good Fallout 4 is as a game, it just isn’t a good Fallout game. So much of the RPG content in 4 has been stripped down and streamlined when compared to all of the previous games in the series. Skill checks are virtually nonexistent in 4. I’ve only seen two and I’m convinced they were added by mistake or by some rebellious developer who hated the new system. The perks system too has been scrapped, and all of the actual progression and build choices are in this one perks chart. Since you can also just bump up your SPECIAL stats as you level up in the game, your starting stats just don’t matter at all. If anything, they just make you start a little closer to the build you’re looking for.

Roleplaying and making character builds is so difficult in this game because your stats just don’t matter as much. Unless you force yourself not to upgrade certain perks and purposely handicap yourself, by the time you reach the higher levels every character will just be a generalist powerhouse no matter how you started.

Charisma checks are still around but have been simplified to yellow, orange, or red colored dialogue, with the more intense colors being harder checks. There’s no clear cutoff for when you’re guaranteed success, so I’ve missed basic checks with extremely high charisma and hit red checks with low charisma. Higher Charisma really only makes the chance that you succeed higher. This leads to another problem where people (including myself, no shame here) just quicksave before attempting a check and then load it and try again if it fails. Whereas in previous games, if you didn’t have the required speech you just couldn’t succeed, and that was that.

And of course, there’s the infamous dialogue system. I played with the vanilla system in my first playthrough and then got a mod on my second run that expanded out the dialogue like it is in this footage. You will always have 4 or less options to answer a request, and they all boil down to the same thing: Yes, Yes but rudely, Yes but sarcastically, and a vague question that doesn’t reveal anything but still forces you to say yes. There’s no choice, no alternative path. I understand that since the protagonist is now voiced, the options would become more limited or else the game would be super expensive and time consuming to develop.

Bethesda was trying to do something interesting by giving the protagonist a voice, and I really appreciate it. Sadly, the voice acting in this game, and not just by the protagonist, is less than superb. There’s really not much emotion or character behind their voices. In fact, giving the protagonist a voice further takes away from the ability to roleplay in this game by forcing you to sound like a pre-scripted character instead of giving a character you create your own voice and emotion.

As much as I’ve given the RPG elements of Fallout 4 crap, I really didn’t mind them that much. 4 was my first venture into the Fallout world, and I was never a huge roleplayer in general. However after going back and experiencing how rich the RPG elements are in the previous games, I totally understand why so many people are disappointed by this system and it’s a shame Bethesda have taken so many steps back with this game.

Post-Apocalyptic Minecraft
This section will be very quick because I haven’t touched the settlement system at all in any of my playthroughs besides what is required for quests, and I don’t have plans to even for the sake of a review. I have watched plenty of people make things and even tried a bit on my own, and based on that I think it’s a great addition. It adds an entire dimension to the game and lots and lots of time to spend building and decorating. I also appreciate that Bethesda made it an entirely optional part of the game, and people (like me) who don’t want to use it don’t have to in order to complete the rest of the game.

The modification system for weapons and armor is great and I’d consider it essential if you don’t want to be super underpowered. You can build a weapon or piece of armor for pretty much any purpose or character build, plus the reliance on scrap for modifications makes dungeons and exploration more interesting when you have something specific in mind that you need to find.

In Need of a Mechanical Tune-Up
The most visible part of a game are, well, its graphics. Bethesda’s engine is old, and it shows. I don’t find it a huge issue personally, and I think the game looks pretty enough. But when you compare it to some of the other games that came out in the same year, such as Bloodborne and the Witcher III, and just the standard of games in 2015, Fallout 4 is absolutely unacceptable as a AAA game. The Creation engine the game runs on is from 2011, and even that is based on the Gamebryo engine from 2008. That’s right, Fallout 4 is based on the same engine that powered Fallout 3 and New Vegas, two other games with god awful looks. In fact, the main reason I haven’t finished 3 or New vegas is because I just can’t stand to play with that engine.

However Fallout 4 looks and feels much, MUCH better than those games. Bethesda called in Id Software (the developers of Doom) to develop the gunplay which definitely isn’t the best but still feels smooth, accurate, and comfortable and world better than the previous games. The characters and world do look very pretty from a distance but once you get up close you can see their flaws. Animations look much improved over the clunky ones in prior games, although sometimes they do appear choppy when going from animation to animation. The lip sync with dialogue is pretty bad, and in my opinion is even worse than the lip sync in Fallout 1 and 2 from the 90s.

Also be sure to save often, because there are a lot of bugs. Although it’s become a staple of Bethesda by now to release buggy games, once again this is totally unacceptable for a AAA game released in 2015. The smaller bugs are usually relatively harmless and are occasionally even humorous, but some of the larger ones can even prevent progression entirely. On my first playthrough, for example, I was trying to side with the Institute but was also doing some of the Brotherhood quest tree, but a bug in one of the quests prevented me from continuing down the Institute path. This wasn’t just me screwing up, it was actually a known bug. I ended up having to revert to and older save and losing multiple hours of playtime that included important story progression, and boy was I pissed. On my second playthrough, I hit a snag when trying to talk to Valentine where I couldn’t explain my story so we could track down Kellogg. I ended up having to use console commands to edit the quest progression and force the quest to continue.

NPC AI is also another issue, but it’s more annoying than anything. Often enemies or companions don’t react to other enemies immediately or they’ll just run at you. Combat could definitely be much more improved with an AI system that tries to be strategic in taking you down. On that note, the difficulty settings for the game are just plain bad. In Fallout 4, once you reach a certain point (I’d usually notice it around midgame) things like stimpaks and ammo are no longer problems, and your weapons are strong enough to knock out enemies in a couple hits. That coupled with the crazy high damage resistance of power armor and you become an overpowered and unstoppable force. Although fusion cores are rare in early game, as I progressed I ended up having more cores than I knew what to do with. There are difficulty settings to compensate for all this though. The problem is, all these settings do as you turn them up is make you do less damage, make enemies do more damage, and increase legendary enemy spawn rates. That’s it. No smarter AI or combat systems, not even improved weapons. This easy way out on difficulty makes Easy and Very Easy a joke, Normal starts balanced and quickly gets easier, Hard is ok (it’s my personal favorite for a balance of difficulty and fun) and on Very Hard and Survival enemies basically become bullet sponges while you die from one hit. It’s just not fun and it’s not a good way to implement a difficulty system. The game either becomes ridiculously easy or insanely hard, with Hard sort of being the middle ground.

I don’t know how any of these massive bugs made it into the final release. It’s a shame third party modding projects like the Unofficial Fallout 4 Patch have to exist to fix issues that shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

The mechanics of Fallout 4 are too simple at worst, but they work. It’s still definitely lagging behind the standard for games at this time though. It’s clear that Bethesda is trying to squeeze as much out of this engine as they can, but its age still shows and it seems to be reaching the peak of its abilities.

A Book of Blank Pages
Fallout 4’s storyline is, in a word, awful. Its plot is some of the most dull, shallow, and overused content in gaming. The characters are pretty shallow and one-dimensional. I never felt an emotional attachment to any part of the story or to any character. In fact, I chose to go out and spend 75 hours doing other stuff and saving someone else’s daughter than going to find my own missing son. The writing doesn’t really make this game deserving of being an RPG, it’s more like an open-world questing FPS with the story loosely floating around it. There’s so many conflicts, plot holes, and unexplained things in this writing that I just don’t have time to go over in this video.

By giving the player character a defined background and forcing them down possibly the most linear storyline in an RPG, Bethesda is further killing any roleplaying that was possible. The replayability of the game is also hurt; everything just blends together and nothing really stands out between each character. I’m at the point in my third playthough where I’m just skipping through the dialogue as fast as I can because I know exactly how it will end and that the option I pick doesn’t matter.

NPCs have hardly any depth to them. You can ask a few questions to them and gain a little information, but it’s usually pretty uninteresting. The closest things to fleshed out NPCs are your companions who have more of a motive and past but it’s still nothing I got attached to.

The player character is constantly forced to be a good-moraled and cooperative person and is punished for not doing so. There is never an option in the main story to outright refuse something. Previous Fallout games usually had multiple ways to handle a quest or conflict, but 4 just forces you to cooperate and do what you’re asked to do. The different factions throughout the game are just shallow and cliche. There was so much wasted potential with the faction system; currently though the factions are just uninteresting and unrewarding. Each of the factions seem to progress in the exact same way as one another, just in different skins. Despite there being 4 factions to side with, there's only two endings and which one you get only depends on whether you sided with the Institute or not. Regardless of whether you picked the Railroad, Brotherhood, or Minutemen the ending will always be the exact same. Once again, this just beats down replayability of this game. Fallout New Vegas had multiple totally different endings in its game, and each of which contained sub-endings based on your actions, karma, and reputation. You could be any kind of person with any kind of morals or choices and still have a different ending each time. It’s a shame 4 can’t maintain that same level of quality.

Fallout 4’s questing systems fall into the same shallow hole as the rest of the story. You’re constantly forced to comply or only handle situations one way (or instead face negative affinity with your companions). The game also suffers from a heavy overuse of randomly generated fetch and retrieve quests that are really just there to increase playtime. These quests are everywhere, and usually involve the game picking an area, filling it with enemies, making you kill them all, and return with some item it placed for you to collect. It’s very obviously repetitive and randomly generated yet it’s everywhere in the game, and something you’ll have to do for every faction. While generated quests means that in theory there's infinite to complete, I got very bored of it after the first few rounds. This system on its own isn’t bad at all when used well, but Bethesda relies on it so heavily for increasing playtime that it feels so stale and so lazy.

Best Friends Forever
If there’s one thing that’s great about Fallout 4, especially compared to previous Fallout games, it’s the companion system. There are 13 companions (17 with all the DLC) that can accompany you on your journey. Each companion has their own set of morals, and an affinity percentage that is raised or lowered based on if you do something they like or not. Once you reach maximum affinity with a companion, you receive a special perk. Along the way, some companions will have specific quests relating to their backstory they want you to help solve. This stuff is all really cool, and makes you want to play with every companion so you get all the perks and quests. They all also have unique personalities, voice lines, and reactions to things. I’m pleasantly surprised at how much detail and work bethesda put into these companions. Some would have unique and specific pieces of dialogue for things I would never have thought they would have been programmed to react to. My personal favorite companion is Deacon, his personality and perk were my favorite, but Nick Valentine was a close second.

Mechanically though, companions are a bit flawed. You can point them to go somewhere or fetch something, but their AI is often pretty slow or downright doesn’t work when it should. I also find the command options to be kind of finicky depending on where you’re facing. In combat, companions are not nearly as effective at handling enemies as you are, but they’re definitely better than nothing.

A World of Possibilities
I’ve spent a lot of this review utterly bashing this game, yet I still say I love it. A huge part of this is the game world and art design. Whoever did this stuff deserves a raise. The world of Fallout 4 is massive, full of marked locations and dungeons to explore and clear, plus with plenty of unmarked locations and random encounters to find on occasion. Even underwater in the middle of the ocean there’s sunken trunks and ships to explore. You could easily spend tens of hours exploring the world and still find something new every time. The design team was really able to do a lot with the crappy engine they had to work with. The colors were more vibrant and true to life, unlike the ugly gray/green tinge of Fallout 3 and the brown/orange tinge of New Vegas. The artstyle of the game fits the 50s/60s aesthetic and the political turmoil very well. It’s evident so much time and work was put into making this just like Boston and preserving the feel of the time period. I know this section is short, but I don’t know how else to put it. There’s a reason Bethesda is known for its world design and it really shows in this game.

Better than Boston
My favorite DLC, and the one I’m covering today, is definitely Far Harbor. Let’s ignore the fact, for the sake of this review, that Far Harbor is almost an exact carbon copy of Point Lookout from Fallout 3. Most of Fallout 4’s DLC adds so much to the game that at this point I’d consider them a must-have. The pricing on them originally was pretty egregious, but now you can get the game and all the DLC for $60, and I’ve seen it drop as low as $30 during sales. These DLC don’t just add an hour or two, if you take your time they can add tens of hours. I spent about 40 hours in Far Harbor before I even started to touch the main game’s questline. The map itself is the same standard of quality we saw in the base game, and Bethesda does an amazing job of creating an eerie atmosphere out of the island. There’s also new enemies and new creatures which also fit super well into the theme of the island, plus provide a bit of difficulty that the standard enemies just can’t match.

Now the reason I want to focus on this DLC specifically is because it does so much right that the main game just fell short on. The writing in this game is so much better than the writing of the base game. There’s real plot twists, real emotion and motives behind characters, and real detail and hard work put into it. It’s definitely not perfect, but it makes the primary questline of Fallout 4 look like it was written like a 5th grader (which it already looked like, to be honest). On top of that, this DLC now provides options for handling situations. For example, in one part where you must find information about DiMA, the game gives you three options: break into his terminal, confront him directly, or eavesdrop on his conversations. Choices like these are something that the main game never gets close to providing, and allow players to actually choose how they handle a situation based on their character build or morals.

Far Harbor also attempted some new dungeon/level types that weren’t seen before either. The most notable example is the quest where you have to retrieve DiMA’s memories, which embarks you on an interesting puzzle level. Props to Bethesda for this creative idea, using the same mechanics as the settlement building system, and actually giving it a shot. Personally, I didn’t like it that much. It took way too much time and got boring after a while. I had to take a break and start again multiple times to get through it. I do know a lot of people like it though, and I appreciate Bethesda trying something new. Sadly it just isn’t something I enjoyed.

The endings of Far Harbor are also much better than the base game. Each ending is unique, but also grants you a perk specific only to that ending. Your ability to find or earn certain weapons or armor can also be limited by the faction you side with, making your choices matter even more. Doing tasks for Far Harbor, even if they are fetch and retrieve, are rewarding because they can actually affect the outcome of the DLC. In my first playthrough of it, since I did lots of quests for the Harbor before DiMA’s execution, I was able to convince the residents to execute DiMA but leave Acadia alone. If I hadn’t helped the Harbor, they would have automatically started to attack Acadia and aparing them would never be an option.

Even those fetch and retrieve quests have more background and reasoning to them. The Mariner wants you to collect materials to reinforce the harbor, but it’s because she will die soon of an illness and wants to finish before she dies. Cassie Dalton wants you to clear enemies from locations, but the purpose is to avenge her family who were killed by creatures of the Fog. This DLC is a closer example of what Fallout 4 should’ve been, and I highly recommend it. I’d also strongly suggest bringing Nick Valentine along with you, as he’s intertwined with some of the DLC’s plot and so he will have new dialogue and conversations with some of the characters.

Mods Make the Difference
Part of what makes a game successful, at least in my eyes, is a strong modding community, which Fallout 4 has. So many of the complaints I made in this review could be solved by adding in a mod to fix it, to the point where I’d almost consider mods essential for a good playing experience. I mentioned the Unofficial Fallout 4 Patch, an amazing piece of community work that fixed hundreds of bugs in the main game. The only downfall of this mod is that it’ll require all the DLC. Another cool mod is Full Dialogue Interface, which expands the small dialog options into the full voice line in a way that resembles previous Fallout games (and perfectly shows how shallow the dialog system of the game is). These are just a couple; there are so many mods that increase beauty, gameplay, and quality of life. There’s even large scale mod projects that look amazing, such as http://www.f4nv.com, https://capitalwasteland.com, http://falloutmiami.blogspot.com, and http://www.falloutcascadia.com.

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