Impressions: My First 20-Plus Hours With Fallout 4

Fallout 4 is here. Well, officially it launches tomorrow, but I was fortunate enough to get an early copy and have already spent a full week exploring post-apocalyptic Boston, under strict embargo to shut off all my PSN activity and trophy sharing privacy settings and not tell another living soul I was playing the game. That embargo has now lifted, and while I have spent a sizable chunk of time with the game, the world is so huge, so jam-packed full of side quests, collectible gathering, and explorable locations, that I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of the full breadth and scope of the game’s seemingly endless possibilities, certainly not enough to say I can put forth a complete and thorough review of everything the game has to offer. (Though who am I kidding here? The game is a total buy!)

Instead, I would first like to share my initial impressions–good and bad–about various aspects of the Fallout 4 experience, quickly itemized point by point. Hopefully this should give you a pretty good idea of what you’re in for starting tomorrow. We’ll follow up with more Fallout 4 coverage and impressions, so stay tuned!

[Update] Here’s a visual screenshot recap of my early Fallout 4 adventures so far!

The Numbers: Okay, first let me toss some of my personal play stats at you, just to give an idea of how much I’ve seen and done–and further put into perspective how huge and content rich the game is. My current play time sits at 22 hours and 25 minutes (which according to the stat tracker equates to 18 in-game days). I have completed 19 quests (only five of which have been main story quests). I have discovered 82 map locations, only clearing 21 so far (once you rid a particular location of hostiles, it is labeled “Cleared” on the world map). I have recruited 6 different companions. I have killed 154 people, 110 animals, 280 creatures, 2 robots, 22 synths, 39 turrets, and 12 Legendary enemies. I have picked 69 locks and looted 288 chests. I have collected 5 (of 20 I believe) Bobbleheads and 22 comics/magazines. I have cooked 117 food items, and crafted 21 armor/weapon mods. And my character level is up to 18 with just a sliver to go on the EXP bar until I hit level 19. Oh, and for the record, I am playing the PlayStation 4 version.

It’s Totally Fallout: Of course this one’s no big surprise. Fallout 4 is the modern Fallout role-playing shooter experience through and through. You’re dumped into a post-nuclear wasteland with free reign (after a brief introductory chapter for character creation and story setup) to go wherever and kill whomever you want, exploring the massive open-world sandbox entirely at your own pace from a first (or third) person perspective. Despite some feature adjustments and additions, the entire setup, from gameplay to story, will be immediately familiar to anyone with past series experience. Even the hacking and lock-picking mini-games are the same. If you’ve played and enjoyed Fallout 3 and/or New Vegas, I don’t see how you will not love the hell out of Fallout 4.

The Story So Far: The storyline, well… I’m not quite sure what I think yet. The live-action opening cutscene and the early run to and subsequent escape from the vault hooked me in, but after that things sort of slowed down on the storytelling front. Or at least they did for me. But that’s partially my fault, because after the opening I got so distracted by wanting to visit any map location that popped up on my radar that I immediately got way off track from the main quest line. The individual stories behind the miscellaneous side quests haven’t been all that special, but I have encountered a number of really cool events, as well as a few “surprise” moments that really caught me off guard. After about 10 to 15 hours of pretty much random exploring and questing, I’m now getting to the point where the story is starting to develop and consequences are starting to unfold from some of my early actions and choices. Nothing particularly memorable has happened within the context of the narrative yet, but I am beginning to see forward momentum.

Fits Like a Pip-Boy: Slipping back into the Pip-Boy HUD and menu interface, which has been slightly reorganized but is functionally identical to the previous games, is like slipping into a new pair of jeans that feel just as comfy as those old faithful broken-in jeans. So what’s new or different? Well, for one thing you can now track multiple quests (as many as you want in fact) on the world map instead of only one. Weapon selection has been rejiggered a bit from the radial style of the previous games to a system of four hotkeys–one for each D-pad button–with up to three items/weapons mapped to each direction button, which means you can have up to 12 “favorited” weapons ready to cycle through at any given time. I also like the subtle but helpful change to looting. Previously when you went to loot a corpse you clicked on the body and the game paused while a loot menu popped up. In Fallout 4, the loot menu appears in real-time as you hover the cursor over a target, which is helpful for instantly seeing what’s inside containers and corpses without actually having to stop and search one by one. You still have the option to pull open the paused transfer window to examine items before picking them up, but it’s not forced. It’s a small detail that really helps keep the gameplay flow from feeling too disjointed as you stop to loot and resource gather.

Feeling Perky: Fallout 4’s iteration of the Perk system condenses all of the traits and skills and perks of previous games into a single menu–and I really like it! The new Perk Chart is essentially a skill tree presented as an interactive Vault-Tec poster. The top of the chart contains headers for the main S.P.E.C.I.A.L. attributes–Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, and Luck–and the column underneath each attribute contains various perks and skills associated with that attribute. When you level up, you’re awarded one Perk Point to slot anywhere on the chart, to increase a S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stat, learn a new ability, or enhance an existing one. However, the more you upgrade a skill and the further down on the chart you go, the higher the level and corresponding attribute requirements become. It’s streamlined and a lot more visually engaging than the old system, yet every bit as deep and open to play style customization.

Tighter Combat/Gunplay: Bethesda has talked a lot about drawing influence from true first-person shooters like Destiny and Doom to revamp Fallout’s gunplay for the fourth outing. While the game still maintains a role-playing balance–meaning even with an enemy lined up in your sights you will still miss–the melee and shooting side of the game feels a lot smoother and more satisfying. (Unfortunately the third-person shooting camera still feels like a thrown-in afterthought, for those wondering.) Moreover, combat in real-time feels stronger, meaning the returning V.A.T.S. mechanic is better implemented as more of a situational ability. V.A.T.S. has also been tweaked some so that it’s not so overpowering. Pulling up V.A.T.S. does not completely stop time anymore, but rather slows time down to a crawl. Enemies now can continue to move and attack, so you have to be a little bit quicker and more decisive with your targeting. There’s also a critical hit meter that builds up as you attack and kill enemies, and once it’s full you can hit a button to activate an automatic critical strike on the next attack. It seems to take quite a while to build up a critical hit, so it’s not something you want to waste willy-nilly.

Gun Melee: Another minor but impactful addition to combat is the ability to throw a melee shot while equipped with a gun, for a small amount of AP. So if an enemy is too close for comfort, instead of swapping to an actual melee weapon, you can give them a quick rifle butt jab, pistol whip, or bayonet jab to slow them down and do a bit of extra damage. Fallout 4 definitely has embraced and evolved its FPS mechanics more than the older titles.

Mass Effectian Conversations: I’m a little disappointed that Bethesda decided to simplify the dialogue system from the previous games. Instead of having large RPG-like speech boxes with descriptive dialogue choices to pick from, the new system maps short keywords/phrases to the four face buttons. It does seem like each button has a corresponding emotion or response type attached to it–Triangle button choices seem to be more inquisitive, Circle more aggressive/angry, etc.–but a number of times I’ve had a hard time deciding which dialogue to pick because the short description didn’t provide a full indication of what my character was going to say.

Mods & Crafts: Fallout 4 builds upon the crafting established in New Vegas with a new system that is streamlined but still robust with options. Various types of workbenches are scattered throughout the Wasteland that allow you to put those looted creature hides, glands, and meat chunks and miscellaneous junk items to use. For starters, junk items now have a meaningful purpose. Ashtrays, bottles, tin cans, cigarettes, toy cars, bowling pins–instead of being dead weight in your loot bag, whatever you pick up in the world can be taken to a workbench and broken down into crafting resources. These components can then be turned into a variety of scopes, grips, magazines, barrels, and compensators to tailor each weapon’s performance and change up their appearance. Simple pool cues can be turned into tools of death by wrapping them in barbed wire or affixing the tip with a bayonet. Laser pistols can be rigged with an attachment that adds damage-over-time burn damage. Similarly, armor pieces can be upgraded with different materials to boost damage resistance or improve stealth movement, or outfitted with pockets to increase maximum carrying weight. Chemistry sets and cooking stations are also available to whip up healing supplies and stat-boosting drugs. The crafting process is simplified because you don’t have to search for different recipes. Everything you can make is listed out from each station, all’s you need to do is gather the necessary components and, for more advanced mods, choose certain traits from the Perk Chart that open up a wider selection.

Bane/Boon of the OCD: Because there is so much to see and do, and because random junk items now serve a valuable purpose, the urge to gather resources like a reality TV show hoarder is hard to ignore. As an OCD completionist myself, I take both pain and pleasure in collecting as much stuff as I can. Searching every room of every building gets tedious, but finding a new comic or an elusive Bobblehead to gain a new trait only feeds my collectible addiction. Hell, I have a hard time scrapping armor and weapons, especially special gear looted from named enemies and quest NPCs. To me those things are like trophies of my accomplishments, even if their stats render them functionally obsolete. More problematic is the massive world map and the constant radar display showing faded icons of locations I haven’t visited. Having so many options is both a blessing and a curse, as there is so much distraction that it can be difficult to focus on any single task at one time. This is exactly why I have such a love-hate relationship with open-world games. I mostly love it, but man it can be overwhelming.

Settlement Building: One huge new addition to the game, tied in with the crafting system, is the ability to form settlements. Once cleared of hostile presence, certain locations around the Boston Wasteland contain a workshop that allows you to build structures within a designated border. You’re effectively given the power to create new towns; you can construct and furnish houses, establish power sources and radio stations, plant crops and build wells to supply food and water, set up shops and crafting stations, and place turrets, minefields, and guard posts to defend against raids. Most settlements seem to begin with a small population of NPCs that must be kept happy and can be assigned to different roles and jobs for the community, and I’ve also encountered a couple NPCs in my travels who I’ve been able to recruit and send to a settlement of my choice. When you drop or change your AI companion, you can also choose a settlement to send them to. Admittedly, I haven’t done very much with the base building aside from a few side quests, as early on it strikes me as kind of a fluff feature. But the options are definitely impressive for those interested in forming a direct relationship with the game world. And I’m sure over time more events and side quests will unfold involving settlement.

No More Repairs: Weapon and armor degradation is no more. Thank the Lord! I always hated having to worry about my gear breaking down and keeping a bunch of junk items on hand for manual repairs. It added nothing to the previous games but tedium. The only repair element to the game that I’ve seen is with the Power Armor, which makes sense because otherwise it would be overpowered.

Power Armor, Please: In addition to equipping armor pieces to your character’s head, arms, legs, and torso, Power Armor suits can be found for some extra firepower. As mentioned above, Power Armor suits are degradable; they require Fusion Cores as fuel, and their individual pieces take damage and become ineffective until repaired. However, while stomping around inside the mech suit, your defenses and carrying capacity are increased, so it’s always handy to keep a Power Armor on standby at a settlement ready to go for a tough battle or quest. Like standard weapons and armor, the Power Armor plating can be enhanced with mods and paintjobs.

Run, Vault Boy, Run: Fallout 4 finally introduces a dedicated sprint mechanic. By clicking in and holding on the left analog stick, your character runs much faster than the standard jog. However, sprinting gradually decreases AP, which is also needed to operate V.A.T.S., so it’s not an endless ability. It sure does make foot travel a lot less tedious, as well as open up the possibility to flee from dangerous situations. I believe I even saw on the Perk Chart that there’s an ability that turns sprinting while in Power Armor into a bull-charge attack. I’m so looking forward to trying that out!

Post-Apocalyptic Arcade: In addition to Bobbleheads, comics, and magazines, another form of fun collectible in the world of Fallout 4 are Holotape arcade game cartridges that can be booted up from terminals or directly from the Pip-Boy whenever you need a diversion from the harsh and gritty realities of the Boston Wasteland. These Holotapes offer fully functional Fallout-themed homages to retro arcade games like Space Invaders (now Zeta Invaders), Missile Command (now Atomic Command), and Pitfall (now Pipfall). Though optional fluff, these are the type of small things that flesh out open-world games like this.

Beautiful Beantown: For me, Fallout 4’s Boston Wasteland has been far more interesting than the Washington, D.C. and Las Vegas Wastelands of the past. Not just in terms of the expected graphical upgrade from being built on newer tech, but just the diversity of locales, the brighter, somewhat stylized color palette, and the American Revolution historical underpinnings are a lot more engaging. Yes, there are still frame drops. And yes, the characters populating the world are still stiffly animated. But overall this is by far the most impressive Fallout Wasteland yet.

Radroach-Be-Gone: Fallout 4 is buggy. Fortunately, I haven’t come across anything truly game-breaking, but there’s no doubt the game could still use a lot of polishing and optimization. One time I shot an enemy and the character model deactivated on the spot, standing in an inanimate pose for me to kill without resistance. I’ve been walking along only to see an NPC magically spawn into the world out of thin air right in front of me. On a couple of occasions my character has become stuck on the environment and I’ve had to reload a previous save because I couldn’t get them to move. During certain cutscenes I’ve seen a lot of noticeable screen flickers, almost like visual stitching of an animation transition loading in for the next line of dialog. Also during dialog there have been times when a character will be talking or the camera will be on an inanimate character for a long period of time without any voiceover playback. I don’t know if I missed something important or if the conversation simply got stuck in a loading loop and took a while for the animation and audio to synch up. Loading times between areas, though not terrible (certainly not up there with Bloodborne’s pre-patch loads), could be pepped up a bit.

Radiation Fried Their Brains: AI is still fairly weak. Enemies move around and put up a good fight for the most part, but they also do some pretty stupid things like blow themselves or other enemies up with missiles/explosives, or get stuck running into fences or on tree stumps. Companions also become annoying by blocking your way through doors or randomly running off to engage with enemies you had no desire to fight. They’re good as pack mules and help some in combat–as diversionary bullet sponges if nothing else–but oftentimes companions are more annoying to have around than they’re worth.

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!