I didn't know much about the series when I first popped Fallout 3 into my Xbox 360. To be totally honest, I hadn't given any role-playing game a fair shake until then. But over 100 hours later it was obvious there was a void being filled I didn't even know I had.
Fallout 3 changed the way I thought about games. Not only was it the first one that really got me into RPGs, it was one of the first that got me to really buy into the fictional world it created. For me, it was a feeling similar to that of playing BioShock, the juxtaposition of 1940s and '50s aesthetics smashed up against a supernatural world in chaos. But in Fallout, it was the endless isolation, the feeling of being so small and insignificant that made the game such a powerful influence on me. The fact that you could just do whatever you wanted in such a rich open-ended world captured my imagination.
Not without its share of rumors and overanalyzed supposed leaks, it wasn't until this past June that publisher Bethesda Softworks finally made it official: Fallout 4 was coming. And it was coming real soon. And for what it's worth, give Bethesda credit for the manner in which the game was announced. In a landscape where games get teased three or even four years ahead of time, it was refreshing to see so much so soon.
Great, but that's not why we're here. Does Fallout 4 rise to the occasion? Does the dormant franchise awake from the wasteland ashes and reign supreme once again?
It's been over seven years, but Bethesda Game Studios has delivered an even more massive experience, one overflowing with seemingly endless activity, personality, characters and appeal. There is a short list of items where it needs attention, but overall Fallout 4 is tremendous fun. It's amazingly focused and realized and is easily one of the best games I've played all year.
At the rate I'm going, it's impossible to know just how many more hours I'll dump into the game. At the time of this review I'm at 52 hours and I haven't seen the end credits. Fallout 4 will suck you in and not let go. This is a time-travel game. You'll start playing and then before you know it, six and a half hours have gone by. You haven't eaten and you probably should use the restroom. But you can't, because you have to complete just one more mission or explore one more building.
Fallout 4 puts you in the role of a resident of Vault 111, an underground bunker that's hastily populated right before a nuclear holocaust scorches the surface. The year is 2077, and you and your family must wait it out until the all-clear comes from above. But when you wake up from an unexpected cryo-freezing, something isn't right. It's 200 years later and you're finally ready to resurface.
What's not to like about a story like that? But where Fallout really shines is its artistic style. Before the fallout, the alternate future the game depicts is a sort of "nuclear art deco," where the people of 2077 have embraced American culture from over a century before their time. That, combined with a selection of music from the '40s and '50s lends Fallout a unique yet oddly charming aesthetic.
Whereas Fallout 3 took place in and around Washington DC, Fallout 4 focuses on Boston. Much of the gameplay of Fallout 3 (and its New Vegas spinoff) returns in Fallout 4. You can customize your character's face -- playing as a man or a woman -- and assign attributes. As you collect experience points you can explore different perk branches. Fallout 4 alters the way you upgrade the category system, or "SPECIAL" as it's referred to, by unlocking more tiers as a single characteristic is filled out.
If you spent any amount of time playing Fallout 3, its logic will come rushing back to you. The VATS targeting system is back, but isn't highlighted in the same fashion as it was introduced in Fallout 3. In fact, it wasn't even part of any kind of tutorial when I started the game. The system temporarily slows down time to allow you to choose a section of the enemy's body to attack, but Fallout 4 actually winds up being a very capable first-person shooter (FPS) in its own right. You can switch between first and third-person cameras, but I found myself mostly ignoring VATS, thanks to Fallout 4's FPS prowess. As enemies get more difficult to eliminate, you may need to rely on it more often.
Fallout 4 continues the previous game's overwhelming open-world design. From the moment I left Vault 111, I was blown away by the world in front of me. It's a massive area to wrap your head around. Every area you come across tells a story. Everything looks lived in and real. But there's more new in Fallout 4 besides the location. There's also settlements, crafting elements and companions.