First off, I must begin with a caveat. I’m not talking about Magic this week; I’m talking about Fallout 4. By far my biggest complaint about Fallout 4 is that I’m not playing it this moment. You see, as I write this I’m about 65 hours into the newest iteration of the series, and I am loving it. I am a Fallout partisan, having loved the franchise since I was first introduced to Fallout 1 while on a three-week Outward Bound sailing trip for kids with issues in the frozen wasteland in which I later spent four college years (i.e. Maine). I mean, I wasn’t introduced to it literally on that trip, we didn’t have power for three weeks, but one of my fellow delinquents kept talking about this crazy post-apocalyptic game with robots and mutants and whatnot, and that spoke to me.


Other things that happened on that trip: I was left alone on a small island for somewhere around 48 hours during which time I fasted, I slept under the stars on a different beach and determined to come out as trans as soon as I got home, which did not happen, and I got some nasty post-nasal drip from the mandatory morning dunkings. Good times!


From the start, I was hooked. I like the ability to think about your decisions before you make them, at least in game theory. In life… I’m a little more “leap before I look.” But part of the point of role-playing games is to be better than you can be in the real world. Fallout helped me figure out what I wanted out of all that. Fallout helped me be a better me.


Let’s fast forward, past the underrated Fallout Tactics, past the original Xbox “Brotherhood of Steel” game that was a terrible waste of the franchise, and into the modern Bethesda age. Fallout 3 was a revelation. Fallout: New Vegas was the best videogame I’d ever played. Until now. Fallout 4 is just better. It’s not perfect, just like none of its predecessors were perfect, but the secret to the Bethesda series is that they’re all doing functionally the same thing, only with improvements in every iteration.


Crafting provides an excellent object lesson. I honestly can’t remember whether or not crafting was a thing prior to Fallout 3, but it’s a minigame that I love to get into. Fallout 3 was a little finicky about it: you had to find recipes, they required specific combinations of junk objects, and generally it only became worth it when you had found all three (three!) of the versions of the same schematic. From that, you could craft like ten different weapons. It was amazing at the time, though it has aged poorly since.


New Vegas stepped it up a notch. You still had to have weird combinations of items, but basically every junk item fit into at least one schematic, and you had almost all of them unlocked when you started the game (the rest of which were unlocked through perks or quests, not secreted away like an easter egg). While I never got totally into the cooking thing, for example, it still was cool that, if I wanted to, I could go around scavenging scraps to make my own Nuka-Cola, or baste and season my collected meats. It was solid, and a definite improvement on Fallout 3.

This is what the crafting system looks like these days.

This is what the crafting system looks like these days. You can modify most weapons and armor, and you have a host of different mod slots that do what you’d think.

Then Fallout 4 came along and blew them both out of the water. First, the crafting system behaves like you’d expect it to now. Instead of needing specific components (mostly), junk can be broken down into base products like adhesive or copper. You then use these components to make not only weapons and armor, but also build outposts across the Commonwealth (i.e. Massachusetts) as well. That’s right, Fallout 4 contains a SimFarm mode, and it is endlessly distracting. Apparently, that’s my sweet spot.

There s nothing special

There’s nothing special about this view. This is just another random interstitial environment… but my god doesn’t the palate capture the eye?

This is not to say it’s a perfect game; it has its fair share of flaws. Most glaring are the ways in which it feels like a sequel to Fallout 3, not New Vegas. The environments are similar (due to the crumbling urban center of both games), aspects from New Vegas like reputation tracking have been dropped, and the story completely fails to speak to me because of an assumed universality of familial tales. I don’t care about finding the Daddy who abandoned me, past advancing the story, and I don’t know if it’s entirely ethical to show up ten years into your child’s life and be like, “surprise, everything you’ve ever known is a lie!”


This is exacerbated by the way it starts off as an idiot plot. You’re in cryo! Your baby gets stolen out of cryo! You fall back into cryo! Then you wake up and cry to everyone about your missing infant (to which everyone’s like, “uh, no, not a lot of babies in the wasteland.”) The problem is that, for me and my partner at least, what happened was immediately obvious: she got frozen again! Her kid could be an old man by that point, and even when she finds out he’s ten she’s like “oh my god, how is that even possible?!”


It’s bad when your protagonist is dumber than the player.

Diamond City, aka the city they built out of Fenway.

Diamond City, aka the city they built out of Fenway. That’s not cinematic or anything, you can interact with basically every one of those buildings and the people inside.

And the speech options don’t help. Bioware, a company that Fallout 4 is clearly trying to emulate, tries to make all the speech options, good or evil, into reasonable paths for a player to walk. Fallout 4 duffs this. Their “evil” path is basically just being a dick to everyone you meet, which is a terrible strategy. Practically every conversation, including ones with clearly binary outcomes, has a button labeled “sarcastic.” That’s all the information you get, it never changes, and more specifically it fails to specify the direction in which you’re being sarcastic. “Yeah, that sounds like a great idea,” and “yeah, I’m totally going to pass that up,” are both fairly sarcastic responses, and they mean opposite things. That’s the type of formulation error that should have been caught during the development cycle; it reminds me of Vampire: Bloodlines in that way.


Which was also an amazing game, for all its obvious deficits.

No vampires in this one, but there are ghouls! And not the type running for "who wants to be the biggest xenophobe in charge."

No vampires in this one, but there are ghouls! And not the type running for “who wants to be the biggest xenophobe in charge.”

There’s also a framing issue. In Fallout 3 and New Vegas your character is silent. While this made conversations seem less realistic, it also helped the player identify more with their character. But now your protagonist speaks, and while she’s a good voice actor, she can’t elevate dreck. Some of the dialog is wonderful, and your companion interactions are usually pretty solid… although there’s a lot of weird moralization injected into those relationships, particularly around drug use, typically a large part of the game.


Fallout 4 has its flaws, as a game, but it’s still an advance in the technology and (seemingly) the mythos. It speaks equally well to me, a Fallout fan, and Dana, a Fallout novice, which is often a difficult bridge to gap. And the crafting and settlement aspects are amazing developments. If you’re a console RPG fan who wants to get started on a 100+ hour game, definitely check out Fallout 4. It’s not a perfect game, but it’s really fucking good.

One of the interesting thing this installment does is rough up the faction that has been slowly falling in alignment since Tactics.

One of the interesting thing this installment does is rough up the faction that has been slowly falling in alignment since Tactics.

Oh, and it’s super pretty to boot.


Jess Stirba is a stealth sniper in most Bethesda games.

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