I went back to Fallout 3 the other day. Just briefly. I got it as a pre-order reward for Fallout 4. Fallout 3 was up there as an all time classic ( it was even the much maligned but unsurprisingly still fine PS3 version ) in my eyes. Trouble is, I went back after tens of hours in Fallout 4. It was a bit of a low resolution shock. If nothing else it showed just how much of an improvement Fallout 4 is. The animation was awful; the colour palette so, so bland; and everything felt so very clunky.
I think I lasted 10 minutes before firing up Fallout 4 and vowing never to go retro again. It just destroys those memories. Strangely akin to meeting your heroes.
It threw the achievements of Fallout 4 into sharp relief. It is, at times, starkly beautiful. Where Fallout 3 seemed to take its visual cues from the brutal war photography of the second world war, Fallout 4 goes for a beautiful destruction. This is aftermath, after all. A story of faltering recovery. Echoing the horrifying, transfixing, twisted beauty of the Gulf War photography. A type of photography that we now no longer see, governments having finally – sadly – realised that images are powerful, and concluding they need to be controlled. It’s a beauty that holds your attention long enough for you to notice the terrible details. That, IMO, is the genius of Fallout 4.
Here was a world I could live in, where even the radiation storms oozed atmosphere ( sorry ). It was still fraught with danger, a world where the mosquitoes are a true nightmare, but it was filled with character. And filled with characters too. Filled with stories everywhere. Any curious venture into new territory, any discovery of a new building could easily lead you on a big adventure. A discovered note, a password or log entry found on a computer could send you to the other side of the map or down into previously unsuspected bowels of the building.
It happened to me numerous times and gave a perspective on the fearmongering / concern trolling pre launch about the time it took to cross the map. Never mind how meaningless that is anyway, the sheer density of adventuring available to the sole survivor is enough to shine a light on that particular nugget of nonsense. This is Boston, apocalypse style. It’s an open world that took me (according to my save file ) 7 days and 2 hours to finally satiate me. That’s an achievement in itself. I generally tire of openworlders much much earlier. This is a hand-crafted world designed to reward every single explorative whim you can have while playing.
The environmental story telling is fantastic too. The poses of long dead skeletons often raising questions. Was there a struggle here? Did that family end it all together? Is that skeleton by the war memorial the remains of a distraught war veteran? What the hell was that guy doing fishing in a toilet bowl??
Everywhere you look a new question is asked or an old question resolved. I took to taking screenshots of the most interesting ones. It brought out the latent war photographer in me.
Combat is a joy, complemented by a deep and highly flexible perk system. One that even by level 60, I hadn’t come close to fully exploring. VATS ( the time slowing, turn based system Fallout is famous for ) was never less than spectacular. Watching myself – perfectly framed – lock and load a Fatman, then set a nuke on its way to a deathclaw, assaultron or a supermutant never, ever, got old.
The animation, while not exactly at the level of Mirror’s Edge or Ori, is so much more fluid and realised than Bethesda has achieved before. Especially with the ever lovable, ever loving Dogmeat who just exudes character and demanded my attention so much that I would talk to the flippin’ thing on occasion.
And then there’s the settlement building. I never got deep into the electronic engineering, logic side of it, although the potential there is huge, but I had an enormous amount of fun creating ludicrous shack architecture, and providing for my settlers. I’m hoping Bethesda build on that because it’s one of the major reasons I would come back into this world now that I’ve finished everything I want to finish.
In the end, when I finally felt I’d seen enough and could finish my quest for Shaun, I was satisfied to be done. The quest lines were all well written and the main quest was fine, although I felt it ignored some obvious issues. I’m hoping it deals with those issues in the DLC. The real story though, is written in an astonishingly well crafted and dense world.
It’s in the environment, and the relationships you build with companions, and and a world so dense with opportunity, so packed with potential, that no one is going to have the same story to tell after.
Fallout 4 is a fantastic successor to Fallout 3. It should be a new measuring stick for other developers to hold close. I can’t wait for an excuse to return to the beautiful destruction of Boston once more.