Fallout 4 – Location, Location, Location

Fallout 4 Box ArtDipping back into the bottomless well that is Fallout 4, today I want to talk a little bit about the Commonwealth itself. Going in, there were plenty of posts all over the web from people worried that the game looked too colorful, or too vibrant. And sure enough, it’s definitely a much more colorful world than Fallout 3 was, but coming right from New Vegas I can definitely see the progression that I think Bethesda is going for. If you look at the three games that they’ve published, there’s a clear progression of nature returning to the wastelands. Those three games take place over the span of ten years, starting with Fallout 3. Going beyond that, they take place in three very different locations in regards to the actual targeting of the bombs.

The lore of the game spells out most of the bombs hit out west, which makes sense since it was China that launched them. Of the three Bethesda games so far, Washington D.C. is the target that makes the most sense for an East Coast target. That’s why Fallout 3 looks so bleak – it got hit hard by the bombs. New Vegas (the city, not the game), despite being a symbol of American decadence really only exists as an economic location, and self-contained at that; which means that, compared with the California targets, probably wasn’t a very high priority target. Which brings us to Boston. Boston, to me, is in the same class as New Vegas. It’s not the biggest East Coast city – NYC is – and it’s not the most pertinent political target – Washington D.C. would be. Of course it’s still a cultural and economic target, plus it’s a huge city. That to me, more than just the time difference since the bombs fell, is why the Commonwealth is in relatively good shape. If the bright colors turn you off, you’ll really be missing out on one of the best games in a few years.

Fallout 4 Boston Skyline

That isn’t quite all I want to talk about with regards to Boston though. One thing I keep finding myself saying as I explore the actual ruins of Boston is “damn, look at that ____.” Every corner seems to reveal some kind of awesome building or encounter to check out. The very nature of Boston makes it more fun to explore than D.C. to me. Boston has the same density of buildings and roads/alleys that D.C. does, but in 2287 has a lot more high rises that survived. There’s a hell of a lot more verticality to the Commonwealth than in the Capital Wasteland. Add in the updated graphics, and the more varied looking locations and, to me, Boston is the winner so far.

You’ll note that I didn’t mention New Vegas there. That’s because to me, New Vegas is much more about the wilderness areas. New Vegas itself isn’t quite the same hub style city as the greater Boston or D.C. Metro areas are. Where I think you can compare New Vegas to Fallout 4 is in those smaller outlying settlements. New Vegas is chock full of them – Goodsprings, Primm, NoVac, Red Rock Canyon, The Fort, McCarran – the list goes on. Fallout 4 has a similar list, they just are a lot smaller, and more spread out. The smaller cities like Cambridge, Lexington and Concord don’t quite fill the same role, but instead it’s places like Sanctuary Hills, Tenpines Bluff, Sunshine Tidings Co-Op, The Castle and so on. That’s a direct result of the addition of the Workshop system – taking places and making them into towns that function how you want them to. I’m still figuring my way around the Settlements mechanics, but I want to get something up this week about them.

A huge part of any Bethesda game is the in-between moments – those times when you aren’t going through a quest location and are wandering around the over world. Whether it’s Cyrodil, Skyrim, The Capital Wasteland, The Mojave Wasteland, or The Commonwealth, Bethesda might be the best developer/publisher at filling those empty spaces with value. Hell, the only developer that I even put in the same category is BioWare. Between the myriad different individual locations that can contain their own little stories, the very alive wilderness and the random encounters that always populate the world, there is always something exciting going on out there.

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Fallout 4 – Atmosphere Even After the End of the World

Fallout 4 Box ArtI’m starting to really get into the portion of a Bethesda RPG where the little details are starting to really shine. I suppose you could get here faster, but I just play their games so slow it takes me a few days to really feel it. Fallout 4 so far has done a fantastic job of really raising the bar for Bethesda’s work with atmosphere and world building. I’ve always been a big fan of their work with that in Elder Scrolls but for because of the nature of Fallout it makes it a little more difficult to really feel alive. That’s not the case this time around. The Commonwealth Wasteland feels much more alive – in more than just the major settlements. The in between spaces have life – whether it’s finding the little bits of history, or stumbling across hidden enemies.

Bethesda might be the best developer at putting in little spots throughout the game world that have no direct impact on the story, but add so much to the experience. One of my favorites so far has been a small house in the Northwest portion of the Commonwealth. It’s nothing special, just a handful of Ghouls outside of it, and a broken down power relay tower on the front yard. But inside the house you can find a locked, hidden root cellar, with a named Ghoul behind another door. He’s got a barrel of radioactive material with him, but what makes this so neat is the terminal there. It holds his manifesto, with him furious about the relay tower. To illustrate his point, on his workbench you can find the pieces necessary to build a Mini-Nuke. There’s no reason – that I’ve found yet, or could imagine – to ever be directed there by the game. But if you do go exploring and take the time to really look through it, you’ll find tons of little self-contained stories like that all over the place. That’s always been something that Bethesda does incredibly well.

The other area where I think Bethesda has stepped up their game here is in terms of making the enemies a lot more vibrant. In previous games Ghouls were pretty easy to spot – if they were being sneaky, they just would be crouched somewhere in a room. Still easy visible and even targetable with V.A.T.S. That’s not necessarily the case anymore. Ghouls lie down when they’re not active, looking like dead bodies – or streaming in through windows and holes in ceilings/floors. They may not be zombies, but the Feral Ghouls definitely act like them now. Then you have Mirelurks – giant mutated crabs/lobsters that hand around water. It’s one thing to be able to plan your attack. I’ve had the unfortunate experience of stepping on top of one, because their dormant state has them pretty much buried in the ground. That’s a pretty common trick I’ve noticed in the Commonwealth – Mole Rats burrow underground to pop up and attack you, and Radscorpions follow suit. In a game where past experiences taught me that there were no surprises in fights, this is a hell of a switch.

Fallout 4 Radscorpion

A lot was made before the game launched about the new color palette and that there actually was color. The new engine basically lets Bethesda make a world that looks like the real world probably would, given the circumstances of Fallout. The new human models actually look like people – the power of the character creator in particular is pretty impressive. The new animal enemies look really brutal – especially the Radscorpion and Mirelurks. Adding in weather elements makes the world feel like it’s actually real – fog rolls in, rain starts to fall, and you can tell even if you’re inside. Sure there a couple things that I’m still getting used to – mainly the new leveling and dialogue systems. But in general, I really like just about everything Fallout 4 does. Once you get beyond the initial Bethesda-game Anxiety, where the game is just so damn big, and there’s just so much to do it can get a little overwhelming; that’s when I think you’ll really find that this is Bethesda’s best Fallout game yet. I can’t wait to see how they keep improving it moving forward.

Fallout 4 Combat Early Thoughts

Fallout 4 Box ArtNow that I have my Xbox One back and, more or less, back to the spot it was before it crashed on me, I’ve really been digging back into Halo 5 and Fallout 4. They’re both games that I’ve been looking forward for a big chunk of this year, so it’s fun to really dig into the mechanics of both games. Today I want to talk a little bit about the changes to the combat in Fallout 4, at least within the first handful of levels and quests. I know that there’s still a ton of little details to find out later on – especially once I really start putting skill points into perks instead of S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats.

Of all the changes from previous Fallout games to Fallout 4, I think the combat is the one that’s taking me longer to really adjust to. That’s a good thing though, because the real root changes are for the best. Bethesda brought in developers from Bungie and id Software to help really nail down the combat. Those are two of the strongest FPS developers ever, so the core fundamentals are certainly improved from the previous games. The gunplay actually feels more like a shooter, and puts a little more value in thumbskill than it used to. From an RPG standpoint, that can feel a little blasphemous. And honestly, I think if it had happened way back with Fallout 3, I think it would have been a much bigger issue. But RPG’s have evolved a lot over the last 7-8 years. Games like Borderlands and Mass Effect and Dead Island have really combined RPG fundamentals with more dynamic action. Fallout 4 is just the next logical extension of the progression, brought to probably the biggest stage in modern RPG’s.

Fallout 4 VATS

What I think is really keeping me from adjusting faster is just that I’ve been playing New Vegas so much in the last couple weeks. Those last generation Fallout games had a combat that was a bit more determined by your characters skill levels. Use a traditional lead and powder gun with low Gun Skill, and it’s going to be less accurate. That extends to the V.A.T.S. mechanic, which I always kinda thought was borderline cheating. Freezing time and getting more accurate shots directed at individual body parts seemed a little unfair. Both of those facets have gotten a pretty strong focus with Fallout 4. V.A.T.S. now slows time down, but enemies are still able to fight back while you’re trying to place your shots. It’s still a little cheap to me, but much more in line with the in-universe rules. That, combined with the new S.P.E.C.I.A.L. focus, helps decide if you’re really going to focus on V.A.T.S or real-time combat with your skill point allocation.

That real-time combat has evolved to a spot that I think really puts it into a good place. It’s certainly not setting the world on fire, especially compared with the current crop of FPS’s out now, but it’s definitely better than it used to be. I feel a lot more in control of my performance – where I aim, is where the bullet goes. That alone would be enough for the combat to feel better, for me. But Bethesda also added in more flexibility – with a melee attack and grenades mapped to a shoulder button. No more specifically equipping grenades instead of primary weapons – just have them equipped and you can toss them by holding down RB/R1 button. That means that I’ll be using them a lot more frequently. Same goes with the melee attack – you have a gun bash now, tied to that same RB/R1 button. Take out a Feral Ghoul’s leg and it’s immobilized – no more wasting ammo on it, go punch it till it’s dead. That extends to the more nuisance enemies – Mole Rats, Bloatflies, Radroaches all can be easily felled with a few gun bashes. It makes Strength important for any character build, not just melee and carry weight.

Combat is always an important part for any RPG, and Fallout has finally, I think, gotten a great system in place that really fits all the different combat styles. It works with melee or ranged, unarmed or explosives. It’s not flawless of course, but I think it’s a great step forward, and has me thinking about how Bethesda could apply what they’ve done here with Elder ScrollsFallout is a huge game, with all kinds of moving parts, so there’s a lot to digest. Hopefully I’ll revisit the combat in a couple weeks after I’ve really managed to get a lot deeper into the game as see how it holds up toward end-game content.

Fallout 4 – Pip-Boy Edition – Look It’s All I Can Do

Fallout 4 Box Art

With my Xbox One still being at the Xbox Service Center being worked on, I knew that today was going to be a bittersweet gaming day. And sure enough, on the front porch this morning was a lovely cardboard box from Gamestop with my Pip-Boy Edition of Fallout 4. While I can’t actually play the game yet, I can give you my thoughts on the collectors edition goodies today. And since I have been waiting five years for this game, I want to get talking about it as soon as I can.

As far as collectors editions go, this one is kinda hard to judge. Generally, I’m way more in favor of them having some kind of digital goodies to make their value worth it. Whether it’s exclusive items or a built in season pass, that helps make the collectors editions feel special as you’re playing the game. That said, I’m also a sucker for sweet physical loot. I love my posters and cards and strange coin from Destiny. I really enjoy my poker chips and playing cards from Fallout: New Vegas. Going into the Pip-Boy Edition, the biggest physical treat I had was the Batman: Arkham City statue. I think the Pip-Boy itself probably is a little bigger in the long run, so that’s kinda neat. It’s actually got a surprisingly big size to it, which kinda makes sense. I don’t really plan on wearing it a whole lot, but it’s definitely big enough for an adult to wear. I will say that some of the materials feel a little on the cheap side – but that could also be my specific one.I love the functionality with the new companion app though, and I definitely plan on using that app as I play through the game.

Pipboy Edition

My other only real issue with the collection is that, aside from the Pip-Boy, there’s really not a whole lot of extras. Yes, there’s a Steelbook case – and it’s a fantastic one. It looks super sick with my other two Xbox One Steelbooks – Destiny and The Taken King. I love the use of the Power Armor for the main art, and the interior art being the garage from the reveal trailer is also a great touch. But that’s about it for special exclusives. The S.P.E.C.I.A.L. Perk poster comes with every physical copy, so that’s out. The Fallout 3 code also comes with every Xbox One pre-ordered copy, so that’s out. I really think that including the Season Pass with the Pip-Boy Edition probably would have made it a much more worthwhile collectors edition. As it stands now, I think it’s a special edition that really is built for hardcore fans of the series. I love my Pip-Boy, but people who are just getting into the franchise might not get the same feeling for this collection.

At the end of the day, am I upset I got the Pip-Boy edition? Not at all – I think it’s a really cool idea and will be a lovely addition to my growing collection. The Pip-Boy itself will probably be a part of my desk setup for a very long time. Do I wish that there was maybe one more little part to it? Sure, in particular the Season Pass would have been perfect. But I don’t think that ultimately it’s going to impact my feelings toward the game, nor will it impact the success the game has. It’s a cool thing for fans, and really that’s something that I love seeing developers do.