I’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.
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.