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.

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Fallout 4 – Initial Impressions (Finally)

Fallout 4 Box ArtAfter three weeks of waiting for my Xbox One’s service order, I finally got my console back yesterday and was able, after a good five years, to play the next entry in the Fallout series. I’m a week late with my initial thoughts on Fallout 4, but I do want to put down how my first few hours of playing got me thinking.

It’s hard to judge a game like Fallout 4 after such a short time. With a game like Destiny or Halo I can kinda tell after a handful of hours how the game is going to shake out, especially with multiplayer. Fallout 4 is a totally different beast though. It’s a game where 40-60 hours is the low end of the expected spectrum. I’ve written in the past about my love for the Bethesda RPGs – the obscene number of hours put in with Oblivion and Skyrim and the two previous Fallout titles. Since my Xbox One went down, I went back into New Vegas and easily put in another 35 hours to my old save file. Really all that says is that the initial thoughts I’m having here with Fallout 4 aren’t really worth a whole hell of a lot.

That doesn’t mean that they are totally worthless. In truth, those first 10 or so hours have a pretty profound impact on how the whole playthrough will shape up. It’s hard for me to say with where I am in the game how it’ll play out, but from past experiences, I know that those first few areas and quests help define your character. In Fallout 3, once you left the Vault and entered the game proper, your first major Karma based decisions were all based around Megaton – the first true hub area in the game. In New Vegas it happens even earlier, with your decisions in the actual tutorial area of Goodsprings impacting your reputation with two different factions. Depending on how you want your character to evolve over the game, your choices in these places matter. That’s a big part of why when I started Fallout 4 I was going really slowly through those first few squares around Vault 111. I want to build up a few points to put into my S.P.E.C.I.A.L before I hit the meat of the game.

Fallout 4 Concept Bomb

That meat, to me, starts with the Concord encounter and then back to Sanctuary. Which is where my current save is set – I’m currently in the process of rebuilding the town, which is a whole other topic to discuss this week. But in those first few quests, while you’re still learning the mechanics, Fallout 4 does a really great job of showing you just what world you’re in. Concord in particular is a perfect example of a Wasteland town – overrun with Raiders, and even infested one of the most dangerous creatures on the East Coast, a Deathclaw. You learn about lockpicking here, along with hacking terminals. You get your first chance to really enter conversation trees. You can start to decide what kind of weapons you’ll use. You learn how the new inspection mechanic works – containers and dead bodies no longer involve opening up a separate menu, it’s all very fluid – which is admittedly taking me some time to get used to. Then you get the Power Armor.

Power Armor has always been the Fallout mascot – there’s a reason it’s on all the packaging. It’s directly linked with the series, not only for promotion, but within the actual context of the game world. This is the first game where the Power Armor you wear feels special. It’s no longer just a piece of gear you put on to give you high damage and radiation resistance. Now it’s almost a character in and of itself. You actually have to power it with Fusion Cores. It feels like a totally different way to experience the game – and it makes me feel weird. I am a huge example of RPG anxiety in my playing. I worry about every item I find – if it is at all a little rare, I squirrel it away somewhere safe. In New Vegas I’m a Guns and Speech character – I talk my way out of sticky situations to try to make the Mojave more peaceful, and use my lead shooters to take out Caesar’s Legion. That means I should sell any Explosives or Energy Weapons I find, especially the unique weapons that are worth way more Caps. I don’t though – I have them all in my safe in Novac. I do that with armor too. So with the Power Armor in Fallout 4, my instincts all say to find some safe space and just leave it there, lest it get destroyed or lost.

Part of my worries with that seem like they don’t exist anymore – Bethesda took item condition out of the game. This is just one detail of a larger design ideology – you see it in the dialogue system too. Bethesda went the same route that BioWare has done with Mass Effect and to a lesser extent Dragon Age. They simplified all the RPG mechanics way down. Long dialogue trees with reputation and karma are gone, in favor of a more fluid system that leaves a little mystery to what you say. Item condition is gone to focus more on keeping you in the action. Individual Skills are gone in favor of everything being built around the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats. All of that can be a bit of a shock – especially to longtime fans. As someone who is coming right off of New Vegas, it’s certainly tough to get used to. It’s almost like going from a college class to high school. All the same ideas are there, just in a little less detail.

Here’s the thing though, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Streamlining all those complicated mechanics helps open the game up to a larger audience. And for RPG purists, there are other places in the game that still have a lot of depth. The new skill system actually does have a lot of depth – since you only get one point when you level, it puts a lot more impact in your choices early on. The weapon and armor modifications are pretty crazy in how many choices there are. The workshop/settlements are in that same boat – it’s not at all unlikely that working on them will be a major portion of my play time.  There’s still a lot that I need to dig into with the game obviously, but early on, I have to say that I’m really enjoying my time in the Commonwealth. I’ll have a lot more to talk about with Fallout 4 in the coming days and weeks.

Season Passes – The Good and the Bad

Rainbow Six SiegeI always love when I see a headline that gets my writing juices flowing. That happened today when I read about the announcement of the Season Pass for Rainbow Six: Siege. Generally, I’m in favor of Season Passes – I think that developers get that they’re a good way to get players invested in the DLC season early and throughout the duration. With Rainbow Six though, I think they missed the mark by a pretty substantial margin.

The new content for R6 includes one-week early access to new operators, exclusive weapon skins, and a permanent reputation gain boost. There are a couple other little bits, like random skin packs and challenges, but ultimately, that’s the extent of the Season Pass. That’s really weak. There’s no word on whether R6 will have actual DLC in the form of map packs moving forward, but if there is, you can bet there will be even more backlash against this Season Pass. Ubisoft has said that they want Rainbow Six: Siege to be a prominent esport game. If that’s the case, I really think this was a tremendously bad move. No content that’s included in the $30 price tag is relevant to the extended lifespan of the game. That’s what Season Passes are supposed to be about. The content that’s in the Season Pass is much more in line with post-launch microtransaction content. I talked earlier this week about microtransactions in games, but I’ll repeat it quickly here. I think when they’re done well, they work fine. If they had made these items available that way, I think that would be no problem at all – except maybe the reputation boost.

Fallout 4 Box Art

Contrast that with the Fallout 4 Season Pass. Also costing $30, that Season Pass will give players access to all the future DLC for the game. That’s a hell of a value. Fallout: New Vegas, which I’m replaying while my Xbox One is out at service, had four full sized DLCs, along with one that added in a whole slew of weapons and mods. Those full size, story content DLC each cost $10. Assuming that Bethesda goes the same route with Fallout 4, that means that the Season Pass is a no-brainer – it saves you $10, not counting any of the other possible add-ons. Same price as the Rainbow Six one, but the content included is so much more valuable. Call of Duty goes through the same question every year too – is the Season Pass going to save me enough money VS. buying the maps separately. What Activision and the developers do with the Call of Duty Season Passes is add in a little extra, usually a weapon skin or player calling card, that adds in a little more value to help it out. Not only do you, nowadays, save $5 versus buying the maps, but you get a couple unique items.

Whether we like it or not, I think Season Passes are here to stay. They, much like a lot of elements in modern gaming, are very much a fluid entity. There are great options out there to get a bunch of awesome extra content for a more value-driven price; and there are ones that just don’t make sense from a value standpoint. Every player is going to have their own thoughts on these sort of things – hardcore fans will pretty much always go for them, as a way to support the game and keep the game fresh. Less invested players might be more inclined to skip them.

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.

Weekly News Recap – Week of October 12, 2015

The busy season has been running pretty hard so far – with Destiny, Battlefront Beta, Rainbow Six Beta all getting some serious playtime. That said, we’re about to really hit the crazy time with five major releases in the next month coming out, along with others too. So news has been a bit on the backburner for me, as I would rather focus on writing about the games I’m playing. That said, I did see a couple headlines recently that I think are worth talking about.

Mass Effect

EA GAMES – NO HD REMAKES SOON
I saw this one earlier today, and I’m torn on it. EA has doubled down on their comments from E3 about HD remakes. Don’t be expecting to see an HD Mass Effect collection anytime soon, or any other last-gen EA classics. Now that we’re deeper into the current-gen of consoles, I’m starting to move away from wanting HD remakes to fill out my library. So in that regard I’m glad to see EA focusing on making new games. That said though, there are a couple games that I would really have liked to see get the sprucing up – Mass Effect, Dragon Age, and Dead Space all jump to mind. We’ll have to see if they relent in the future, but for now, don’t expect anything like that.

Halo 5 Guardians

HALO 5 ROLLS OUT FOR STREAMERS AND PRESS
This week we started to see just how Microsoft plans on launching Halo 5: Guardians. Based on what we’ve seen so far, it looks a lot like a soft launch style event – Twitch streamers got the game, along with members of the press and community members. I also saw today that the launch event will be held online, as they see more and more players moving to digital releases. Again, I’m kinda torn here – in general, if there’s a game that I really like and want to support totally, I buy it physically. I know that makes no sense, but it’s just how I’ve kinda grown with gaming. We’ll see how it works out on the 27th.

Fallout 4 Box Art

FALLOUT 4 CONTINUES TO RAMP THE HYPE TO MAX LEVELS
Over the last month or so, Bethesda has been releasing a whole bunch of videos for Fallout 4. Each one has detailed just what each of the seven S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats actually entail in game, done in the style of old PSA safety videos. It fits so perfectly with the style of the game, and they act as perfect ways for new players to get some info on the game; and at the same time, series veterans have some great videos to dig through for details. This week they also put out the Live-Action trailer – not quite the same level trailer as say the Destiny Live-Action ones, but still really cool to see. It’s got both the humor of Fallout, while still showing off some action. Plus it’s got Dion’s “The Wanderer” as the soundtrack, so I’m all in on that. November 11 can’t get here quick enough.

Fallout 4 Character Progression Thoughts

Fallout 4 Box ArtShifting gears away from Destiny for a bit, today Bethesda put out a nice little article about the changes headed to character leveling and progression in Fallout 4. One of the things that I’ve been really curious about was what kind of changes were going to be taking place with that. Prior to today, we knew that there was something happening, but no specifics. Now we know exactly how it’s going to work – and I really like what they’re doing.

In the past Bethesda Fallout games, you had three things to keep track of – your character level, your skill levels and your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats. Each one of those played a role in determining which perks you could select upon leveling up. In Fallout 4, that’s all being streamlined – character level still exists, and is still dictated by XP; but skills and S.P.E.C.I.A.L. are being rolled together. It sounds a lot more like you only will need to worry about your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats now – the perks you select will be gated based around the amount of points you’ve put into them. That seems like it could keep some players locked out of certain perks, but there are a couple things that should keep that from happening.

First, there isn’t going to be a player level cap. In that regard, Fallout 4 is going to be a bit closer to Oblivion. I would guess that certain enemies will scale with you as you progress, that way there’s always some challenge, even for end-game players. But it does give you even more opportunities to be able to grab, eventually, all the perks in the game. For a completionist like me, that’s a great aspect of the game. I already plan on sinking a ton of time into this game as it is, and the idea of being able to experience all the perks in one save file is a really nice thing. The other side of the coin though is that in order to put points into your S.P.E.C.I.A.L., you’ll need to use a top-level perk that lets you put a point into them. In previous games it was called Intense Training – with ten ranks. I would assume that there isn’t going to be a limit on the ranks this time around, but we’ll see.

Fallout 4 Perk Poster

What originally worried me about that shift was that it sounded like a limit to the number of perks available. The cap on S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats is still ten, which means 70 base perks. I was worried that would be it – 70 may seem like a lot, but in a game where 100 hours is bound to be the low end, that’s nothing. Luckily, today’s post cleared that up. Considering that a number of the perks have multiple ranks – many of which are where some of the classic perks will live now – the stat based perk count is looking to be right around 270. That’s a lot more appropriate for the scope of the game – and it gets better when you consider the likelihood that there will be quest-based and collectible-based perks. They confirm the latter by saying that the skill magazines now grant different levels of a perk, as you collect them. They used the Grognak the Barbarian skill book – a series mainstay – as an example, as it gives you the Barbarian perk.

Bethesda is saying that the pacing is closer to Skyrim‘s leveling, which I remember being pretty quick early on, before slowing down at the higher, more powerful levels. If that’s true, that should mean that we’re able to get a good base of perks early on, before we dig into the really tough sections (Deathclaws). From what they’ve been teasing with the perks, it looks like specializing in early game builds is probably in your best interest, while still allowing you to have a really well rounded character in end-game play. With the removal of skills, some classic perks have been looked at again and shaped into new forms that make sense with the new system. Gun Nut is a good example – it used to just be a boost to Small Guns and Repair, now it helps determine what weapon mods you can put together.

As we get closer to the November launch of Fallout 4, I find myself getting more and more excited for it. It was already my most anticipated game of the year, and while I am still trying to stay relatively blind as to a lot of details, things like this and the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. videos that they’ve been releasing each week really help keep the hype high.

Weekly News Recap: Week of July 20, 2015 – Fallout 4 Quakecon Edition

This weekend is the annual celebration of all things Quake at id software’s Quakecon. Things have expanded over the years, as id has been picked up by Bethesda, and as a result, this year we were expecting a few new details to emerge about this fall’s Fallout 4. And we got a pretty solid start to the news across the Bethesda board early on.

Doom 2016

DOOM ALPHA DETAILS EMERGE
Kicking off the Quakecon news flood, we finally got some details about the upcoming alpha for next year’s DOOM. Players who pre-ordered Wolfenstein: The New Order will either be emailed codes for the upcoming Alpha, or if they had it digitally, they’re already all set. The Alpha doesn’t have a solid date yet, but I would expect it to come out this fall/winter.

Fallout Anthology

FALLOUT ANTHOLOGY COULD BE THE BEST DEAL EVER
Yesterday Bethesda announced what could be the best deal I’ve seen in a long time. PC players will be blessed with the upcoming Fallout Anthology – containing Fallout, Fallout 2, Fallout: Tactics, Fallout 3 AND Fallout: New Vegas. And those last two are the complete editions with all the DLC. All of those games, available in a pretty cool collectible Mini-Nuke case – for $45. Forty-Five Dollars – that’s less than any single modern game. Sure, it’s PC exclusive, and sure the games are almost 20 years old – but the timing is perfect and the first few games are hard to come by. Now, it is a true limited edition – so go pre-order it now if you want it.

Fallout 4 Box Art

FALLOUT 4 DETAILS COME FROM EXCLUSIVE DEMO
The big talking point today though was the exclusive, closed door demo of Fallout 4. There’s no plan as of now to release the gameplay footage, so only the attendees will have gotten to see it in action, but the media that was there did live-blog it, along with some quick posts after the show. From the looks of things, the content focused on showing off new companions – confirming four of the “about a dozen” options (Mr. Handy, Dogmeat, Piper and Preston); along with showing off more combat. But the more interesting things, at least to me, were things that Todd Howard talked about before the demo. They hit on the S.P.E.C.I.A.L stats – including showing a quick video talking all about Strength – a video that is the first in a series that they’ll be releasing to the public. After that perks finally got some press – which has been something I’ve been curious about since E3. They’re going with the Fallout 3 style, where you pick a perk at each level-up, and it looks like they’re going to be tied more to the S.P.E.C.I.A.L stats. There’s still a ton of stuff in the mechanics that I really am curious about, but for now this is good enough to tide me over.