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2015’s Best Games: Fallout 4

To round off the year, we’re taking a look back at our favourite games of 2015 – it’s been a hell of a year! Next up, it’s the end of the world as we know it, and we feel fine…

What would you do if you woke up one day and the world had ended? If the answer isn’t ‘collect as many globes, board games and rolls of duct tape as possible’ then congratulations – you’re apparently doing the post-apocalypse completely wrong. Yes, Fallout 4 presents quite a different vision of a post-nuclear future to its forerunners, yet one which is at the same time incredibly familiar. Mutants, freaks, bandits, irradiated wastes and malformed beasts are all still present and correct, as is the ability to practically freeze time while you pick off targets like a badass. But by adding a complex crafting system into the mix, Bethesda has sneakily made every last pile of junk scattered around the Commonwealth a potential treasure trove.

You see, ‘junk’ objects now list their component materials, making them a key part of building weapon upgrades, settlement utilities or even entire structures using the new crafting system. Simple though the tools may be, it’s a clear indicator of the level of freedom that is extended to the player here – in allowing players to take charge of bases and build/demolish/defend them as they see fit, Fallout 4 gains an interesting new component that could stand to distract you from the task at hand for hours on end.

That core storyline, while actually pretty engaging here, isn’t even the heart of the narrative anyway – it’s all about the stories you make yourself while wandering the treacherous wasteland that is post-nuke Boston. The things you stumble across, the enemies you randomly encounter, the salvage and spoils you luck into… these are the things that grow into the real story of Fallout 4. Your story. Everyone gets the same points of interest and narrative-driving quests, but the stories you share with friends will be entirely personal to you. Or, at very least, they’ll feel that way. Bethesda has a talent for making players feel like they are the ones calling the shots and while it’s partially a similar deception to what Telltale pulls with its illusion of choice, emergent moments are strong and interesting enough to make the punchline worth the wait.

To aid in this, combat has seen a massive refresh and although you’re always caught between two evils – the slightly janky FPS gunplay and the lying percentages of the returning VATS system – both feel tighter and more satisfying than they have previously. The former is more notably improved and with the right gun, you can actually almost play Fallout 4 like a traditional shooter. ‘Almost’ is the key word there, since your gun can feel a little like an unreliable narrator at times. Even if you’ve lined up a shot perfectly in real time or chosen a target with an 85%+ hit chance, you can still miss due to the fact that the whole thing is powered by one giant (and obnoxious) calculator. As you level your skills and improve your gear, these early worries evaporate and you slowly begin to become a true force with which to be reckoned. Legendary enemies, recognised by the stars at the end of their names, are guaranteed to drop something special and while some loot may not work for your particular build, it only takes one lucky drop to find a new favourite gun and/or feel unstoppable with some sweet new gear.

Speaking of which, the series’ iconic Power Armour comes into play way sooner than expected, leaving you wondering what the next step up is after jumping into a metal suit and peppering the world with minigun love. Fortunately, Bethesda has made a pretty smart play here and while the early reveal of the literal full metal jacket (and then some) initially feels a little premature, rationing its use by making the Fusion Cores it runs on a rarity smashes any notion of this being a full-time win button. You find yourself being extremely cautious as to when to bust out the suit and as such, it becomes a Plan B – you leave it back in one of your bases and only pull it out when a mission really demands the full- force approach. Or, as has been the case for us, barely use it at all. Despite the fact that you can get it early, it ended up filling much the same role as those rare JRPG items like X-Potions and Megalixirs for us – something that felt too rare and too useful to use at all, not to mention something that made the game ludicrously easy on the rare occasions we did use it. If you want to dress up like the dude on the cover and stomp around everywhere in a metal suit, we’d recommend upping the difficulty to compensate. You’ll get more legendary enemies and better loot too, so that’s a nice little bonus.

Rationing Power Armour usage is far from the only big change to Fallout’s fundamentals and returning players will be quick to pick up on the fact that the Karma system is no more. Following the 100-hour moral grey area that is The Witcher 3, that’s probably just as well – the morality system in Fallout 3 was pretty much a binary affair anyway, good or evil actions simply nudging a swingometer that would govern how NPCs treated you. Its removal also fits the narrative here and while there’s still potential to be a bit of a dick if you want, that’s simply reflective of your character having a job to do and being willing to go to any lengths to get it done. You might even find you get a little snappy with people accidentally – short dialogue option previews have an annoying Mass Effect-like tendency to not be entirely indicative of what the actual line will be, so you might not always go down the conversational route you were expecting.

We feel like we need to address the elephant in the room at this point… well, more accurately, the elephant stuck in the wall. If you’ve played a Bethesda game before, you’ll know to expect bugs and glitches as you travel the wasteland and sure enough, Fallout 4 delivers on this front. We’ve not yet encountered anything game-breaking and often, these glitches are more amusing than they are annoying, although fans of polished gaming experiences may want to hold off playing until Bethesda drops a patch or two to fix some of the game’s issues.

Look past these issues, the relatively modest visuals and the infrequent performance issues, though, and Fallout 4 is a triumph in most other respects. Streamlining some of the weaker features of earlier games while expanding the world and catering to creative players, this is an engrossing open world RPG with many an interesting story to tell, but it’s blank pages are perhaps its best – Fallout 4 is just as ready to let you tell your stories as it is to regale you with its own. But just remember, if your story doesn’t involve stockpiling globes, board games and rolls of duct tape, you’re doing the post-apocalypse completely wrong.

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