Published on November 17th, 2015 | by Rob Cox5
Fallout 4 – PC Review
As is tradition with any Bethesda title, I’ve already racked up an inordinate number of hours playing Fallout 4. The sheer amount of things to do within their large, open worlds offer you an amazing amount of quests to complete and items to loot, usually for a wide set of factions with different goals and alignments.
What Fallout 4 does differently to their previous recent outings (Skyrim and Fallout 3) is, somewhat controversially, remove the heavier role playing elements of the RPG format – where previously you usually picked a class/role you’d like to play, and the limited amount of levels and perks available forced you to decide on a fairly set progression, and the variety of dialogue options allowed you to be a noble bastion of all that was right with the world, or a colossal, unwavering dick.
Fallout 4 instead sticks you with a voiced protagonist, in a fairly straight-shooting story, which means the dialogue choices mostly mean you’re an all-round decent guy or gal, and your options are usually straight-up good guy, sarcastic git or arrogant, yet still sort of well-intentioned arse. There’s a few conversation options to fit your moral code, whether you’re talking someone out of a fight, talking them into one, or extorting quest givers for more caps. While this decision has split the gaming community in some respects, as playing as your crafted persona was a huge part of previous games – and what made them truly special – because let’s face it, nobody remembers Fallout 3 as an amazing shooter. This does, however; allow a more finely crafted story to take place, which, to me at least; is an interesting idea that I’m thoroughly enjoying. I usually play as the good guy in any game involving karma or morality choices, with a few badass/revenge moments thrown in – it’s just my style of play, and Bethesda’s story and multitude of quests does allow that.
Where previous Fallout titles really suffered was the gunplay, which has seen significant improvement since Fallout 3 and Obsidian’s New Vegas, with the latter’s weapon modding system being fine-tuned and used incredibly well here. There’s something to be said about collecting the resources to perfect a basic starting weapon – say, a sawn-off hunting rifle, originally excellent at close/mid-range, into a silenced, .50 cal, night-vision sniper rifle over a few hours play, or finding a Legendary loot drop. These are found on the occasional “Legendary” enemy, foes that spawn in with significantly increased health and damage, carrying weapon or armour piece with unique buffs. These enemies can spawn anywhere, and serve as a sort of mini-boss in otherwise regular areas, which really shakes things up gameplay-wise. Just yesterday, I found a sniper rifle that does an extra 50% damage to ghouls (the zombie-like humans, who’ve been hideously mutated by radiation, and their brains have rotted away) midway through a feral ghoul-heavy mission, and later on, an Irradiated Shotgun that deals an extra 50 radiation damage. These loot drops make the game way more interesting – it’s no longer a case of “If you want x gun, you’re going to want to travel to y location and kill z” – these drops happen anywhere, and discussing/bragging about awesome drops to your friends is good fun – as is laughing at some of the terrible ones (radiation weapons with bonus damage against things healed/immune to radiation, incendiary damage against things immune to fire, etc) and increased the fun tenfold.
The character creator’s seen a giant overhaul, not just in terms of graphical fidelity, but what you’re able to create. I’m unashamed to admit that the first couple of hours of my game time is usually spent attempting to sculpt my face onto my character – and I was impressed with Fallout 4’s “grab and tweak” system. I was able to add the scar I have on my chin, and tweak my nose to its slightly broken-to-the-left imperfection – and make my character the correct physique, too, which is a first for the studio. You don’t have to have the same exact BMI and muscles as the entire population any more! This new feature allows a lot more varied NPCs, from the typically strung-out Chem Addicts to the Portly Mayor of Diamond City, the main hub of the game. The Sims can effectively pack up and go home, as far as character creation goes, Fallout 4 wins.
As much as I’ve absolutely loved my time on Fallout 4 so far, there are, however, a wide variety of issues on the PC version, which I would be remiss in not covering, despite the fun I’m having. A wide array of bugs on release is unfortunately, a Bethesda trademark as much as open-world sandbox games. There’s an arbitrary 30fps lock on the game, which is a) a bloody disgusting frame rate to play at and b) countless problems associated with the frame rate once you’ve bypassed that by editing the .ini config files in the game’s main folder and my documents. As any PC gamers can remember with Skyrim, anything over 60fps completely breaks the physics engine, which is absolutely [expletive deleted] ridiculous in this day and age. With Skyrim, playing over 60fps resulted in items launching across the room when you entered any house, and caused the horse-and-carriage intro to the game to freak out. The horse would front flip down the mountain, landing you upside down, unmoving, unable to even craft your character. Alternate intro mods were a necessity to even play.
The tradition continues four years later, even following the amount of feedback and complaints they received for this for four straight years. If you limit yourself to 60, or god forbid, 30fps, everything works fine, but there’s some utterly disgusting screen tearing when you turn left or right (information from multiple frames shown at once, resulting in “torn” image on screen) and if, like me, that, coupled with low framerates makes you feel physically sick – you can unlock the frame rate, where the real trouble begins.
Loading screen tips whizz by before you finish reading them. Travis at Diamond City radio cuts off The Ink Spots before the bloody song has finished. Lines of conversation happen over one another, which, during plot heavy dialogue strings annoys the absolute arse off you. Occasionally, the frame rate drops from those sweet 120+ frames to 10-15 FPS, usually while using a scope. Most game-breakingly, however, is the infamous “Terminal” bug – where exiting any terminal after finally hacking it and unlocking doors/safes/turrets/robots, whatever – leaves you stuck in place, camera floating inside the head of your character, which means you have to quicksave before every terminal, and restart the game if you fall prey to it. If you’re in the middle of a quest and actually getting into it – this is a huge immersion breaker. Boo, Bethesda, boo. Countless people are experiencing this problem, and so far, no patch. Judging by Bethesda’s track record with Skyrim, though, it looks like we won’t even get one. It feels like the game was built for you to play at 30FPS and punishes you for running it four times what you should be doing – which is sloppy, sloppy game design.
This, unfortunately, raises concerns with the current console-focused development cycle of games, which has been a growing issue among more critical PC gamers in recent years. Games used to be developed for the tippet-top end of what is achievable with current tech – and scaled down for lower-spec PCs in the options settings, and dialled back down when ported over to consoles. Look at Crysis when that came out, in 2007. Still looks amazing. Built for the tippety-top end and dialled back for everyone at the time, only really capable of being maxed out a few years down the line. Now, however, and increasingly sloppily so – games are developed for the current gen of games consoles (while we’re at it, let’s not call them next gen, still) and then ported over to PC. This results in an inferior product overall. Look at DICE with Battlefield 3, for instance. 64 players on PC was a nightmare, as maps were designed for consoles’ halved player size, resulting in overcrowded, horrible missions. Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs was revealed at E3 with a gorgeous in-engine simulation of Seattle, with incredibly beautiful wind and rain effects, and gorgeous textures. Then the game came out, and even a high-end PC suffered from muddy textures and lowered graphical fidelity – the upcoming The Division also suffered a “downgrade” when recent footage was revealed. Pushing out the best quality product you can manage, pushing technology as far as it can go, innovating engines and physics – that used to be what game design was about. Instead, we’re having to settle for games built with specific performance in mind – until the next console cycle. And that’s worrying.
Despite all of this, I’m still in love with Bethesda’s latest offering. It’s so good, gameplay wise – I love playing it, despite the bugs and the headaches. Does that make me part of the problem? Probably. But at the end of the day, I’m still having tremendous fun, and that’s the main reason I play games.