10
Our overall verdict "platinum"

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The bombs are coming. Right now. The end is here and you don’t even get to finish your coffee. Grab your partner and your baby and run for your life. Vault 111 is just over the hill and you and your family have a space. You are lucky. So lucky. You make it through security, through all the unlucky ones who are about to die, and you stand on the vault’s elevator. For a single stupid second your heart jumps because you realise you left the front door unlocked, but then the sky lights up. The crack and flash of the first bomb shocks you all into silence. Then the lift descends and, above you, the boom and roar of complete nuclear destruction rolls across the world. You are so lucky.

It’s been said before that Fallout 4 is Skyrim with guns, and after fifty one hours with said guns, it’s our intense pleasure to announce this to be perfectly true.  Fallout 4 is an RPG, an adventure game and a shooter. Actually there isn’t much thatFallout 4 isn’t, but first and foremost it’s an RPG.  When you first emerge from Vault 111 you’ll be underdressed, under skilled and under armed. Even the Vault’s resident insects are a threat until you find something to fight back with. You’ll need to scavenge if you’re going to survive and the game picks up on that from early on.

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Scavenging features heavily in Fallout 4. Don’t be shy; if it’s lying around, nick it. You never know what might come in handy and it’s not just weapons. Scavenging in the Wasteland is a hoarder’s dream.  Plastic spoons, clipboards, alarm clocks, empty bottles, pocket watch, baseball cap, piece of chalk, box of detergent – everything has a purpose, even if it isn’t immediately obvious. You’re going to need deep pockets, but just how deep they are depends entirely on you and the S.P.E.C.I.A.L system.

Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility and Luck. At the beginning of the game you must assign a set amount of points to these different character aspects. You need to consider how you intend to play the game, and this is an enormous hint that Falloutwill adapt to your own unique style of play. I prefer to think my way around situations and I certainly need all the extra help I can get so I assigned a large portion of points to Charisma, Intelligence and Luck, thinking I wouldn’t necessarily need Strength and Endurance as I’m not much of a pit fighter. Slight error as Strength will affect how much you can carry and Endurance will affect your Actions Points (needed for tactical VATS  combat and pegging it when things get rough), two things I really needed as it turns out I’m a secret hoarder and a coward. There’s no right or wrong answer to how you assign your points, but it is worth properly familiarising yourself with S.P.E.C.I.A.L and deciding what’s important to you.

Depending on how many points you assign to each ability, different related perks will become available for unlocking. Each time you level-up, you’ll gain a point that you can either add to your S.P.E.C.I.A.L abilities or use to unlock a specific related perk such as extra health, finding more ammo, ability to craft better weapons or advanced hacking or lock-picking. It’s a clever upgrade system that works very well. If you prefer a shootout with automated turrets, that’s cool, but unlocking the different levels of hacking perks will allow you to turn them off and stroll on by with a thumbs up and your guns down. Every time you upgrade it’s likely you’ll have an argument with yourself over how to assign your hard-earned point. You have an unbelievable amount of options.

Buying, finding or snatching weapons and armour off corpses is another tried and trusted way to upgrade, and Fallout 4 has an excellent balance of quality finds. The really good, higher level stuff is tricky to find but certainly not impossible. The fact that the good stuff isn’t just floating about everywhere gives you a great sense of achievement when you find something truly awesome. The spawning of a Legendary Enemy certainly gives you a thrill, to a point where you’ll use up every scrap of ammo to bring it down and rifle through its lifeless remains.

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An RPG just isn’t an RPG without a spot of crafting, and Fallout 4 has more than just a spot. All that crap you’ve been collecting? Use it to craft countless mods for your weapons and apparel. Again, you can match your choice of upgrades to your playstyle. Like close quarters gunplay? Far away with a scope? Shooting from the hip? Happy to sacrifice damage for accuracy or energy resistance for radiation resistance? You decide. The crafting system is simple and RPG pros will take to it like a beef patty takes to a bun, but it’s also simple enough for RPG newbies to pick up pretty much immediately. In the same vein, if players are unsure, the game is perfectly playable without even sniffing at an amour bench. I ‘completed’ the game without once using the stove to mix ingredients and cook something yummy, not because it was in any way complicated, but because in real life although I microwave a damn good coffee, I don’t cook and, besides, I was quite happy jacking up with Stimpacks and gobbling radiated mutant hound meat. Basically, Fallout allows you to play the game however you want. If you want to tinker with the chemistry set, go for it, but if you’d rather just go shoot stuff, you can do that too with no consequences for shunning the deeper RPG elements. Just sling on your Power Armour and wade on in.

While we’re on the subject of RPG elements and crafting, they don’t come much deeper or bigger than the ability to craft entire settlements. Some areas come complete with a workbench, but they are overrun with enemies. If you can successfully clear them, you’ll get access to the workbench and you can build a settlement or improve an existing one. Place beds for settlers to sleep, defence items to keep them safe, plant food to feed them and even build entire houses either from scratch or pre-made. Power generators, lights, rugs, chairs, gun turrets, crafting stations – if you’ve scavenged enough useless crap from the Wasteland, you can build whatever the hell you like. Lastly, place a recruitment radio beacon and power it up to broadcast the existence of your fine little settlement. If you build it, they will come. It’s your choice how much time you spend on this, although one particular route through the game will have you building more than the others. Personally, I couldn’t get enough of it, and now the main campaign is over I can really dedicate some time to building the biggest and best settlement the Wasteland has ever seen.  I’m praying with all my heart that Bethesda will include more settlement options and items in future DLCs.

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In keeping with Fallout’s ability to adapt to an individual’s needs, the game has four different factions you can align yourself with, and each one will eventually lead you to a different ending. Much like you could in Skyrim, you can follow any route you wish, but only up until a point. Once you reach the climax of the central storyline, you are forced to choose a side and who you pick will probably depend on your in-game morals and how much your character’s ultimate and very personal goal has affected you. I sided with the Minutemen and their commonwealth building and people-centric ethics, but I did feel extremely torn and finished the game feeling guilty, elated, excited and devastated all at the same time.

If you’re more into a ‘if it moves kill it’ playstyle, you may choose to align with the Brotherhood of Steel.  These guys are what pass as the military in the Wasteland and oh my goodness you want them on your side in a fight. While on my way towards the Glowing Sea I accidentally tripped over a skirmish between them and some badass mutants. If it hadn’t been for them, my companion and I would have been annihilated.  This wasn’t my first encounter with the Brotherhood and actually my first whiff of these guys took my breath away. This faction is another good excuse to take your Power Armour out for walkies. Your defence against everything is greatly increased while you’re in the armour and you can carry a lot more, but the system runs on power cells that are hard to come by and when it’s damaged you’ll need valuable supplies to mend it. You need to balance out your use of your big metal suit. Save it for special occasions like birthdays, Christmas and the really big missions.

So if the Minutemen represent the people and the Brotherhood are the military, that probably makes the Railroad the freedom fighters and the Institute the educated elite. Really, there should be enough room in the Wasteland for everyone, but life rarely works that way, does it? Although you are forced to eventually side with one of them, I would like to see the factions working together (however reluctantly) in an expansion.  Roll on, that season pass content because even after the main story is finished there is a huge amount of scope for so much more. Forgive my gluttony.

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While you are wandering the vast world ofFallout, you’ll be happy to learn that you don’t have to do it alone. No, there is no pesky multiplayer to invade you game, steal all your stuff and ruin all your fun. I’m talking NPCs, and you have a rather nice selection to choose from. These guys (and girl and canine) will help you out in battle and carry your stuff. How nice of them. It’s up to you who you choose so bring along, but no one beats Dogmeat the German Shepherd. He’s loyal, he can sniff out bad guys and fetch valuable items, and best of all he looks fabulous in a bandana and welding goggles.  Dogmeat also seems to be the companion who gets in the way the least. Yes, unfortunately, the game does suffer from NPC Right in my Way Syndrome. Also, if you dismiss a companion and then try to find them later, you may have trouble. They do seem to disappear and often won’t go to the settlement you send them to. It’s a minor aggravation that I’m sure will be fixed in a future update.

On the subject of buggy annoyances, the game has only one or two that I’ve experienced. I got stuck on top of a shopping trolley when a nuke blew me across the room and I crashed three times towards the end of the game. However, there is nothing major to report and nothing we haven’t seen before in any other new game. When you consider the size and depth of Fallout, a few launch day glitches are to be expected, and I certainly haven’t come across anything completely game-breaking.

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Graphically, Fallout 4 is just fine. Don’t expect Killzone or ACU levels of new gen brilliance, however. Fallout has the look of a PS3 game, and there’s nothing wrong with that. While stunning graphics are great to have, Fallout 4 is absolute proof that if a dev can get the gameplay dead-on, the framerate and the 1080-blah-blah doesn’t matter one jot. Not once did I think ‘I’m having so much fun I’ve missed two meals, but boy I wish I had a few more frames!’ Forget about it. The Wasteland is perfect just as it is and you don’t need to see every hair on Dogmeat’s back swish in the breeze. If you’re playing this game properly, you won’t even notice.

One of my favourite features is the ability to switch between first person and third person. Don’t know about you lot, but I’m a third person kind of girl. I find movement infinitely easier when I can see where I’m putting my feet. I assumed I would stay in third person for the whole game, but a quick press of a button can switch to first person in a flash and make combat heavy scenarios so very much easier. The switch makes it feel as though you’ve changed the entire game from RPG to shooter.  In first person aiming feels beautifully accurate. There is a marked difference between the different weapons and ammo types, lots of things to weigh up before you decide which weapons to take with you and which ones to pilfer from all the dead bodies piled at your feet.

If you’re not so good with the shooting and are more likely to hit your poor companion than the enemy, rejoice in the V.A.T.S combat. A quick tap of the R1 button allows you to slow time and target not only specific enemies but specific body parts. Very handy for shooting a mini nuke out of an enemy’s hand and blowing them to smithereens before they charge at you and blow you both into meaty chunks with gravy. The catch here is that you’ll need high Perception for high accuracy and enough Action Points to take as many shots as possible. What you end up with is a battle that is a combination of real-time shooting while your Action Points bar fills up and slowed-down tactical pinpointing that includes strategic critical shots. This system is one of the game’s (many) highpoints. Every battle needs both quick reflexes and tactics. Hiding while your AP bar fills up is a genuine option in desperate situations. Failing that, just make sure you’ve got a missile launcher in your pocket.

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Feast your eyes on fifty one gleaming trophies including an extra shiny Platinum. Many of the trophies will pop as you progress, but if you want to go for the Platinum you’ll need to create some strategic saves so you can play through all the factions. There are also trophies for the magazine and bobblehead collectables and for settlement building. All of the trophies are reasonable with nothing that can’t be earned with a bit (or a lot) of leg work. It’s always nice to see a trophy set that is potentially attainable for any skill level. Not everyone wants or can play on the harder difficulty settings so bonus points to Bethesda for not penalising those people with trophies that would otherwise be impossible for them to earn. Aside from the few trophies that force you to go backwards, most trophies encourage you to keep moving forwards, finding collectables, cleaning up sidequests, building up settlements and exploring this brand new world.

Conclusion

We’re not shy here at Punk and Lizard. When we are smitten with a game we unashamedly scream and shout about it. Here goes. Fallout 4 is a masterpiece. They should hang the box in the Louvre. If you only have the time and money for one more game in the next six months, let it be this one. There’s no downside, no catch, no doubt. We will certainly be playing it well into next year and hopefully long after if future expansions allow. Stunning, deep and engrossing gameplay,Fallout 4 is a huge supermutant beast of a game. It’s a flawless RPG, a solid shooter and a spectacular open world adventure. Even after fifty one hours we’ve only just blown dust off its surface.  We have hundreds of hours of gameplay left to experience. The Wasteland is not an inviting place, but we don’t want to be anywhere else.

S J Hollis Rating – 10/10

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S J Hollis

S J Hollis has been a keen gamer since the Atari 2600. She freely admits she thought E.T. was a good game but would like to stress her tastes have since dramatically improved. She is also an author, a morning person and thinks Elf ears are sexy. Follow her on twitter @SJHollis_