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Friday, April 15, 2016

Fallout 4 Review: The Great American Experiment.

I spoil the ending in this review... such as it is.

10 hours into Fallout 4 I happened across a trash filled, partially drained, pond. The morning sun came in over the leafless trees giving it a sort of pink-hued and solemn dignity to what would otherwise be a complete dump. There's a building on top of the hill and I investigate. It's a barely furnished cabin with a table, chair, hearth, and an empty bed frame. No ammo, medicine, weapons, or bottle caps to be found.

A waste of time.

But then I see what looks like a bird house just outside the cabin. Bird houses don't typically have glowing red buttons on them so naturally I have to press it. A voice begins an audio tour of Walden Pond, the two year residence of Henry David Thoreau. A mainstream video game with sales into the stratosphere has begun lecturing me on transcendentalism. After a few minutes of harping on Thoreau's rejection of society and distraction it then directs me to the Walden Pond gift shop. Where I could find Walden Pond postcards, coffee mugs, and inspirational T-shirts. 

If this game had a mouth I'd kiss it.

Yay, references!

But that feeling would dim over the coming weeks. Then those weeks turned to months. Then I just couldn't muster the passion to review the damn thing. Moments like Walden Pond are Bethesda's specialty, the big picture never is. Which is a shame because 4 had to come out years after New Vegas, the gold standard of long form interactive story telling... and my most favorite-est game ever. I expected the wrong sorts of things. Bethesda games are kinda like roommates. You spend so much time with them you can't help but pick out the flaws. Does the good handily outweigh the bad? (Fallout 3) Or did the then-revolutionary graphics paper over hours upon hours of tedium? (Oblivion... god I couldn't stand Oblivion). 

The covers of the magazines are their own reward.

I have serious qualms with Fallout 4, but it doesn't change the fact it's their best game. It's just a rotten shame it's not the best Fallout game. I can't deny they spent a long time staring at the fan treatise of what 4 absolutely had to be. I gotta say, they killed that list dead. Wonky facial animation? Vastly improved. Shaky, borderline unplayable, shooting? Perfected. Companions feeling like a weekend jam mod instead of what should have been the richest characters in the game? You get the idea. In fact all the greatest hits from the 3 and New Vegas modding community were made critical to 4. A brilliant and cavalier move... though I'm beginning to suspect that their idea well may be running dry. 

Every single gun can be modded barrel to grip. Rifles can become AK-47s, Pistols can become sub-machine guns, and everything in between. If you haven't found the right weapon for you, you probably have to make it yourself. I love it to bloody pieces. It's become my favorite crafting system in gaming, full stop. 

Not to mention the embarrassing amount of hours I spent building my gas station settlement's supply lines to my other allied settlements. These are some of the finest nuts and bolts I've ever seen prop up an RPG. So why did it all have to go so wrong?

This review's about to get, like, super bitchy.
I've struggled to put this into words for some time now, but F4 has the worst main story in the entire franchise. F3's ending was certainly disappointing, but at least it made sense and never lost sight of it's main thrust. What has made this such an exemplary series is the fact that all of it's convoluted conflicts are always based around the simplest things. 

Water. Electricity. Security. All dirt simple and relatable utilities you'd kill for in a post-apocalypse. Fallout 4 just wants to be Blade Runner. It's ridiculous. It hangs it's hat on something that's never really mattered in Fallout before and treats it like it's something it always had been leading up to. The weight and gravitas given to line reads about whether Synths (robots so human it's impossible to tell they're not) can be citizens makes it feel like heavy handed fan service. As if we were waiting 8 years on the edge of our seat to see how that "Replicated Man" quest from F3 finished. Not so much, guys.

Some day... someone will make a great "power under-armor" joke.

They had a great anti-villian in The Institute and completely squandered it. The idea that a literally underground society had advanced in the 200+ years after the great war and had decided to use Boston as it's own personal testing facility was bursting with potential. But again... all roads lead to sad robots who just want to be loved. I just don't understand why that was so important. We could have had an interactive equivalent to High Rise. Instead we got f***ing Chappie

I could have let all of this go if this was leading to an ending worth seeing. Every finale, no matter which of the 3 factions you chose involves hunting down and killing the other 2. Not in a well written way. In a "sh*t, we're out of time and we need 3 different finales!" kind of way. 

You go to 2 of the other bases and just... kill everyone. Everyone. It's disgusting in it's soullessness. There's no grand political surrender of the New California Republic to Mr. House's oligarchy. There's no weight to killing a trusted companion who doesn't recognize you after what you've decided to become. A switch gets flipped and now all your old friends are robotic cannon fodder. It is in my top 3 worst endings I have ever played.

Fallout... I just can't stay mad at you.

Whew! Still here? Good, because this is still the BEST game Bethesda has ever made. Outside of the main story, there is still an entire city filled with worthwhile stories, well paced dungeons, fun weapons, and breathtaking atmosphere. Also Nick Valentine, everyone's favorite companion, is perhaps the best character in the series. Which is why I'm so frustrated! I've been hard on F4 because Bethesda has come so far. I mean, Skyrim also had great gameplay and atmosphere but I was still violently allergic to it's lore and characters.

With F4 they finally had dialogue and characters worth getting excited about. With even a passable story I would have never brought any of this up. Even if you run a flawless marathon, if you trip over your shoe laces right before the finish line... that's all anyone is going to bother to remember. But flawed greatness is still greatness. And I love Fallout 4 in spite of how angry it makes me. And maybe I love it because it makes me angry sometimes. That can be the mark of true friendship. Though perhaps... not a healthy one.

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