Review: 'Fallout 4' Is a World Big Enough for Sadists and Saints Succeed

fallout comba
Fallout tries to do several things, but it does action the best. Bethesda Game Studio

The open-world game has never been better thanks to the bolstered hardware of new consoles (and the perennial superiority of high-end PC gaming rigs). Developers have more power than ever before to drive immense worlds, and the figures can be staggering. No Man's Sky, an upcoming space exploration title, is purported to have 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 possible planets to visit.

It will not have that many stories to tell.

Related: Fallout 4 Is the Most Complex Entertainment of Our Day. but Does That Mean It's Art?

Neither will Fallout 4, the latest entry in Bethesda Game Studios lauded postapocalyptic franchise, although it should beat No Man's Sky in sales by a wide margin. Bethesda excels at creating worlds that give players choices. Simply put, the world of Fallout 4 is full of stories. The most important is the one it lets you write yourself.

Fallout face creation
Your character can look like anyone, which is good because you may end up playing again and again. Bethesda Game Studio

Fallout 4 begins with a simplified character creation menu that you play as exactly who you want, from the look to in-game attributes like strength and intelligence. The variety available with the intuitive system is important because Fallout 4 is a game designed to be played several times. Having only finished one version of the main storyline, I cannot wait to go back, make a completely different character and start anew, knowing that my second experience will be different from my first. And my third. And my 18th.

At its core, Fallout 4 is a well-balanced first-person action role-playing game. The postapocalyptic ruins of Boston provide a setting where gunmen could be in every window or around every corner. Land mines lie scattered among debris and corpses turn to bloodthirsty ghouls behind your back. Action seekers will not want for thrills, although the pacing is spread across dozens of hours. Following story missions is the quickest route to epic shootouts.

Fallout 4 is also about open exploration, too. Pacifists can spend hours with the new Settlement building system. Centered on a civil do-gooders storyline, the settlements represent both the best and worst parts of the Fallout 4 experience. Players must recruit civilians, often through acts of valor involving bandits or monsters, to work various homesteads across the wasteland. Each settlement is constructed using found materials so there is a reason to scavenge. Dozens of components like glue, copper and oil join traditional loot like guns, ammo and cash.

It's engaging but flawed. Buggy AI and a clunky user interface mar the experience, but the potential for extensive playtime cannot be ignored. Fallout 4 doesn't end when the main story does, and it's clear that managing settlements is a big part of Bethesda's long-term plan for Fallout 4. For players who enjoy crafting titles like Minecraft, the settlements are a wonderful diversion but suffer by comparison to the action sequences, at least for now.

Fallout immersive gaming
The game's voice acting is superb, which means the game can evoke real emotion. Bethesda Game Studio

The greatest variable in Fallout 4 is in the unseen benefits of player modifications, or "mods." Long a benefit exclusive to PC gaming, mods allow players to design their own assets and narratives and bug fixes in a game. Bethesda is bringing mods to consoles for the first time, but it's too early to tell what the long-term impact will be as they rollout alongside Bethesda's own downloadable content and patch updates.

On PCs, modding has given games like Skyrim, Bethesda's previous open-world epic, an incredible life span. Thousands of free mods improve graphics or add new quests and items. If Bethesda succeeds, the modding of Fallout 4 could change the console industry forever. Even if it achieves a fraction of what is available for Skyrim, players could find themselves with a Fallout 4 that only gets better over time. It's a project that will take years, and is hard to judge on day one.

In the meantime, Fallout 4 offers plenty. An engaging story with multiple branches and several twists provides a framework for an open-ended hero's journey full of organic, unpredictable plot developments. A no-nonsense combat system fuels plenty of action, and wonderful voice acting creates moments of genuine emotion. The ambitious settlements system has some rough edges, but functions well enough to inspire hope that updates can smooth out the gameplay.

Above all, Fallout 4 excels at making players feel immersed and in control. It is digital escapism at its best, putting people into whatever roles they choose. Sadists and saints succeed in equal measure, and there is no wrong way to engage this world. By the end, I had projected a complex revenge plot onto my character that went well beyond what was written into the game. Every moment felt like it led to something important. Fallout 4's wasteland is full of purpose. Go find yours. You won't regret it.