War. War never changes.

Neither does Bethesda’s FALLOUT.

F4 Choppa

Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing.

I remember my first memorable journey into the wasteland with FALLOUT 3 (and subsequent journeys with FALLOUTFALLOUT 2, and FALLOUT: NEW VEGAS). And while I had done plenty of playthroughs with the previous games, I was itching for a new journey back to the retro future. Since it’s been seven years since Bethesda rewrote FALLOUT and broke ground with the third iteration, I was extremely eager to see what they had in store.

F4 Minigun

If you’ve played FALLOUT 3 or FALLOUT: NEW VEGAS, you’ll know what to expect here. Play a (now voiced) protagonist who leaves an isolated vault to explore the post-nuclear wastes of the city (now Boston) who’s searching for something (now his/her son) while battling hordes of giant mutants, S&M raiders, and haywired robots, while also exploring new quests and long forgotten areas.

For the most part, the game play hasn’t changed much from the ARPG formula that was established in the third game. Get your gun (or choice of brawling), horde and collect your necessary weapons, armor, and items, level up, and pick your skills from better accuracy to being able to get through a situation just by talking.

F4 Protectron

But alas, the wheel has changed in many ways. Or rather, for better or worse, the experience has been streamlined.

Gone is the skill based point system when leveling up. It has been stripped down to just getting a new ability whenever you level up. Just pick what skill (or S.P.E.C.I.A.L) you want when you level up. Nothing more, nothing less.

And I know this is going to shock some people but…I didn’t mind it at all.

F4 Skills

The problem with the previous FALLOUT/ELDER SCROLLS games is that if you got through about two-thirds of the game (assuming you did some side quests), things got stale real quick. It was easy to either max out your character by then or become too powerful if you picked the right stats. What was left came down to either the game becoming painfully boring or making it superficially “hard” by giving the enemies more health (though still dull since you remain a powerhouse).

F4 Deathclaw

Even after sinking over 55 hours into the game, I never felt overpowered (aside from having a gazillion stimpacks) or that there wasn’t anything interesting challenge wise. Simply put, stripping it down to just the abilities keeps the difficulty curve fair and smooth, prevents any kind of real level cap, gives something tangible to look forward to with each level, and eliminates micromanaging. Don’t get me wrong, there’s many aspects of the old school leveling up system that I miss. It’s not like this is a major step forward. But FALLOUT 4‘s minimalistic design isn’t as bad as it seems.

F4 VATS

On the opposite end of the spectrum, FALLOUT 4 has added much more to the weapon and armor system. Although the repair function has been completely removed (which, let’s admit, was a cumbersome and pointless feature to begin with), you can now fully customize your weapons and armor from the grip to the barrel.

Unfortunately, modifying requires you to gather material from aluminum cans to pilot lights. As if hauling important items wasn’t enough, now gathering random junk is a requirement if you want to modify your weapons (or build up your settlements). And in case you were wondering, the inventory/Pip-Boy system hasn’t changed much since the last games. Functional but remains a cluttered mess.

F4 Baysplosion

The combat, especially when it comes to shooting, has improved. Not a lot, certainly not enough to be the difference between night and day. But the guns have a more weighted feel to them, no longer feeling like you’re holding thin air. And while Bethesda could’ve taken notes from SKYRIM and made the melee combat really shine, a sword or a fist can be just as handy as a pistol or a rifle. Above all, it was nice to have the freedom to choose how you want to take out your enemies, from plain old fashion shooting, to talking, to even having your companions (now unkillable, thank God) take out an enemy or two.

F4 Behemoth

And while FALLOUT 4 might sound like a disappointment, it’s not all sour grapes. Plain and simple, it’s FALLOUT. And if you liked FALLOUT 3 or NEW VEGAS, then you’ll get what you want out of this, for better and worse.

But I will say that the story has improved a bit. Not that it is or has ever been its strong suit, but having a father/mother search for his/her son throughout the wasteland is a nice change from “emerge out of the Vault find the MacGuffin that will bring back water and life to this area of the wasteland.” Not to mention that it’s refreshing to get a brief glance of the world before the nuclear warfare and although I won’t spoil them, there’s plenty of genuine twists and turns to the story.

F4 Shelter

While the game still takes much inspiration from MAD MAX and A BOY AND HIS DOG, this time around it takes plenty of inspiration from pulp noir. If you’re a big fan of old mysteries such as myself, you’ll find plenty of references from THE MALTESE FALCON to THE SHADOW and even BLADE RUNNER.

And while we’re on the topic of small positives, some of the vistas and backgrounds are breathtaking. While the graphics didn’t improve considerably, the lighting and atmospheres, from clear sunsets to radioactive wastelands, tempts me to revisit FALLOUT 4 once the Oculus Rift comes out.

F4 Vista

Still, at the end of the day, I wouldn’t put FALLOUT 4 in my top five of 2015. A few years ago it might’ve blown me away. But in a landscape now dominated by both open world and MAD MAX inspired worlds, FALLOUT 4 barely edges itself ahead of the AAA standard.

And while Bethesda has been making similar open world, first person, ARPGs for the past twenty years, games like OBLIVIONSKYRIM, and yes, FALLOUT 3 felt like quantum leaps. Whereas FALLOUT 4 feels like at best, a minor step forward.

F4 Synth

But like I said, if you love FALLOUT, you’ll like FALLOUT 4. And if it means much of anything, I was engaged from start to finish throughout the fifty plus hours. However, I’d wait for it to come at a steep discount before picking it up.

RELEASE DATE: November 10th, 2015
PUBLISHER: Bethesda Softworks
DEVELOPER: Bethesda Game Studios
ESRB: M (Mature)