37 days since release.
156 hours on one single character.
All pre-ending quests completed.
All map locations discovered.
All skill magazines.
All endings (each ending is only about an hour of different quests after the point where you start alienating the others).
All settlements unlocked, populated, and supplied. A few built up to over 20 settlers with a ton for them to do.
All companions at maximum affinity.
You might say I kinda like the game.
I'm not even done with this character. There are more quests that unlock after the endings, which I plan to do. I just felt comfortable actually writing a review now.
I'll give my summary up top since there will be spoilers toward the end: In brief, Fallout 4 is incredible. What it lacks in player choice, it makes up for with great mechanics, the amazing world to explore that you'll be expecting from a Bethesda game, ramped up significantly thanks to the better graphics, and far fewer bugs. The world they've build is their best ever. Everything just melds together in ways Bethesda has yet to achieve, and the world tells its own story. It's a bit of a bummer that you aren't making the biggest choices in the world anymore, and the endings all kinda suck a big, but the actual experience may be better than previous games. It isn't perfect, but it stands with the rest as a great entry to the series, and improves on things in so many ways that it may be hard to play the older entries in the series.
First, let's address a few complaints. People were complaining around launch about the graphics. Sure, this doesn't look as amazing as some current-gen games, but for a massive, open-world RPG, they're honestly pretty good. And most people really don't play this kind of game for the graphics. Morrowind, Oblivion, Fallout 3 and New Vegas, and even Skyrim didn't look as good as the games that came out around the same time, but that didn't change the enjoyment at all. I thought the graphics were nice, anyway.
People have also been complaining about the lack of real choices in the game's dialogue. And on this point, they're spot on. When someone asks you to do a quest for example, you can choose a positive yes, a sarcastic yes, a "yes but what is that" option, or "no," but they give you the quest anyway. There are barely any quests that affect others until the final hours of the main faction quests. The ability to play it how you want it has been dialed way back for Fallout 4. I'm not necessarily saying that's objectively bad, but it is what it is.
But for me, Bethesda games are fun because of the world you're in, and on this point the game truly shines. The radio is back with some old favorites from Fallout 3 and some new era-appropriate tracks, and the radio helps set the mood for the game better than most other factors, BUT you should also turn the radio off and listen to the score from time to time. The tracks for different locations are amazing.
Because it's Bethesda, you'll see things spread throughout the world that tell stories without telling them. Like a hole in the side of a bank with two skeletons, a sack full of money, and some scattered pre-war money on the ground-- you can see from this little scene that some people tried to loot the bank in the aftermath of the bombs dropping, and failed. They also, of course, have little funny things spread about. This time the running gag was teddy bears. You can find a teddy bear on the toilet who is wearing glasses and reading the Boston Bugle, one's wearing a driver's cap and sitting behind the wheel of a bus, and so on. The attention to detail in the world design is what I love most about these games. They feel lived in, destroyed, and lived in again. 156 hours and I still haven't seen it all. I've visited every marked location, sure, but there's so much to see in between the map markers.
In short, player choice may be dialed back significantly, but the sheer amount of things to see makes the replay value high, and makes the game as fun as it is.
The big new mechanic in Fallout 4 is settlement building. In Fallout 3, it was common to see something and think "I wish I could fix this place up and live here." Well, now you can, to a point. There are 30 settlements you can unlock to build up, populate, and defend. I picked Red Rocket as the base for me and all my companions (as seen in the pic above). The building mechanic is fun, but often frustrating, and I hope Bethesda patches some of the annoyances.
(for more funny things in the world and more Red Rocket building pics: https://imgur.com/a/PkGBo)
You're ostensibly unlocking these settlements for the Minutemen. Preston Garvey gives you quests to unlock settlements and go help out when they have issues. And he just. doesn't. stop. This is one of my biggest complaints. If you're in earshot of Preston, you're going to get these quests, and you only have so long to do them before they auto-fail. A mod to shut him up would be nice.
Preston is also one of many companions you can have on your journey, and the antiquated karma system has been replaced by companion affinity. If you're with a shady mercenary, they'll like it when you steal, but an upstanding reporter may not. This also helps you feel more attached to the companions. The more they like you, the more they'll confide in you, and they each give you a unique perk for maxing out their affinity. Cait, McCready, Curie, and Nick all have quests to complete before you max their affinity, and they are some of the best quests in the game, especially Nick's.
And Nick is a great example of how much improved the characters in this game are. You won't hear things over and over again, at least not as much as "Patrolling the Mojave," and "Arrow to the knee" in previous games on Bethesda's engine. The voice actors are more varied, and better, and make the world gel together. Lynda Carter (yes, Wonder Woman herself) is back, of course, since she's married to Robert Altman, the president of Zenimax. And she's come a long way since Mazoga the Orc in Oblivion. She plays Magnolia, a lounge singer in Goodneighbor, and she can really sing! You'll hear a few of her songs on the radio after you've visited Goodneighbor and spoken with her.
Here come the spoilers
My biggest problems with the game came toward the end of the story. None of the endings feel incredibly impactful. You find that the Institute not only took your child, but that he's now in his 60's, running the Institute, and wants you to take over. You may have already been doing things for the Minutemen, the Brotherhood of Steel, and the Railroad before this, and it's no surprise that these are the four factions you can finish the game with. So your choices:
- Keep working with the Institute, who's pretty obviously doing terrible things to people, while claiming it's for the greater good. To do this you have to wipe out the Brotherhood and Railroad who are trying to take the Institute down.
- Go to the Brotherhood, who wants to wipe out every synth (the Institute) and anyone who would help synths (the Railroad), even though that means killing hundreds of innocents. No, ladies and gents, this is not the same Brotherhood you knew from Fallout 3. This is old-school, purify the world Brotherhood. Elder Lyons is long dead, and his influence has ended. But you get to re-use Liberty Prime from Fallout 3, and in this ending I realized that no faction should ever possess anything like Liberty Prime.
- Go to the Railroad, who wants you to wipe out the Brotherhood for being bigots and the Institute for imprisoning synths, even though that means killing hundreds of innocents.
- Go to the Minutemen, who want as many innocents to be freed as possible while you take down the Institute. You can also free some synths this way, and keep working with everyone but the Institute after the game is over. But the Minutemen have NO character whatsoever. They're the most boring faction in any of the Fallout games.
So ultimately there's no satisfying ending. All the factions are flawed to the point of being unlikeable, some more than others. I'd say I prefer the Railroad to the others, for various reasons, but their ending needlessly wipes out a faction that could be helped to turn around.
And this comes back to the player choice issue-- in Fallout: New Vegas, for instance, there were many warring factions, and you could negotiate alliances between some of them. Not so in Fallout 4. There are four paths you must take, with no variance.
Still, complaints aside, this game is one of my favorites of all time. I'll play it again, and love it even with its flaws. Anyone who likes massive open-world RPGs should check it out, but be prepared for some of the RPG feel to have been taken out.