Xbox One
Highly Recommended
4.5 stars
Overall Grade
4.5 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Game Itself
4.5 Stars
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
3.5 Stars
The Audio: Rating the Sound
4.5 Stars
Replay Factor
4.5 Stars
Bottom Line
Highly Recommended

Fallout 4

Street Date:
November 10th, 2015
Reviewed by:
Review Date:1
November 9th, 2015
Game Release Year:
2015
Platform:
Xbox One
Publisher:
Bethesda Softworks
Developer:
Bethesda Game Studios

Editor's Notes

Xbox One disc version reviewed. Review time also included playing both the PS4 and PC versions, as well as using the Pip-boy app. The Xbox One disc copy included a Vault-Tec Perk poster and a code for the digital 360 version of 'Fallout 3,' which is mentioned here but not reviewed. Review contains some light spoilers.

Introduction

This is it. After years of conjecture, Bethesda returns to their continuation of the 'Fallout' franchise. After Obsidian's 'Fallout: New Vegas' and Bethesda's own 'The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim,' 'Fallout 4' is a kind of Bethesda PS4 and Xbox One debut. And let's not forget the PC version, which will see mods that are expected in part to follow to the Xbox One and then the PS4.

Bethesda's 'Fallout 4' marketing hasn't gone out of its way to differentiate the game from the much acclaimed 'Fallout 3' of the last generation. Far from it. The S.P.E.C.I.A.L. videos alone are exactly in character with the preceding numbered installment. Even so, the new setting, new characters, new game systems and new platforms seem to have grabbed the interest of series' veterans and newcomers alike.

Now it's time to strap on a Pip-boy and the familiar Vault-Tec blue and yellow and venture out into world.

The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

Fallout 4 Xbox One Review Diamond City Screenshot

"Just me against the world… and the world had it coming…"

I've got angst, and I've got memories. I'm lonely, but I make a lot of friends. Not just the well-wishers that depend on me to make things right, but real companions of all shapes and sizes.

A Typical Day Spent in 'Fallout 4'

Passing through a farm, I see a mix of robots, some smart and some dumb, working around a greenhouse. Seeing all of that produce, which I don't imagine the robots really need, I think I might take some. Food is health, and if prepared right, it won't be too radioactive. Really though, I need the variety. I need fruits and veggies that I can plant back on the homestead. Someone else will work it for me, I'll pick the spot, and it'll be there ready for me to collect, eat, cook, or re-plant. This food could fuel a lot more mouths than just me and a companion.

Continuing in the robot farm, and rather than steal everything that isn't nailed down, I've been asked to look in on the local water treatment plant by one of the funny and personable robots. The production has fallen off, and it seems like plugging a few leaks or unplugging a few pipes ought to fix it. Naturally, as I switch to my best duds, my enhanced Charisma lets me ask for more Caps to do this job. In, fact, it lets me push the price up a second time, but I stop short of a third round.

I've got my own robotic buddy with me, and working through ghouls, raiders, and other wild life I reach the nearby water treatment facility.

Fallout 4 Xbox One Review Raider Survivalist Snipe Screenshot

The immediate area surrounding the plant is heavily occupied by Super-Mutants. I think I'm pretty clever, so I start sniping using my custom hunting rifle. It's accurate, quick to reload, long range, and even has a night scope. Unfortunately, one of the mutants has a missile launcher. I'd like to pull out my own missile launcher in response, but it's heavy, so I've left it in a tool box with the rest of my stash.

Still, working V.A.T.S. and a d-pad's worth of items and weapons, I take all of the surface mutants down. It's easy, and it's not. Being swarmed by their mutant dogs and even having Brahmin run through, there's a low margin of error, especially against the missile launcher. V.A.T.S. slows everything down, lets me target different parts of my enemies' bodies, and shows what the likelihood of hitting a target is, but it won't stop a missile flying right at me.

Fallout 4 Xbox One Review Raider V.A.T.S. Screenshot

Getting a sneak attack (x 2 damage) is worth it in this case. It's dark , wet, and muddy, so even after dispatching all of the threating creatures around, it's not as easy as I would like to police up all of the spare ammo and caps from the dead.

Once inside the plant, it's not long before I figure out how to deactivate the pesky security turrets that greeted me on the way in. Turrets yield important bits of scrap, like crystal and circuits, so I still take them out one by one and loot the remains, but it's very one-sided. As I drain the flooded pump facilities and attempt to get the pumps restarted, I have to swim in some hot water. That means donning my hazmat suit. Naturally, that's when the mutated giants Mirelurk crabs start popping up from the muck.

Fallout 4 Xbox One Review Mirelurk Screenshot

Dog Meat distracts the unwieldy mutations while I back off from the hot water and switch into combat gear. The big crabs are melee fighters and like to swarm close. One thing I can do to slow their rush is pop open V.A.T.S. and target one of their legs. A good hit, and they will stumble. I can cue up a mix of leg shots and body shots (avoiding the tough shell) until I'm out of action points. The real-time gunplay works as well, I just have to make sure I use something with a reasonably high rate of fire and decent reload speed.

Ultimately, I clean out the plant (in more ways than one) and emerge out an elevator to find the bright morning reveal a much cleaner (and dryer) looking facility than what I saw before I went in. (I even locate some Super-Mutant remains I missed before.) A quick travel jaunt back to the robot farm, and it's big kudos from the farmer bots. They are so pleased in fact, that they decide to take up with me and my friends, which in turns lets me take whatever I want from the farm. It also gives me the duty of providing protection.

Motivations

This is a day in the life of 'Fallout 4.' Each quest can be broken down into what I get out of it. There are items, gear, XP, story progress points, stat-pushing collectables, mini-games, companions, allies, and more quests to be found. Usually when the difficulty gets turned way up, say by walking through the wrong door into a mess of enemies, I'm left saving and loading until I find a way to push through. I hold onto to my perk points and spend them when I need them. I can hack, pick locks, craft weapons, charm, snipe, etc.

Fallout 4 Xbox One Review Perks Screenshot

I can also invade the memories of my enemies, and I can uncover crimes and horrors that happened 200 and 300 years before. These are moments that stick out a little more than the normal loot and clear action. I've got some big scruples, and even after I found out that the game lets the player peek at anyone's pocket contents without raising their ire, I still tended to do mostly good things. Hacking and reading terminals notwithstanding. (Not to mention all the dead raiders, mutants, synths, and so forth that lay in my wake.)

A Slow Starter

It didn't start this way. Though I'm plenty familiar with past Bethesda titles, I had some early trouble. The very beginning of the game was a bit tepid. As one hour turned into three, my interest was fading fast. But then things changed. My access opened up and something clicked. I'm not talking about getting power armor and a mini-gun. No this was something else. Very early on in the main game (but not so early while I was ignoring the main game), something became clear that had eluded me in 'Skyrim' and in 'The Witcher 3.' All of that crap lying around everywhere, categorized by the game as "Junk," and usually hovering around zero caps in worth, that stuff became important. The junk became useful, and equally as important, I found a workflow for collecting, depositing, and using it without having to stare at inventory screens. That's how I know that among other contents, a vintage camera has crystal in it. A broken light bulb has copper. A baseball has cork. A mechanical wrench has gears. A Zippo style lighter has a spring.

Making Weapons My Own

Suddenly, just by picking this stuff up, which the game makes easy by allowing the player to tag missing components in a crafting recipe, I can turn a junk pipe bolt rifle into a deadly sniper rifle.

Fallout 4 Xbox One Review Furious Power Fist Screenshot

Of the seven armor pieces I wear for combat, six of them can be modified using the stuff scrapped from this junk. After a big a quest, I can just head to my favorite workbench, and hit Y to take all the junk out of my inventory while keeping it around for weapon, armor, and power armor crafting. There's cooking and chemistry as well. Oh, and the other thing. You see, my character isn't too fond of all the nice people in commonwealth being pushed around by marauders and dangerous creatures. By teaming up, we can build something.

Taking It Back

It's not exactly putting Humpty Dumpty back together again, but as I've said, my character has a lot of friends and well-wishers. On the one hand, my character is trying to discover how this world works one community at a time, but on the other hand, he's gradually gaining his own flock spread out over this New England vestige.

Fallout 4 Xbox One Review Power Armor Fat Boy Screenshot

Without wading too far into spoiler territory. The term "vault-dweller" doesn't fit too well with this game. Likewise the character has other experiences to draw from. As such, the game offers the familiar main story pursuit, which I ended up really getting into, and the free-agent roam around and get into trouble, which I always like. This harvesting bit is another equally important avenue. My guy may be new in town pretty much everywhere he goes, but he'll stir all kinds of trouble up. If worse comes to worse, I have a whole arsenal of "break glass in case of emergency" weapons to bring to bear.

It also helps that if I choose to, I can pick a fight with almost anyone. Say some jerkbag mayor of jerkberg is giving me the runaround I can take him down, and his suddenly armed secretary, and the too-little too-late bodyguards. But if said action makes my valued companion turn against me, then it's enough to load a save from a minute ago.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

No doubt, when it comes to the visuals, quantity has most certainly been emphasized over quality. It's not just that there is so much world, so many characters, and so much content. If 'Fallout 4' had been a Xbox One/PS4 launch title, the visual grading would have been much different. In late 2015, however, its best visuals, which consist of playable vistas that usually can be approached, admired, and played without a load screen (until hitting a building interior) are still below the best looking games we've seen this gen. Texture res, geometry complexity, and detail density of any given area can be very uneven, though the lighting often impresses.

Many of these Xbox One rough spots are improved when jumping onto the PC, but one of worst offenders is character animation. In essence, the game uses frequent in-engine cutscenes, and these moments, which are crucial to the story, the individual quests, and the presentation of the characters, are fraught with animation splicing that is unfortunately well behind the times. There's a reason that games like the original 'Gears of War' used custom animations for matinee delivered cut scenes, and that's because it wouldn't have been smooth using a stock Unreal 3 library (or some variant thereof).

Fallout 4 Xbox One Review Valentine Screenshot

These issues are not helped by the overall level of character detail. Often, say when meeting a new companion, the first meeting will be decent enough, but later on, with quest-based conversations, the roughness to the movements will become more distracting until an overall numbness sets in.

Combat animation is much better, and weapons can be very slick looking with the mods being noticeably cool. The armor system is less dynamic and interesting. (I did wind up looking very Road Warrior like, but with a Vault Suit mixed in.)

Fallout 4 Xbox One Review Vault 114 Screenshot

Having all the armor pieces is great, but I wish we could designate sets. The UI for the Pip-boy, Power Armor, terminals, and so forth is clean, stylish, legible, and customizable to a degree.

On the Xbox One, there are a bevy of performance issues. For one thing, load times are pretty harsh. Building interiors with balconies, roof access, and anywhere else that is going to lead to a load, turn around, and load again, feel perverse. The bigger the area, the longer the load time.

The game performance does an interesting job as far as I'm concerned. On the Xbox One, the game will hitch predictably in various areas like the middle of dense cities, where it feels like the game is having trouble streaming and unloading too many areas at once. Amazingly, this always happens when things are calm combat wise, which prevents the hitching from becoming frustrating. Some pop-in is normal, but better than other issues might suggest. Occasionally, a texture or model will take an extra half second to load.

AI pathing for the companions can be tricky. Dog Meat is a little too familiar, and is constantly underfoot. Certain small areas that have chests are inaccessible for the companions. Tracking down idle companions seems like it should be easier. Otherwise, the most egregious bug I can recall was an inaccessible terminal/safe combo, which was adjacent to a badly pathed room.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

There is loads of voice acting to consider as well as well sound effects for a mess of weapons and enemies. Overall, the voice is acting is good. Sometimes it's great, and other times just ok. Often it's undercut by the aforementioned animations (cough Preston), and also by the game's tendency to advance events at the player's whim. (Like a character answering "back again?" right after you complete your first conversation.) When in-game player character camera cutscenes feature a magically appearing weapon and all-too classic tense/relax/tense display by the NPCs, the effect of proficient voice acting can be lost. I expect any player will be able to pick out their favorite voices 10-20 hours in the game.

Weapons sound good and go well with the crisp sound of V.A.T.S., S.P.E.C.I.A.L., the Pip-boy, and so on. I started using a new SVS Prime Satellite 5.1 set-up during my play, and the game didn't disappoint. Enemy chatter is quite frequent when sneaking , and it pans wonderfully.

In 40 hours of play, there is lots of dead air and recycled radio. Some of the cooler weapon sounds usually mean my character is dead.

The game's original music is excellent, while the radio station music is good, but not necessarily good enough to justify running around the clock. Mission-based radio broadcasts can be refreshing. I found myself wishing for more radio drama.

Replay Factor

Fallout 4 Xbox One Review Radscorpion Screenshot

Via my own wants, my character can't stand a locked safe or password protected computer terminal, and feeding those skills and the skills needed to be a resourceful leader, have taken away from plans to really pump up Luck or even to power-up a certain weapon style or two. I'd like to do that still. The game is plenty deep, especially as I can see the needs of the Commonwealth people requiring some 'Fallout Shelter' esque diligence. I already save and load many scenarios repeatedly with very mixed results. The four button dialog options can be boring and flat or surprising and diverse in equal turns.

Starting out on the PC after spending so much time on the Xbox One, I sped through the early parts where I had lingered before. My immediate conclusion is that no matter how many hours I might put into one save file, picking and choosing what to do with my eyes open on a second save is fun. Gathering junk (and loading down a companion) is part of the gameplay and isn't as I don't want to do that twice as gathering materials in 'Destiny.'

Fallout 4 Xbox One Review Pipfall Screenshot

The Pip-boy app is very impressive when the connection is behaving (worked well on my LG G4, but was temperamental on an iPad Mini). In theory, the app gives you something to do during longer load screens unless you're loading from a save. It houses the collectible mini-games as well, and some play better on a touch screen than with a controller. The strongest feature though is being able to do some 'Fallout 4' while away from the game like show off a character build. (More on the app here).

Even after putting in a lot of time I still try to exit out of inventory menus using B, which instead brings up the Pip-boy and sometimes triggers an Auto-Save. That's some deep conditioning on my part.

Final Thoughts

Load up, head out, and see the world. Haul some of it back. Be a law-bringer or a scoundrel. See what's behind the curtain, and make some battery-powered friends. It's all here and more. I wish the visuals of 'Fallout 4' were better, even much better in places, but the gameplay eventually had me hooked. I wanted to see what was around the next bend, and if I could take it. I wanted to see if I would dish out pain or aid, and if the reprehensible machinations of the powerful would yield fascinating, if deplorable, results.

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p

Audio Formats

  • 7.1 LPCM
  • 5.1 LPCM

Motion Controls

  • No

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