Fallout 4: Synth and Synthability
written by Kate Danvers
“War…war never changes.” -Fallout narrator
“Wheeeeeee! Explosions!” -Kate Danvers
War may not change, but the Fallout series definitely does. Once a third-person top-down RPG, the series has changed with the times to become a first-person shooty action adventure RPG. The basic mechanics are still there in an evolved form, and the themes remain, but there have been vast changes even from 2008’s Fallout 3 and 2010’s Fallout: New Vegas. Some changes are good, some are bad, most just take time to get used to, but overall the game is a solid experience.
If you’re unfamiliar with the series, Fallout takes place in the post-nuclear apocalyptic world of an alternate timeline. Sometime during the 1940s and ’50s there were divergences in the timeline to make it different from our own. One of the big ones is that in this world, the transistor didn’t get invented in the late ’40s, meaning technology didn’t really start to become miniaturized until the late 2060s. While computers, robots, and other technology exist, they’re closer to what you would see in old science fiction shows. Culturally, pre-war architecture, clothing styles, hairstyles, and general aesthetics are locked in 1950s themes. Resources started to grow scarce in this timeline and eventually it led to war. The big one – The Great War – occurred on October 23rd, 2077 and lasted for two hours. Two hours of every nuclear-capable country lobbing nukes at each other and destroying the world.
The game initially puts you in the role of a man or woman starting your day in your lovely suburban home with your spouse and infant son. Things are looking bright and cheerful. It looks like it’s going to be a great October day…uh-oh. That’s right, you step into the shoes of a 2077 suburban woman or man on the worst day ever. As word of the attacks are broadcast on TV, you and your family race to the safety of the Vault – an underground shelter allegedly built for just this sort of scenario. Inside Vault 111, you’re told you need to go through a decontamination process, but this is a ruse to put you into a pod for cryogenic suspension. You wake up 210 years later when your quest begins.
The setup really does the game a lot of good, because you get to see the stark contrast of pre-war and post-war. It adds a new amount of horror and uneasiness to the moment when your character steps out of the dim fluorescent-lit cramped corridors of Vault 111 into the bright sunlit ruins of the home they only left (from their perspective) less than an hour before. It also makes Fallout 4 a good jumping-on point for people who are new to the series. Your character gets to ask the questions they don’t always get to ask in previous games. What’s a ghoul? What are supermutants? OMG WHAT IS THAT HUGE LIZARD THING WITH CLAWS?? …actually, I don’t know if that part is ever answered; I think you just roll with the Deathclaw thing.
You won’t be alone on your journey. Along the way you’ll meet and be able to recruit up to 13 companions, all with unique personalities and backstories. Some are very interesting characters that you’ll grow quite fond of; others are obnoxious or racist jerks who make you want to banish them to a lonely settlement on the furthest side of the map…and you can…and I did. Companions come in a variety: human, synth (android/synthetic human), robot, supermutant, ghoul, and a dog. Each have perks and fighting styles that make them slightly different. Different actions you take when accompanied by these companions can affect how they feel about you. A lawful good character will look favorably on your attempts to help the helpless and refuse a reward, while a morally questionable character applauds you for threatening people and asking for more money. For some companions, this can lead to romance.
Romance doesn’t go too deep, just some lovey-dovey dialogue and sleeping in a bed while they’re nearby gives you a temporary XP boosting perk, but it’s a nice touch. Not all companions can be romanced for obvious reasons, but the ones who can aren’t locked to specific genders like they are in some games. Whether you play as a male character or a female character, all companions available for romance are available to you. Whether that means they’re all bisexual or whether their sexuality changes based on your character’s gender, it’s nice to see that many romance options. Speaking of, polyamory is possible. Want an open relationship with Piper so you can romance Cait on the side? You go right ahead and do that. You do you…or have both of them do you…whatever your fancy. I currently have two partners in the game – a reporter and a synth. I have to admit, romancing a synth is a little weird, but sometimes when the dating pool is limited, you have to rely on a girlfriend who runs on batteries.
New to the series is the settlement building mechanic. I refer to it as “post-apocalyptic Minecraft”, but it’s probably closer to DayZ, Rust, or 7 Days to Die. You’ll come across settlements or spots that could make for a good settlement throughout the wasteland. These come equipped with a workbench, and once activated you can build water purifiers, plant crops, build shelters, make beds, and scrap nearly any trees or debris you find for resources. To construct everything, you need junk – lots of it, and you get that by picking up items in the world. Scrap metal from robots, adhesive from glue and duct tape, and even wood from things like pencils. Yes, conceivably you can construct an entire house using wood from pencils. There’s little sense to be found in the amount of materials you get from scrapping an item versus the amount of materials needed to build certain objects. A scrapped picket fence gate produces just as much wood as an entire tree, yet a cooking pot or two can be turned into an 8×8-ft. steel wall. Settlement building can be fun and addicting though.
I can’t really say how large the map is in comparison to previous installments, but the world feels big. The map may be around the size of Fallout 3’s map, but there are a lot more places to go and things to do. You can spend 100 hours in this game just wandering around and not even touching the main storyline.
Speaking of the main storyline, it’s decent. It’s not the greatest story ever told, and some of the plot points are so telegraphed I guessed them months before the game was actually released. Like Fallout 3, you start out the game looking for someone, and once you find them the plot shifts ever so slightly to a greater conflict. There are four factions you can align yourself with, but they’re pretty much at war with each other. If you want, you can join all four factions and work against your own allies as a sort of quadruple agent. This can really come back to bite you in some quests though. There was one battle where three of the factions were fighting against each other in a settlement and all three were expecting me to help them. Talk about awkward. The game does eventually force you to make a choice and back only one faction to get an ending.
The endings…you know, I was going to write this review before I actually finished the main storyline. I thought I had experienced enough of the game to make an informed opinion about it without seeing how it all ended. I was told to take my time and finish the game, but a game is more than an ending to me. However, I took the advice and finished the game. My opinion of Fallout 4 didn’t change based on the two endings that were available to me but…wow, those endings were rough. To clarify, there are only two ending cutscenes, but depending on your faction choice there are at least four ending scenarios. The cutscenes themselves are relatively weak and only serve as footnotes to the game. The ending missions and continued gameplay after the endings are just uncomfortable for lack of a better word. There’s no good choice among the factions. I feel like Bethesda could have made them less cut and dry – like yes, I do take over the one faction at the end, but that doesn’t mean I have to continue their horrible goals. Why can’t I turn the faction into something positive for the Commonwealth? Why do I need to kill two of the other three factions? I would have liked more gray area.
Overall, Fallout 4 is a fantastic experience. It’s easy to sink 200 hours or more into the game and still feel like you have more left to explore. The game leaves itself open to a lot of different play styles too, making replayability high. If you’re looking for an open world shooter RPG with a quirky setting, I can’t recommend this one enough.