In a far future of the past, a man walks across the platform of a darkened auditorium. Having cleared the Veteran's Hall of its mutated inhabitants, this man decides to give the speech he was supposed to centuries ago. He steps behind the podium. "War. War never changes." The scars across this man's face tell that war is something he knows well. He helped liberate Anchorage, and watched the Great War erase his world with a mushroom cloud.
Fallout 4 is Bethesda's latest post-apocolyptic nuclear simulator. It starts in a rather snazzy looking nuclear powered future in the Commonwealth near Boston with your spouse and infant son. But the world goes to hell, and you are rushed off into your neighborhood vault (number 111) as the nukes go off. The shockwave rushes past as the door closes. You've unknowningly entered a time machine, but something goes terribly wrong, leaving you the only one alive. You gaze at the wastes as you leave the vault. You find your robot butler, who informs you that two centuries have passed. What? I was only gone for 15 minutes!
After narrowly escaping certain death, you discover that the local Institute has started building androids. The latest model is indistinguishable from a human. This is a problem, because The Institute is deliberately abducting people, and replacing them with these androids. Sometimes, these machines gain self-consciousness and escape, but those aren't particularly a problem. People are scared that they might be replaced, or that someone they trust has been. It seems that Bethesda has responded to criticism regarding expressionless NPCs in their games. They made a game where potentially anyone is a robot! That's not how that's supposed to work!
The code that underlies this game is showing its age. By now, I think that a multi-million selling studio would have the resources to make a game that does not break quests as often as it does, nor have as many loading screens. Every time I enter or exit a building, I'm loading. Further, I recall that a radio station would not turn on without console commands, and that blocks an entire questline, and even causes a crash. I can guarantee you that loading screens never happen, not even for buildings, in The Witcher 3, unless you're fast traveling.
I played the game through twice. The first time, I played a faction until someone's unknown identity got revealed (was he replaced?), and emotions pulled me into another faction. I'm not going to take someone I trust behind the woodshed. The second time, I decided to build up my local militia more, and only rely on the guys in power armor in that airship if needed. In that ending, that guy lived, and no one was the wiser.
Aside from that plot twist, I didn't encounter any other quests that were excellent or memorable. One character is a detective, but his missions tended to be of the rote, film-noir style investigatory type. They were OK, but none appealed to me. There are several companions available, but they reveal themselves more once you've done enough things with them. A few of them have personal quests, but none made me want to play them again.
While the story can end in different places, the ending cinematic is vague, unlike New Vegas and the Interplay Fallouts. You can choose which way the game ends long in advance, and there aren't any huge surprises when it happens, unlike The Witcher 3. Even the Mass Effect 3 ending cinematic explained more about the end game state than this. At least Fallout 4 doesn't betray it's values in how it ends, for what I can tell.
Besides the roley looty shooty mechanics of the last installment, there is a fully capable crafting system in Fallout 4. All that junk lying around is far more useful. In Fallout 3, there were workbenches that allowed one to build weapons, but the options were extremely limited, and felt more novelty than practical. In New Vegas, you could cook and craft your own ammo. In both games, I thought that those mechanics were not fully thought out, felt bolted on, and were more trouble than what they were worth. Why build them when enemies will drop them by the ton?
There are about 20 settlements scattered around the world. Many you can walk right up to, and activate, and start building. Or scrapping, rather. Old logs, trees, cars, and other junk litter each settlement. Scrapping that provides buildable area and building materials. This seems to borrow quite a bit from a Skyrim DLC, and allegedly a whole lot from Minecraft (but I don't watch TV), except that the building is freeform, and for the most part, does not use building plans. You must place floors, walls, ceilings, staircases, and beds yourself. You also need to feed, water, and defend your settlers, and keep them happy. To really get things going, you require electricity. It's often the one of the first things to do, along with a radio beacon (telling people to come and live here). I also get it connected to a supply line, so it can pool resources with the rest of the settlements.
Those crafting stations can be built at settlements, or used in a pinch on the road if found. While you can't build your own weapons and armor, you can modify almost anything that you find, so you can have better equipment than almost anything enemies drop. It's sort of like the combinatorial infinite weapon system from Borderlands if it were not random or leveled.
Armor, in general, has received a significant overhaul. There exist many skin-tight pieces of clothing that provide some base protection, upon which other pieces of armor can be attached. Power armor is likewise, but exists as a separate system. It is not treated like any other clothing item; instead, a skeletal power armor frame has metal pieces attached to it. These frames stand in the world, waiting for someone to open them, and step inside. It makes you feel like a tank. Because it's treated differently from other armor, repairs and upgrades happen at special power armor stations instead of the standard armor workbench.
V.A.T.S. is a more lore-accurate slow motion gun targeting system. You need to make your selections fast, because enemies can shoot and damage you while you select and fire. For whatever reason, I found myself not using it as much as in Fallout 3, probably because the guns are better. Like Skyrim, Fallout 4 dispenses entirely with the concept of skills, and your level of competence at anything is based directly off your base character attributes and perks. On the whole, I find it more convenient not having to endure a bullet changing angle as it leaves the gun because my gun skills aren't godlike. It will hit based on the properties of the gun itself.
You're going to need those improvements, because enemies act noticeably different. Even without V.A.T.S., enemies can perform finishing moves on you. When shooting, enemies will habitually dodge bullets, making it hard to hit those little suckers. Or even big suckers. When you have a deathclaw galloping toward you, it is terrifying to see a 10 foot shiny muscular lizard ducking your shots like a day at the track. If you aren't fast enough, it will pick you up, and you'll know that your day has gone from the worst to over.
There are a few notable places in the Commonwealth, the most infamous being The Glowing Sea. Don't get your hopes up, it's a huge misnomer. It took me a long time to realize that the big explosion I saw going into the vault 200 years ago made this place. There's nothing left, except lots of radiation, broken things, and hardy, dangerous critters. In addition to the improved graphics, the wasteland has weather. It rains there, unlike in DC. But storms that originate in the Glowing Sea acquire vast amounts of radiation. It turns them all green, but if that's not enough, the lightning from them is radioactive.
I played on "survival" mode during the second run. It's allegedly more realistic, in that you have to eat, drink, and sleep regularly, and you are able to catch diseases (not the Oregon Trail variety), and if you are carrying too much, you can lose health and break legs. Another downside is damage is more realistic (enemies are deadlier), with the upside being damage is more realistic (you are deadlier), but healing is more realistic (vastly slower). Cleared areas respawn slower, if at all. It also disables saving except when you sleep, making my save game list look like a mattress catalog. These mechanics intrigued me. But if the game wanted me to be more realistic, I want the game to be more realistic: I want a sleeping bag, time needs to pass far slower, junk should weigh less (sum of component weight), people should have fewer problems, and fusion cores should last forever (keeping with game lore). What's not realistic is that it disables achievements. If there's achievements for starting a game, there should be one for putting up with this!
An unexpected feature is that you can take empty (beer, milk, pop, etc.) bottles and fill them with water. Simply walk up to a river, ocean, puddle, or squeaky hand cranked well, and start bottling. For a while, I was filling with the hand crank, but I quickly built so many industrial water purifiers, that I started gathering dirty water only, merely to cook with, as many recipes call for dirty water, not purified (not realistic). Having learned which perk enabled supply lines and how to assign them, I've pretty much solved material human needs, for myself and my residents, and survival mode became much easier.
The stick about the main quest revolving around family and starting off in a vault is getting old. Fallout 4 is about a parent looking for their son who was kidnapped from a vault. Fallout 3 is junior looking for daddy who escaped a vault. I vaguely recall Bethesda saying that Fallout was only ever about family. I don't know where they got that. You were just passing through New Vegas on business and no one had any known relationship to you. Fallout 2 is about saving your tribe (but not in a vault). But "family" is not a word I readily associate with "tribe". "Tribe" conjures images of a group of people wearing animal skins, and living somewhat primitive lives in a bunch of huts. I guess in a way, but it's a stretch. Fallout (the first) is about leaving your vault to save it; where 1,000 mostly unrelated people entered 80 years ago, and no one has been in or out since. Even after 3 or 4 generations, it's even more of a stretch to call that many people your family.
Bethesda needs to invent a new stick for Fallout, because the family one is broken. And while they're at it, get a new one for The Elder Scrolls, because the prisoner stick isn't poking the prisoners anymore, either. I want some people connections with the world, and not just be an interchangeable mysterious nobody. They took risks with making Fallout their first big game with a fully voice acted protagonist, and I think it increased immersion. Let's go one step further in making the world know you from before the game starts.
While playing The Witcher 3, I realized that The Witcher is a great story, with a mediocre sandbox attached, while Fallout was a good sandbox, with a mediocre story attached. I wondered how I could ever come back to it, since it appeared to be so empty, and the vapid story no better, from what I remembered. Playing it proved that wasn't the case, and I built towns on it, and went to those towns. This is a good game, if you have the time.
Wait, I'm in Boston, and I can't get some clam chowdah? What a rip off!