I've always been a little cold towards the Fallout franchise. I've dabbled with it in the past, but rarely with much success, and I've never seen one of the games through to its conclusion – not even Fallout 3, which I struggled through for many hours without ever properly clicking emotionally with. So, truthfully, all the bluster in the build-up to developer Bethesda's E3 revealing of Actual Gameplay for its forthcoming fourth entry proper in the series had left only the slightest impression on me – until the conference itself, and my witnessing of Fallout 4 in motion.
Oh my days, what a glorious-looking game. The greys and browns of my personal expectations are conspicuous by their relative absence. The game world – described by presenter (and Bethesda game director/executive producer) Todd Howard as "the most ambitious and detailed game world that we have ever made, culminating in the massive ruins of downtown Boston" – is awash with colour, lending it life where there is so little, as you'd expect 200 years after a nuclear attack on your player character's homeland. It's absolutely freaking beautiful. There was plenty in the reveal that harked back to the gameplay of Fallout 3, but you have to hand it to Bethesda – the time they've put into Fallout 4, with development beginning in 2009, has evidently been spent wisely, the almost-end product incorporating a wealth of new-gen feature upgrades and innovations.
Bethesda's entire E3 2015 presentation, featuring 'DOOM', 'Dishonored 2' and (eventually) 'Fallout 4'
Foremost amongst the improvements is the engine that Fallout 4 is running in, a supercharged rebooting of Bethesda's Creation Engine, which worked its magic on making the world of Skyrim so memorable back in 2011 – incidentally, Fallout 4's release date will land almost exactly four years after Skyrim's, on the 10th of November 2015. It's so sweet-looking that audience members even cheered its rendering of a cola bottle – at least, I assume that's why they perked up when the gameplay demo reached the point where a fridge could be opened. Speaking of which, refrigeration devices have rarely looked as good as they do here, that cow-launching appliance of Earthworm Jim aside, of course.
One thing that the Creation Engine doesn't seem to have quite fixed is the stiff animation of previous Fallouts – viewed third person, the player's eminently editable avatar (and you can be a female character this time, too) is a jerky collection of smooth curves and realistic follicles, and the dog he or she meets soon enough is also more mechanical of movement than not. Perhaps that's intentional, though – perhaps that's not a real dog at all, and you, you're not really alive, either. It'd make sense for "you" to be a robot: you're the sole survivor of your vault (111, hence the numbers on your back), returning to the post-apocalyptic wilds of North America some 200 years after the bombs fell. So either there was some hyper-sleep or stasis technology down there that you, uniquely, made it through; or you're an android, C-3PO with a fleshier complexion.
Further echoes of Fallout 3 include the new game's revival of the VATS combat system, allowing you to aim for specific areas of an enemy's anatomy – which, yes, used to mean consistently shooting super mutants in (well, close to) the ballsack. What's new is the game's ability to actually call you by your name, with 1,000 popular ones available (unlucky, Bender, Denim and Rexx), and the potential for crafting your own gear that, as Kotaku writes, "looks awesome".
Basically, if you see it, you can use it – and what you use it for remains entirely up to you. You can customise where you live, what that dog of yours is wearing around its neck, what you're packing to combat the adversaries of the American wastes, and your power armour. "Completely overboard" is how Howard describes the game's attitude to crafting – "Rip it apart, and build it the way you want... Make it your own experience."
Bethesda's revealing very little of the story side to the Fallout 4 experience right now – but it is giving gamers a mobile taste of what's to come with the release (it's out now) of a complementary iOS title, Fallout Shelter – check out a trailer here. It looks like a much fancier version of Unicube's Sheltered, which we previously profiled. The studio also revealed a way to immerse yourself even deeper into the fiction of the Fallout universe, as you, too, can own your own Pip-Boy – the not-so-little wrist-worn computer that your character rocks around with. The catch is that it'll cost a (mercifully, not literal) bomb – the smartphone-compatible units come with the £100 special edition of the game, but surely these "rotating knobs and lights" would represent a bargain at twice the price. If you're a complete Fallout obsessive with more money than sense, anyway.
Premium merchandising aimed at exploiting idiots excepted, nothing that I've seen of Fallout 4 in the past 12 hours has put me off hopping aboard its hype train. I'm buying a coach-class ticket, of course, but you can consider me along for the ride, at least until we all crash against the inevitable launch bugs, heavyweight patches and definitive "ultimate edition" release, making all your prior investments utterly worthless. Go video games!
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