Looks like a big gear

It’s been a busy month for me, saving the Commonwealth. Preston Garvey has had me running around founding, building and then defending new settlements so people can finally have a place to call home in the post-nuclear wasteland. Robotic gumshoe Nick Valentine has been helping me figure out who kidnapped my son and shot my husband in cryogenically-frozen blood while being frustratingly unromanceable for a guy named “Valentine.” And Paladin Danse and the Brotherhood of Steel have… been told to take their power-armored bigotry and bugger off, mostly.

  Fallout 4 has been one of the most hotly-anticipated new games ever since its announcement at E3 2015. Seven years after Fallout 3 and five after its sequel Fallout: New Vegas, fans of the sandbox RPG/FPS mash-up have been eager to return to Bethesda’s 50s-inspired, retro-futuristic, post-apocalyptic America. And though the location has changed — Fallout 3 played out in a future Washington, D.C. known as the Capital Wasteland, and New Vegas should need no explanation — the future Boston that’s now known as the Commonwealth has plenty of Super Mutants, ghouls, boxes of only slightly irradiated Fancy Lad Snack Cakes and bottles of still-refreshing Nuka Cola.

  In fact, a lot of things have remained the same here, and it’s very comfortable to return to them. It’s also similar in many ways, gameplay-wise, to 2011’s Skyrim (sorry, “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim”), and as someone who spent ridiculous amounts of time playing that game, I’ve found it a very easy transition to sneaking around and picking locks in the Commonwealth. Something else that’s carried over from Skyrim is the crafting system. The armor and weapon crafting is not quite as robust, since you can only upgrade what you’ve found or bought rather than making it from scratch, but there’s already such a wide variety of things to be found that it doesn’t feel like much of a limit. Cooking is not only present but much more important than in Skyrim, where potions quickly outpaced the healing abilities of food. In Fallout 4, the food you make is actually useful, and you get experience for cooking it — the absence of XP for cooking in Skyrim felt a wee bit like a dismissal of “women’s work.”

  Thanks to that crafting system, there’s no such thing as junk in this game, which adds an extra layer of immersion to a setting that’s so focused on scavenging the leftovers of what came before. Coffee cups can be deconstructed into base ceramic, which can be used when building generators for your settlements. Cork from old globes and aluminum from cans can be used to modify your armor to be more lightweight. The idea of nothing being wasted fits right in with the surrounding world of baseball stadium towns and scrap-metal houses.

  The one major shift away from the previous games is the necessity of combat. Previous games allowed you to play through as a pacifist, talking your way into and out of everything, and changed more based on your chosen skills. There’s also no longer a Karma system, though individual companion characters will still like or dislike you based on actions you take around them. It feels a little bit less like an RPG for all that, though it’s still very story-driven.

  If you’ve upgraded to the current console generation or sunk some money into a gaming PC, Fallout 4 is a must-have, especially if you’re the sort of gamer who likes a good menu every now and then.

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