Fallout 4 – Beyond Good and Evil

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Rexis here!

What does it mean to be evil?

Google tells me it means “profoundly immoral and malevolent.” This is an important definition because morality is objective. What is evil to one person may not be evil to another. Why do I bring this up? Mostly because I started playing Fallout 4 again and while I think its a masterpiece of moral grey areas, others seem to have a hard time understanding the simple narrative and prefer the usual complaint of “I can’t choose to kill everyone, therefore I can’t be an evil character.” They go on to blame lazy writing, casual players ruining the franchise, and the IP being in the hands of the wrong development team (among other things, look at a YouTube comment section and you’ll see what I mean).

Could it be, though, that Bethesda is presenting you the ultimate type of story arch? The one in which the hero/villain is not clearly defined? George R. R. Martin takes this concept to soaring heights in Game of Thrones, ensuring that the heroes and villains are pretty much all grey and he is lauded for it. Bethesda does it and gets crap for it. I suppose without a karma meter it can be difficult to know if what you are doing it wrong, huh? Like murder.

Fallout 4, in my opinion, is reaching for a higher mark. Gone are the days of simply enslaving Wasteland survivors. Now we must ask a serious question, one that has far too important implications: How do I feel about artificial intelligence?

(And by extension: How human do you have to be to be considered human? Is AI life valuable? Is it even life? Do synths have rights? Do they have the right to exist at all? If they are indistinguishable from human and express all ranges of emotion, are they really just machines? If some synths do bad things, should we destroy them all? What if some are genuinely good? Should we distinguish between synths and humans at all times or just let it be? Do they deserve saving or eradication?)

This question defines your character in the game and when presented with the four factions, you must choose which prevails. (Spoilers from here on, btw.) You could choose to side with the Brotherhood of Steel who seek to destroy all synths and impose their military might and technology on the Commonwealth.  You could join the Institute and your son, who are known as the boogeymen of the Commonwealth because they kidnap people and replace them with synths, acting upon the land like an experiment, guised as an attempt to somehow aid mankind. The Railroad seems like a good choice because they free synths from a life of slavery, but the ends always justify the means and they don’t care who they hurt in the process. The Minutemen on the other hand seem a bit like the good guys, desiring a rebuilt Commonwealth and destruction of the Institute. Though they seem unconcerned about the actions of the Railroad.

All of these choices are right and wrong! That’s the beauty of this. I’ve seen so many comments about how the factions suck and there’s no good/bad. And if you fall into this camp, perhaps try talking about the game with a friend. Ask them what they would do for real, not as a video game character, but if it were a real decision they were faced with. The answer might surprise you. And if you don’t have a friend, here’s what I’d do. I would fall in line with the Minutemen because my morals align with theirs for the most part. If I wanted to pick an evil option, it would be the Institute. I can’t get past their kidnapping people in the night. I believe the Brotherhood of Steel has good intentions, but are terrible at public relations, and I don’t agree with their policy of destroying all synths. The Railroad has a good message of freedom and liberty for synths, something I can get behind, but I’m not willing to kill innocent/uninvolved people in order to get there.

Like George R. R. “I kill everyone you love” Martin, I agree that the villain of the story if only the hero for the other side. Yes, Fallout 4 is less of a sandbox than the other Fallout games, but it isn’t just a good/evil apocalypse simulator. Its calling on you to consider far more philosophical questions with no right or wrong answers.

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Game Review – Fallout 4 (Spoiler Free)

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Rexis here!

I am a Fallout fan. You might not believe it, but there are diehard fans out there who would argue that I’m really not. You see, I’ve never played Fallout 1 or 2 and I have no intention of doing so. This would cause some people to lose their minds when I say I’m a fan. These people fall into two camps; the type who hate the modern titles (3+) and those who will play them, but maintain an elitist position about the series.

I am a Fallout fan not because of what the older titles did, but because of what the newer titles are doing. Let me explain, then we will move into the review. I enjoyed classic RPG games when I was younger, but I grew tired of the constant grind for more experience and playing the stats game. I also enjoy FPS, but just running and gunning tends to bore me after a few levels. I discovered a fusion of two of my favorite types of genres in Fallout 3 many years ago and have been hooked since.

It doesn’t hurt that the story takes place in a post apocalyptic wasteland based on a future where nuclear power had become the norm, like living in a perpetual 1950’s America. I love it. And I think any claim that I’m not a real fan should be squashed immediately. Elitist be damned!

Trying to write a review for Fallout 4 is not going to be easy because I don’t even know where to start. I suppose we should address the elephant in the room; the new genre added to the game. Yeah, there is a whole new genre within this game.

Building and Crafting

FPS and RPG were already staple at this point with Fallout 3 and New Vegas leading the way, but now we have a whole new play style we can take advantage of, the crafting and building aspects made popular by Minecraft, and modern games are now capitalizing on. You can read about my concerns on this subject here. Basically, before release I was worried about the inventory management aspects in this game. It only makes sense to discuss this first as all of my fears about spending an eternity in a crafting menu were waylaid.

A settlement is an area in which you can build. There are many aspects to it, including defending it from raiders (which I’ve yet to do). All of the materials you drop into your crafting benches are accessible from anywhere in the settlement. There are no recipes to memorize. No crafting grids. No nonsense. You simply pick something you want to build and find a place to put it. I was able to build a wall around my settlement with ease. Simply put, I love the building aspects and they’ve made it soooooo easy!

In turn, collecting things around the wasteland is essential! You never know when you’ll need a ceramic mug or damaged clipboard. Pick it up! Or have your follower do it for you. Head home, unload, get back out there! It really is a lot of fun to craft and I found the hours flying by as I was perfecting my base at the Red Rocket gas station.

Weapon crafting doesn’t seem as extensive as we’ve been led to believe, but there are a lot of options. Its not just slapping pieces together, like some of the previews have shown. You unlock different parts by choosing certain perks and you can customize weapons based on those things. Armor works in a similar fashion. Its very intuitive and well incorporated. I never bothered making weapons in previous titles, but I really enjoy it here.

The Story and Setting

No story spoilers, I promise. Fallout 3 sent you on a mission to find your Dad. New Vegas wanted you to get revenge on the man who shot you in the head and left you in a hole. Believe me when I tell you that Fallout 4 ups the feel factor to over 9000. Literally, my jaw dropped. We’ve all seen the trailer where you design your character in a prewar environment, so I don’t feel like I’m ruining anything telling you that you will get some time to explore the main characters life before the bombs drop. Take advantage of this and get to know the characters. I’ll leave the rest a mystery, suffice it to say that I don’t think I’ve wanted to pursue the main story of a video game more than this one.

Emerging from the vault, as you are apt to do in these game, you find yourself in a post war Boston, which I thought was a weird choice at first, but it has grown on me. Exploring in Commonwealth is very rewarding and entertaining. I’ve accidentally discovered three vaults and I haven’t gone far from home. There is rarely a moment where traveling is boring because there is something to see around every corner. And something to kill you.

All your favorite staples are there, including some familiar songs from Billy Holiday, The Ink Spots, and Danny K. It really plays to your nostalgia. I am sorry I have to say this, but Three Dog would have been an improvement. The radio DJ is… lame. I’m not sure how such an annoying character got so far into development.

The UI and Voice Acting

The main character is voice acted! There was some allusion to this in the trailer, but I didn’t expect him to be fully voice acted. The days of focusing on the target characters face are gone. The camera will go back and forth during the conversation (they actually have conversation!) and responses are assigned to the four buttons. I rarely find myself skipping through dialogue as I did in the previous titles. I just wish I could hear every response because some of the options are really funny.

The user interface has been improved vastly. Remember when you had to open every container to search for items. Well, since this game is heavily focused on collecting things, this is no longer what you do. Here is how it works. Place the reticle over a storage container or dead body and a small menu pops up. You navigate it by using the d-pad and grabbing what you want. This does not freeze combat. You can still open containers by using the “transfer” option, but it is largely unnecessary in your explorations. No clunky menus to collect stuff! Thank you!

All the usual Pip-Boy functions are still there and you can utilize them just as your used to, but the favorites menu really helps in keeping the action going. Press the d-pad at anytime and you have three slots for each direction to assign your favorite items. I have my three best guns on the left arrow so I can swap quickly during combat (pistol, shotgun, sniper rifle; custom of course).

In all, they’ve gone through great lengths to keep you out of the menus and in the battle. It feels so fresh and smooth that it will be hard to go back to the previous games after experiencing this. Its funny because, in older titles, after browsing a storage container you would hit the cancel button to back out of it and move on. In Fallout 4, I keep hitting the cancel button only to bring up my Pip-Boy. I’m still adjusting to the new system. Games really condition us, don’t they?

 I also have to mention that one of my companions refers to me as Master Rex. He says my name. He actually says my name! Can you think of any other game that does that?! Its amazing!

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Companions and Death

You will want a companion. I never used them in previous games because of their bad habit of getting in front of my gun and dying. I’ve had three companions so far (you can only have one at a time) and they don’t die. They also help a ton by carrying all of the junk you will undoubtedly collect along the way. They are voice acted, have great dialogue, and I’ve even had one ask to talk to me, like he was getting stuff off his mind. It makes them feel organic and real. If they could die, I’d be sad.

Giving them commands is fantastic because it can be done without interrupting your gameplay. You can be in the middle of combat and tell your companion to loot a body without missing a beat. No clunky menus! (Seeing a trend here?)

They are also very useful in combat (depending on who is with you, of course). You will die. A lot at first. And it matters! Death will set you back to your last save point. There is a quick save option in the start menu, but forget to use it and you will lose your progress. This is so, so, so important! The only way to use “wait” is to sit in a chair and it doesn’t refill your health. No auto-regen! In an age where death doesn’t matter in games, I found myself frustrated every time a raider blew my head off or a deathclaw ripped out my spleen. It forces you to reevaluate your strategy and take a different approach, which makes you better at the game (by playing it!). When the threat of death and consequence is very real, the commonwealth becomes less of a playground and more of a survival situation. Running out of bullets can be a life or death situation.

Speaking of which, I couldn’t find an option that required eating and drinking (modders, make this a thing please). You can do both to restore health, but they aren’t required. Also, weapons don’t degrade so you won’t find yourself repairing them on the fly. Most of the weapons you pick up, you will scrap on the workbench.

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Getting a Taste of Power

Some of the best games give players a taste of absolute power before taking it away and making them work for it. Fallout 4 does just that. You get the power armor and mini-gun very early on. You get to experience it for all its worth. Then your power core dies like a battery and you hang your suit on its rack until you can find another power source. You don’t get to wear the armor everywhere like previous installments and you don’t need anyone to teach you to use it. You just have to keep it powered up. It is customizable, which I haven’t gotten to do much with as the parts seem rare (or I haven’t explored enough).

When you put it on, the UI changes and you have gauges on your screen that monitor your health as well as the remaining power in the suit. Immersion! I’m looking forward to doing more with this, for sure.

The perk system works a little differently this time around, which is not a bad thing. You can actually raise your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats which is great because, going in, I wasn’t sure what to put my points into. I got a well rounded character, but there are some perks I don’t have access to. Raising those stats lets me access them.

You have a myriad of perks to choose from; some familiar, some new. And with all of the options, you know there is going to be some intense replayability in this game. I kind of want to have an adventure as an idiot with no intelligence and very high luck. The real beauty is that I can.

Graphics

Commonwealth is gorgeous for a wasteland. It is incredibly detailed, as is expected. Even the settlements you build look good and fit among the environment. Nothing is out of place. The details on the armor and weapons are painstaking. Someone spent a lot of time making these things look as real as possible. All the characters and enemies got a fair treatment as well. The deathclaws are terrifying.

A lot of people said the game looks just like Fallout 3, and I can’t say they are wrong, but I can say “Who cares?” Fallout 3 was beautiful, too. Don’t be a hater. Graphics don’t make the game, anyway.

The only complaint I have in this department is with the animation of mouths. They just look off to me, but its a small oversight compared to how great everything else looks. I’ll leave all the fps talk to other reviewers, suffice it to say that the average gamer is going to see a meticulously crafted world.

One of my favorite features are the nuclear storms that blow in. Everything is fine until the sky turns brown and dark, coupled with booms, lighting, and random radiation poisoning that creates a dark environment fit for a post apocalypse.

Music

I touched on the music a bit already. You have the standard Pip-Boy radio with a few stations that I’ve found, my favorite being “classical.” There’s just something fun about fending off a wave of ghouls to classical music. Recommend! There are also a variety of hits that really set off the theme of the game.

In addition to this, there is actually an over world soundtrack of ominous music to accompany your adventure. This isn’t music from the Pip-Boy. Personally, I turned it off because I felt like music from an unknown source ruined my immersion.

Controls

I’ve already explained how some of the controls work in the UI section, but I can tell you here that they are tight. The character does what he is supposed to. Nothing is floaty. I have had zero trouble getting my reticle onto an enemy, which can be a burden when an FPS lacks the precision of a mouse.

I haven’t had a single death that I could blame on the controller. I suppose the only change I could recommend would be to automatically close the favorites pop-up after a few seconds. Here’s why:

If I am battling a raider and bring up my favorites menu, but then don’t make a selection, the menu will stay up. It isn’t intrusive in any way, but when it is up it limits the functionality of other menus. I’ve found myself trying to loot a body on the fly only to see my favorites menu preventing me from grabbing the loot and ducking away. Remember, combat doesn’t stop.

I suppose this is more of a UI complaint, but there you go.

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Overall

There are very few negative things to say about this game and any problems I might have are vastly overshadowed by the simply amazing gameplay. It is intuitive. It is immersive. It is beautiful. There are very few clunky menus to be stuck in.  The voice acting is great. Most importantly, above all else, the game is FUN!

If you are on the fence about this game, don’t be. I know the hype around it is on another level, but I avoid hype like the plague. I love this game. It is an improvement to the franchise in every conceivable way. For the first time in a long time, I’ve bought a new game that I have a hard time putting down. If you are like me, a Fallout fan who enjoyed 3 and New Vegas, I am 100% positive you will enjoy this game.

Minecraft to Fallout 4 – Inventory Management Simulator 2015!

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A storage room in Minecraft.

Rexis here!

Happy turkey month, internet! It’s time to put away the scary and break out there merry, amirite? This month marks the fourth anniversary of the official release of Minecraft. It’s hard to believe it’s only taken four years (six if you count the release of the beta) to make Notch a billionaire, but anything is possible in this crazy world we live in. I love Minecraft. If you follow the blog, you’ve probably picked up on that, but there is a glaring problem we may all be overlooking. I’m gonna type it in all caps for emphasis. MINECRAFT IS RUINING VIDEO GAMES!

Whoa. Dramatic much? Hear me out. Minecraft’s commercial success is nothing short of unprecedented. This little indie game with no story and pixelated assets exploded onto the scene and smashed sales records in its short life. The only two games to outsell it are Tetris and Wii Sports. Minecraft is on track to topple both of those giants, especially with the release of the story mode.

A game so influential is bound to leave its mark on developers who want to copy its success and anyone could have foreseen the coming clones. Obviously, people want to capitalize on the success of the newly created sandbox/survival/crafting/building genre. This is a huge problem in my book because the one thing I hate about Minecraft is the inventory management aspect of the game. Having a full and cluttered inventory and spending your time sorting things into chests is not my idea of fun. If anything, I feel like I am in the menus constantly trying to get better organized.

I don’t want to be in the menus! I want to play!

It seems to me that this mechanic is entirely derived from the crafting system. You need to gather numerous items to turn them into something else, which in-turn, takes another spot in your inventory, and so on. It’s a real pain! And god help you if you’ve forgotten something you needed in a chest somewhere.

At first, I didn’t think much of this. It seemed fine for the Minecraft world because you are given a fairly large inventory to work with. I’m no stranger to inventory problems. I’ve suffered through the same issues with Fallout 3 and Elder Scrolls. The beauty of those games was that inventory management was entirely optional. You could just drop whatever you didn’t want and move on with your life. In Minecraft, you NEED these things to build other things and survive.

In an effort to copy this, developers have created some interesting hybrids of gameplay similar to Minecraft. Let’s discuss a few. Subnautica puts you in the shoes of a man/woman who has survived a spaceship crash onto a deadly ocean planet. You must survive and build. No story. The Forest had no story last time I played it. You were in a forest where you could build, craft, and survive. The night brought out mutant tribesmen to kill you. Stranded Deep has you on an island in the ocean with an extremely limited inventory. You must survive and build. No story. More recently, a game I was super excited for called Ark: Survival Evolved became a thing. You live in a world of dinosaurs where you must…. Craft things, survive, and manage inventories. No story. Kind of a letdown, really. Beautiful, but a letdown. Another game that excited me was Seven Days to Die, a zombie survival game… With tons of inventory management and crafting mechanics. /sigh

A storage room in Ark. Notice the similarities?

A storage room in Ark. Notice the similarities?

I’m not saying these types of games are inherently bad, but I imagine how much better they could have been had I not been staring at the menus and struggling to decide what to keep, whether it was useful, how I could store my hordes of garbage. I just want to blow the heads off some zombies, or explore the islands, or kill some mutant tribesmen, or ride a friggin’ dinosaur without the clunky user interfaces and inventory management. I want to survive by finding a can of beans and eating it when the time is right, not by collecting six different gun parts, reading a book to learn a skill, and then crafting a weapon. Why can’t I ever just find a working gun and use it to pop some heads?

It just feels like all of our best game ideas are being pigeon-holed into the Minecraft formula because it sells. Minecraft broke away from the mainstream and created a new experience. Now, it has become a boring staple of gaming. I don’t want to spend hours on end gathering supplies to build a base anymore. I enjoy the building aspect, sure, but crafting every individual wall, floor, stair, ceiling has gotten old.

All the games I mentioned were indie titles. You might advise that I just don’t play them and that would be good advice. Here is why these titles are important and why MINECRAFT IS RUINING VIDEO GAMES! All of our best ideas are being forced to conform to these ideas. Can you name any other dinosaur or zombie survival games that don’t play this way? Even our mainstream titles are getting on board with this.

Fallout 4 is going to feature weapon and power armor crafting, and the ability to build your own base from scratch. Crafting has been in Fallout before, sure, but never to the extent we are about to experience. It has never been so vital to the game that you HAD to do it. This scares me. I don’t want to sit there staring at my Pip-Boy all night trying to build a house. I want to travel the wasteland and rule the world.

The saving grace here is that Fallout 4 will still feature a story and I will have plenty to occupy myself beyond playing inventory management simulator. Still, I feel a lot of people are going to miss a lot of the story in exchange for playing a more advanced and polished version of Minecraft with super mutants. This attempt to appeal to all the genres is concerning and obviously a cash grab. I wonder how much better of a game Fallout 4 could be if it hadn’t been packaged with a Minecraft add-on.

In video games, we often have to suspend our disbelief. Our characters never sleep, never go to the bathroom, never eat in some cases, yet they survive. We pick up health packs, but never actually apply them. We can even be bit by zombies with little effect. Is it not reasonable to just collect the parts we need (like walls, furniture, or other building items) and use them directly from an unlimited inventory? Do I really need to craft everything from scratch now? My suspension of disbelief can encompass carrying entire walls around. Multiples of them. Hell, it can encompass an alien from another planet who saves humanity because the sun makes him strong. In Minecraft, I can carry 30 beds and no one has a problem with it.

I’m practically dying waiting for Fallout 4 to come out and I am trying to avoid the hype. If this game ends up like Witcher 3, forcing me to gather flowers to craft potions and junk, I will probably be leaving the world of gaming due to a lack of faith in the developers. I really, really want to like Fallout 4 and I’m sure I will, but my judgment is still reserved.

I just want something fun to play that doesn’t require me jumping through hoops in the inventory system. Is that too much to ask? Thanks, Minecraft. I wonder if Notch has noticed the impact he has made on the entirety of the gaming universe.