So since christmas I've been conciously trying to cut back on a lot of my commitments in order to focus on a plan "to do less things better". This is mostly driven by an ambition to finish off my proffesional exams by the end of 2016, which will involve a fair bit of work, and needs to be one of my main focuses. So in some ways it's ironic that I've found 69 hours in the last two and a bit months to play through Fallout 4. In my own defense, it's largely been in small sessions in and around other things, something that the game is surprisingly good for, but still, that feels like a lot of time to spend in a ruined post-apocalyptic Boston, especially given how much I've still got left to do.
Currently there seems to be two great Western RPG companies, Bethesda and Bioware. Both make huge, detailed games with passionate fanbases, alternating between a Fantasy Setting and a Sci-Fi setting for what is, underneath, largely the same game. As things stand, however, they seem to be taking wildly different approaches to how you are expected to play those games. Bioware's titles, Mass Effect and Dragon Age, are very much story and character focused affairs, wheras Bethesda seems more intent on creating vast open playgrounds and just sort of leaving you to it. I probably lean more towards the Bioware model on the whole, but I have enjoyed both Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, and picked up Fallout 4 full of hope for the promises it offered.
In a lot of ways, Fallout 4 is great title in it's own right. It's set in a huge and detailed are based on the real-world geography of Boston and it's surround areas, including most of the famous landmarks of the American Revolution. The game starts you off before the great Nuclear War of 2077, before chucking your character into a cryo-statis pod to awake 200 years later in the familiar Fallout world, all blasted 1950s styling, radioactive wildlife, mutants and death-ray guns. From there you can follow the plot-related breadcrumbs, or just head off in a random direction to see what you can find.
What you find is, well, a lot. In nearly every direction is something, usually dangerous, but there is a joy to just poking around the world that can eat up a lot of time without you actually acheiving anything. Follow the quests a little though, and there is even more; you start to discover several warring factions you can work for (and ultimately choose between) and a whole new mechanic based around occupying and building settlements, bringing order to the Wasteland. It's this latter function that makes me feel that Fallout 4 is sitting on the edge of something much more interesting - settlements don't really do anything, aside from being quite fun in their own right, but a version of the game where they really, tangibly affected the world would be amazing.
That said, the world is straining to keep up with the changes you can make. Because you have so much freedom, you can find places in any order, do quests in any order, and I suspect that the reason Bethesdas games have a reputation for bugs is that vast potential for contradictory outcomes, especially when the main faction quests start to conflict. Early on, I largely ignored "the plot", exploring at will and picking up the fun side chains (The Silver Shroud and USS Constitution quests being stand outs) to the point at which I had almost forgotten what the main quest was about. Oh yeah, my missing baby son, that was it. Feels like that should have had more prominence.
That said, once I got back to the main quest it works pretty well, weaving between the four main factions squabbling over the fate of the Commonwealth and doing a decent job on giving each of them a chance to state their opinions. The streamlined crafting and levelling systems are probably a little lightweight for tastes, but thought they were fine, and the game seems happy to encourage you to play however you want without punishing you for that approach. Unless of course you want to talk your way though quests, because nearly every single one is combat oriented, so its a good thing the actually shooting gameplay is improved from Fallout 3.
So where does that leave us? With 69 hours in the game I can hardly complain - I got to the end of the main plot with things still left undone and sufficently interested that the expected DLC will almost certainly see me return. There are clearly still problems left for Dogmeat and I to solve.