‘Fallout’ less immersive, still impressive

Since the launch of “Skyrim” in 2011, Bethesda Game Studios has been laying low, plotting the return of arguably its most beloved franchise, “Fallout.” Set in a future nuclear wasteland, the role-playing game series has always been adored for its rich lore, combat and dialogue system. It has all the workings of a game you can spend hundreds of hours on, but the previous games never hooked me entirely.

I began to discover the joys of “Fallout” only years after it was released, and I saw why people fell in love with it. Although it’s not packed with soaring dragons or magic spells, the series has always been a fantasy for me, albeit a more realistic fantasy that commits to its dense backstory. However, after “Fallout 4” was announced earlier this year, it was clear from the start that this is a more streamlined, double-sided game, even though it’s following the same “Fallout” fashion.

The game begins and you choose either a husband or wife. Chaos ensues and you’re stuck in a vault 200 years in the future with your partner dead and your son kidnapped. This alarmingly quick intro thrusts the game into action. After you enter the Commonwealth, aka Boston, you’re pretty much free to do what you want. You have total freedom to shape your character’s story, and there is an exponential amount of content waiting to be uncovered. What makes this aspect harder than it should be, though, is the game’s dialogue system.

Previous games housed lengthy conversations, replete with long sentences from which you could choose a reply. However, “Fallout 4” ditches this system for a simpler approach: You can choose from four dialogue options at a time, one being the nice response, one being sarcastic, another mean, and a final choice which just allows you to ask a question. It crushes the density of previous games’ options which I so admired, especially in “Fallout: New Vegas,” which has excellent writing in both conversations and quests. Making every talk you have with another person in the wasteland so terse leads to less world-building through the dialogue. This leaves most of the world-building to happen in the environment, which is filled with eye-catching locations and enemies new and old. Exploring the wasteland has been my favorite part of the “Fallout” games, and, in tandem with the reworked combat system, fills each session with myriad hours of wandering just to see what’s beyond that hill so you can subdue it and claim the glory.

VATS is back, but less useful, due to the gunplay feeling the most satisfying it ever has. You can tinker with each weapon through mods galore, such as lending a scope to your shotgun or giving that plasma rifle a larger magazine. The feel and response of the combat leads to VATS taking a backseat. Where past “Fallout” games were saved from their clunky shooting mechanics by the preciseness of VATS, “Fallout 4” feels hindered by it. I’m glad it finally feels good to use weapons in a “Fallout” game, and sincerely don’t mind not using VATS at all.

Playing on PC has displayed the ever-present issues with Bethesda’s engine. The hardware my PC is using isn’t completely outdated at all, but it’s obvious my machine shows its age here and there. I expected “Fallout 4” to run well enough, but with the prior problems existing in older Bethesda games when they first launched, I knew I’d encounter some hiccups. The game took some serious tweaking in order to achieve a solid framerate, but once I hit the bigger cities, said framerate plummets. One can expect this specific performance issue to be ironed out over time, just as most Bethesda games are, but for right now it makes entering those provinces a pain and something I don’t look forward to. Otherwise, the game looks nice enough, though not completely life altering, and for a massive open-world game, it does the job well.

I’m far from the end of “Fallout 4,” but as I slowly take my time to reach that last quest, I’m still being surprised. The game is markedly different in many ways but maintains that familiar feel of exploration over everything. That mantra still works extremely well here, and is what I’m looking forward to most as I keep spending time with the game. Thankfully, Bethesda still leans heavily on the power and mystery of atmosphere to immerse players. Some things have changed and some haven’t, but in the end, this is more “Fallout” with issues. The wasteland is still addictively fun to explore, but it’s hindered by some aspects that make the experience less immersive and consuming as it once was.