Fallout 4’s behind closed doors demo at Gamescom this week hit me, not unexpectedly, with the bug for more. It looked like a prettier Fallout 3 with a greater focus on environmental details, more popping colours and a retooled skill system, but essentially, the presentation shown displayed a series of gameplay vignettes that were typical of the post-apocalyptic series. And that was perfectly fine.
The first noticeable thing about the demo was the range of colour on show. The sky was a bright swathe of blue, and the lighting effects on the fallen rubble of the past world were impeccably vivid. Scarlet reds and pastel colours stood out amongst the drab ruins, and visible signs of texture could be found on metal surfaces. The mint green Protectron robots felt as though they were painted in matte, with spots of flaking rust contrasting with the softer appearance of their outer shell. While Fallout 3 failed to have this level of detail in its drab environments, the chaotic appearance of Fallout 4 was very much in tune with its predecessor. Everything was broken. Exterior walls crumbled, cars and metal structures lay in heaps on roads and interior locations had airborne signs of damp through brownish particle effects. The added sheen of Fallout 4 offered an interesting juxtaposition between this horrifying level of decay and the advancement of technology. I truly felt the presence of a technologically advanced society that had been propelled into disorder through nuclear fire. The coloured ruination of the visuals was unsettling to say the least.
The demo’s wasteland wanderer travelled through this broken-down land through number of cutaway scenes. Although there was a hard stop between them, it was clear that the areas in which he trundled were connected seamlessly, whereas in Fallout 3, zones were barricaded off by loading screens. This may differentiate the games in terms of ease of traversal, but the core focus of the demo joined them mercilessly: explorative fun. The player walked through damaged streets full of debris, searching corners for hidden weapons, ammo and food, entered random buildings and fought enemies galore amongst the urban wreckage. The Corvegga Factory, a dark and dreary car construction plant, had him battling with a group of startled raiders, while a venture into a Super Duper Mart was met with resistance from a pack of zombie-like Ghouls. The same tenets of Fallout 3 were certainly in place here: aimlessly walk from place to place, picking up useful items and fighting any degenerates that get in your way for experience or caps. The amount of things to do in the wasteland may have increased significantly, due to Fallout 4’s recently revealed 400 hour time stamp, but the explorative systems in place have remained dutifully, and fantastically, faithful to what had come before.
While Fallout 3 preferred combat over pacifism, its gun-wielding allowances were passable at best; the shooting felt stiff and unrefined. Fallout 4 seemed to now place an even greater focus on combat throughout the demo, as enemies came at the wastelander frequently and with force. Fallout 3’s deranged humans and deformed creatures attacked at random intervals throughout the world, and while this still seems to be the case, a more dynamic encounter system was showcased. As the player walked below an overhanging structure, ghouls crawled on all fours out of windows, and while he was inside the Super Duper Mart, they sprang into the building from openings to the outside. But of course, these battles were only minor in comparison to some large set pieces that peppered the screen with explosions and gore. Raiders were the primary enemies shown, but after decapitating a few of those, the wastelander turned his sights to a super mutant behemoth. The launch of a mini nuke in its direction ended its life, as well as the demo, with a grand kaboom of bright radiation. The standard combat of Fallout 3 still exists, but now, more polish has been added to the slew of modifiable guns available, as realistic movements and weight have bettered the troubling rigidity of the previous game. Blowing off limbs and heads in Fallout 4 seemed like a pleasure, and it felt like a proper shooter, akin to Bethesda’s other violent efforts such as ID’s new Doom, and Wolfenstein: The New Order.
As well as upgrading the flow and fun of the combat significantly, another low-key yet satisfying detail was shown. Fallout’s rank-based system has been completely scrapped in order to tie specific perks with abilities to the character’s S.P.E.C.I.A.L. tree. For example, perks relating to carry weight, and melee weapons can now be assigned to players that have a higher Strength skill. There are a total of 70 different perks, and each is given a tongue-in-cheek animation of the Vault-Tec Boy performing hilarious, or violent, deeds. While the perks are similar to those from Fallout 3, like Bloody Mess or Animal Friend, the visual style of this upgrade system was nicely coloured in a design identical to that of the recently released Fallout Shelter iOS game. Fallout 4 has truly built upon the wacky antics of the series in the betterment of standard role-playing mechanics with a fun and wholly original structure for character refinement.
Fallout 4’s Gamescom demo showed many elements that remained true to its predecessor: perk systems, exploration, bloody combat, ruinous locales and an emphasis on radioactive zombies. But fortunately, each of these systems have been improved with a larger, faster and more streamlined vision in mind. The guns seemed weightier, the wasteland seemed brighter and the deformed abominations of the end times seemed even more determined to mutilate the player than ever before. Fallout 4 does not appear to rewrite the rulebook on apocalyptic RPGs, but its countless improvements on existing systems will no doubt make it a mushroom-cloud-sized experience of excellence.