I’m wheezing as I cut through the underbrush. I can hear the dogs—two of them—hungrily snapping their jaws after me. What little meat they have left on their bones pulls taut against the ribs. I’m nearly out of ammo. My loyal hound, Dogmeat, jumps into the fray, buying me a few seconds to reload my shitty pistol. I scope in and realize we’re not alone. An automated turret zeros in on me from a two-story outpost. A pack of raiders in leather-plated armor raise their weapons in an adjacent shack. I know I’m toast, but that doesn’t stop me from equipping a tire iron and going to town on the S&M-themed freak that just took a potshot at my dog. Welcome to Fallout 4.
The average video game takes anywhere from six to 40 hours to complete, depending on the genre. I’ve played in Bethesda Game Studios’ war-ravaged world for one day and seven hours, and I’ve seen only a fraction of what Fallout 4 has to offer. Set in Boston in the year 2287—200 years after a nuclear bombing—Fallout 4 is all scorched Earth and degenerate beauty, but there are traces of the old life. Some city staples remain, but have been completely repurposed—Fenway Park, for example, which has been transformed into a bustling hub known as Diamond City.
You’re never really alone in Fallout 4. Allies keep me company, and the good ones keep me honest. But the thing is, Fallout 4 is full of complex situations that often require you to shelve your morals. Sometimes you just need to break into someone’s house, which is why I travel with Cait a lot. An Irish hard-ass with a drug problem, Cait doesn’t judge me for picking locks—she asks for the bobby pins.
“War never changes” is a theme of Fallout 4, and the evidence of it becomes more apparent the more you travel. Things want to kill you, like, all of the time. I’ll never forget the first time I ran into an Assaultron— robotic freaks that harness the power of the sun to melt you into human tar. I thought I could rush in with a serrated Chinese sword and hack the thing to pieces. The Assaultron not only punched me back with its three-pronged claws, but chased me into a corner where it unleashed its laser beam of doom. I actually shut my PlayStation off after this. But in retrospect, I’ve never before had so much fun getting my ass kicked.
One thing that sets Fallout 4 apart from other open-world role-playing games is the stories it tells without words. Once, I happened upon a hospital overrun with super mutants. These Hulk-like gladiators will string you up like a human windchime, so naturally, I wanted to avoid them. A nearby door with arrows pointing at it caught my eye, and I just knew it had to be a random act of kindness from a faction I hadn’t met yet. Wrong: it was a murder hotel worthy of H.H. Holmes, with shotgun-rigged traps, explosive scales and a family of ghouls in residence. Sallow and frail in appearance, these zombified creatures are fast, going from zero to a 5k marathon sprint in seconds. Oh, and they ooze radiation. Needless to say, they made a piñata of me.
I returned to face them shortly after garbed in power armor. I found myself wiping sweat from my palms when the last ghoul fell. I then realized that my compass had told me to go south … an hour ago.
Fallout 4’s immersive world has sucked me in. Ask me if I’m ready to get out of the house and I’ll probably tell you “just five more minutes.”