Fallout 4 - The Commonwealth Needs You

 https://www.flickr.com/photos/bagogames/16404467908

https://www.flickr.com/photos/bagogames/16404467908

When reviewing a game like Fallout 4, it’s incredibly difficult to find a place to begin.

Do I wax poetic about the new story? Do I ruminate about the improvements to the gameplay or the graphics? Should I rant about the sheer scope and size of The Commonwealth? It’s hard to say. I find the prospect nearly as overwhelming as playing the game itself.

The one thing that must be emphasized about Fallout 4, before you pick up a single controller or slide a disc into your preferred gaming receptacle: you’re going to lose a LOT of time. I know we’ve all played games with deeply involved story and exploration. Hell, if you’re a gamer like me, you’ve sought them out. But this… This is something else. This game will consume your free time. This game will swallow your daytime. This game will make you late for work. This game will ruin your relationships. Like a deeply satisfying addiction that leaves you feeling ashamed because you can’t kick it, even though you tell all of your friends you have, this game will not let you go.

Bethesda has become known for its overwhelmingly engaging core titles. The Fallout series, (much like its cousin series, The Elder Scrolls) has been the go-to open world game series for quite a few years now. Much like 2011’s Skyrim, Fallout 4 seems to be filled with unlimited potential. It’s brilliant and colorful. There are secrets buried around every corner. Having said that, Fallout 4 is deceptively large. A quick glance at your ever-present Pip Boy presents a map that looks almost… intimate. It’s not. It’s vast and it doesn’t care about you. It will try to kill you at every turn.

If I haven’t established how incredibly massive this game is, let me say it again: This game is huge. Not to be braggadocios, but I’ve beaten the main questline 3 times. I’m on my 4th play-through with a fourth play-style, and I’m STILL finding new things. For a completionist like me, this is a massive draw. This directly translates to replay value, which this game has in spades.

Fallout 4 is a vast improvement over Fallout 3, in nearly every way. While this should go without saying, I feel like this is an era of gaming that requires this to be said. In a time of yearly franchise titles being rushed to release and half-finished games being sold at full-price, it’s refreshing to play a game that feels complete. Now, allow me to qualify that statement: This is by no means a perfect game. Fallout 4 is fantastic, perhaps even the best game of 2015, but is by no means without flaw.

Let’s get real. If you’ve played a Bethesda title, you know about their renowned flaws. Sometimes, the collision can be a little janky. Occasionally, something might just fall through the floor or shoot into the sky like a rocket.  There are even the rare game-breaking save glitches. In most titles, this is a sin most unforgivable. For some reason, with Fallout 4, it’s just a part of the charm. With the amount of time I’ve spent on this game, I can honestly state that I’ve seen much less glitchy behavior than I have in previous Bethesda titles. The glitches exist. Oh yes, the glitches are here. Simply, they just seem to occur less often and with less drama than in past Bethesda iterations.

When you have a game as involved and expansive as Fallout 4, there seems to be a tendency for people to focus heavily on what isn’t in the game. In conversation, you’ll often hear banter start with something like, “You know what they should have put into the game?”  I can’t exclude myself from this; I do it all the time. I think there are some simple concepts this game could have benefitted from.

You’ll find a new building system in the game that allows you to grow a settlement. This settlement system is not explained well, and that concept remains throughout the game. Much in the way you have to fend for yourself in the Wasteland, you’ll have to fend for yourself as you play the game. You cannot build weapons in the game; you can only customize them. You cannot build ammo in the game; you can only find it. You can’t build armor; you can only improve it. Small gripes, to be sure, but annoying none the less.

I’ve read other reviews about Fallout 4. One of the main criticisms about the game, and a fairly easy complaint to make about a lot of Triple A titles as of late, is about the graphics. Personally, I think this is a steaming heap of nonsense. This game is gorgeous. The aggressive push for 60fps, 4k quality, etc. seems like a lot of nonsense to me. Perhaps there’s something I just don’t get. Perhaps I’m just more interested in playing games that are fun than I am playing games that bleeding-edge visually dazzling. Fallout 4 has a look that is fun, interesting and consistent with the world the developers created.

So much more could be said about Fallout 4. At this point though, I think I’ve done a fair job emphasizing the epic magnitude of the game. Would I call this my “Game of the Year”? Yeah, I suppose I would. I might even go so far as to say, this is the must-play title of the current gaming generation. This is the game you’ll spend days and weeks exploring. The only advice I can give you before you start playing the game: Take some vacation time. Trust me, other things in your life will suffer once you start playing Fallout 4.

NHL 2016 - Giving it a Sporting Try

 By ArtBrom [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By ArtBrom [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

A tiny bit of background about me: I love video games but I don’t enjoy sports. I don’t follow them at all and I couldn’t name you five athletes that play organized sports. I know that baseball has home runs, football has touchdowns, and hockey has goals. That’s about the width and breadth of my knowledge. Consistent with my lack of interest in sports, a lack of interest in sports games has always been a natural side-effect. My distaste for sports has been mostly passive, but at times, it’s been actively aggressive – especially during football season.

This review, however, isn’t about that. This review is more about how my anti-sports walls were recently crumbled, if ever so slightly. I have a decently sized community of friends I game with, and the majority of them are sports fans. The one game most of them agree upon playing, typically without fail, is hockey. After years of hearing them play and talk and grouse about it in the Xbox Live party, my intolerance finally crumbled this week.

I started playing EA’s NHL 2016, and I had no expectations when I fired it up. I have no previous experience with EA sports games, and the last sports game I played was Ice Hockey for the NES back in 1989. Needless to say, I came into the game like a babe in the woods. I can say, as a matter of fact, there’s a lot to this game. There’s a decent learning curve to understand the nuances of the title, but I found I could pick it up and tap a few buttons to play with varying degrees of effectiveness.

NHL 2016 has a number of game-play modes for fans to choose from. As I am woefully unfamiliar with previous iterations of the game, I couldn’t tell you what’s new and what’s a holdover from last year. While the game can be incredibly complex (and you’ll have to learn those complexities to be GOOD at the game), even someone with no experience can jump online and skate with their friends with very little practice. I learned very quickly that hockey doesn’t allow players to skate full-speed into opponents and level them to the ice like a Mack Truck. Food for thought!

After playing NHL 2016 for about 12 hours, there hasn’t been a revelation for me to become a sports fan. I’m not going to run out and buy a Black Hawks jersey and watch the games on TV. It’d take a lot more than a video game to drive me to that. However, I will keep playing NHL 2016. The game-play is exciting and addictive. There’s a great deal to learn about the game and a ton of modes to try out. It’s a social game that I can play and learn strategies with my friends. If asked, at this point, I’d suggest to others who don’t follow sports to give a try. You might be surprised like I was.

Final score for NHL 2016: 3.5 out of 5.