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50 hours would be long enough to beat most games, but Fallout 4 isn’t most games. That said, I’ve now made decent progress with the main story as well as a number of the major side quests. The end is not yet in sight, but at least I’m now at a point where I can envisage an ending.

I’m still enjoying Fallout 4 but the game can be a challenge to play. That’s partly because you have to have a couple of hours to spare to play it. If you have less, don’t bother, as between loading times, in-game distances and the length of missions, you won’t accomplish anything. Moreover, even on normal difficulty, it can be quite difficult, and going into a fight unprepared or not reacting quickly enough can lead to a quick death. The mechanics mean the game is probably a bit more difficult than Skyrim: although you’ve got VATS to slow things down, the fact you’re dealing with ballistic weapons, plasma guns, etc, means dying is easy, and most explosives can one-hit-kill you. In a game where things often go very slowly, and where load times are significant, the speed at which death can come for you feels a little jarring–if realistic.

There’s no getting away from the fact that, for all of the pseudo-1950s kitsch and Vaultboy humour, Fallout 4 is a somber game. Loss defines the game, and the blasted landscape of the Commonwealth is a constant reminder of nuclear annihilation. The world is much richer and fuller than Fallout 3, of course, but if anything that just brings the point home more strongly. At times it feels almost like a video game equivalent of The Road, but a better comparison is probably the first season of Telltale’s The Walking Dead. The settlement building mechanic is a nice way to counter the melancholy, offering a way to build safe homes for denizens of the wasteland, but it’s a largely optional mechanic and there is enough to do in the game already.

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It’s hard to comment on the pacing of the game because as with most Bethesda games it’s largely controlled by the player. However the emotionally charged nature of the main story was perhaps a poor choice, as failing to pursue it in a timely manner can lead to a sense of incongruity and narrative dissonance. What’s wrong with your character that makes him (or her) solve everyone else’s problems instead of trying to find his kidnapped son? Again, it’s up to you how you tackle the story and the optional content but most of us will want to do the sprawling side missions and so most of us will feel undermined to some extent by this tension.

From a gameplay point of view I’ve found that it’s important to keep moving on with the main story to stop the game getting a bit stale. The side quests are interesting but I’m yet to be drawn in by them in the same way as, say, the Thieves Guild or Dark Brotherhood quests in Skyrim. Perhaps that will come with time. It’s a little unfair to constantly compare the game to Skyrim but it’s also inevitable.

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I do appreciate Fallout’s wide variety of companions, many of whom are very entertaining and good company as you explore Fallout’s world. Their usefulness in combat often feels quite limited, though. You can only have one companion at a time and I enjoy the rare moments when two of your companions meet and briefly interact. I know this one companion system is a feature of Bethesda games but these moments enrich the experience and it’s a shame there’s not more of it.

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The game’s writing is generally very good and there’s a great smattering of humour. I also appreciate the little environmental details that add depth and poignancy to the experience, whether it’s a skeleton holding a teddy bear or a pair of skeletons holding hands on a bed. These touches add important humanity to a journey where you could otherwise get a bit desensitized to the colossal destruction and suffering around you.

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I found my character hard to bond with initially, partly because at first I wasn’t sure about the voice actor, but as I’ve played the game more I’ve come to like him a lot more. My character specializes in Charisma, Intelligence, and Strength, meaning he has good persuasion and dialogue options and relies a lot on melee combat. The weapon options are delightful and discovering some of the available weapons is a lot of fun. My character also makes extensive use of alcohol and the game’s variety of performance enhancing drugs to boost his stats and combat ability. As a result, one of my favourite companions is Cait as she’s the most inclined to encourage this behaviour. She’s a redhead too, which helps. Poor Piper has largely been consigned to the substitute’s bench.

After 50 hours I’m probably about halfway through (maybe a little less). Despite a few reservations I’m enjoying the game a great deal and want to keep my criticism in check before I finish it. Skyrim’s full majesty wasn’t clear to me until well after 100 hours of playing, and I want to give Fallout 4 the same chance as well. But for how much longer I’ll be able to afford games that kind of generosity of time, I don’t know.

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