So I promised some more thoughts on Fallout 4, although I suppose I can append “whether you wanted them or not” to that. It’s been out over a year, after all, so anyone who had any interest has already played, right?

Well, I hadn’t, and I’m willing to bet there are some others out there who haven’t had the pleasure yet, whether they wanted to wait for Bethesda to work through their inevitable release bugfest or just didn’t have the time or money. For me, it was mostly a matter of money. It’s still $59.99 on Steam as a regular price but during Thanksgiving and Christmas the sale price was under $20, and there’s no reason to suspect it won’t happen again as the game gets further and further from being the new shininess. But man, this is one of those rare AAA titles I think I would have been okay paying sixty bucks for. That I got it for a fraction of that just increases my love.

Now, does the “vanilla” game (as is, with no user-content mods enabled) rate a $60 buy? At this point you’re asking the wrong guy, since even what I intended as my vanilla playthrough has its share of add-ons. I blame True Storms, really… because Jesus Thunderstorming Christ is True Storms amazing. The vanilla game has its share of atmospheric weather effects but True Storms turns that shit up to eleven and I was hooked from the moment I had to defend one of my settlements from a sudden raider attack in the midst of a howling, nearly blinding dust storm. If you’ve got a few minutes to kill, the mod author put together a taste of what he’s brought to the game world:

I mean he even overhauled things so that when you run into a building the rain sounds change and the occlusion detection is generally good enough that during a heavy storm you can see the drops pouring in through the holes in a roof. One thing no one’s quite been able to nix yet is that you get the “wet” effect on your character’s head and clothes regardless of what roof you might or might not be under, so that’s unfortunate, but aside from that this is just so immersive.

Not that the vanilla game isn’t. Could it be better? Sure. Some items in the environment are destructible but most aren’t. You can’t shoot a missile launcher at the base of a sniper’s tower and have it fall over. On the other hand, if you have any enemies foolish enough to take cover behind or near one of the copious abandoned atomic-powered cars in the landscape, it’s glorious to teach them the error of their ways with a few well-placed shots to the hood.

That’s a holdover from previous games, but I don’t know what to say, it just feels more tactical and satisfying, as does throwing grenades and Molotov cocktails. And the world feels so huge compared to previous installments, so much so that it’s just about overwhelming to an exploration junkie like myself. Add in the settlement building aspect and let’s just say I really haven’t progressed far in the main plot. Besides, progressing in the settlement quests gets you the ability to call in artillery strikes and oh my God you just want to stand back and salute while hellfire rains, maybe singing a bit of Star Spangled Banner or arranging a few screenshots of your character silhouetted dramatically against the flames and smoke.

The battles are just great, so great I think people might do themselves a disservice to play everything in the near-pause version of V.A.T.S. that slows down time, but I do understand because it can get really chaotic — plus I’m playing on Normal difficulty so can take a few hits from an enemy I can’t quite seem to get a bead on. That said, one of my standout moments was meleeing a robot to death under the influence of just about all the drugs, including the one called Jet which slowed down time enough that I was able to barely backpedal away from the huge explosion as its reactor went up, like an action hero but facing the wrong way.

But just to tie this in a bit to the Ranch, let me talk about the ghoul situation. Fallout’s version of zombies are called ghouls, which are former humans who have absorbed too much radiation. They become effectively immortal to aging, but their skin wrinkles, their noses fall off, and it’s just otherwise not conventionally pretty. Now despite their condition, some of these ghouls are still perfectly able to function in what passes for post-apocalyptic society, but out in the wastes are the so-called “feral ghouls” whose brains have deteriorated into an animalistic and, uh, hungry state.

They have always been a part of the games, but in Fallout 4 feral ghouls have graduated from nasty and creepy to full-on terrifying. They’re still technically alive, and while normally they hobble about, when they come after you they are fast. Not only that, but they love to home in on gunshots, so shooting one suddenly attracts a whole horde to your position. This video has some V.A.T.S. slowdown and inventory pausing but you can get the idea:

Now imagine being in dark, confined quarters searching out a pack of these monsters. When I got hold of some power armor I was having Space Hulk flashbacks. Best/worst thing? They play possum. Basically just like I envisioned my own zeds doing, they go dormant with no food around, seeming dead, and then you walk near them and they wake right up. You’ll be wishing you were a cambot.

It’s crazy stuff, and crazy good. If you’re more on the Romero spectrum I can understand you wanting more of a, say, Dead Rising or Resident Evil experience, but if you’d like to feel the experience of trying to survive a more 28 Days Later outbreak, go ahead and take a wander through post-apocalyptic Lexington. Just keep your shotgun handy. Preferably a fully automatic one.