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“War never changes,” goes the saying. But does a Bethesda game?

Sprawling, complex, infuriating, awe-inspiring, buggy, beautiful – a Bethesda game can be joy and a heartache all at once. Although whatever complaints their games receive the overall experience tends to win out through sheer imagination, scale and experience.

As Fallout 4 arrives we round-up some recent reviews to see if anything has changed about a Bethesda game along with the change in console generations.

Rich Stanton, writing in The Guardian was lukewarm on the game, citing the opening moments that take place before the bomb as lacking dramatic impetus.

… the execution is so small-scale it lacks credibility: as you and your family walk past a checkpoint, the neighbours just stand by cycling through voice clips. A nuke is about to hit this town in seconds, there’s a fallout shelter 50 metres away, and people are standing with their kids doing what a handful of guards tell them. The nuke hits as soon as you’re in. Upon returning to the surface 200 years later you see their idiotic skeletons, and it’s hard to care.

It appears that Bethesda’s tried and tested mission template is intact with the latest iteration of Fallout. Leon Hurly at Gamesradar appreciates the blurred line between the main quest-line and multitude of side missions.

This huge level of distraction comes in part from the fact that Fallout 4, like all of Bethesda’s games, makes no real distinction between a main mission or a side quest. The world’s a far more interesting place because of this and you never know what to expect. Some no-name objective tucked away in the ‘miscellaneous’ tab can turn out to be a three hour, multistage event that’s easily the match of anything in the main plot line.

One thing that has changed is the game’s crafting system. Andrew Webster at the The Verge enjoyed putting his new skills to good use.

In certain areas you can break down old furniture, cars, and houses, and use those resources to craft more useful items and structures. I spent a few hours helping a settlement by making beds and water purifiers, and then keeping them protected with the addition of some well-placed machine gun turrets. It was a surprisingly satisfying diversion, and as I traveled throughout the game I was able to convince friends to join the growing community.

VATS was the most interesting feature of Fallout 3 and it returns here, albeit in a slightly tweaked form. Arthur Gies at Polygon thinks the change makes an appreciable difference.

Bigger changes are reserved for VATS, or the “Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System.” In Fallout 3 and New Vegas, hitting the left bumper on your controller would freeze time completely, allowing you to target specific enemies and their weak spots using a number-driven system of probabilities and critical hit rolls. And while the latter elements are still present, the safety of frozen time is nowhere to be found. VATS now slows time down to a crawl instead, which is still useful, mind, but not godlike in its broad, ass-saving applications.

In TIME‘s review however, the game’s underlying adherence to stat-based combat does give cause for the occasional moment of disconnect.

It’s another Fallout idiosyncrasy that the math reigns supreme, even to the point of visual farce, like when you fire a shotgun point blank at the head of a foe half a dozen times before they’ll relent and keel over.

Bugs of a technical kind are often associated with Bethesda RPGs. In many respects they are considered inevitable in a game of this size and scope. Peter Brown, writing at Gamespot finds them present and correct in Fallout 4 but absolutely forgivable in context.

Characters walk through objects now and then, or stand in thin air. It’s nostalgic in that sense because these qualities recall the quirks of other great Bethesda RPGs, such as The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim and Fallout 3. Fallout 4 may cause you to recall the past on occasion, but given its timeless story and many wonderful new experiences, this is hardly a problem.

It’s a sentiment that Dan Stapleton at IGN agrees with.

Fallout 4’s performance on both consoles is tolerable, but sometimes disappointing. We’ve seen frequent frame rate slowdowns well below the target of 30 when simply walking around the world, and hitches of a second or more that arise mostly after loading a new save or fast-traveling. But at no point did I encounter anything that halted my progress, or significantly dampened my enthusiasm for exploring, fighting, looting, and just existing in this fantastic, lore-filled universe.

As for the return to the Wasteland – it appears to be as evocative and intricate as we hoped. Rich Stanton, writing in The Guardian, enjoyed the variety and scope of the apocalyptic Boston.

Bethesda’s visual designers are brilliant at giving landmarks a distinctive silhouette on the horizon, and varying the topography then cramming secrets into hidden wrinkles.

The wasteland can be a bleak place, but this is also the brightest and most vibrant we’ve seen a Fallout game. Just like the game’s mood – which switches effortlessly between being funny, scary, relaxing and tense – the brilliant art direction makes sure the barren landscape stays interesting as the hours tick away.

And – of course – Fallout 4 sees the return of a little pooch named Dogmeat. Peter Brown, writing at Gamespot welcomes his trusty companionship.

Your likely first companion is a German Shepherd, affectionately known as Dogmeat. With a wagging tail, an infectious bark, and a subtle, toothy grin, I grew fond of his presence. He lightens the mood, but he and other companions can be a hindrance at times, too. Issuing commands is an involved process that requires you to move the camera toward your partner and navigate a menu; these tasks are cumbersome and difficult to consider in the middle of a fight.

As ever it appears that a Bethesda game is tough to review. For each negative there are many positives. Each experience unique, each adventure different. Ken Fisher’s Op-Ed at Ars Technica sums up the appeal.

This is the kind of game that you live with, that you make a part of your life for a very long time. It’s a game in which you are totally free to jump between quests, to go off on bizarre expeditions that at first seem meaningless, or to spend some time just tightening up your settlement. In the week I’ve had my copy, it keeps calling to me, and I keep playing Fallout4 over a host of other new games I have sitting around. And I suspect that isn’t going to change for a while.

And if you need a more succinct summary, Tom Hutchison writing for the Daily Star has your back.

Hardcore gamers are going to love it.

So there you go.

Pick up Fallout 4 from Amazon now.

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