I’d intended to write up something about Fallout 4 a few days ago, but what free time I’ve had in the past week or so has been spent playing, well, Fallout 4. In many respects Fallout 4 is similar to Fallout 3, and Fallout New Vegas: blasted wasteland, murderous mutants and raiders, cool weapons, scavenging, power armor, companions, etc. But I’m not here to write about the usual Fallout features, which you can read about anywhere. I want to tell you about the newest and, to me, most interesting feature: settlements.
F3 and NV gave you houses, which you could customize and use as a base and storage facility. F4, on the other hand, lets you rebuild civilization by establishing settlements…over 30 of them, spread throughout the Commonwealth wasteland. When many A-rated games offer at most a dozen hours of gameplay, Fallout 4’s settlement feature alone gives you potentially hundreds of hours of gameplay (let alone the main storyline, numerous side quests and random wasteland exploration).
Within your settlements you can do almost anything: establish defenses, grow crops, construct infrastructure and power grids, and build unique buildings using modular blocks (like the picture above). Your settlements require resources to grow, mainly wood and steel, but also things like cement, copper, cloth, circuitry, fiber optics, oil, gears, springs, screws and much, much more. You can acquire these resources by scrapping salvage within the borders of your settlement, or by scavenging them from the wasteland and transferring them into your settlement’s workshop inventory (which automatically converts them to the necessary resources as needed). Finally, there’s a use for all that random junk you find in the wasteland.
Settlements won’t amount to much without settlers. You can build radio transmitters to attract new settlers, who’ll need food and water, a bed to sleep in and protection from raiders. If you provide for them adequately, their happiness will increase (as will their productivity). If you fail, their happiness can decrease and you might loose control of the settlement. Fortunately it’s pretty easy to see what’s bothering your settlers and remedy the situation. And then you can put your settlers to work. At first they’ll be growing crops and standing guard against raiders, but eventually you can put them to work in shops (to make caps for you), scavenging, and to maintain the vital supply lines between your growing network of settlements. You can also tell them to move to other settlements, distributing your population as needed.
Supply lines between settlements are worthy of a post all their own. They allow you to share construction resources between connected settlements. They also share excess food and water, enabling a synergism that allows the settlement system to really shine: specialization. Instead of every settlement having to grow its own food and produce its own water (a logistics nightmare), using supply lines you can have specialized farms, water purification centers, scavenging centers, trade centers, logistical hubs, and even firebases (yes, you can eventually get artillery for your settlements). Conceivably you could even have specialized “breeder” settlements, optimized for attracting new settlers, then relocate them to where their labor is needed most.
On the downside, while the controls for building settlements can be a bit kludgy, the controls for managing your settlers is nearly anachronistic. There is no central interface for managing settlers, so you have to track down each settler individually (they wander around, and some of the settlements are HUGE), give them a command and then run back across the settlement to tell them what you want them to interface with. You can construct a bell to summon everyone in a settlement to one spot, but it can still be a hassle to figure out which settler is doing which job. And re-routing your supply lines is a near Sisyphean task. To cancel a supply line, you have to talk to the actual settler doing the supply run…and yes, they actually travel across the wasteland between settlements, in real time (well, real game time). This usually entails waiting for them to show up at a settlement, which can take quite awhile. This is perhaps “realistic,” in a sense, but it would have been nice to have a tool to centralize the management of workers and supply lines. I imagine such features will be amongst the early mods to be released by the community.
Fallout also does a very poor job of explaining the settlement system to new players. To be fair, much of the system is intuitive, and there is a help feature which adequately covers the basics, but you’ll still spend a lot of time and resources experimenting with different features (either that, or spend a lot of time researching what you need on the internet). However, some players may feel this is a feature, rather than a flaw.
Finally, while supply lines share resources between all your connected settlements, there is no global resource tracker for all your settlements (at least, none that I’ve found so far). So it’s not easy to see your total food and water production vis-à-vis your total population. For me, this is a minor annoyance, and I’m sure the modding community will come to the rescue in due course.
So, if you’re a fan of Fallout and Civilization, Fallout 4 should be right up your alley. Honestly, I cannot imagine playing Fallout without settlements now. In terms of value, if you enjoy everything Fallout 4 has to offer, you should reap scores, if not hundreds, of hours of play time from this game. Just be warned that settlement management can easily suck you in.
Edit: So, the last couple of days I’ve noticed some glitches with settlement management. When I’m at a settlement and check it’s status via the workbench interface, everything is fine. Plenty of food, water and beds…everyone’s happy.
However, when I go do some missions or exploring, when I use the PipBoy to check on my settlements, it doesn’t always register all of the settlement’s resources. Sometimes food is lacking, or it says there aren’t enough beds, and happiness declines significantly.
So I quick travel to the settlement to see what the heck is going on, and everything is just the way I left it before, except for the settlement’s happiness level (which is usually about 5 points lower). I can’t pin the problem down, and it’s becoming very aggravating.
Edit: Okay, a little research shows a lot of people are getting this bug. The consensus is that it’s one of two things bugging the settlement: 1) powered TV’s, or 2) fast-traveling from within the build limits of a settlement. My two most bugged settlements have powered TVs in them, so I will try deleting them and seeing what happens. Besides, watching too much TV is bad for your eyes. 🙂