Fallout 4 manages to maintain the balance between visual fidelity and providing the user with a rich experience.
War, war never changes. It’s been seven years since Fallout 3 was released way back in 2008. Bethesda first showcased Fallout 4 in a playable form at this year’s E3. What’s more? They even went ahead and announced the game will be hitting shelves on November 10th of this year.
Back then Bethesda also confirmed that the game will be a current gen exclusive and will obviously come to the PC platform as well. Obviously there was an expectation that the game will be pushing the hardware to new visual boundaries especially when The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt showered us with new graphical benchmarks on current gen consoles and modern gaming PCs. However after the E3 showing many fans and critics were not impressed with the technology that was implemented to enable Fallout 4 in motion. The game runs on a next generation version of the Creation Engine, a modified version of framework and tool sets that powered Bethesda’s previous offerings. The new engine reportedly offers support for physically based deferred renderer, dynamic lighting and the ability to build structures and support advanced facial customization for avatars.
Also new to the engine is the support for a custom foliage solution. Previously Bethesda Game Studios used SpeedTree, a middleware used for rendering grass and foliage and after playing through a few hours of the game, we think this decision was for the best as Bethesda’s proprietary solution works well enough to render dense foliage. The physics is mostly based on the Havok’s set of solutions and the engine employs Radiant AI and Story middleware to generate complicated quest structures along with dynamic NPC behavior. All of this sounds good on paper but does the game really deliver on these fronts? Does it manages to take the franchise in new directions with its visual and aesthetic style and most importantly, does it manage to provide a bug free and a highly optimized experience?
To begin with, Bethesda made one thing clear right from the day they announced the game, Fallout 4 is not about setting new visual benchmarks. Although they admit graphics are important but for them gameplay experience comes first. We don’t think that is an unfair expectation but given that most big budget games like Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt employ modern rendering techniques, it’s tad disappointing that Fallout 4 looks like a game that was stuck in developmental transition from last gen to current gen. This is clearly evident in the disappointing characters models who at times behave as if they are rag dolls or puppets. The NPCs lack any sort of lip syncing, let alone complex graphical parameters such as sub surface scattering. Their animations are bad at times, and they may glitch resulting into two NPCs clashing into each other.
Head to head comparison between PS4, PC and Xbox One versions of Fallout 4. If possible, select 1080p and 60fps option for best possible video playback quality.
Several objects such as nearby walls or furniture often appear blurred out. This is most likely due to the uneven texture filtering solution implemented. At times the filtering works well on ground surfaces but it totally looks off during the instances I described above.
However not everything is dark and gloomy. The technical sacrifices were done to render one of the deepest worlds you will ever explore in video games with unique NPC designs. The game boasts some impressive draw distances and an efficient lighting system employing high dynamic and volumetric effects. Some sort of a custom global illumination is used in some places and bounce lighting tech is employed especially during night times. Alpha and volumetric effects are pretty decent across all platforms. When the weather changes, the new material system allows the objects to react dynamically, getting wet or dry accordingly. The game also comes packed with a standard cloth simulation system makes cloth, hair, and vegetation blow in the wind.
The sacrifices also meant that Bethesda were able to render the game at a native 1080p resolution on the PS4 and Xbox One. Frame rate is not locked on the consoles and there were some drops that we witnessed. Overall the target 30fps is maintained for the most part. However, we can’t help but feel the best possible way to experience Fallout 4 is on the PC. The PC version comes packed with a ton of graphical options such as Temporal AA, better Anisotropic Filtering, Filmic Tonemapping, Dynamic Dismemberment using Hardware Tessellation, improved reflections and enhanced post processing effects. Obviously, at ultra setting the PC version trumps the console versions. Also the console versions employ a post processing AA resembling FXAA compared to Temporal AA option on PCs. Further enhancements include better decals and along with an impressive draw distance. We ran the game on an R9 290x and faced no performance issues whatsoever. Other than the expected glitches, Fallout 4 is a fairly well optimized game on the PC.
Most of the core assets are similar across all platforms but the PC trumps them all with support for higher resolution and the all important 60fps which allows for a marked improvement in experience. On the console versions we witnessed a few issues with LOD and pop-ins but for the most part these are quickly resolved, especially on the PC. The shadows are softer on the PC which employs SSAO while on the consoles; shadows are missing in some places let alone the dithering issues that plague them.
From a technical standpoint, it seems that Fallout 4 was supposed to be cross generational game. As we have noted above, there is ample evidence of this but this is merely an assumption on our part. At the end of the day we can’t help but feel that Bethesda Game Studios did not fully utilized the potential of the new systems. We have a fairly mixed opinion on Fallout 4’s graphics tech and it’s a question of maintaining the balance between visual fidelity and providing the user with a rich experience. From a technical standpoint the PC version is where you should be playing Bethesda’s magnum opus.
Additional reporting by Tim Cook.