War. War never changes. That might be an absolute in the Fallout series but I can say without reservation that Fallout 4 changes considerably if you play it in Survival mode. I initially completed the game on normal difficulty and enjoyed it well enough. The graphics and combat were a definite upgrade and I enjoyed the Commonwealth setting. But I felt the story and the dialogue options in particular a downgrade. Regardless of your dialogue choices the outcome would rarely seem to change. So rather than replay I decided to move onto other games. This changed when I heard that a new Survival mode had been added to the game. Before we get into the meat of the review let's cover the key points of Survival mode.
- NO FAST TRAVEL
- Fast travel is disabled so now you will have to plan carefully all your various expeditions. There are workarounds later in the game via Vertibirds but generally you're going to be doing a lot of walking, which isn't a bad thing (more on this later).
- SAVING IS LIMITED
- Saving is only performed when sleeping. No more saving before a big battle, unless there is a bed handy. This one can be a bit of a pain, especially for those of us with real world interruptions that can't wait. Are you in the closing phases of 'The Secret of Cabot House' but have to take your dog to the vet? In other modes you could simply save and continue when you get back, but in Survival mode unless you can find a bed you're going to have to start over from your last save. The game will save when you quit as long as the game is in a state where saving isn't disabled.
- NO MORE ENEMY ESP
- In other modes your radar would show enemy locations which made combat simpler since it was much harder to get surprised by enemies. Now while in combat there could be an enemy around the next corner but they will not show up on the radar. You will have to rely on audio cues and spam the VATS system if you're nervous.
- HUNGER AND THIRST
- You will now have to keep yourself hydrated and fed. This helps add to the realism and challenge since you will need to always have your next meal planned out. I can't believe I'm eating grilled radroaches and mutt-chops.
- YOU ARE GETTING SLEEPY
- You will now have to sleep daily otherwise you will get fatigued and lose a certain amount of AP (Action Points).
- I FEEL SO HEAVY
- Ammo now has weight, so you can no longer run around with a bunch of ammunition. You will have to plan your loadout of choice (more on this later).
- ANOTHER LEGENDARY RAIDER?
- Combatants in Survival mode have been amped up, their attack strength and overall health/damage resistances have increased. In addition to this you will come across many more legendary enemies which is beneficial because they drop legendary items but when you're limping home from a tough battle the last thing you want to deal with is a legendary Alpha Deathclaw.
- I'M FEELING A BIT LETHARGIC
- Depending on getting hit in battle and where, when and how you sleep you might be hit with a sickness like parasites, lethargy, insomnia and other fun states of wellness or lack thereof.
There are some other minor changes as well but those are the biggies. After reviewing them you might say, "That doesn't sound like a lot of fun", and that might be true for some gamers. If you are the type who rage quits very easily or does not have a good supply of patience and/or time, then Survival mode might not be for you. But for those that give it a chance, they will be rewarded with a more fulfilling and rich Fallout 4 experience. For many after playing Survival mode, it is hard to go back since everything else feels less true to the Fallout 4 experience.
Well, yes and no. Survival mode does not improve on the lacking dialogue system. A big criticism of Fallout 4 was there was not a big difference in the story regardless of what dialogue options were chosen. Survival mode does nothing to improve this but it can make the same quests 'feel' better. That conversation you had with Preston about a new settlement opportunity might've been boring but the trek out there sure wasn't. If I had simply fast traveled out to the new settlement location cleared out the baddies and fast traveled back that quest would seem like a piece of filler, which rightly it probably is. But now I have to plan out my weapons/ammo to make sure I'm well equipped for the job, pack enough food and water for the trip there and plan how I'm going to get there. While planning the route it's important to make sure you have some safe areas on the way so you can heal/save as needed.
So a simple settlement quest that could be completed in minutes in other modes now becomes a full fledged experience in Survival mode. Because of this you become more attached to the Fallout 4 universe and experience because it 'feels' more real and in turn the story does feel richer.
There are times when you are trying to complete a certain task or maybe you're retreading an area that is cleared of baddies and you wish you could simply fast travel there, but the majority of the time you'll enjoy your walks. You will find yourself running across areas you never knew existed because you simply fast traveled before. This in itself is rewarding but add the larger number of legendary enemies and the lack of saves and even the most routine walkabout turns into an adventure.
Case in point, I was on my way to Fallon's Department store when I ran across a group of Super Mutants. Ok, no worries, they haven't seen me yet, time for some sniping. Let's crouch behind this rock and take aim at the first brute. BOOM, headshot and down he goes. "Beep beep beep beep", ok here come's a Super Mutant Suicider, don't panic just reload and shoot his bomb before he get's close. BOOM, hit the mini-nuke and he is toast. "Beep beep beep beep", oh crap here comes another one. I start walking backwards as I reload since he is closing in on me. I'm getting nervous and miss on the shot to hit his nuke, luckily Dogmeat, my loyal four-legged companion runs out to intercept him and BOOM the mini-nuke is detonated and the super mutant and Dogmeat are down. As I stand up to stimpack Dogmeat I hear "Beep beep beep beep". In disbelief, I turn to my right to see another Super Mutant Suicider almost on top of me. Up to that point I have never run into so many suiciders at once. I turn tail and run, sorry Dogmeat. I'm heading back to Diamond City since I know there will be backup there. As I'm running I here him say "Prepare to.." but before he finishes his statement his mini-nuke goes off. I stop and turn around and out of the explosion walks a legendary Alpha Deathclaw. At this point I was kicking myself for not recording this but resumed running to Diamond City again with the Deathclaw on my heels. I made it into the city before I ran out of AP, he caught up but luckily we were on different levels and he wasn't able to strike me. I run towards the first turret outside Diamond city and it starts firing at the Deathclaw. I run past the turret and inside the low area just before you enter Diamond city. I know he can't fit in here so I start unloading on him as well. He goes down after a few rounds and the help of Diamond City's finest.
This whole series of events wouldn't have happened if I simply fast traveled to Fallon's. Now this isn't to say that every walkabout is going to result in a Super Mutant and Deathclaw extravaganza. Sometimes you might just run across some dogs, mole rats or raiders or maybe nothing at all but that is part of the fun. Just when you start feeling cocky the game will take you down a notch or two.
It would've been frustrating if I had died during that exchange since I would've lost about 30-40 minutes of game time. Initially you will find the lack of saving frustrating since you will be used to saving whenever you want. But after playing Survival mode for a few days you will become accustomed to the new routine of saving at beds/sleeping bags.
If your Fallout 4 installation is buggy and prone to crashes/lockups you will want to get that resolved since that will add a layer of frustration to the game. For those that are stressed by the lack of saving, perhaps having a handy map of all the bed locations would help.
Outside of that, you will just have to accept the fact that you will lose a bit of game time once and while since you cannot plan for every possible outcome. Things like mines will kill you instantly unless you spam VATS as you walk. I have also killed myself accidentally while lobbing molotov cocktails at enemies and instead hitting something else close to me and lighting myself on fire.
You definitely have to be careful starting out. Until you get to around level 5 or higher pretty much anything is going to present a problem unless you have the superior firepower/position. Also food and caps will be in short supply when you first start so that can be a bit stressful as well. When you first get out of the vault you might want to focus on the following until you're sure you can cut it:
DON'T BE IN A RUSH TO LEAVE SANCTUARY HILLS. Codsworth might be telling you to go to Concord but for now it would be best to hang out in Sanctuary Hills for a while and build up some experience scrapping and building.
FIND YOUR DOGGO. When you're confident enough head over to the nearby Red Rocket and pickup Dogmeat for your companion, get ready for some Mole Rat action and don't forget to take their meat after they have been dispatched!
GET USED TO A 3 GUN SETUP. Now that ammo has weight it doesn't make sense to carry a bunch of weapons and their associated ammo types. My preference is to carry 3 types of weapons at all times, a shotgun for up close combat, a mid-range weapon like a pistol for mid-range action and a sniper rifle for long-range engagements. That way you will only need to carry the associated ammo types for those 3 guns.
CHOOSE INITIAL PERKS WISELY. Focus on perks that will keep you alive, initially things like the Life Giver and Lone Wanderer are great. If you're a sniper/shotgunner like me you'll also want Rifleman to up the damage you deal. In Survival mode the Aquaboy/girl perk is very handy since it will allow you to runaway and submerge yourself in the nearest body of water until the heat passes. They can't kill you if they can't reach you!
EXPLORE A BIT. Do day trips to gain experience and items/caps. From Sanctuary Hills you can head over to places like Thicket Excavations, USAF Satellite Station Olivia and Wicked Shipping Fleet to pickup scrap items, caps and ammo as well as hunt for food on the way. Initially, Thicket Excavations will be filled with water, you will need to complete a quest there to empty it. Another reason to get the Aquaboy/girl perk!
BE YOUR OWN BOSS. Don't be worried about completing quests, instead focus more on obtaining settlements that allow you to move more easily around the map. As you obtain more settlements you can then complete quests more easily since you can plan them out and have a home base closer to the quest target.
At the very least, if you're intrigued at all, you should give Survival mode a try. And by a try I mean a few tries since you will probably die frequently at the beginning and wonder if you should keep trying. Trust me, it will be worth it.
+ A more meaningful and rewarding Fallout 4 experience
+ Will keep you playing for longer, this is a pro right?
+ Bragging rights, 'nuff said
- Easily frustrated, low patience players need not apply
- Lack of free saving might prove difficult on buggy installs
- You might start craving grilled radroach