Hands-On: Fallout 4 VR Needs A Lot Of Polish To Succeed

by David Jagneaux • September 22nd, 2017

Fallout 4 VR’s release date (December 12th on HTC Vive) is fast approaching. We first got our hands-on the game all the way back at E3 2016 when it was first announced, played it again at E3 2017, then again at QuakeCon, and now this week we’ve tried it once more at the Virtual Reality Developers Conference (VRDC). The downside is that all of these sessions (except the now-ancient 2016 demo) have all been with the same dated build. The version I played this week is the same one that was on display three months ago, so the game that actually releases next month should be a good deal more polished than what we’ve seen thus far. So let me restate that: I’ve been told the build I played is very dated and the final game will be a lot more polished. That is, it really needs to be more polished if it wants any chance of success.

People that play Bethesda games are used to bugs. It’s a long-running joke that their games are so large, so ambitious, and so detailed that it’s impossible for them to weed out every bug in the development process. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Fallout 3, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and Fallout 4 are all prime examples. As a result, ideally, the team has done a lot of work to make sure the port of Fallout 4 to VR runs well and is as bug-free as possible.

From what I’ve seen it’s totally possible and fans of detailed, massive, immersive RPGs should absolutely still be excited.

In my demo everything started out at the iconic Red Rocket station between Sanctuary and Concord. After a minute of me getting my bearings, figuring out the controls again, and getting acquainted with the world, that’s when combat started. Feral ghouls and a traveling band of mercenaries made their way over the hill and descended upon me. Using the right trackpad I could bring up a weapon wheel to switch weapons, or look down at my left wrist to search through my Pip Boy-powered inventory in real-time.

When you play the non-VR version of the game bringing up the Pip Boy interface freezes the game and sucks up your entire screen space, but in VR it feels like just another part of the world and the rest of the game keeps moving around you. I’d love to see players actually fashion their Vive controllers into wearable Pip Boys in the image of the wondrous Collector’s Edition that released back for the game’s launch.

After I looked at my left wrist I could explore the entire interface of the Pip Boy using the left trackpad. It felt a bit awkward at first because I wasn’t used to that in a Fallout game, but quickly it started to make sense. The biggest barrier to mass adoption of a game like this is really going to be the controls.

Looting corpses is done by looking and pointing with the right controller and then navigating a floating menu with the trackpad. If you move away then the loot menu disappears. The same goes for the Pip Boy: look away or move your arm away, then you’re no longer using the Pip Boy. Everything is contextual, but even the act of switching weapons with the trackpad felt a bit stiff at first.

Notably, combat felt a lot more intense in VR than it does when playing the non-VR version. Generally speaking everything is more visceral from the confines of a VR headset, but now being able to do a side-by-side comparison of the same game really makes that more clear. Although, interestingly, despite the increased intensity I also felt more powerful. Bethesda seemed to have ramped up the number of enemies I faced at any given time and made it so I couldn’t die and provided me with oodles of ammunition, so I was a walking death machine.

Pressing the top button above the right trackpad turned on V.A.T.S. which works entirely differently in VR. In the base game time would slow down and you selected body parts to target with various percentage chances and critical probabilities. In VR you activate it to dramatically slow down time again, but now you have to manually target your gun and hope your aim is true. The result feels less like you’re Robocop and more like you’re in The Matrix.

Going back to the point about polish though, that’s my main concern. They added left trackpad locomotion so you can freely move around the environment, but anyone that’s ever used a Vive can testify to the fact that using the trackpads for movement is wonky at best.

At the top of my list of glaring issues I hope to see corrected before launch though is a pervasive sense of blurriness. Everywhere I looked there seemed to be a grainy layer of blurriness that prevented the game from looking as sharply as it should have, especially in comparison to the non-VR title.

Obviously some visual cutbacks have to be made to get it running at a high framerate on VR devices, but it was jarring as I made my way from Red Rocket to Concord. Although I will say that I, and another editor at UploadVR, both noticed that when you focused your sight on something it cleared up and looked less blurry. This could be a rendering technique to help the game run smoothly, but hopefully it’s less pronounced in the final release.

My demo concluded as I stormed the Minute Men base in Concord, wiping out bandits, and eventually talking with Preston Garvey. He’s a lot taller than I am, which is something I’d never think about in the non-VR version. Looking face-to-face with an NPC as they talked to me was pretty wild, but then having the player character’s voice (which sounds nothing like me) emanate from my face after I selected dialog options with trackpad clicks did feel a bit strange. Clearly this isn’t the end-all-be-all of NPC interaction in VR and future titles will have better solutions (like voice recognition maybe??) but it gets the job done for now.

Ultimately Fallout 4 VR is probably not going to be the killer app that turns VR headsets from expensive desk trophies to ubiquitous pieces of technology that everyone needs to have. It’s a very involved, hardcore, massive, and time-sucking game that won’t appeal to everyone. If you’ve played Fallout 4 already then exploring the Boston Wasteland again will be a crazy fun delight and newcomers have a lot to discover along the way.

But in order for Fallout 4 VR to be as good as it can be I really hope Bethesda has been able to slather on a heavy coat of polish before launch on December 12th. The game is being marketed as an HTC Vive title, but Bethesda has also claimed a desire to bring the game to “as many platforms as we can” and HTC has even had to backtrack its previous “exclusive” language on the game.

If they can add that layer of polish, this could easily be one of VR’s very best games. Let us know what you think of Fallout 4 VR so far down in the comments below!

Correction: This article accidentally stated the release date as October 12th, when in reality it’s releasing December 12th.

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  • Xron

    Kinda dissapointed that its HTC “exclusive”…
    Well, I do hope its a polished game for the price they are asking.

    • joemitz

      It’ll still work on Rift just fine I imagine

      • Andy McEvoy

        Hope so! The touch joystick control is by far my preferred option for locomotion control. Shame the new knuckle controllers have the touch pad still.

  • Comedykev

    Piss poor reporting, your very first line has a cock-up, lets see if you can find it!!
    I’ll give you a clue, your two months early!

    • hands-on SB hands on.
      I can’t wait too play this! JK
      too SB to

    • Meant to put December 12th, have October on the brain 😛 Fixed!

  • Terrence Giggy

    I’m pretty sure it isn’t released Oct 12th…

    • Right you are! Meant to put December 12th, have October on the brain 😛 Fixed!

      • Jonny

        It still says “so the game that actually releases next month”

  • Jean-Sebastien Perron

    So all the problems are related to the fact that they chose the inferior HTC Vive as their base platform. The knuckle controller is not coming anytime soon so you will have to play with your ridiculous VR Sticks for a while. We have real analogs on our Touch controllers.

    • Ethan James Trombley

      Justify your purchase mate….justify your purchase.

      • koenshaku

        Do not feed the trolls

        • Ethan James Trombley

          Sorry they looked hungry.

          • daveinpublic

            I actually never realized the Vive doesn’t have analogue controls till now. You can bet the Vive fanatics would have been hammering that point home every day if it was the opposite.

          • Ethan James Trombley

            Yeah the analogue controls are nice for movement, I don’t deny the better controllers of the Rift. My best friend has a Rift and I’ve got a Vive which is pretty great. I like the heft of the Vive Wands better for Gun and Sword games but in every other scenario, Rift has better controllers. Even in gun and sword games Rift has better movement schemes because the analogue.

    • Michael Williams

      Great big bag of STFU for THIS guy! loll jesus H christ son VR is soo obviously STRUGGLING as it is already because shit is too spread out and splintered for any developer to take it serious… yet here you are…spreading even MORE bull shit … killing the platform… #Fuck! Oculus Rift PC desktop VR is great! now they got even better input hand controllers! Fanfuckintastic. Guess what, HTC’s vive is Fuckin great too! and its currently working on implementing better hand representation into apps AND its ALREADY greatly improved other aspects (headset strap upgrade etc…)…. Grow the fuck up mate and support ALL of VR until it AT LEAST have stable enough ground beneath it for people start choosing sides….smh…

      • Jean-Sebastien Perron

        Common, we are having fun here. For the first year, Vive owners have criticized the Oculus, now it’s our turn. Maybe one day it will be the PiMax8k (I hope it does). Any VR is a million time better than “small 80 inches flat 4k tv”. Any game that is not VR is retro gaming to me. VR will succeed this time no matter what, only prices will determine the time everybody on the planet will own one. Phones will die within 5 years to be replaced by AR glasses. Don’t worry, we already won. Everyone that try real VR has a powerful revelation, only the cost prevent them from buying one now.

        • KLEEBAN KLIBAN

          Well I’m def a big fan of 4K gaming on flat screen because sometimes VR is too much and it’s never quite as beautiful due to current power limitations of VR, but yea, I can’t wait for VR to blow up, and as you said it absolutely will. The technology has already been proven. Sucks that software will take a while to get figured out and evolve but that can’t be helped. I’m on PSVR, the lowest end of what I would consider actual VR, and even that blows the minds of everyone I have shown (more than 15 people). Even my mom toyed with the idea of buying a PS4 and PSVR and she is like 60 and doesn’t give video games the time of day.

          Fortunately we are finally seeing PSVR price drops and more deals, which is good since PSVR is the lowest cost VR device, plus because it is for console it opens VR to the casual market that wouldn’t understand PC requirements and such. Though PSVR still needs another price drop or two before mass adoption, not that the price is bad for the tech at this time. PS4 Pro should get a price drop by holiday season too, and any drops in price to the console also save money on the overall PSVR price for those who don’t own a PS4 at all. Of course as PSVR picks up and gets more attention, that means more developers put more attention into VR, and obviously this means more higher end PC VR ports. Bring on the casuals! Haha

          Also just a relevant fact you might like to know, Zenimax (who is related to Bethesda in some weird web) sued/is-suing Oculous for apparent plagiarism of software secrets or something.. don’t know all the details haha. Anyway, this is probably why for now Bethesda is going with Vive, because the parent company won’t green light a port for a company that they believe stole from them. I’m sure if/when the dust settles on the Zenimax vs Rift stuff, Bethesda will port Fallout and other games to Rift. I don’t think Bethesda Game Studios cares about the whole fiasco. Hopefully the dust settles sooner than later as Bethesda will be a big player in VR and it will be best for everyone if their games are opened up to more people on more platforms.

      • MowTin

        I totally agree. These fanboy wars have been raging since Atari vs Colecovision vs Intellevision. It’s childish. Rift and Vive each have their advantages/disadvantages. We all know what they are by now.

  • koenshaku

    I didn’t play the Single player game so this should keep me busy for awhile.

  • Knightmare25

    I’m getting really sick of people saying “killer app”. People who buy something like a console or VR headset for one specific game is an idiot. I don’t need a “killer app” to justify my purchase because I have a shit load of games that I have for my headset.

  • Duane Locsin

    Not too long to go. FO3, Doom, La Noire..
    Will pre-order closer to the date.

    Of course a lot ironing and learning the kinks of VR, at least the attempts are being done to bring huge AAA games to the medium.

    I reckon 2-3 generations of refinement, and a few more big games, apps and hardware evolution VR will be the premiere entertainment medium that that will make tbis year quant in comparison.

    I hope the Knuckle controllers will be out not to long after and expect it to be compatable with many older games and vr apps.

  • Edmund Ward

    A bit surprised to hear a VR-dedicated publication refer to VR headsets as “expensive desk trophies”!!

    • MowTin

      Yeah, I was a bit offended. I guess he doesn’t play racing sims or space and flight sims. Outside of those genres there is a lack of content. Fallout 4 is literally a world you can inhabit with infinite replayability.

  • MowTin

    As a developer, this is why I don’t like giving demos of unfinished work. It’s like people don’t understand the concept of a demo and start criticizing it like it’s a final product. They bring up obvious issues that you are obviously working on. If it were polished they would have released it last year.

    Basically, “Demo needs polish before release.” Well, duh

  • Robert Meany

    I really want to play another character in Fallout 4… but I’ve been holding out for the release of the VR version… I hope it works out.. I need to validate the purchase of my expensive desk trophy.