By: Megan Hammond
Fallout 4 returns players to the vaunted Wasteland. The player is the Sole Survivor of Vault 111 in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts or more specifically Boston. The Sole Survivor emerges from Vault 111 about 10 years after the Lone Wander left Vault 101 in Fallout 3.
In Fallout 4, the post-nuclear apocalypse sets up a dynamic of humans versus non-humans such as ghouls and super mutants. Finding the humanity in characters who are different is a running theme that pokes at players’ own bias. Fallout 4 enjoys setting up and then demolishing expected stereotypes of who any one character “should” be.
The single player game can be played in the first or third person. Whether exploring a post-war Boston or pursuing the main quest line, the game is centered on exposing the player to as many experiences as possible. At the same time, the gameplay’s variety is stymied by a lack of mastering any one aspect, including disability accessibility features.
For example, players are granted menu access before the game begins. The menu access provides players with disabilities the opportunity to set accessibility features such as subtitles and controller remapping before the gameplay begins.
Deaf and hard of hearing players have the options for General and Dialogue subtitles. The subtitles are labeled with the name of the speaker which assists with understanding conversations for players with disabilities who have difficulty identifying the speaker based on voice alone. Additionally, players can enable a Dialogue Camera that shows the speaker during conversations that the player initiates with other characters because locating the speaker in the wide expanse of open world games is often difficult for deaf and hard of hearing players.
However, after setting the desired subtitle based settings in the menu, Fallout 4 begins with a live action film sequence and ultimately ends with another mini-movie that’s based on the player’s choices. Neither film is subtitled. The in-game subtitles often glitch, especially early in the game, by either not appearing at all or immediately disappearing. Additionally, any recordings played in the player’s Pip-Boy, a mobile computer worn on the wrist that is the basis of the in-game menus, requires the player to exit the Pip-Boy while the recording plays in order to see the subtitles.
In the gameplay, the most difficult for deaf and hard of hearing players is the radio which isn’t subtitled whatsoever. While the radio stations only add an ambiance to a radiated Boston, side quests appear via radio signals. While the radio dialogue is inaccessible, the quest itself will oftentimes appear without requiring an action from the player. The smaller radio side quests require the player to respond to a beeping noise or spoken dialogue without a visual cue.
For players with fine motor disabilities, the controller layout is customizable. All buttons on the controller can be remapped except for the Start, Select, and Directional pad buttons. The face buttons, analog sticks, shoulder and trigger buttons can be mapped with 12 gameplay options such as accessing the Pip-Boy menus or Jump. The D-pad is set as hotkeys to place favorites for instant access. While not encompassing the entire controller, the in-game controller customization available on the consoles is rare.
At the same time, specific inputs can be obtuse and based on the environment. For example, the Y button on the Xbox One is set as Jump but when sitting its used to Wait. Or when in the Workshop mode for the settlement mini-game and looking at a generator Y is used to connect a wire between the generator to the object that needs power such as a trap or a radio tower.
In Fallout 4, the Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System, or V.A.T.S, returns. Fallout 4’s combat mainly consists of gun play and melee fighting. While the real-time combat is tighter than in Fallout 3. For all players with disabilities whether difficulty with combat is due to hearing or seeing enemies or navigating the controls. V.A.T.S. greatly slows down combat and players target enemy appendages with a percentage likelihood of making the hit.
Fallout 4 has a singular Skill Tree. Players with disabilities can adjust their set up with skills to buff their preferred playstyle. For example, skills can maximum V.A.T.S. by increasing the needed Action Points to use V.A.T.S. and allow players to target enemy limbs that are behind objects.
Additionally, players can add skills to buff an AI companion who’s accompanying the player in the Wasteland, buff solo play, or bring in the Mysterious Stranger who randomly assists in combat when the player uses V.A.T.S.
For players with visual disabilities, there are mostly no requirements for fine detail. The HUD and menus rely on distinct icons, not on color. The map has a zoom feature and when the player moves the cursor atop any symbol the location name appears. Additionally, there are setting options to adjust the HUD’s opacity as well as the individual RGB components of the HUD and Pip-Boy menus. The ability to adjust the HUD’s R, G, and B characteristics individually is a rare level of customization on the consoles.
However, the radiated Wasteland is a desolate brown and gray world even with the occasional pops of greenery. At times, difficulty arises discerning between characters and the environment such as when searching for enemies to loot after combat. Visual details do arise in certain quests. For example, one faction quest requires following a painted redline on the sidewalk that repeatedly fades away or disappears under debris.
Fallout 4 is a big game with a lot to do and that expansive universe gives many players with disabilities a rare level of customization. At the same time, specific situations arise that undercut the accessibility features. Players with disabilities who go into the game aware of the pros and cons of the Fallout 4’s accessibility will understand that while a Dialogue Camera can be set the player must go online to find a subtitled copy of the game’s introduction or that the controller can be remapped but at times players must go online to learn how to do a specific task. Fallout 4 is a game that challenges players’ preconceptions of the world. Players with disabilities should enter the Wasteland aware of its real world video game accessibility pros and cons.
Overall Rating: Thoroughly Accessible
Visual Rating: Thoroughly Accessible
Fine-Motor Rating: Thoroughly Accessible
Auditory Rating: Thoroughly Accessible
Released For: PC, Xbox One, Playstation 4