Here's the Thing
Fallout 4's Sole Survivor and their dog stare towards the last rays of the setting sun underneath a decrepit billboard.

Surviving Fallout 4

This column is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #170. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.


Here’s the Thing is where Rob dumps his random thoughts and strong opinions on all manner of nerdy subjects – from videogames and movies to board games and toys.


You know, it’s funny. I was super excited about Fallout 4 when it first came out back in 2015 (eight years ago already, good lord), and it’s fair to say I was even impressed with it when I first started playing on my PS4. The production value (i.e., animations, graphics, presentation, etc.) was so much more than what I was used to from the previous games, and I was thrilled to start exploring post-apocalyptic Massachusetts. Then I got bored and stopped, because it ultimately wasn’t all that engaging despite the technological leap. But here’s the thing: I recently grabbed the Game of the Year Edition (with all the DLCs) on PSN for like $10, started playing on my PS5, and came to the surprising realization that I kind of love this game and can’t stop playing – if I play a very specific way.

I couldn’t tell you if it happened before I traded in my original physical PS4 copy or after, but at some point, Fallout 4 got an update that added mod support. Not as robust as the PC version, but still a worthwhile addition for consoles. But more than that, it also got Survival Mode – a more challenging difficulty setting that ups damage output for everyone (you, enemies, etc.), removes the fast travel feature completely, adds the need to eat, drink, rest and only saves when you sleep.

So rather than go my usual Normal Mode route, I decided to find some interesting mods and give Survival a try. Most of the mods I chose were cosmetic (better lighting and weather effects, etc), one was the semi-essential “fix all the bugs” mod that addresses a lot of the game’s Bethesda-isms, one makes Deathclaws extremely tough and my personal favorite allows enemies to live when non-vital limbs are blown off – really useful for literally and figuratively disarming other weapon users.

Seen from behind, the Sole Survivor looks outward on a desolate landscape.

Don’t get me wrong, I love what the mods have added and am excited to see what else I might be able to dig up in the future, but Survival Mode was the real game-changer for me. As frustrating as it’s been to lose a lot of progress (and therefor time) when I hadn’t slept in a while and didn’t see a mine on the floor – or didn’t realize that feral ghoul was a Legendary enemy, or got blindsided by a pair of mirelurk hunters, or got one-shotted by a high-level sniper, etc. – the whole experience has also been engaging as hell.

Survival Mode doesn’t make Fallout 4 better, it makes Fallout 4 a different game. It takes it from a rambling open world shooter RPG with a story that exists to an intense and oppressive struggle to stay alive. Playing in Survival Mode really makes it feel like you’re in a post-apocalyptic nuclear wasteland that’s extremely unpredictable and dangerous. It probably helps that I didn’t play through all that much of it before this attempt, so most of what I’ve explored has been a complete surprise. Not knowing what’s around the next corner or what’s in a given building can be utterly harrowing – in a good way.

I did lose patience with my game a bit when I ran into some Bethesda nonsense at one point, with my companion, Piper, refusing to get on an elevator and thus dooming me to a solo trek through a ghoul-infested basement – and those suckers hit obnoxiously hard and fast. I didn’t want to switch to a lower difficulty because that would lock me out of Survival and I just can’t go back to playing Fallout with no hunger, thirst, etc. But I also couldn’t stand the idea of trying to solo that damn basement for a fifth time. So, I dipped back into the mod menu and found one that was perfect. It adjusted the Survival Mode damage numbers so that they were more in-line with Normal, and that’s it. So, getting sick, starving, etc. was still possible (as is dying because even on “Normal” some enemies hit like a truck driving a bigger truck that’s hauling a bunch of trucks) but I wasn’t dying in like two or three hits from one of those fucking ghouls anymore.

A suit of power armor is displayed in a post-apocalyptic toolshed illuminated by a hazy shaft of late-afternoon light.

Since then, it’s only gotten worse. For my ability to play anything other than Fallout 4 or concentrate on anything else when I’m not playing it, I mean. Minute-to-minute it’s been one of the most absorbing games I’ve played in . . . maybe ever? So many of its systems that seem silly or annoying outside of Survival make so much more sense now, have become way more important and keep giving me more and more things to consider.

Nobody cares about cooking normally, unless it’s to sell for more money later or used to craft more useful aid items, but when you have to eat you finally have a reason to think about whether or not you should use some of your precious carrying capacity to pick up some molerat meat. Drinking used to be pointless, but now I get excited when I see a body of water or a drinking fountain – especially if I have some empty bottles on me.

It’s even got me engaging with the Settlement system in ways I never expected to care enough to try. They aren’t just side-game distractions anymore. Now they’re important waypoints I can set up for myself as I travel back and forth across the Commonwealth. Little safe havens for me to rest, grab some food or purified water and get some much-needed sleep. And after I found out you can use settlers to establish supply lines between each settlement to share scrap (for easier building even if all your actual junk supplies are miles away) I started splitting my time more evenly between managing settlements, taking part in quests and simply picking a location to try and pillage for all the junk I can find.

None of this makes Fallout 4 the best game ever, or even the best game in the series, on an objective level. But it has turned it into a game that I have a very tough time putting down and can’t stop thinking about once I do. Oh, sure I could plow ahead and “beat” it by completing the main story and running through the various DLC missions but that’s not what Fallout 4 is for me anymore. It’s not a game to beat or a story to see through to the end. It’s an escape to a bleak alternate reality where my character’s story is just as much about simply living in the world as it is about tracking down a lost child or deciding which faction is worth supporting. Maybe even more so.


Rob Rich is a guy who’s loved nerdy stuff since the 80s, from videogames to anime to Godzilla to Power Rangers toys to Transformers, and has had the good fortune of being able to write about them all. He’s also editor for the Games section of Exploits! You can still find him on Twitter, Instagram and Mastodon.


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