Fallout 4 isn’t the best Fallout game, but it’s the best one to play today

Prime TV’s Fallout show is here, and if you’ve watched all eight episodes you might find yourself in the mood to play one of the Fallout games. 

Fallout 5 is still a decade away, and Fallout 4’s most ambitious full conversion mods aren’t out yet, so if you’re gonna play a Fallout game it’ll have to be one that’s been around for a while: the first two Interplay games, Bethesda’s trio of shooters, or Obsidian’s classic RPG. So, which Fallout game should you play?

Well, there’s a pretty big clue in the headline: It’s Fallout 4. But before you get angry, all I ask is that you take some time to read my reasoning so you can get really angry.

Lauren, Jody, and I recently got together on a video chat to sort out the Fallout series. We put them into a tier list from Dogmeat (the best) to Dogshit (the worst). You can watch the video embedded above. Most of the results weren’t all that surprising. Fallout: New Vegas is a top-tier Fallout game, along with the original Fallout, with Fallout Tactics being dumped in the lowest tier where it belongs.

As I said in the tier list discussion, Fallout: New Vegas is the best Fallout game. At the same time, I would call Fallout 3 my favorite Fallout game. But while it’s not the best or my favorite, Fallout 4 is the best one to play right now. If I’m gonna sit down today and play some Fallout, it’s definitely gonna be 4-flavored. Here’s why.

Fallout 4 has the best companions

(Image credit: Bethesda)

Fallout 4’s companion game is stronger than any other, and not just because a mutant named Strong is one of them. While I really like New Vegas’ Boone and Lily, I’d still rather spend time with Fallout 4’s Nick Valentine, who I think is maybe the best character in any Fallout game, ever. Not just because of his excellent backstory and questline, but because he’s a cool synthetic detective and he can hack terminals. There’s nothing I find more aggravating in a Fallout game than a terminal I’m not high-level enough to hack, because I know, once I do level up enough to hack it, I’ll never remember where it was.

Curie, the French robot, doesn’t just have an interesting storyline and character development during her quest, but also has an awesome healing perk. Hancock, Deacon, and Piper are fun to spend time with for a laugh, and while I’m not a huge fan of the Brotherhood of Steel, Paladin Danse is the least annoying of them and he can carry so much stuff for me.

And I know you get a Dogmeat in every Fallout game, but surely Fallout 4’s Dogmeat is the best Dogmeat. At least he’s the cutest.

Fallout 4’s gunplay is better than the rest

Fallout 4

(Image credit: Bethesda)

There’s no doubt that Fallout 4 would be a better game if there were more options and opportunities to talk instead of shoot. Charisma is barely a factor except in securing lower prices. Despite the character being a voiced protagonist, there’s rarely a chance to talk your way out of a fight. Almost everything in Fallout 4 ends in violence. Almost everything begins in violence, frankly.

But if you’re willing to lean into it being more action-oriented than other Fallout games, all that gunplay is a blast. The weapons are fun and extensively moddable, from the cruddy hand-cranked laser rifles and pipe pistols you start with to the legendary rocket-powered hammers and explosive bullet-spitting tommy guns you’ll turn people into pulp with once you’ve crisscrossed the Commonwealth a few times. At times it feels like more of an FPS than an RPG, which isn’t a compliment. But if a game is gonna have more shooting than necessary, it helps when the shooting is this good.

Fallout 4 is packed with surprising side-quests

(Image credit: Bethesda)

To be fair, you could say this about just about every Fallout game. Side-quests are usually the best part of Fallout, especially quests with twists, turns, and unexpected endings. But I don’t think it’s just because Fallout 4 is relatively recent that they’re my favorites, I think they are genuinely the most surprising side-quests in the series. And there are a bunch of them.

I won’t spoil the details, but there’s The Last Voyage of the USS Constitution, where robots are trying to re-launch the ancient frigate (literally, it has rockets welded to the sides of it) which ends with a satisfying surprise (and gives you a dope weapon at the end). In Here There Be Monsters an old nuclear submarine in Boston Harbor gives the player a rather useful set of beacons to put to use. A mansion called the Cabot House, unlike every other dwelling in the post-apocalypse, is oddly pristine and intact, which leads to some truly bizarre happenings. An out of the way comic shop results in a wonderful quest about a golden age radio show and a new outfit you won’t want to part with. 

There are some great unmarked quests, too, like a chemical manufacturing building where you can test “products,” which winds up being pretty hilarious or disturbing depending on your morals, and a parking garage someone (I’m not sure we ever find out who) turned into a series of deathtraps. You can visit the bar from Cheers and the home of an artist with some horrifying hobbies, solve a robotic murder mystery in the Far Harbor DLC, and at some point in the game you’ll even see a UFO streak overhead and you can investigate the crash site.

Fallout 4 has more stuff to do

(Image credit: Bethesda)

If I’m playing a Fallout game these days, I’m mostly in it for the open world sandbox instead of a deep roleplaying experience—mainly because I’ve done the roleplaying in Fallout 3 and Vegas a number of times already (and the roleplaying in Fallout 4 isn’t all that deep). I want to hop into a huge game world and find a lot of stuff to do. I want to escape reality for a few hours but not necessarily spend all that time wrestling with moral dilemmas and the consequences of my choices. While the roleplaying and storytelling doesn’t come close to matching New Vegas or even Fallout 3, Fallout 4’s world is a much more enjoyable place to blissfully spend hours of time.

I know not everyone is a fan of settlements in Fallout 4, and even I don’t have the interest in building and maintaining more than one main base and a couple of smaller side settlements. But you can lose yourself for hours in just puttering around, putting together buildings, crafting doo-dads, attracting settlers, and fending off raids. It’s not quite as intricate as Fallout 76’s base-building, but you can have multiple settlements and never have to worry about another player stealing your spot, which is a plus in my book.

Having a base, one I’ve designed and managed and crafted, makes me feel like I’m really living in a game world in a way that just renting a hotel room or sleeping in a spare bed can’t match. Settlements, along with Fallout 4’s elaborate crafting system, keep me busy and ground me in the world, which is exactly what I want from a Fallout game.

Fallout 4 has the most (and best) mods

(Image credit: Bethesda/Fallout London Team)

If you’re playing a Fallout game on PC, I hope you’re modding it at least a little bit. There are lots of mods for Fallout games in general (except for Fallout 76, naturally), but there are almost twice as many Fallout 4 mods as there are New Vegas mods, and three times as many as Fallout 3 has. If you’re looking to mod your game, I guarantee you’ll find something you love made by the Fallout 4 modding community, and new mods appear every single day.

And if you like Fallout 4’s settlements the way I do, or more importantly if you don’t like them at all, you absolutely have to try the Sim Settlements 2 mod. It’s a complete overhaul of how the settlements work that essentially turns it into a dynamic system that can grow your settlement even when you’re not there to oversee it, while maintaining the original system if you do want to be a micromanager. Seriously, it’s a brilliant mod and you owe it to yourself to try it.

That’s not even mentioning the big Fallout 4 mods on the horizon, which will take the Fallout universe to Miami, London, and weirdly enough, even Vegas. Yep, Fallout: New Vegas is being remade in Fallout 4, Black Mesa style. Even Fallout 3’s Point Lookout DLC has been remade in Fallout 4

See? I’m not the only one saying it. If you’re into Fallout, then Fallout 4 is the place to be right now.