Is it okay to buy Fallout 4 on the PC? Absolutely!

Fallout 4 is one of 2015’s most anticipated games, and according to our own Will Fulton, it’s an excellent addition to the series. The improved gunplay, huge world, and deep crafting are sure to keep gamers coming back for more. But it’s a cross platform release, and that always leaves PC gamers leery. Does it actually work as a PC game?

Performance

The first question most will ask is whether or not it performs as PC gamers expect. Thankfully, it does.

I’ve played the game mostly on a system with a 5960X processor, a GTX 980 graphics card, and 16GB of RAM. Powerful stuff, to be sure, but the game performed appropriately, even at absolute maximum detail. At 1080p the game gave barely a hint of dipping below 60FPS at any point (I did see a few drops into the very high 50s, in situations I’ll cover shortly). The story was almost the same at 1440p, the resolution I used to play most of the twelve hours I’ve sunk so far. Dips were more frequent, but it remained a 60 FPS experience in almost all situations.

I eventually pushed it up to 5K resolution on a Dell UP2715K monitor. That wasn’t entirely playable, but at an average of 24 FPS, it was no Crysis 3. 4K/5K gameplay should be obtainable for people the lucky few with supercharged gaming rigs.

Do keep in mind that the minimum specifications for this game call for at least an Nvidia 550 Ti, or Radeon HD 7870, with 2GB of RAM. You’re not going to get away with anything less than that. Laptop owners with Intel HD graphics should buy the game on a console.

Nvidia GTX 960 video card side logo
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

The recommend specifications, meanwhile, include a GTX 780 or Radeon R9 290X with 3GB or 4GB of RAM, respectively. But I think Bethesda may have shot itself in the foot with those figures. The VRAM usage I’ve seen, and the reports from other outlets doing an early look at performance, seem to indicate a decent video card (like the GTX 960) can handle the game even with just 2GB of VRAM on board.

I did notice some texture pop-in at 5K resolution. That may be why the game runs well on less capacious video cards despite the recommended specifications. Rather than hitch up the game while waiting for a texture to load, Fallout 4’s engine seems happy to show a less impressive texture in the meantime.

What trips up the game’s performance? Surprisingly, it seems indoor sections are the most likely culprit. Fallout 4 has a new (for Bethesda) physically-based lighting system that allows for very impressive god rays outdoors, and for very detailed lighting indoors. However, in certain situations it results in a nasty performance penalty. The worst case I encountered was a stairwell with a light on each turn of the stairs. Even at 1080p resolution, it slowed my test rig to 30 FPS for brief moments.

That sucks, but at least it’s the exception. I encountered that scenario once, and saw similar but less severe dips on in only a few other indoor instances. Sweeping vistas and large battles don’t seem to slow the game down at all. Diamond City, the first major hub of activity, is the most consistently demanding area I saw, but the load isn’t so great it’ll matter unless your hardware is already on the borderline between playable and slideshow mess.

Graphics settings

Like all Bethesda RPGs in recent memory, changing graphical settings in Fallout 4 is a bit obtuse. You can’t do it from inside the game, but instead have to use the Options in the launcher. This means adjusting a setting requires jumping out of the game entirely, which is annoying.

Fallout 4

In addition to four presets – low, medium, high, and ultra – there’s a wide variety of detailed graphics options available. The most notable include a separate lighting quality setting for “Godrays,” two different Depth of Field options, check-marks to turn features like Wetness and Rain Occlusion off, and very detailed view distance settings broken down into sub-categories for objects, actors, grass, and items. There’s also anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering, of course.

All in all, PC gamers have plenty of ways to tweak performance as they see fit. It should be easy enough to hone in on your intended frame rate target as long as you meet the minimum requirements.

If you want to see what the game looks like at its very best, check out our gallery.

Controls

The PC controls are a lot like the graphics settings. A bit strange at times, but ultimately, they work.

Let’s start with the basics. Fallout 4 is a first person shooter, so it’s important that the keyboard and mouse feel precise. They do. As every PC gamer knows, the mouse is technically far more accurate than a joystick, and that benefit is felt here. Tricky shots are way easier to pull off with the mouse than with a gamepad, and there’s no weird mouse acceleration issue to get in your way.

The difference is so great that I found the game much easier with a mouse than with a gamepad, as I could consistently pull off headshots I couldn’t with an Xbox 360 controller. Shooter fans should be happy.

What about the inventory? It too works well. The Pip-Boy is brought up with Tab, and favorite items, once they are selected as such, can be chosen with the number keys – as in any good FPS. The mouse scroll wheel does not work as a weapon select wheel, however, which is a minor disappointment.

The main complaints I have are related to presentation more than controls. As a cross-platform title, everything in-game has to be big, bold and laid out in an approximate grid so it’s readable and feels intuitive from six feet away on a big-screen TV. The Pip-Boy probably has three times as many menus as it’d need if built for the PC from the ground up, and the map feels particularly wonky. You’ll also notice that the on-screen UI, as well as gun models, are a bit larger than they ought to be.

Bugs

Bethesda games tend to have weird bugs, and I saw a few in my time with Fallout 4. My Pip-Boy became invisible twice, requiring that I quit my game and re-load it. I encountered a few weapons and ragdoll bodies that vibrated with the unholy energy of a confused physics engine. And I once saw a Ghoul’s face clip through a wall (it gave me a fright, let me tell you!)

What I didn’t see was a show-stopper. No hard crashes, no lock-ups. Obviously your mileage may vary based on the particulars of your rig, but my experience was exceedingly stable. The game even tolerates a quick alt-tab away to a browser window without complaint.

Fallout 4 is a winner on the PC

I have no doubt the PC is the best way to experience the wasteland.

Aside from some interface elements, Bethesda titles have historically looked their best, and performed their best, on a PC.

Fallout 4 continues that tradition. Even a mid-range PC, with a high-end dual-core or entry-level quad and a video card that’s a few years old, will likely play the game at detail settings approximate to a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, and at a higher framerate, too. A high-end rig has nothing to fear and can push into 4K territory.

Performance reports from the land of consoles indicate that both Xbox One and PS4 flirt on occasion with 20 FPS in respective weak spots, and 30 FPS is of course the maximum framerate. Detail appears somewhere between the PC’s medium and high presets. Given that mediocre showing, I have no doubt the PC is the best way to experience the wasteland.

Available at: Amazon | Best Buy | Gamestop

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